Chronicling the development of my Cambrian and Narrow Gauge 4mm scale model railway

Imagineering the railway

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Imagineering? Ok so it’s a buzz word, and I don’t really like it either. But I’m not sure what else to call it. If you model a railway you need imagination in bucket-loads. Perhaps it’s a bit easier if you are modelling an actual place but you still need to produce timetables and realistic scenes. If you’re building from scratch it’s even harder. I’ve gone half and half. Half and half you ask? Yes, I reply, because I’ve used an existing fictional location.

The brain dump that started it all

The brain dump that started it all

Here is the concept plan. If you can read my handwriting you’re doing well. The railway started out, as a single board (module 1) combining 00 and 009. However, I had always had a few other crazy ideas I wanted to accommodate.

My son, James, was given a copy of The Island of Sodor: Its People, History and Railways. If like me you were brought up on Thomas the Tank and you are also appalled at the hideousness that the men and women in grey suits have made of it, this is a great book to get. It chronicles the history of the railways as originally thought up by the good Vicar. However prices are now ridiculous for it and perhaps it is again time to lobby Heinemann to republish it.

The Island of Sodor: Its people, history, and railways

It occurred to me that if I used Sodor’s railways, I could combine everything I wanted to do on one (large!) layout. However, I have no intention of running locos with faces on, I’m merely using the location. What follows is the history to back up the idea. If you are not familiar with the location of Sodor, I recommend you use one of these maps to follow the story below.

As you may know, following the closure of the Mid-Sodor Railway (Duke’s railway) much of the original route was taken over by the Arlesdale Railway (Bert, Mike, and Rex, et al). In my head, prior to this, in an attempt to stave off the closure of the line, it was extended (following the maxim of E.R. Calthrop IIRC) to Peel Godred from King Orry’s Bridge by descending through the streets of the town before terminating at the station, which is in the industrial part of the town (the industrial area is that covered by my original model railway now module 1 of my magnum opus). Well we know how successful business ventures formed by extending narrow gauge railways in the British Isles went don’t we?

Scroll forward to the almost present day. The managers of the railways on the island realised that with the expanding boom in tourism and heritage railways, there was a case to be made for reinstating the link between the Arlesdale Railway with Peel Godred over the hill to create a circular route of the island. As the route was built for narrow gauge, and was too long for miniature, it was decided to build the line to be as close as possible to the original. Following an acrimonious discussion, it was decided to build the line at 1’11 5/8” rather than the 2’3” of the neighbouring Skarloey Railway as this gave a greater pool of visiting locomotives to tap into. Visiting locomotives mean grockles. And grockles mean money.


Understanding that terminating the railway at the industrial quarter of Peel Godred would not be popular with passengers (now occupied by a chocolate factory and the Purple Moose Brewery’s second plant opened due to demand in 2012), it was decided to extend the short dual gauge section at the original transfer station through the single-bore standard gauge tunnel to terminate at a three-railway exchange station at Kirk Machan, home of the Culdee Fell Railway, thus finally linking the Mid-Sodor with the line it conceived. Both the standard gauge and narrow gauge continue to serve the station at Peel Godred but on the narrow gauge it is a request halt.

The standard gauge branchline from Peel Godred through Kirk Machan joins the mainline between Cronk and Kildane next to a railway research unit which was established there following privatisation of the railways on the mainland and uses the branchline for testing purposes. At this research centre is a short section of monorail line.

Sydney monorail before closure

A short distance west, just after Crosby, the mainline now follows a slight deviation due to the biggest civil engineering project ever carried out on the island.

Following discussions which started in 1895, and continued up to the present day, using funding from the EU, Sodor Government, Northern Ireland Assembly, The Republic of Ireland Government, and private investment including the mine owners on Sodor and Sir Topham Hatt, a tunnel was bored from Sodor to Ireland. Named the Tollán Sudragh-Éireann (Sudrian–Irish Tunnel) or Stollan for short, it has connected the Irish mainland by rail to the rest of the EU for the first time ever. The tunnel runs from the south-western tip of Sodor approximately north-west to the immediate south of the Isle of Man, coming up on the peninsula at Ardglass in Northern Ireland and from there running on a new standard gauge high speed line to Belfast for transfer to the wider Irish rail network. At 50 miles in length it is the world’s longest rail tunnel, and is 18.5 miles longer than the Channel Tunnel.

The longest rail tunnel in the world

The longest rail tunnel in the world

The mainline on Sodor has now been electrified from Barrow in Furness through to the tunnel and Network Rail has upgraded their line to Barrow including electrification to cope with the traffic. A daily return Paris to Belfast service has started, via the Chunnel, HS1, West Coast Main Line, North Western Railway, Stollán, and IHS1; calling at London St Pancras, Crewe, and Vicarstown.

There is now increasing pressure on Ireland to build more standard gauge lines to remove the need for transhipment although at present CAF believe they may be able to cash in with their Talgo product. It is hoped that the opening of HS2 in the UK will improve journey times.

In the next few posts I will go through each module and explain what I am going to model, and more specifically what I’m not!

(As a funny aside, just after I’d finished writing this post, and email came through on my work computer asking Are you a professional involved in the tunnel industry?. Well, that depends on how you define it….!)

Author: Chris H

Having now officially reached middle age, I am a rolling stock engineer and have worked in many different locations including a 7 year spell in Sydney, Australia, where I arrived with a suitcase and left with a wife and a son. I am now based back in my home county of Yorkshire where I juggle full time work, being a Dad to two rascally mini-mes, and trying to fit in railway modelling, assisting the GWR 1014 County of Glamorgan project, and visits to the top left hand corner of Wales and Beamish. In addition to my heavily railway themed life, I am interested in rugby, cricket, reading crime novels, falconry, and medieval re-enactments.

One thought on “Imagineering the railway

  1. Brilliant Chris. I’ve come across fan fiction many times but never a fan railway. Absolutely great and I can’t wait to hear more. By the way, noting that the tunnel emerges at Ardglass, is there any truth in the rumours that Sir Topham Hatt was briefly involved romantically with Lady Bijou Ardglass and some of the money may have come from her side?

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