Back from Berlin! Here’s what I got up to before going.

The main station at Mangapps Railway Museum.

Such is the buggered state of the ticketing of our railway network, that I discovered an interesting fact:  It often costs the same – sometimes cheaper – to get a ticket to visit a town just outside London with a one-month return period as it does to just get a ticket into London with the same conditions.  Before heading into Berlin I had this brainwave when I failed to obtain cheap flights at a sensible time that wouldn’t entail a night in a London Airport, due to the fact that the trains go to bed as well as we do; faced with the prospect of a night on the Red Bull, I opted to take the Eurostar instead (with onward ICE connections to Berlin), but once again I had been thwarted in my attempts to go at a sensible time in the morning that left me enough leeway to take the train into London.

This led me to book a single-night stay beforehand at a Hostel known as Clink 261, virtually right outside London St. Pancras International.  At a cost of £14 booked a little over two months in advance, this wasn’t too bitter a pill to swallow when my train travel to Europe had cost just under £180.  With this in mind, it occurred to me that seeing as I had a full day before I had to head into London anyway, why not make a day out of it?

Let’s conduct an experiment for a moment; as of the 8th of July (the time of writing), a one-month ticket to London Zones 1-6 costs £42.80 should you stick to off-peak times, so both the London Ticket and Town Tickets will be from Monday 9th at around 9am to Friday 13th(!) at around 8pm for the sake of comparison.  With this in mind, let’s examine a few destinations under the same conditions:

  • Burnham-on-Crouch:  £39.50 – This is where I elected to go in order to visit Mangapps Railway Museum, which isn’t the easiest to get to on foot, but still a highly interesting collection of Locomotives, Rolling Stock and Railwayana.
  • Tunbridge Wells:  £33.10 – This Kentish town is home to Tunbridge Wells West, one end of the Spa Valley Railway.
  • East Grinstead:  £30.20 – The highest risk option, given that the only way in-or-out from London is via perpetually strike-stricken Southern trains, but the carrot on this particular stick is the Bluebell Railway, that beautiful pioneer of Railway Preservation.

So we pick three destinations close to London, and we save £3.30£9.70, and £12.60 respectively.  Sure, if you opt to only use Zone 1 of the Underground, you’ll get a price of £38.60, which is cheaper than Burnham-on-Crouch, but it is still above the prices of Tunbridge Wells and East Grinstead by a considerable margin.The only issue you are likely to encounter is some of the gates into the London Underground throwing a wobbly, which isn’t exactly helpful in the late evening, but there’s usually at least one worker near the gates who’ll let you through.  Oddly enough, when I got to London Waterloo for the final leg of the journey, the ticket barriers worked without issue!

Come to think of it, many Hostels offer a lift to London Airports, so this is something worth investigating the next time I have to fly to GodKnowsWhere at Silly ‘o’ Clock in the night.

In any case, here is my photo album of the quirky and interesting Mangapps Railway Museum.


RailEx 2018 – Trip Report

There are many reasons to go to a model railway exhibition – meeting friends, buying supplies, observing the handiwork of those with a frustratingly-high amount of free time compared to yours.  I was unable to meet Matt Wickham up at Ally Pally this year, so seeing as he comes down to this area of Buckinghamshire to visit family, this was an ideal place to meet up.  Besides, for once I was the one showing him MY handiwork!

This exhibition seemed to be a celebration of 4mm scale, with an abundance of EM Gauge and P4 layouts on display.  This means a lot more of the visually-pleasing finescale track than you would normally expect.  Two such layouts have made my top three, with both of them at the upper end of the list.

The Top 3 Layouts

1) Burntisland

Burntisland (3)

Set in the town of the same name in the County of Fife, Scotland, this Pre-Grouping layout is set in 1883, a nod to the fact that it is a P4 layout with a true 4mm/foot gauge of 18.83mm; this puts it’s time period in between the Tay bridge disaster and the construction of the Forth Bridge, meaning that the preferred onward method of reaching Edinburgh at the time was by ferry.  I can only assume that the officials who planned goods workings came to the same conclusions, as the famous floating bridge designed by Thomas Bouch (of Forth Bridge fame) has been modelled, complete with working winches to load/unload the rakes of wagons.

Burntisland (6)

Due in no small part to the lack of documentation from the period, Pre-Grouping railways are notoriously hard to research.  Photography, if it exists at all, is often of a poor quality and almost never colourised, as I discovered when modelling some Metropolitan Railway coaches a few years back.  This makes it doubly-impressive when anyone does such a good job of such a layout, especially considering the sheer number of liveries that have doubtless disappeared from people’s conciousness.

Burntisland (7)

As such, Burntisland (pronounced Burnt-Island, it turns out) takes the well-deserved number one spot.

2) Hornsey Broadway

Hornsey Broadway (2)

Normally I wouldn’t think too much of a layout set in the BR Blue period; too distant for nostalgia and yet too recent to lend itself to legend.  Also BR Blue ruined the 5-PUL units.  I know I’m too young to remember that too but its unforgiveable.

As an avid train-tripper, I am no stranger to train travel through London.  Hornsey Broadway is a layout which, to my mind, perfectly captures the knotty nature of the tracks which pick their way through the capital, with a dash of 70s thrown in.

Hornsey Broadway (7)

The result is an atmospheric mix of pleasingly-complex trackwork, drab buildings, British cars and the transition between BR Green and BR Blue liveries.

Hornsey Broadway (8)

It can sometimes be hard to logically justify why I like a layout so much; maybe its the trackwork reminding me of going over all those flying junctions whilst travelling through London, perhaps its the thought of what train trips through London would’ve been like at a time fairly close to the time period when BBC’s Life on Mars was set.  The one thing I do know, however, is that this is worthy of second place in my eyes.

3) The Summit

The Summit (4)

As O Gauge is such a massive scale, it’s appearances at shows are usually themed around small rural backwaters or industrial goods yards, where the focus is strictly on the trains due to space constraints.  Very rarely do we get the appearance of a railway in a landscape that is often the preserve of the smaller scales, but this is exactly what happened with The Summit.

The Summit (5)

The layout represents the titular summit of the Settle & Carlisle line at Ais Gill.  The breathtaking scenery of the Yorkshire Dales providing a dramatic and effective scenic backdrop to the many varied workings on the line (which includes an engine towing it’s own narrow-gauge launch, apparently 😉 ) without the need for too much space – the scenery represents just a few hundred feet either side of the line – and it remains effective despite a very simple trackplan.  Little more than a crossover and a couple of lay-by sidings are in the centre of the layout.

The Summit (2)

When I say that the above Fowler 3F is like that RV from Top Gear that launched it’s own sports car, I’m being facetious.  This is probably either a trip-to or a return from the works, as before the widespread rise of heavy road haulage and the roads needed to support it, slow goods trains were one’s best bet at getting something so heavy around the country for reasonable rates.

So that’s my top three layouts for RailEx 2018.  Incidentally, be sure to visit my friend’s website on his representation of Horsted Keynes station in OO, and also to check out his photos and video of the event.

The Severn Valley Railway – His blue majesty

Few train trips end up like my recent one to the Severn Valley Railway just over a week ago, and I don’t say that lightly.  In between failures on the National Network, having to bugger around with Birmingham’s buses and taking so long to come back that it was technically the next morning by the time I arrived, this could not be described as the ideal trip.  Even so, it proved eye-opening on many counts; I now know just how far I can go to visit a heritage line in one day, and return by train in time for the next, for one thing.

Still, it was damn well worth the effort to get to Kidderminster against all the odds, and with the following highlights, I’m sure you’ll know why.

King Edward II – The Caged Animal

King Edward II (1)

Quite easily the star of the show today.

Built in 1927 as a ‘Super-Castle‘ to take advantage of new knowledge regarding the impact of hammer-blow on bridges (axle weights could now reach 22.5 long tons), the GWR 6000 Class was a full-bore four-cylinder attempt to steal back the tractive effort record from the Southern Railway’s Lord Nelson Class, which had stolen a march on the Castles when they appeared with 33,510 lbf under their running plates, and the gap was widened when E859 Lord Hood was modified with smaller 6ft 3in Driving Wheels to advance the tractive effort of 35,298 lbf.

For Sir Felix Pole, Chairman of the GWR, it wasn’t enough for the tractive effort crown to simply be retaken – he wanted the 40,000 lbf barrier broken.  To this end, C.B. Collett and his Chief Draughtsman, Frederick Hawksworth, set about fitting the largest possible boiler to the basic Castle frame, quite possibly opting for smaller 6ft 6in wheels over the Castle’s 6ft 8.5in drivers to make room for the larger boiler, whilst remaining within the GWR loading gauge.  Still, both modifications weren’t sufficient, and as such a short-lived modification to the cylinder linings was required; this meant boring them out by 0.25in and mounting matching pistons to finally reach a phenomenal figure of 40,300 lbf.

Riding behind this machine today, there is no doubt that you are in the presence of steam locomotive royalty.  Each chuff this engine produces comes from two massive cylinders at once, being fed by a 250 lbf/in² boiler, and as such the whole valley seemed to reverberate with the cacophony of steam and force when the engine was climbing.  Even though the trains that day were too long for all but the terminal stations on the line – the guards always asked where we were getting off for this reason – you really got the sense that King Edward II was a caged animal, just scratching around this provincial branch line impatiently, baying for it’s next mainline railtour.

Bewdley Station – Pocket Junction

Bewdley (14)

Occasionally, you come across a place on a railway that would shrink down to model form really well; Ventnor on the Isle of Wight (while that was still around), Horsted Keynes on the Bluebell (as proven by this excellent layout by a friend of mine), and this station.  Interestingly, this is the major junction station on the line, historically serving branches to Stourport and Tenbury (the embankments of both can be seen from your left, travelling towards Bridgnorth).  As such, it is easy to imagine the amount of traffic which would have passed through this area, and the variety of passenger services.

The terrain of this area is particularly suited to an open-frame baseboard, with lots of the vertical terrain that characterizes the valley setting.  A viaduct and a signal box upon an extended foundation make some interesting touches to the north-west, while the remnants of the branch line to Stourport to the south-west make for the required junk wagons of any heritage line.

It’s just as well there was quite the menagerie of wagons on display in the goods yard, including a Gunpowder Van, a GWR Locomotive Coal Wagon, and this:

Cadbury's Van

So that’s where they keep the Gorilla…

Getting there – Escape from Rowley Regis

Rowley Regis (1)

The Class 172, pictured above, is an interesting member of the Turbostar family, as you’ll notice when the train pulls out of a station.  You see, unlike other Turbostars, the 172 has a mechanical transmission, not unlike the type used in buses.  You can hear the engine note change in pitch as the ZF Ecomat-Rail transmission cycles through the gears.  Well, I thought that was interesting…

Back to the point, it all started when a train broke down just beyond where I was, Smethwick Galton Bridge.  You know the cycle, the expected time of your train tumbles further and further away from it’s timetabled arrival time, changes to an irritatingly vague ‘Delayed‘, and finally the platform info board cuts the crap and displays a big fat ‘Cancelled‘, dashing all hopes of progress.  I did manage to get a train onwards towards Kidderminster, but alas, my hopes were cut short when the conductor announced that the train was to terminate at a bleak industrial estate called Rowley Regis.

You could say that the National Rail app rescued me from this place, not by showing me a way out, but by showing my there was no way out by rail.  All the trains were delayed for hours.  If you are also one of those people who gets restless easily, you’ll understand my subsequent quest for a bus to Kidderminster.  So I gather a route from Google Maps, and make my way towards Oldbury Road, where a few minutes of waiting yields a red bus, only for me to discover that contactless cards only apply to blue buses.  Bother.

One hike into Blackheath to pounce on an ATM later, I had some money and finally made some headway towards Halesowen.  Once there, forty minutes lay between me and further progress towards Kidderminster; unwilling to trek towards the nearest fast food joint, a dive into ASDA netted me a bargain lunch of a hot Pigs in Blanket Sandwich, Shortbread and a bottle of juice for under a fiver.  After snacking on this, and a moment of panic when my bus disappeared from the information board without warning, the bloody bus rolled in 10 minutes late.  “To hell with it” I thought, “we’re making progress, that’s all that matters”.

Upon arrival into Kidderminster, you’d think that the bus would call at the train station, right?  Wrong, we thundered down the hill past the roundabout, where the driver was at least kind enough to stop just past it on one of the exit roads.  As I was trudging up the hill, curiosity got the better of me and the National Rail app was summoned.  Amazingly, the trains were still borked and had I not had the initiative to hoof it to Blackheath, I would still be stranded at Rowley Regis!

So, a bus journey saved my bacon, I never thought I’d see the day…

The London Festival of Railway Modelling 2018 – Trip Report

Last week, I divulged on my ulterior motives for visiting this show.  While it should not be forgotten that The London Festival of Railway Modelling is something of an annual pilgrimage for me, if you know what the going rate is for what items you’re looking for, it’s pretty easy to snag a great deal at the various trade stalls.  In this case, I spent £185 for a Bulleid Q1 and a four-car rake of Maunsell Carriages in Blood & Custard, consisting of a composite, two thirds and a brake, making the perfect small heritage line train for the Southern Region; I’ve seen Dapol Q1s alone going on eBay for almost as much!

Anyway, that was last week, today we get to explore what my top 3 layouts were at this illustrious event.  These three will be listed in what I personally declare to be an ascending order of greatness, the top three based upon atmosphere, operational interest and inspirational value.  Atmosphere concerns less of the amount and correctness of the detail present, but how it adds up to a cohesive whole to evoke the layout’s time period and situation.  Operational Interest is self-explanatory, how many unique situations can be modelled within the layout’s trackplan, although this can be as simple as running a unique formation across the layout.  Inspirational Value is a criterion designed to address an elephant-in-the-corner in today’s hobby, the inspiration of both outsiders (parents who bring their kids, basically), and the younger generation themselves; will they be able to look at a layout and identify simple yet effective ways to make it look good?

Number 3:  Kensington Addison Road

Kensington Addison Road (3)

Attaining the Bronze Medal this year is a layout with a distinctly bronze ambience!  Must be all the brown around, but nevertheless this Grouping era layout offers a lively variety of colourful rolling stock undergoing a transition from a myriad of liveries to those of the Big Four.

Being an O Gauge work, there is necessarily a wealth of detail around, which is just as well because while the name implies a different place, the mention of Olympia on the station nameboard invites comparisons to it’s modern counterpart, Kensington Olympia.  A quick trip to Google Maps and the Disused Stations page yields some interesting alterations over the decades, such as how the siding that the gangers are ripping up has now become platform 3 for the District Line.  Depicting a well-known location in a different light is one premise where the immaculate, highly realistic layout approach shines.

Kensington Addison Road (8)

‘Kam’ the Circus Elephant propels baby Yvonne Kruse towards the station building, a nod to a famous 1956 photograph

Heavy on atmosphere, this layout makes good use of a time period when the Grouping was in it’s transitory phase to display a myriad variety of liveries, as well as having a competent amount of operational interest.  The inspirational value does suffer as a result of it’s phenomenal level of detail, however; this layout is a club effort, and as such only other clubs are likely to think that they can take something like this on.  As such, Kensington Addison Road retains a well-earned 3rd place.

Number 2:  Lacey Dale

Lacey Dale (4)

Here we have an example of N Gauge in it’s element, even if the dramatic scenery is composed of relatively few different scenic items; a single shade of green scatter appears to be used across the whole layout, with white plaster cliffs and isolated bits of hedge making up the rest of the natural terrain.  Even so, the end result can best be expressed by asking the reader to imagine what it would be like to look up from one of the platforms below.  Personally, this layout brought back painful memories of cycling up the Dorset hills, even though there isn’t a road in sight!

Closer inspection yields the reason for Lacey Dale’s Silver Medal, however.  This layout manages to present an exhibition-worthy spectacle whilst sticking to some fairly simple modelling techniques, which is handy when it comes to inspiring the audience to participate in the hobby.  The trackwork is Code 55, weathered suitably to remove the gleaming aura of a train set, incorporating some creative pointwork on the lower level to keep the shunting fun and the space small.  Stock objects have been visually upgraded, with the standard Peco buffer stops receiving a load of ballast in place of the moulded stone filling.  The addition of passing loops to the high level lines fleshes the main line out by adding a place where slow trains can be bypassed.

Lacey Dale (1)

Even though this is a club effort – just like Kensington Addison Road above – the simple-yet-effective nature of the scenery is significantly more accessible to the average lone modeller.  While the scenery lacks the precision of most of the other layouts present, Lacey Dale did strike me as a layout that I could potentially replicate without decades of experience.

Number 1:  The World’s End

The World's End (4)

This spot was a toss-up between Saltdean, a fictional O Gauge layout depicting a colourful variety of Pre-Grouping LSWR Traction and Rolling Stock (albeit in a location even the makers themselves admit would be impossible to reach by an adhesion railway!), and this one.  The World’s End is a rather vertical layout set in the Yorkshire town of Knaresborough, which Primary School children may identify as the home of an iconic Prophetess – Mother Shipton.

The layout itself is an impressive collation of significant landmarks in Knaresborough.  The first thing which strikes you upon viewing this layout is the deep, expansive valley, along with the impressively fortified viaduct spanning it; it is fitting that this structure is the focal point of all the railway action, in spite of the fact that there’s not a lot going on in terms of trackplan complexity.  There are also quirky houses sat atop the cliff overlooking the River Nidd, The building acting as a booking office to Mother Shipton’s Cave, the ruins of Knaresborough Castle and of course the station itself.

The World's End (2)

I think for this layout the number one spot isn’t earned so much by any individual elements but in how the whole is presented.  There is a certain depth to the layout which is rare to see, with the massive valley and the emergence of the station from a hill atop the cliff.  In terms of inspiration, the link to Mother Shipton would probably pique the interest of anyone who learned about her in school, as I certainly did.  Overall it does a great job of bringing one of Britain’s most quirky and interesting towns to life in model form, and as far as I am concerned it is okay to be personally swayed by one factor of many.


Until March 2019 rolls along, thank you for reading, and happy modelling!

I’m going to Germany, it’s about time :)

Given the header of this blog as well as this post category, virtually no-one ought to be surprised that I like to make impromptu adventures from the British Railway System.  Our network has it’s problems, we cannot deny that when there’s a train on our tracks that’s been consistently late for over a year, but the sense of trepidation crossed with anticipation, often combined with the view out of the window, simply cannot be matched.  Extra points are awarded when your tickets were bought on the day, so you can take a different route back down again 🙂

Not to be outdone, my Dad has organised an almost week-long trip across Germany with a leg in Poland; This holiday features much in the way of World War 2, with visits to Colditz Castle and Stalag Luft III being major attractions.  The Itinerary, detailed by day:

  1. Fly to Berlin, take the ICE to Leipzig, sleep.
  2. Take local trains to Grimma, hop on the bus to Colditz Castle, sleep in the German Guard Quarters 🙂
  3. Bus on back to Grimma, Hop on train to Leipzig, then Forst, then on to Żagań in Poland, sleep again.
  4. Mill around Stalag Luft III, after which we catch trains to Forst, then Cottbus, Berlin, finally reaching Hamburg where we’ll kip in the Station Hotel 😀
  5. Swan off to Miniatur Wunderland, take a gargantuan amount of photos, watch in regret as my camera runs out of battery, fly home.
  6. After the sleep to end all sleeps, gaze at how many photographs I’ve garnered, cry softly into my next sleep…

Incidentally, these trips are pre-booked, which doesn’t quite fit into the spirit of train tripping by my definition – If I had the money I would be taking aimless stabs at which routes to travel on, sailing into the first hotel I saw that evening, and returning home only when my bank went into the red!  But he’s done a good job meshing these trains together, and he’s taking me on trains with mandatory reservations anyway, so huge props to him.

On a counter-cultural note, Package Holidays always seemed so retarded to me:  Why would anyone escape their daily grind in hotels and flights specced down to a price, neatly sequestered from the real culture of the place, and following a strict itinerary?  In other words, another grind!

Let’s pack the ranting in, now, for it threatens the good spirit of the holiday.  I don’t expect to be able to write posts neither here nor Tawe TMD for at least 2 weeks, mostly because of the photos.

God help me…

Train Trip Rehab

Train Trip Withdrawal…  The very last trio of words I ever envisaged coming from my mouth.

On the runup to Christmas, I got made redundant by text (and I thought being dumped by text was a raw deal), whilst taking a boat ride through London, no less!  Shock and horror aside, I still managed a good 8 month run on a contract that was angelic enough to pay weekly; enough, it turns out, to make a near-weekly habit of Train Tripping.

As I sit here, with J2O bottles supplanting my water intake, I thought I’d go through some of the amazing places I wound up in, I say “wound up in” since I never really research my ride beyond a quick perusal of Google Maps and TheTrainLine.  In no order in particular, here we go:

Swanage Diesel Gala 2014

Being in love with the Metropolitan doesn't mean you do daft things to trains...
Being in love with the Metropolitan doesn’t mean you do daft things to trains…

A splendid day, not only were there many thrashing diesels but I fondly remembered the rattlebox tin cans that were the 4-CIGs running from Waterloo, courtesy of the hilariously faux-wood painted 4TC above.  My only regret was to fail to ride the Deltic and the Class 47, though the latter charged through Harman’s Cross with a thunderous determination I shall carry to my grave.

Zedex 2014, Didcot

That sugar cube on the left taunts me - I have no idea how to Google it!
That sugar cube on the left taunts me – I have no idea how to Google it!

A miniature event, in both subject and size!  It only occupied a room the size of a school lunch hall, which wouldn’t be so significant if this wasn’t a National Exhibition!  Pettiness aside, this is the event that enshrined Z gauge in my heart, by that I mean I *must* build a Z gauge layout before I die, or I lose honour and must be cast out to sea with no proper burial.

Holyhead, where Portsmouth Harbour meets London Marylbone

This is my phone background currently :P
This is my phone background currently 😛

This station is a genuine curiosity – it’s split between two sets of platforms by a dock and some kind of commercial building, has a port adjoined taking people to the Emerald Isle, and seems mostly empty; that last bit reminds me of Hull Paragon.  The North Wales Coast Line is easily the most spectacular I’ve ridden to date, with sandy beaches (as opposed to the painfully awkward shingle we usually have) punctuated with sheer cliffs along which the line zips with carefree abandon.

After this, I'll hear no arguments whether or not Wales is an amazing place to be.
After this, I’ll hear no arguments whether or not Wales is an amazing place to be.

I don’t even need to comment on this one, I lost track of time in this place, and spend the journey back catching the last trains of the night!  House prices are goddamn cheap here, too; £500/month gets you a 2 Bed Terraced House!  Here in Camberley you can’t even get a place with your own kitchen for that!  A place for once I’ve made it, perhaps?

Bluewater Shopping Centre, Christmas Shopping from Greenhithe

This is how you spend 45 mins hiking to get to the shops...
This is how you spend 45 mins hiking to get to the shops…

This one was a bizarre one, I somehow believed there might be an overbridge from the cliffs above this place, in spite of Google Maps suggesting otherwise, the result was hoofing around some residential areas and motorways for almost an hour – a great way to break in new shoes!  I almost feel feminine talking about Christmas shopping, but overall this was an awesome run where I even made it back before rush hour.  Glorious 🙂

The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway

Once my breakfast-carrying model railway is built, all goods trains sport this look by law.
Once my breakfast-carrying model railway is built, all goods locomotives sport this look by law 😀

Dr. Syn, standing proud in all his malevolent glory, made this trip alone.  Don’t get me wrong, Samson is still on my loco hit list, but the good doctor has displaced him as my favourite.  Miniature seaside towns worthy of the Isle of Wight connected by an equally dinky railway, makes for a good goddamn treat indeed…

As a parting gift, Sandling Station gave me this decrepit NSE Relic :)
As a parting gift, Sandling Station gave me a photo of this decrepit NSE Relic 🙂

Horwich Parkway, gateway to Scan Computers

A surprisingly rural place to end up for a computer store...
A surprisingly rural place to end up for a computer store…

I’m a major fan of Scan Computers, while they offer the basics on a platinum platter such as fast delivery, low prices and Scansure insurance (protects your shiny bits from accidental installation damage), I’m mostly into their Saved Baskets feature – I’m aware that I’m 12, thank you.

I went here to settle an internal debate of 4K vs 1080p Eyefinity, which I conclusively failed to do here, and I still haven’t settled it.  What is settled is that I freaking love trips that give two options to reach somewhere with the same ticket!

On the way up I went from Farnborough Main to London Waterloo, then Euston to Manchester Piccadilly to Horwich Parkway; back down I went from eating pizza on the platform at Horwich Parkway to changing at Preston to get back to Euston, followed by an eternity lost in exploring London on foot, to return via Paddington and Reading to Farnborough North.  I think this paragraph just handily summed up my love of Train Trips.

Farewell, Train Trips, you will be sorely missed as I “grow into a man” and take on “proper” responsibilities like saving money.