To achieve a realistic model railway the presence of people is essential. They need to be in trains, on stations, in the depot and working on the track. In particular, people on trains seems to bring the trains alive. I have often seen superb detailing where much thought has gone into the track and weathering the locos and rolling stock. However, as the train passes, there is a complete absence of crew in the cab. On my model railway I have a golden rule which is that no locomotive operates without train crew.
On steam locomotives, try to position the fireman so that you can see them shovelling coal. The driver should be standing or sitting as near to the cab side window as possible. I’ve had some challenges putting crews on locos. Sometimes they will need to be ‘doctored’ with full amputations of one or both legs or filing the side of the torso. If they are sitting down you might have to remove everything from the waist down. The result is a realistic looking driver in the loco.
For guards vans, I like to have a guard standing on the rear veranda. You’ll be please to know the guard is spared an amputation! Instead, use a figure which is meant to be standing on the platform with a green flag and remove the flag. The figure then is placed so that it appears to be holding the upright of the guard’s van.
Be creative when adding passengers. On layouts, it is rare to see a passenger by an open droplight window although for many this is the position of choice when travelling on old slam door rolling stock. For seated passengers, my tip is to fold small pieces of paper to look like the passenger is reading a newspaper. A touch of black flecking makes it look very realistic from a distance.
2) Model Railway Track
Using flexitrack instead of set track makes it possible to get long sweeping curves and make the passage of the trains look far more realistic. Painting the sides of the rails using a very clever device knows as a rusty rail applicator has quickened the process of making the track look far more prototypical. Once the paint dries ballast the track. I use a home made ballast applicator (although it is possible to buy a one). At first this appears a tedious activity but is actually quite satisfying as it makes the whole layout look authentic. It covers up joints and areas of the baseboard that look uneven. On top of this ballast I also added green scatter in certain points.
3) Tail Lamps
As a railwayman, I’m passionate about are head and tail lamps. Lamps are more important than people if you want to have a realistic model railway. I’ve enjoyed researching the correct lamp and disc codes and putting them in the correct position. For example my layout is based on the Somerset and Dorset. As many of you know the S&D had their own unique engine lamp code system. A freight train had one lamp under the chimney with a second over the right hand buffer. Passenger trains had one under the chimney but a second over the left hand buffer. I’ve tried using Tackywax to retain the lamps but this had not been entirely successful. Probably operator error! On certain locomotives once the lamp codes glued in place, I do not intend to change them.
As an aside…
Recently I was given two unrebuilt Bulleid Pacific locomotives as presents. Permit me to indulge myself slightly. Many of you know one of the last specials to work over the Somerset and Dorset on 5th of March 1966 was hauled by two unrebuilt Bulleid Pacifics – 34006 Bude and 34057 Biggin Hill. It’s my intention to recreate this day on my layout albeit that my two models are 34006 Bude which is fine but the second is 34001 Exeter. Running these together is not totally accurate to that last Special. 34001 had been rebuilt at the time of the Special. Also the model I have is in an unrebuilt condition and with the earlier BR crest.
I have decided that Bude which was the pilot engine on that Special will have the S&D passenger train lamp code and 34006 will carry a single disc in number two position. The reason for this is twofold. Firstly. Checking photographs of 34057 on this last Special showed it had a disk in this position even though it was the train engine. Technically it should not have had anything there. Position number two indicates a train that would have worked over the South Western division of British Railways between Waterloo and Reading or between Torrington and Halwell junction on the withered arm or between Exeter Central and Sidmouth. I’ve modelled Sidmouth station but Bulleid Pacifics were something of a rarity there! I do feel justified in using that disc code if I run 34001 on its own.
If you would like to see photographic evidence of 34057 carrying a disc in this position check out plate 212 of Ivo Peter’s ‘Somerset and Dorset in the Sixties Volume Four‘ or for a color picture on page 21 of Jeffrey Grayers book ‘Sabotaged and Defeated – a Final Glimpse‘ which shows 34057 on Bath Green Park alongside 34006.
4) Model Railway Rolling Stock
Now consider the external body side of locomotives and coaches. Many railway modellers weather their trains including making coaches and locomotives look very dirty. For me, stream weathering is anathema. I spent many years at depots working with teams of people who really cared about presenting a clean train, both inside and out. I cannot bring myself to go against this professional pride and make my model trains look dirty. However certain models look plasticky below the sole bar and in the near future. I shall apply some weathering to these areas. I’m probably going to try it out on small wagons first.
5) Control of Locomotives
It’s important to decide the method of controlling locomotives. The old analog system involved highly complex wiring of the track and switching to create isolated sections. DCC makes a track live all the time. The addition of a microprocessor type chip in all locomotives makes this a great method of control. I spent a great deal of time soldering dropper wires to each piece of track and then connecting them up to the bus wires underneath the layout. The result is an operation which is much more realistic and in many ways it is more reliable provided the track is kept clean.
Additional benefits include fitting sound chips, programming the chips so that acceleration and deceleration become more prototypical and to be able to turn cab light on and off. Try to fit a small light in the Fire hole door of each steam locomotive to make it look like there is a fire.
Finally, when planning the track, incorporate a helix to enable trains to come off the layout and work down to a fiddlle yard underneath. Trains be made up here and trains running round the layout can be changed very quickly to add realism.
I hope you have picked up some ideas to help you plan a realistic model railway and I’d be pleased to hear your top tip.
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