Modelling Railways

Currently this page is interim and will be expanded and illustrated.


So, you have decided that you would like to start modelling railways. What now? Firstly, you must decide what you want to model. Do you want a working railway layout, or are you more interested in  building just locomotives or rolling stock or buildings or a diorama or something else? Some people just build locos and once built, lose interest in them, and start another loco! Others build a fully detailed working layout and build all their own rolling stock. Yet others may build a layout with no scenery and just enjoy operating trains. We are all different and as long as the hobby gives us enjoyment that is all that matters. You also need to decide if you want to model a real location, a fictitious location or just build your own personal railway. Do you want it to be a mainline or a branch line, a loco shed, an industrial railway, a narrow gauge railway, or something else? Do you just want to operate it at home, or do you  want to exhibit it? If you want to exhibit, then the layout will have to be portable and easily transported without damaging it. Do you want to operate it on your own or do you want to involve friends?  Another possibility is to join a local model railway club and run your stock on the club layouts. It is also a particularly good way of making friends and getting help and advice. There are always members with different skills whose brains can be tapped! Most clubs also hold open days when they show off their layouts and models to the public.

Once you have an idea of what you would like to model, the next big decision is what scale to model in. Scales range from “N” scale up to “O” gauge and bigger. To get an idea of sizes in the various scales go to some multiscale exhibitions or visit your local club. Clubs will make you welcome and show you their layouts and answer your questions. They will not pressure you to join, although they would be pleased if you do decide to join them. Now you will have an idea of what scale you prefer. It is time to work out what room you have and what you want to put in it. One word of advice here, try to keep it simple rather than cramming as much as you can into the space. Making out a paper plan of the area you have is a good way of trying various track formations and where buildings etc. will go. Try to avoid sharp curves and remember that ideally you need easy access to all parts of the railway. You need to decide what track you are going to use, rigid or flexible, or you may decide to build your own from the separate components. DCC is probably the choice of most modellers these days, especially if you are just starting in the hobby. It is more expensive, (drive chips for each loco), but gives much more flexible control and wiring up the layout is much simpler. DC control can be used if you prefer. A newer method is battery powered locos, again controlled by an onboard chip. This eliminates pick up problems and layout wiring, apart from point  operation. Live steam might be an option for some, as might clockwork if you collect old tinplate models!

Building a baseboard is the next challenge. A portable layout needs to be lightweight, yet robust, and the sections need to fit into your vehicle. A fixed baseboard is easier to build. Do not use cheap materials. Chipboard and MDF will tend to warp and swell if there is any moisture present. Well supported outdoor quality ply fits the bill. If you are thinking of an outdoor layout, this needs to be weatherproof and animal proof. Tunnels provide ideal shelter for wildlife! There is plenty of literature available to help. Buildings, signals etc. can be purchased ready built or can be built by yourself, either from kits or from scratch. Again, rolling stock can be bought from propriety manufacturers, built from kits, or built from scratch. Scratch building is the only choice if no one produces the model you want, although there is a wide range of ready to run models available these days. Here the HMRS may be able to help you with drawings, photos, and transfers. Hopefully, you are now set to go! How you operate your railway is up to you. You can do your own thing, perhaps just enjoy some therapeutic shunting, or operate to a strict timetable. You can devise systems to select goods wagons randomly to form freight trains and even have removable loads. Remember that a railway layout rarely gets finished. There is always something you can do to improve or alter it. Perhaps a new factory, colour light signalling or more modern rolling stock. You might want to bring it up to date by removing  such things as goods sheds, signal boxes and redundant sidings. The choice is yours.


Other aspects to be covered


The intention is to give details here to help either new modellers such as:

Choice of gauge and the pros and cons for various gauges

The balance between use of ready to Run (RTR) and kit built or scratch built models

About amending or adding details to an existing model

About layout - running layout, dioramas and other types of display - including portable or fixed layouts

About modelling clubs

About how the HMRS can help and examples from our members

Advice for those considering modelling a real place against a fictional place

How to go about Historic modelling to convey lost history