All modellers probably have a defining moment that gets them started. Mine was a very generous leaving present of an LGB starter locomotive, which sat on the shelf until I discovered live steam 1:19 scale, narrow gauge locomotives of the same size. Live steam, then, was the motivation I needed for getting started, but setting up 45mm G scale track in the garden for each session meant that I didn´t actually run many trains.
Fast forward to 2010, and a new house with a large 6m x 14m cellar, previously used for storing cars that the owner repaired. The line is in Alsace, France, but I chose to model a British landscape. Or to be precise two different ones: As the name, Kent & North Wales Light Railway suggests, this geographically challenged layout covers two regions, each taking up half of the space, and linked by two bridges on each side of the room, which can be removed to provide access.
Learning by doing
It was at this point that I quickly realised the limits to my carpentry skills and discovered modular design and building. Professional help was required, and everything would need to fit through a normal door frame, as at some later stage, it might need to be removed from the cellar. It transpired that around 15 modules were needed to build a two-level loop line, with two terminus stations branching off the loops with enough storage space. Modules are built using the same techniques any HO modeller would use, but the dimensions are larger and the plywood significantly thicker to avoid to give strengh. In parallel, I looked at trackwork. Now, in Continental Europe, 45mm “G” (metre scale) scale track is almost universal, with 32mm gauge, most often used in the UK (2 foot) lines being very seldom seen in practice. The solution was to build dual gauge track.
Both tracklaying and basic metal mesh scenery preparation were prepared before the final installation of the modules, to ensure that they really could be taken apart again. There then began the process of building the layout proper, with scenery, grass and trees, roads and buildings. Naively, I failed to realise quite how many trees are required for the space. There are today more than 150 of them varying between 20cm and 70cm in height. I also discovered that with experience, my tastes and ambition in buildings grew over time, so that today the two sides, Kent and North Wales, each have examples of vernacular architecture specific to the region.
Too many trains
The K&NWLR started with one modest steam tram, built back in the 1990s by Roundhouse Engineering. Having two separate loops meant that a second live steam locomotive was justified and approved by the board of directors. Having dual gauge track on the lower line, inevitably meant that a third one was required to access the 32mm only parts of the line. Today, for reasons that are not entirely clear in retrospect, there are some 100 live steam locomotives, stored in shelves under the layout, as the sidings no longer offer the space required. These are grouped into around six different companies with corresponding liveries, offering some degree of harmony.
The Welsh side of the line contains a port, very loosely based on Porthmadog, a small selection of buildings from Portmeirion, an entirely fictional rack railway, complete with Italianate station, leading up to Stokesay Castle, which should be on the Welsh borders, and a selection of Welsh slate stations to justify the railway´s existence. On the Kent side, Colonel Stephen´s limited budget has restricted railway buildings, but there is a corner of the line devoted to Canterbury, including the Cathedral Gate, an oast house with hopfields, and, incongruously, the original St Trinian´s school, now part of the University of Edinburgh.
Where to now?
Started in 2010, the line is still not complete, largely due to changes in plan, and new building sites being opened. For example, a funicular between the lower and upper lines on the Kent side is being built, and a second estate railway, using 16.5mm track, on the Welsh side to cater for tourist trade is in planning. But live steam locomotives are run regularly on the line, demonstrating that with a little space and effort, garden railways don´t need to be restricted to the garden.
Kent & North Wales Light railway
10 years work in progress
Locomotives of Regner, Accucraft and Roundhouse
See the complete ideation