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Your Guide to Building a Standard Scale Garden Railway

Building your dream garden railway is a very complex project. Read our advice and suggestions about the process. We hope you find it usefule.

Permissions 

Do you need planning permission?  
This is a bit of a contentious issue. You don’t need permission to build a miniature railway in your garden in most cases. In contrast, the rules may be different if you plan to add structures such as brick-built sheds or tunnels. It might be worthwhile to contact your local authority even just to confirm that no formal planning permission is required.  

Useful links: 

Planning Permission for a New Miniature Railway 7 1/4″ Gauge Society

Planning Permission – Miniature Railway World Forums (tapatalk.com)

Planning permission – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

How about the neighbours?  

Have you checked that there are no objections from your neighbours? Garden railways can be a tad noisy Make sure the neighbours will be ok with the project before moving forward. Some garden railways have had restrictions imposed after complaints from neighbours. If your neighbours complain about your activities, you may face repercussions from local authorities regardless of whether you need planning permission or not. 

Useful links: 

Noise nuisance and neighbours | nidirect

Noise nuisances: how councils deal with complaints – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) 

 Plan your garden railway project in one go, not piecemeal. 

A garden railway needs to be carefully planned before you begin construction. Make sure you know what you are trying to accomplish from the beginning. Having a complex layout with bridges, water features, and tunnels is great, but it requires a lot of maintenance and time. You might be better off with a simpler layout to start.  

Decide now, whatever it may be. Create a plan for the entire railway system from the beginning. When planning piecemeal, there can be all sorts of compatibility and fit issues later. The track doesn’t have to be built all at once; you can start with a shorter, simpler section of track and add to it later. Plan out your finished project before you start though.  

What tools will you need including those required to prepare the ground?

It obviously depends on the extent of your groundwork. On a flat grass surface, you may only need a shovel, spirit level, rake, and a cart to haul away the cuttings to prepare the ground for a simple single gauge circuit. You may need mechanical earth moving equipment, surveying and construction tools for more extensive work.  

Money,money,money………… 

What is your budget for building your railway?  
It is important to know the full cost before committing. Garden railways can be expensive to build. Establish a budget that you can afford. It could take years to complete a project like this, so plan your finances carefully so you can complete it without breaking the bank. 

What is your annual budget for running and maintaining your railway?  
There will be ongoing costs for fuel and maintenance. When you’ve decided what type of railway you want and what you’re going to run, you can estimate your operating costs. 

Rolling stock 

What are you going to be running? There are many things that depend on the weight, gauge, and scale of your locomotive and rolling stock.  

What scale will you choose? This can affect your plans. Some 7¼” gauge locos weigh in at over a ton. With a locomotive of this size and weight, you’ll need deep ballast and heavy-gauge rail. 

What is meant by scale? A model’s scale is how large it is in comparison to its real-world counterpart.  

What gauge will you use? We supply garden track kits in 3½”, 5” and 7¼” Gauge, dual Gauge 5” & 3½” and 7¼” & 5”. The two larger gauges are the best options for ride-on railways. When it comes to stable ground level passenger hauling, 5″ gauge is considered the minimum and only for garden railways. 

What is meant by gauge? Trains and rolling stock are built to a particular gauge, which is the distance between rails. 

What is the minimum turning radius of your loco? You will need to know this to plan the track layout within the space confines of your garden. It may also influence which loco you decide to buy.  

What is the weight of your loco? This will determine the rail profile which in turn may have implications for sleeper size and chairs.  

What is the minimum passing width when carrying passengers/riders? If you want to allow two riding trucks or cars to pass safely, leave enough space for protruding knees and elbows. 

What is the maximum gradient your loco can manage with passengers on board? Miniature locomotives do not like steep gradients. You may need to flatten out steep gradients before laying track. Some locomotives have been known to pull an adult up a 1 in 10 grade when hauling passengers, although 1 in 40 would be considered the sensible maximum. 

How will you store your engines and rolling stock? Miniature locomotives and rolling stock can be a target for thieves. They are also heavy. Consider secure roll-in, roll-out storage on your railway. If not, you may need to invest in a hoist to lift your rolling stock on and off the rails. This will also come in handy if you need to lift them onto a workbench.  

This will determine the gauge, turn radii limitations, ground preparations and type of rail you will need to use.  

Track 

Preparing your track bed. In addition to supporting the transfer of the rolling stock load to the ground, the track bed also holds the track in place. Track beds should be constructed with drainage and geotextile fabrics that prevent plant growth but allow water to drain.  

Ensure that your track bed is level across. Even though the track bed may have minor gradients, it is important that it is level from side to side. A failure to do so can lead to vehicle tipping and derailments. 

How much headroom will you need? Make sure you take great care when it comes to overhanging plants, trees, and garden structures. Make sure there is sufficient headroom so the tallest person can stand comfortably while riding. 

What immovable obstructions and service access are there? A proper survey of your proposed site may reveal underground services that you weren’t aware of. As part of your railway design, you must incorporate access to such services and ensure that objects that cannot be moved are navigated around. 

Are there banked areas that are too steep, and can they be levelled? The maximum advisable gradient is 1:40. Track gradients greater than this should be levelled if possible, avoided if not. 

What type of ballast will you opt for? Ballast serves to spread the load from the sleepers to the ground, facilitate drainage, anchor the sleepers to the ground and assist with track levelling. As rounded stones can cause the track to shift, it is best to use stones with sharp edges. Track stability minimizes derailment. 

Ensure rail alignment is correct before ballasting. Before packing with ballast, make sure your track panels are aligned correctly in the track bed. Once you have ballasted, it is almost impossible to re-align.  

Will your track be a there and back or circuit? If you usually need to lift your track, there and back railways are often the best option, and it also avoids the need for rail bending. However, we believe most would agree that circuits are far more satisfying.  

What overall length of track are you aiming for? You must know the length of your track to calculate the final cost. We supply garden track kits in 10m lengths that contain everything you need to create a 10m track panel (except tools) in your chosen gauge and chair type and have sufficient sleepers for the recommended spacing which are shown below. If you buy individual parts you will need to decide on your required sleeper spacing and calculate how many sleepers you will need.  

Suggested sleeper spacings: 

What rail profile do you require? Your gauge and the kind of rolling stock you operate will determine this. In general, the larger the gauge and the heavier the rolling stock, the higher the rail profile and rail weight. 

As a general guide: 

  • 3½” Gauge – 5/8 x 5/8 16mm Aluminium or 21mm Aluminium or Steel 
  • 5” Gauge – 5/8 x 5/8 16mm Aluminium or 21mm Aluminium or Steel 
  • 7¼” Gauge – 21mm Aluminium or Steel (For light vehicles running occasionally you could use 16mm Aluminium). 

 

ALUMINIUM – 16mm and 21mm  STEEL – Profiled rail – 21mm 
Advantages  Advantages 
Doesn’t cause excessive wheel wear  Less susceptible to expansion/contraction 
Doesn’t rust  Hard-wearing 
Relatively light  Can be welded 
Easier to bend  Stronger than aluminium 
Disadvantages  Disadvantages 
Wears more quickly  May cause excessive wheel wear 
More susceptible to expansion/contraction  Relatively heavy 
  Harder to bend 
  Susceptible to rusting 

 Will gauge widening be required and where? There will be a need to widen the gauge on track curves to enable locomotives and wagons to manoeuver safely around sharp bends. As this function is built into our plastic sleepers and chairs, it is easy to facilitate. The spigot is off set, so placing the chairs on the sleepers with the arrows facing in will set the gauge.  Read more in our Buying Guide to Standard Scale Track

What type of sleepers will you use? Rottable wood or resilient plastic? Plastic sleepers offer the advantages of being more resilient and requiring less maintenance. The initial cost of wooden sleepers can be less, but they may need to be replaced sooner. Our plastic sleepers come with pilot holes already drilled and their hollow base will anchor into your ballast for greater stability. 

What are the pros and cons of wooden and plastic sleepers? Plastic sleepers are more hard-wearing being frost, rot, and UV resistant. If using our plastic chairs and sleepers, automatic gauge widening is built in. 

How will you secure your chosen rail? Rails can be secured to sleepers in a virtually endless number of ways. Pins, screws, nails, clips. It depends on personal choice. PNP standard scale rail chairs are moulded in resilient plastic and can be screwed down or clipped in depending on your choice. We offer chairs for 16mm and 21mm rail profiles and a bar rail chair for 10mm x 20mm black bar rail. One of the advantages of using our screw fit or clip fit system is that they can easily be removed should you need to lift your railway or replace parts.  

What will you use to allow for expansion and contraction? Rail will expand and contract as temperatures change. You will need to allow for this when laying your track by leaving gaps between rail ends. If no gap is left, the expansion may cause the rails to expand and buckle. A fishplate is a metal strip that is screwed to the ends of two rails to join them together and allow for expansion and contraction movement. We offer 2 types of fish plates for standard scale, light, and heavy options.  

How will you bend your rail for the turns? Rail is usually supplied in straight lengths which means you will need to bend the rail for your curves. The advantage of 16mm aluminium rail is that it is softer and therefore easier to bend. 21mm steel rail is harder and may take a bit more effort. You can bend rail using a lot of patience and a garden fork or buy a purpose-built rail bender.  

Where will you drop fire and oils? It will be necessary to have a section of track over a fire pit if you intend to run steam locomotives so that you can “drop fire” while de-commissioning or re-firing your locomotive. Ideally, this needs to be a fireproof pit with drainage.  

What allowances will you need to make for utilities? Will you need to put water pipes under the track bed for hosepipes? Do you need to wire in power for gardening tools and lawnmowers?  Will you later need underground wiring for things like signalling or lighting? Where will you get your water supply for steam engines? Think about all these things when planning your railway. Once you have created the track bed and laid your railway you won’t relish having to dig it up again to add in these items. 

Will you need to include points? Depending on the complexity of your railway, you might need to include points. Laying the points first allows other track panels to be soft-laid before fixing everything. You can buy points already made for your chosen radius or make them yourself using sleepers, chairs, and rail. You will also need to install point levers to activate the point change. When finalizing your track plan, you may wish to determine which points and gauge you will use. Trying to get points in a random radius may be difficult. 

This will determine the extent of groundwork needed and the quantity and type of rail, sleepers, chairs, and fixings that you need.


And almost finally…………………..  

Draw up a detailed scale plan before going any further. This should be for the end vision you have for your garden railway. You don’t have to build it all in one go but it will really help you if you plan it all out to start with.

It may also help to read our Buying Guide to Standard Scale Track.

These youTube videos may also be useful:
How to create a garden railway that uses PNP Railways plastic sleepers and chairs.

PNP Garden Track Kits come with all the parts you need to create 10m of track.

Order yours here:

3½” Gauge Track Kit
5” & 3½ ” Dual Gauge Track Kit
5” Gauge Track Kit
5” Gauge True Scale Track Kit
7¼” Gauge Track Kit
7¼” & 5” Dual Gauge Track Kit

*Tools not included.


And really finally………ENJOY YOUR GARDEN RAILWAY!

 

 

Thank you to our contributors for the images and videos.

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Mount Kilimanjaro at Rugby MES

Extract from the Rugby MES Newsletter.

The month started with the trial steaming of locomotive ‘Mount Kilimanjaro’, which is on loan to us by owners PNP Railways – the makers of various plastic products for miniature railways such as the rail clips for our track and vacuum cylinders for our coach brakes. The video of this is on our website but here is what Edward has to say:

It was a lovely sunny day, and the first steam trials for the East African Railways 59 Class Garratt No.5928 “Mount Kilimanjaro” that is staying with us. This marks the completion of the major works that were carried out in order for the boiler to pass its hydraulic and steam tests. The engine has been completed almost exactly as it was last running, and came with some ‘health issues’! We knew about these before we agreed to have “MK” on loan at RMES, and we knew we’d have some work to do, which will take us a little time, it’s nothing we can’t handle with the clubs skills, and will be a very interesting trip in to the science of steam locomotives. Today’s steaming was all about finding out what the performance of the engine was as it arrived, setting a benchmark, and from that we can build. The ‘health issues’ were very evident and we had some issues with steaming, as we had already predicted, but we know now what we need to do.

I couldn’t have completed the work on my own and the help of the engineering department has been invaluable. I don’t make a habit of naming names in case I miss anyone out, but you know who you are!”

Many thanks to Rugby MES for the update and images.

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PNP bar rail chairs survive -20C

We recently received this from a customer. Interesting to note the temperature range that the bar chairs are subjected to, especially in relation to our recent post about their use in Canada. Many thanks for sending this in.

“My son’s garden railway is in Northern Italy close to the foothills of the Alps. It is, at the moment, an end to end run of about 155 yards in length with a passing loop of about 15 yards, but there is ample space to extend this to a continuous loop of about 400 yards. Family matters are ensuring that progress is very slow, but I know that I have taken out enough of your bar stock chairs to get at least 2/3 of the track built! Initially the track was laid on homemade concrete sleepers, but these were very time consuming to cast and have had a small mortality rate over the years. Following a rethink about half the track has been laid on plastic ‘timber’ purchased locally.

The track bed under the sleepers is at least 4″ deep, sometimes in a trench, sometimes on hard core, with about another 1.5″ ballast around the sleepers. In 10 years since the first lengths were laid nothing has moved significantly despite temperature variation from -15C to 35C regularly and -20C to 40C in extremes. Just for your interest the long straight is 70 yards long with the bottom half on a 1 in 50 gradient and the top half at 1 in 40. 

The blue loco featured in one of the photos is my Phoenix Locos Titan 5 “Alpine Courier” which I have taken over there on 3 occasions to give it a change of scenery. Purely for you own amusement in these rather boring times, if you look up ‘Alpine Courier’ on YouTube then find the one labelled Bellaria Alpine and Northern, this was filmed over the full length of my sons railway one lovely afternoon when we had nothing better to do than play with trains and cameras!” 

We really do enjoy reading about your installations and projects and seeing your photos, so please do send them in or post on our Facebook page. And we look forward to being able to sit in the sunshine and play with our trains again.

 

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A Mountainous Engine Arrives

Sometimes I think we live in an engine shed rather than a house. We have only just waved farewell to Sir Percivale, our 10¼” gauge King Arthur class as it head’s north for a paint job and further boiler tests prior to running, then we hear the distant rumblings of the arrival of MOUNT KILIMANJARO.
I thought Sir Percival was big, but by comparison this 7¼” gauge Beyer Garratt is huge. It arrived on a 27′ trailer, a long streak of majestic maroon and a perfect replica of those unusual locomotives supplied to East African Railways by Beyer Peacock and Co. Ltd between 1955 and 1956. As with all these duplex engines they were designed and built to provide extra power, speed or traction, sometimes in areas of steep, unyielding, terrain.
The first thing I did on spying the uncovered locomotive was to count its wheels. 4-8-2 + 2-8-4. I have seen “Kili” as we affectionately call it, before. It has been at Weston Park for the past three years and may be heading off to Rugby next year. Take a look at this youtube clip.

Aesthetically this engine is not very attractive, to my mind it is rather ungainly, looking like a conventional steam locomotive with a great big box stuck on its front with one huge Cyclops eye in the middle. Still beauty is in the eye of the beholder and I am none too pretty myself.

The original full-size locomotives of the class 59 were all oil fired, probably because the sheer effort required to feed these hungry beasts with coal would have been too great for their human operators. There were 34 of these metre gauge locomotives built in Manchester for the East African Railway. Nearly all were named after a mountain in Africa, a few after extinct volcanoes, and they were the largest, heaviest (252 tons) and most powerful locomotives to operate on any metre gauge railway in the world.
Designed to haul up to 1,200 tons on a 1.5% gradient they became the mainstay of freight transportation on the 330 mile run between Mombasa and Nairobi. They operated well into the late 1970’s. The last full-size locomotive being withdrawn from service in 1980. One preserved engine, MOUNT GELAI, remains in the Nairobi Railway Museum.

Our model MOUNT KILIMANJARO (5928) has livery representative of the characteristic traditional E.A.R. colours, maroon with yellow gold inlay, however the model is designed to be coal fired. This Beyer Garratt is a type of steam locomotive that is articulated in three parts. The boiler is mounted on a centre frame and the two engines are mounted on separate frames at either end of the boiler. This articulation permits the huge locomotive to negotiate curves and run on lighter track than a similar sized rigid engine would be able to do.

To give an indication as to the sheer size of these locomotives, here are the measurements of the model Mount Kilimanjaro:-
 
 Overall length :  19’4″
 Height from rail:  31″
 Width:  24″
 Boiler unit and front engine:  14′ 2″
 Boiler unit:  9’1″
 Total weight fully coaled and watered is a mammoth:  4,400lbs (1995.806kg)
 Approximate axle load:  314lb (142.428kg)
The model (miniature) is 5.430 scale of the full-size engine, or 2.209inches per foot, so it is evident how huge these great heroes of the E.A.R. were. Trevor Heath has set up a good website. Click here.
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A Visit to Burghclere

It was a really dreary Saturday morning in early December. We were heading down to Burghclere in Hampshire to meet up with a very good friend of ours who is also a very clever and talented engineer.

For some months he has formed part of a small band of volunteers who have been constructing a light railway around the soccer pitch in the village of Burghclere and they were celebrating the start of the venture with a Christmas fair and running day.

We arrived in the early part of the afternoon to find stalls and catering facilities set up around the club house. The volunteers and stall holders were doing a marvellous job of keeping their wares dry in the pouring rain.
I was particularly impressed with the ladies on the catering stand, who were valiantly keeping mince pies dry with cling film whilst serving an endless stream of customers with hot beverages whilst also manning a barbeque. Inside the club house we found Santa in his Grotto, a large tombola stall, a raffle, guess the name of the teddy and many other attractions.

A local church choir arrived and performed a lovely medley of Christmas carols before heading off down a small path to the engine shed/workshop that masquerades as a very pretty station to partake of a ride on the 7¼” gauge railway.
The young cleric himself even straddled the small carriage, cassock billowing in the wind with choristers seated behind him thoroughly enjoying every moment of the experience.
The track is as yet is only partially laid around about a third of the field. It will eventually totally circumnavigate the soccer pitch.

A water tower has been erected alongside the facade of a station. We were told that it had only just been put up, one of the volunteers had made it using an old drum that they found on site which he had very skilfully mounted onto the plinth that he had also constructed.

The train itself was utilising two engines (so double the pleasure and interest for the enthusiast) both beautiful models of Great Western Railway engines. At the far end of the push me pull you line up, I found a beautifully executed model of a Great Western Railway 14XX class tank engine, in traditional G.W.R green. These wonderful standard gauge (4′ 8½”) locomotives were originally built at the G.W.R. Swindon works between 1932 and 1936, a total of 75 being produced. Their design is accredited to Charles Collett, however the original design dates back to 1868 with the introduction of the George Armstrong 517.

Burghclere Miniature Railway
Burghclere Miniature Railway
Burghclere Miniature Railway
Burghclere Miniature Railway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

True to form the model has an 0-4-2T wheel configuration, twin internal cylinders and slide valves. Sadly, they were withdrawn from service between 1956 and 1965 although four full sized preserved locomotives survive today.At the other end of the consist, in black livery, I found another G.W.R locomotive. This beautiful beasty was a 15XX 0-6-0 pannier tank engine.

This is a perfect copy of one of ten locomotives also built at the Swindon works in 1949. It is an unusual design having external cylinders (17.5″ x 24″), Walschaerts valve gear and a very short wheel base of just 12′ 10″ which allowed it to navigate curves of 3.5 chains (231′ ). The full-size locomotives were quite restricted by their weight and wheelbase rendering them unsuitable for fast running.

The majority of their work was confined to stock movement and they were often utilised at Paddington station. The originals were withdrawn from service between 1959 and 1963, however one working preserved locomotive can be seen at The Severn Valley Railway.

The two 7¼” gauge models complete with three coaches gave us a very smooth ride down the newly laid stretch of track and back.

After our small excursion we were shown the workshop, including some ingenious pieces of equipment that had been personally designed by our host to aid track laying (which utilises PNP Railways PNR-5B bar rail chairs) 

Rail Chair for 10 x 20mm Bar Rail
Rail Chair for 10 x 20mm Bar Rail

 

I must say we had a lovely afternoon with the trains in this very picturesque village, and we look forward with anticipation to the completion of this wonderful project.