Model Railroading in the UK, a perception

If it doesn't fit above, try here!
Post Reply
User avatar
Posts: 829
Joined: Mon Nov 09, 2009 10:46 pm
Location: Newton Abbot, Devon, UK .

Model Railroading in the UK, a perception

Post by torikoos » Thu Feb 06, 2014 5:49 pm

Hello all, on another forum I recently received some comments on my layout progress, and one thing leading to another an interesting conversation about how railway modeling in the UK is perceived, at least through the eyes of one American forum member, who shall remain nameless here. I have copied the conversation below, but the names of other individuals have been named XXXX and YYYY etc, to respect their privacy.
I am interested in your opinions on this topic, and wonder if there's an opening here where the NMRA-BR can set itself apart?

XXXX: One question I have, in that case, is how this layout potentially differs from a diorama or a photo posing board. Is it set up to operate or otherwise behave like a railroad? One thing I see in UK style US prototype layouts is that they only come out at exhibitions, where the owners and operators are, by their own account, distracted by questions and other interaction with the visitors -- and in fact might be perceived as unsociable if they just concentrate on operation, since the assumption is that the visitors, or "punters" in UK parlance, are normally not well informed about the hobby and would rather ask basic questions or chat than watch. So the layouts are normally vertical in a closet, but when they come out, they can do little more than run back and forth at random to entertain the public. So in my view, many UK layouts are dioramas or conversation pieces rather than model railroads in the sense that many US modelers see the hobby.

A diorama is fine, but it isn't necessarily the same hobby. Do you do anything to operate this layout in a prototypical way?


Interesting topic.
Let me answer that two fold, first about this layout:
It is located in my loft (attic), and it is , compared what you see in the US hobby press etc, rather small. UK houses are generally smaller than many in the US, which is another reason why people perhaps build dioramas btw.
Anyway, this layout (once progressed far enough), is meant to be operated by myself, and perhaps one other person. However I do like scenery and therefore I haven't crammed it full of track. I try to follow a prototype a little, but not 100%, space is the main culprit there again.. I haven't reached the stage that I can operate it much, a bit of switching I can do, but the trains don't as yet have another 'destination' to go and come from, there will be in the future though. Building this layout is happening in stages, and I try and add at least some basic scenery, before I move to the next section.

Second, your perception of the UK model railroad 'exhibitions' and modelers: While there is certainly some truth in what you write, particularly on the average show, operations is becoming more and more something people are interested in. This then usually is done with a modular layout. Again, people might have limited space, but can build a module. Joining these up forming a bigger layout in a sports hall or elsewhere, and set up operations.
I personally belong to a local railway modeling group (a division of the NMRA British Region), that does just that. Montly operating sessions, and within the NMRA - BR there are several others doing the same. These are members only gatherings with no members of the public.
A link of one such meet is here: viewtopic.php?f=19&t=7203&hilit=Western+Union

Sometimes we join up with members of other groups, like here:

We've also demonstrated it at UK railway exhibitions, one of which had us operating a modular layout over 180 feet in length (150 of it on a modular branch) , it caught the eyes of people for a couple of reasons: It was the biggest layout there, we ran AMERICAN trains (at prototypical speeds and with sound, smoothly!), we showed that trains had a purpose and they 'operated' , not just rain back and forth or aimless rounds. We had a big enough crew that some of us concentrated on 'operations', while others were at hand to chat to the public. It was all well received.
Here's some footage of it:

Modular railroading , including operations certainly is gaining popularity here.

There is a large group of modelers that make a diorama, and just enjoy the building of it, and then show that off at shows, not sure if they do any other modeling at home, but it surely is the perception that they create and you seem to have noticed.

I must admit at this stage that I am very poorly informed about the general UK railway modeling scene, I've never interested myself in UK railways , I've always modelled US model railroads (since I was 20 ish), and before that I modeled german railways on a home layout.

Does that answer your questions?
XXXX: Do you do anything to move cars, locos, and/or trains in a logical way? In other words, from what I see on sites like rmweb, the tendency is to say OK, this is New England, Florida, whatever, I'm good, now I'm going to run my locos back and forth and that's it (this layout is now for sale). Do you do anything to get away from that?

YYYY: I'm beginning to suspect, XXXX, that your questions are rhetorical.

XXXX: Only in part -- KOOS is asking what someone might point out as potentially being done otherwise than what one sees. I'm seeing some very good scenery work, but so far, I'm getting an idea from the photos that locos just run back and forth with no real purpose. I wouldn't raise this if we hadn't been invited to make that sort of comment.


I'm not sure if you asking this as a general question, or to me. For myself the answer is , yes I (plan to) do something with the cars. They get destinations and get transported with 'purpose'. At the club we use JRMI to sort out the cars and their destinations. We don't just haul a hopper from A to B for the sake of it. It would go to / come from a grain loading facility for example , to be handled then sorted, and eventually leave from their for it's next assignment or destination. We're still learning about operations so I am sure we make mistakes, but the purpose is to have fun, and learn about real railroad operations in the process.
On my own layout I plan to do similar things, once it is completed sufficiently to actually do so.

So if your observation from the pictures is that there appears to be little in the way of operations, that is partly true because the layout hasn't been completed enough to get to point B, only point A exists, and is 80% ready track wise (some work remains on the controls of turnouts), but once done I can operate that as a switching layout with the trains arriving from 'rest of world', and using a switcher like the SW1500 in the pictures, to take cars from the arrival spur to the yard, sort the cars (or spot them at an industry, such as the scrap yard you've seen parts of) , and assemble a new train to be taken back to 'rest of world'.

What you see on RM (and elsewhere) is that people have build a small layout and switch on that. Some operate it as a switching puzzle (and often the trackplan reflects that), some attach staging or a traverser and try to run limited operations where the destinations are on the layout, and origins are in 'the rest of the world' , or vice versa. There's only so much you can do on a small layout like that. Others as you've observed, solely build it as an exhibition piece , a little island on it's own. Nothing wrong with that perse but it lacks the operations side of things.
In any of these cases however, it's largely because one has limited space and can't build much bigger, and what they like (or have been accustomed too).
If they enjoy it, then great. In our case with modular layouts, we're trying to show that there's more to model railroading than just inglenooks and switching puzzles etc, and certainly among the 'north american scene' this is catching on.

My new project Tree Point, will be operated like that as a stand alone, but when taken to the club, it will become part of a larger modular set up, and then the story gets more interesting.

YYYY: A most reasoned and (for a newbie to the 'Dark Side' like me) enlightening response, Koos.

That's interesting to read.

KOOS: Glad it is of use to you YYYY.

Obviously operations, whatever you model, can enhance any model railroad. Whether it is Japanese railways, Dutch, English or North American, trains serve a purpose. It is to transport various commodities and/or people from A to B etc. I find it adds to my enjoyment of 'playing with trains'. Of course, like most, I can enjoy a train 'just running by' through nicely executed scenery, and I have been 'guilty' of that, but after a while you probably want more. Operations is one aspect that could be that.

One thing stands out though, never over complicate things. Don't bite of more than you can chew, basically. So don't build a basement empire with loads of industries and yards, if you can't reasonably see it finished, and if you're going to be the only one operating it, you'll drown. if you have help, or can have additional people help in operating, and share the hobby in such a way, then that's great.

For the majority of us, a small layout will probably be most rewarding, whether it's a shelf layout depicting a small industrial area and switching cars, or a passenger station, or even a 4x8 run around type affair, it depends on the individual wants and needs, but it's got to be of a manageable size so you can see it to completion within a reasonable time, otherwise boredom and frustration might come into play.

Personally I do like the social aspect, hence I like the modular layout concept. It enables me to meet like minded people, share the hobby, and run trains , operate them as the prototype would (or at least attempt it) on a much larger and more complex scale than I could ever achieve at home.

ZZZZ: I too, think the modular approach is catching on over here in England, more people talk about it on forums. I would like to, perhaps, make a module that could be attched to a fiddle yard board for use at home, unlikely to ever be hooked up to other peoples, but it would allow me the re use of said fiddle yard board with another module. Space is in very short supply these days, & small layouts are the rule for most modellers. Operations is a big part of layouts built for home use, whereas show layouts are built to entertain the paying public (in the main).

KOOS: Hi ZZZZ: thanks for dropping in and share your view. I wouldn't be too worried about ever being able to share your module.
While I do not know your personal circumstances, I am aware you live away from some of the other people that might be module owners. However where's a will there's usually a way. Even if you manage to join your module once per year and you make it a 'weekend outing' , then all good. :-)
Similarly you could travel and instead of bringing a module, you can join as just an operator. My personal circumstances is that I make it to a meeting about 4 to 6 times each year, never every month like some of our group can do. I have a traveling job which means that weekends at home are precious and my family takes up my time.

Your layout plans/project sound like what many people with limited space would do, and it typical for many UK based model railroaders.

So after this lengthy opening, let's hear it :-)
Koos Fockens -Devon UK. North American Model Railroading
Age is just a case of mind over matter. If you don't mind, then it doesn't matter.

Posts: 48
Joined: Fri Jul 03, 2009 7:05 pm
Location: South Lancing, West Sussex

Re: Model Railroading in the UK, a perception

Post by santafe1958 » Sat Feb 08, 2014 11:44 pm

I suspect some of it comes from us only having small layouts, by US standards, and also not realising that Operations, European style, is totally different.
I modelled German railways for the best part of 25 years!
During that time I operated to a timetable, but bearing in mind that most secondary lines saw a daily freight and often an hourly / two hourly passenger service, the method of operating would be different, in that it was sequence with everything fully signalled.
I have a friend who has a garden railway and he operates using real signalling / bell codes!
Hardly cannot say he doesn't operate.
It's just that it's totally alien to the US way of doing things.

Since I went over to US modelling, I've changed my perceptions too......
I run a daily freight, complete with switch lists and waybills, but still have sequence running for the stone and stock trains!
The best of both worlds?

Brian K.Woolven
Chief Operating Officer,
Deadwood City Railroad.

Posts: 130
Joined: Fri Jul 03, 2009 7:05 pm

Re: Model Railroading in the UK, a perception

Post by PeterLJ » Sun Feb 09, 2014 9:16 am

Hi Koos

A good answer. However we have been operating prototypically over here for years which people over there seem aware of, Freezer wrote an excellent little book in 93 and we certainly ran a large Japanese N Gauge layout with signals and timetable well over 10 years ago.


Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest