Tag Archives: Kato Unitrack

Photo Plank

A small modelling prohect that can hopefully be completed in relatively short period of time, a so-called “photo plank”. Given that my main layout remains devoid of scenery, this diorama-like scene provides a background for photos of rolling stock.

While it’s primary purpose is as a photographic prop, I’m building it to the dimensions of T-Trak’s standards, so that it could be incorporated into a working layout.

I don’t trust my carpentry skills to build the thing entirely out of ply and get the whole thing square. So I’m using a 2″ Woodlands Scenics subterrain foam board as the base with a 3/4″ riser to bring the height up to the 2 3/4″ specified in the T-Trak standards. The track is Kato Unitrack double-track. The completed module will be faced in 4mm ply which will bring the length to the 618mm of a T-Trak double mddule. I’ve got the material to build two, the plan is for one to be British-outline, the other Swiss.

This close-up without the edges of the module visible ought to hint at the way it will be used. Now I need to decide whether to build the British or the Swiss one first.

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Par to St Blazey in N

Par to St Blazey in N

This is another one of those draft project track plans of mine. It’s an attempt to squeeze one of my long-term ambitions into the loft space I currently have available; Par and St Blazey in Cornwall.

I started building a layout based on this prototype many years ago, in a 12′ x 8′ outbuilding when I still lived in Slough. It got as far as the main-line part, with trains running and some rudimentary scenery. It never ran that well due to the poor quality of my baseboard construction, and an enforced move for work reasons eventually put it out of its misery. But it’s an idea that never died, and of course I have all the necessary rolling stock.

Par & St Blazey

It was a fascinating prototype back in the late 1980s, when I started building the original layout, and visited the area several times. Par was (and still is) a classic junction station fully signalled by WR lower-quadrant signals. The marshalling yard and locomotive depot at St.Blazey sat half a mile along the branch to Newquay, and was the operational hub for freight operations in Cornwall. Most of the traffic at the time was wagonload, and the yard was the place where trip workings from various locations were assembled into long-distance trains for destinations outside Cornwall.

China clay was the predominant traffic, but the yard also saw cement to Chasewater, calcified seaward from Drinnink Mill, beer from Truro and fuel oil to Penzance. Freight traffic to and from west Cornwall had to reverse in Par station, usually running round in the station. It was a busy place; St Blazey yard saw up to seven arrivals and seven departures a day, including three to west Cornwall, and the main line saw a procession of passenger traffic, as well as a fair bit of parcels and mail. Most of the long-distance passenger workings were HST sets, but the local trains were four or five Mk1 coaches behind a class 47 or 50.

St Blazey Yard with an unidentified class 08 shunter in faded Mainline blue livery
St Blazay yard in 2004, by which time it was far less busy

My original layout was in a U-shape, with Par station along one wall, and St Blazey (had the layout got that far) along the other, with the staging yard for the main line behind St.Blazey. The main line was arranged as a dumbbell, so up trains could reappear as down trains, meaning you could operate a representative 24 hour timetable.

I couldn’t work out a good way of fitting that plan into my current space, which is slightly larger but a different shape, but this alternative plan seems to cover most of my “givens and druthers”. It’s still a U-shape, but with the main line a more traditional oval with the main fiddle yard behind Par, and a sexond smaller fiddle yard representing the Newquay branch tucked behind St Blazey. The plan uses Kato Unitrack, which for me is ideal for a layout focussed on operation rather than display. This will not be a finescale layout.

Single unit class 153 railcar in Cornish advertising black livery at Par
By 2004 all the local services were railcars

A few caveats. First, this is a first attempt to see if the concept can be made to fit the space; some of the track lengths in St Blazey yard have been bodged to fit, and will need some fiddling about with funny length straights for any final design. Second, the turntable is a Fleischman manual one, since I’ve actually got one available. The plan might work better with the newly-released Kato electric turntable. And finally, I haven’t designed the main line fiddle yard yet, which might be one of the more challenging aspects of the plan; exhibition-style up and down loops won’t work for the sort of operation I’m planning.

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Cambrian on a Door

Another of those layout designs I’m unlikely to build. This one’s based on the Cambrian lines in the 1970s, designed to fit on a standard 6’6″ x 2’6″ hollow-core door, using Kato Unitrack.

The station and yard on the lower side of the layout is based on Machynlleth, the operational hub of the system both in the 1970s and today. The upper half represents any one of the many scenic sections of the line, with the section between Dovey Junction where the line hugs the Dovey estuary with a series of reverse curves a prime candidate.

There is no fiddle yard, and this is by design. The goods sidings on the outside of the oval, and the motive power depot on the inside serve the function of the fiddle yard. It will work provided you don’t clutter the layout with too much rolling stock. I’d suggest three or four two-car DMUs, one or two class 24 or 25 locomotives and perhaps 20 wagons should give enough variety without making things too crowded.

Speaking of stock, most of the signature items for the line are available off-the-shelf. Graham Farish make the class 24 locomotives used on freight as well as the class 101 and 108 DMUs which dominated passenger services. Dapol make the distinctive BR gunpowder vans which made the daily coast line freight such a recognisable train. Likewise, it’s easy to model the Aberystwyth-York mail, the one remaining loco-hauled weekday passenger working with Farish Mk1 coaches and Dapol parcels vans (Former blue spot fish vans converted to parcels use were common on this train).

This is a plan that, at heart, is really a glorified train-set oval. But it should still make a fair representation of a real place, and would make an ideal beginner’s project.

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Fiddle yard and more oldies.

Lineup of three CJM Class 50s in the fiddle-yard. The track is Kato Unitrack using #6 turnouts.

Now I’ve taken delivery of another shipment of Kato Unitrack, all the track in the main line fiddle yard is down. It it’s current incarnation there are six roads using Kato #6 points and some 282mm radius curves to keep the track spacing tight. The tracks are in excess of ten feet in length, meaning there’s space for two trains in each road at least when running in British-outline mode.

Experience will tell if this formation will work; it’s accepable for a parade-of-trains approach but won’t allow realistic timetabled operation because it lacks the ability to reverse trains. I’ve drawn up an alternative scheme with eight roads and trailing crossovers at each end which will allow end-to-end style operation as well. That may end up reducing capacity slightly because all the additional pointwork at each end will take up more space, but will gain a lot in operational flexibility.

The three locomotives are again CJM models acquired during the 1990s, repainted and detailed Farish shells on CJM Saturn chassis. The trains are three iconic (for me at any rate) late-80s Cornish trains, the “Night Riviera”, the West of England TPO and the afternoon St.Blazey to Gloucester Speedlink.

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Where Nations Collide

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

This is an ambitious project, which is an attempt to combine my British and Swiss modelling interests in a single layout. The idea is for a fixed track plan that will work either as a British or a Swiss outline layout, with scenery and buidings as swappable modules to enable the layout to be run in either mode. Time will tell whether or not this approach will actually work or not, but the intention is an operation-based layout rather than a exhibition-quality display layout.

It centres around a junction station between a double track main line and a single track branch, with a five-road marshalling yard for wagonload freight. In British mode it’s a Par/St.Blazey/Lostwithiel mashup with the yard handling china clay traffic. In Swiss mode it’s somewhere on the Lötchberg line with elements of Frutigen and Kandersteg. The fiddle yard is currently six main line tracks, although I have plans to expand this to eight. I haven’t completely decided how to configure the branch fiddle yard.


It’s at a very early stage of construction at the moment, since the track plan isn’t completely finalised, and nothing’s actually fixed down or wired up. This is the far end of the line, with the junction with the branch and a couple of roads of the yard in place.


What will be the station area, with a Dapol class 122 “Bubble car” looking a bit lost. The Speedlink/Enterprise era freight stock in the goods loop is being used to check clearances and siding lengths, and represents the longest train the yard can handle.


A steam-era freight at the other end of the layout. Despite the mixture of stock while test running, it’s intended to keep to one era during operating sessions, so you won’t be seeing kettles and modern air-braked freight stock at the same time, at least not when anyone is looking.

The track is all Kato Unitrack, some of it ten years old and on it’s fourth layout. No, it doesn’t match hand-ballasted Peco Code 55 in appearance, but that’s not what it’s for. I’m using a mix of #6 and #4 turnouts; all main line points with the exception of one trailing crossover are #6s, while the yard is all #4s. I’m done this because the some older rolling stock with cruder wheel profiles isn’t happy on the lightly-sprung #4s, but #6s don’t give closely-enough spaced tracks for the yard.

More updates will come as construction progresses.

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Mini Modules

I’ve been reading a thread on Mini Modules on RMWeb. This is a modular layout concept based around tiny modules, each roughly the size of an A4 piece of paper. Yes, that small!  Using Kato Unitrack, they clip together using Unitrack’s rail joiners to connect the modules. The small size of the individual modules mean you can go to town on the detail, yet still have something finished in relatively short time. While modular layouts can be somewhat toy-like with a lot of focus on gimmicks, Sir Madoc’s thread shows the scope for building far more realistic layouts using this approach.

Mini-modules have been promoted for people who lack the space a permanent layout, but I can also see the potential as an alternative to a more traditional approach for those of us who do have the space.

I’ve been intrigued with the concept for quite a while. I’m interested in both British and Swiss outline modelling, and often considered modular concepts where common elements like fiddle yards could be shared between multiple layouts. Mini-modules based on the popular T-Track standard, or something similar may be a good way of implementing this.

While I’m still looking for a new job I’m staring down the barrel of a potential relocation with no guarantee that any future home will have a suitable space for any layout of fixed size. The inherently flexible nature of mini-modules is a huge bonus here, in that they can be reconfigured to fit a space of any size or shape which might be available for a layout, something which isn’t the case for a large piece of benchwork.

Certainly there are some projects I’ve considered in the past which are ideal candidates for the mini-module approach, most specifically anything that’s centred on a “parade of trains” approach on a simple double-track main line rather than an attempt to model an operational hub. “Marine Parade”, based on Dawlish in Devon is a case in point. A six-foot stretch of main line with a variety of buildings behind the tracks is a relatively ambitious project for it’s size and simplicity, even if the majority of the buildings are adapted from commercially available kits rather than scratchbuilt models of the real buildings. Building it twelve inches at a time, completing and detailing each module before moving on to the next one has a lot of appeal. The same applies to my Swiss outline interests, which have a similar parade of trains approach. A small passing station on the Lötchberg line will fit into three or four module lengths. Big-time main line modelling based one of the classic trans-Alpine routes really rules out modelling an operational hub; they just take up too much space.

And that’s before we get into diversions and side-projects. I’ve always fancied building a small working diorama-style layout based on the Cambrian lines in the early 70s, and already have much of the rolling stock needed. And there are a few spectacular scenic locations in Cornwall that I’ve never quite managed to work into a room-filling layout plan. The Luxulyan valley on the steeply-graded and sharply-curved part of Par to Newquay branch is a prime example. It saw, and indeed still sees quite heavy traffic, both passenger and freight, but the narrow valley means you can capture the essence of it in quite a small space.

I have come to the conclusion that I am never going to complete a large, fully sceniced model railway layout. On layouts I’ve built before, I’ve got as far as scenery on some parts of the layout, but never fully detailed, and whole swathes never got beyond bare boards. Mini-modules may well be just the solution I’ve been looking for.

So now I need to stop talking about them on the Interweb, and build one or two.

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