Railway Build Phase One

The Planning

Phase 1 for me was to get a railway laid that I could eventually run a real steam locomotive on, my initial space was a little limited, 7 metres X 3 metres.  At this point (April 2018) I didn’t have a “backstory”, and today (2 May 2020) I still don’t, also at this planning stage I didn’t have a name, but as you can tell I eventually came up with Tumble Down Falls, why? well I really don’t know, it just seemed right.

I decided that I would like a single track double circuit, with a passing loop, that could be a station, and set of sidings at the higher level, all this initiated from ground level, so a track plan was produced. This final one is something like version 12, though all quite similar.

Phase 1 Track Plan

Making a Start

With my outline plan set, it was time to “cut turf”, and it is at this point I have some advice:

A number of different sources had two main suggestions for track laid on top of/ sunk into the ground:

  1. Spray the ground with weed killer to get rid of all the grass and other growth.
  2. Cover the area with weed membrane.

I totally ignored the first one, thinking I could manage this, how wrong I was, grass will grow and grow and grow. Unless you want grass, kill it before you start.

The second one I partially followed putting membrane under the track for the width of the ballast plus a bit, and any weeds here are easily removed.

The lower part of the railway is at ground level, the earth was cut to the track plan and 40 – 50 mm below the level I wished.  Next pegs were driven in at 60 cm distances (length of my spirit level), to the required height of the track.

Digging out the foundations
Finding the level

The bottom (and up the sides of the trench was lined with weed suppressant liner and covered to within 10mm of the top of the pegs with sharp sand. Horticultural grit was then laid to the top of the pegs and the track laid on top.  At this stage understand what you want from your track, where the isolated sections will be and attached you track feeds to the rail.  Of course as the railway develops all this may change, and extra feeds and isolators may be required, or you may move away from track power.

Laying the first track
Initial overview

Building the Incline

With the ground level work finished (yes I know, it’s never really finished) time to turn my attention to the incline, and received various items of information on building the incline:

  • What the gradient maximum should be, and even that information was mixed.  I eventually settled of 1:25 (4.00 percent) maximum.
  • Ease into any change of gradient, sometime this is easier said than done.
  • Use of either breeze block of lightweight blocks to form the foundation.

So having started my incline after determining the height to ensure the trains could pass under safely, how do I measure the gradient.  Lots of tips here from other people, but most are based on their equipment e.g. length of their level, what did I do? With 1 cm rise in every 25 cm, suitable length of flat and parallel wood was found, and a small block of wood attached, the a second block of wood 1 cm thicker was attached with the leading edges (the part that touches the rail) 25 cm apart. In the photo, if the bubble is to the left of centre, too steep, and if on the centre or right of centre within my specification. 

For the foundation of the gradients I went for lightweight blocks, not quite as cheap as breeze blocks, but lighter, easier to handle and easy to cut with an old wood saw.

Start of first incline
Measuring the gradient

The basic concept of continuos run is completed, though note some LGB R1 curves were used on the inner curve whilst I awaited the arrival of the correct curves.  I am sure you all know what it is like, I just needed to run a train.

The continuos run

High Level Siding

The final part of the planned Phase 1 is the high level siding, its prime purpose is for the preparation of the live steam loco when it is purchased. Not really much to say, prep the ground add the blocks, level and add track.  The photo shows the (nearly) finished siding, and the rocks (1 tonne) purchased to provide the landscaping for the railway, more on that later.

High level siding

Laying the Track

So far I have explained how I built the “foundations”, but what I have not explained is the laying and fixing of the track.  My initial considerations were for track power, and so each rail end was cleaned and a copper graphite paste applied to help maintain conductivity.  The track was joined using the stand fishplates as provided with the track, and ties (e.g. LGB 11500 Track clamp) to hold the track together.  The track was then secured at 600 – 900 mm interval with a screw either into the levelling post used at the ground level, or into the lightweight blocks.

I soon found the track ties did not work, and moved to more mechanical fixing.  Where track was already laid, I used over fishplate “Hillman Clamps” which clamps the fishplates to the track.  However for points I took a slightly different apporach, and removed the fish plates completely from the point, and the adjacent track end.  There I used Massoth clamps, which have two screws to secure the track, or split-jaw clamps, the advantage being, if the point needs maintenance, it is easier to remove from the existing track.

Having the track rigid with these clamps now prevents the track moving in the fish plate, which could be a problem in the heat, so except in couple of specific locations the screws securing the track have been removed, and the track floats on the ballast, similar to the prototype.  some people do secure their ballast, currently I have no plans to do this.

Split-Jaw clamps on point

Having the track rigid with these clamps now prevents the track moving in the fish plate, which could be a problem in the heat, so except in couple of specific locations the screws securing the track have now been removed, and the track floats on the ballast, similar to the prototype.  Some people do secure their ballast with a variety of adhesives or cement mixes, currently I have no plans to do this.


As with all plans not everything works first time, however on the whole thing went well.  As you may or may not be aware unlike Standard Gauge railways, narrow gauge railways do not have a “standard” loading gauge each railway having their own, this, along with the various scales in garden railways can lead to problems in both height and width clearance, it would seem (so far) mine are fine for the trains I run, so what was my problem?


The problem was with the reverse “S” going in to the low level passing loop, I used LGB R1 curves and points, and though most LGB locos and wagons didn’t mind them, certain locos and wagons derailed nearly every time they were traversed.

LGB R1 reverse "S"
Reverse "S"

The easy solution would have been just to replace the two R1 points with LGB R3 points, however I considered that removal of the reverse “S” at each end of the passing loop would ensure smoother running, so both solutions were used.  A slight change to the track plan, with the biggest changes being the tracks would be further apart, not much, about 10 mm and the usable space in the passing loop reduced, so some work, but nothing that was not easily achieved.

So with my initial (phase 1) track in place, the next step is to “landscape” the railway.

New passing loop points