Category Archives: How To

Working with a steep garden – terracing

6115480471_2f30a88ea9_bIf you have a steep garden, terracing is a great way to make your garden more attractive and useful.

Realistically, if your garden has too extreme a gradient, you’re not going to be able to run trains up them without serious problems. While you may have to make some compromises on your layout with a terraced garden, it’s better than the alternative of not doing it at all!

As these things tend to be, it can sometimes seem an intimidating project to start, especially with no previous experience. It can be useful to browse the Internet for some inspiration and see what others have done with their gardens – especially if they’ve managed to incorporate a railway.

As well as making your garden look more attractive, terracing stops rain water washing all of the soil and nutrients to the end of the garden, and allowing more than weeds to grow.

Terracing can allow you to separate more than one railway line from eachother, perhaps with different plants in each area to add extra interest.

DSC01059Depending on your timescale and budget, there are a few different options for achieving this. The more long term – though unfortunately tending to be the most expensive – is to use stone walls. You could also use wood, but you’ll be doing more ongoing maintenance.

Make no mistake, this is a serious project in terms of time – and you’ll be amazed by how much earth needs to be dug up. It may be worth speaking to a professional landscape gardner – even if just for an initial consultation and assistance with planning things. Their fee may end up saving you time and money in the long term!

Images by Lynn Friedman and Elanor Martin.

Hosting An Open Day

Beware of Trains SignOnce you’ve built your line, you’re going to want to show it off!

The best way to do this is to host an open day. Invite friends and family, or post up an invitation online – but I would advise you not to disclose your address until people have, at the very least, emailed to request it. This will keep out most unwanted visitors.

On the day, people may wish to bring their own trains to experience having them run on your line, you should specify any restrictions in advance (for example if you do not wish to allow steam trains on safety grounds) so that people are not disappointed when they arrive.

Draw up rules for safety (including such things as not crossing the line without looking, not driving the trains without permission etc). Even if you think these things are just common sense, putting them on paper can solve a lot of problems later. Ride on Railways has an excellent section dealing with safety.

Going Beyond A Simple Model Railway Layout

Today’s guest article has been written by B. Murphy

At their most basic level, model railroad layouts are simple circles and ovals that
would fit onto a 4×6 sheet of plywood.

These simple track layouts are easy to set up and relatively inexpensive, but they
aren’t really very realistic. After all, with the exception of kids’ rides at the
amusement park, how many trains have you ever seen that just go around in circles?

The Point-to-Point Layout

Real railroads go from one place to another place. They may have sidings, branch
lines, and other subsidiary systems, but the main line starts at one point, travels to
another point, and stops.

Trains are turned around at terminals by means of extensive yards, wyes, loops, and
turntables, but the main line, whether double-track or single-track, goes from point
to point. There are switches and yards at one end, and a turnaround of some sort at
the other.

Despite the point-to-point model railroad’s resemblance to real railroad lines, it
is’nt very successful on a model railroad.

True, in some very large model systems the point-to-point plan has been used, but
in most cases the model railroad cannot possibly approximate the distance traveled
by a real railroad.

If you had the entire Madison Square Garden for your layout, you still wouldn’t be
able to duplicate, in scale mileage, a reasonable point-to-point railroad. In normal
model railroads, the train hardly leaves one terminal before it has arrived at the end
of the line.

No time is allowed for switching operations at the terminals for freight trains to
perform their normal functions, while the express is speeding from terminal to

In a good-sized layout, scenery can handle part of this problem. The express can
rush into a tunnel, where the operator stops it. He then carries on other railroad
business to his heart’s content and, when it is completed, makes his express rush
out of the other end of the tunnel as if it had been traveling hundreds of miles all
the time.

A small layout, however, cannot adopt even this illusion because a small railway has
no room for two genuine terminals.

The Out-and-Home Layout

The out-and-home layout solves part of this problem – it has only one terminal.
This is really a point-to-point system doubled back on itself.

You have a terminal. You send the train out and it travels through farmland and
forest, through villages and mountains, and finally arrives at a terminal. It just
happens to be the same terminal it started from, but you can easily pretend that it

This system gives you a little more mileage between terminals than the point-to-
point system, but in most model railroads the train arrives back home before you
have been able to do much, unless you use the tunnel or other method of hiding the
train that is supposed to be traveling.

While more adaptable to model railroads than point-to-point, it still presents many
problems except on very large layouts.

Both point-to-point and out-and-home layouts can be combined with continuous
pikes, in large layouts, to offer variety and realism—and this is precisely the
procedure used by experienced model railroaders with plenty of space.

For the vast majority, however, the continuous layout is not only best but also
essential for interesting and varied train movements. With a clever use of buildings
and scenery it can also create the many little deceptions that bring a realistic flavor
to the operation of your railroad.

About the Author:

Bill Murphy offers advice about designing, building, maintaining and repairing model
railroads at the Model Train Report website. Find out more about building your own
model railway – sign up for my free “Model Railroad Design Secrets” e-course at

Model Garden Railways – Choosing A Scale

Please note: This post deals with model railways. A similar post for miniature railways (such as those you can ride on) will follow.

Before starting to plan your railway, you need to know what size to build it. There are several standard scales available to garden railway owners, each with their own pros and cons. I have discussed some of the more popular scales below…

Model Scales

N and Z

These scales are generally considered far too small for garden railways. The track and scenery will be too small to really apreciate against the backdrop of your garden, and will be easily damaged.


This should be an absolute minimum for a garden railway. It has the advantage of being very widespread – so track, trains and accessories are pretty cheap. However, I would recommend something a little bigger.

G & O

I would recommend using one of these scales for your railway where possible. Their size means that your trains will be easily visible in all parts of the garden, and can make for some impressive detailing.

1:8 & 1:16

These scales will be discussed further in a future post.

Powering Your Railway

Something that will need to be decided early on in the construction of your railway is how you plan to power it.

In the garden, power may create additional problems that it would not cause on an indoor layout.

Electric Track Power

Generally, this is how an indoor layout will be powered. In the garden, dirt (or even insects) may get on to the track which can disrupt the power supply. Regular maintainance of the track is essential if you use this method of power.

Live Steam

Many garden railway owners prefer live steam – it adds realism to any railway – and it’s fun!

This can be more expensive, and is a little more difficult to run, but that will pay off in the enjoyment you will get when running your trains.


Generally this is only viable for larger scales, but batteries may be placed inside your locomotives. This is probably the easiest option (in terms of initial construction and running costs too).

How To Build A Garden Railway: Choosing A Garden

Track PlanOne of the (potentially) most useful parts of this site will be a guide to how to build a garden railway.

While this should not be considered a definitive guide by any stretch of the imagination, it should hopefully provide a good starting point for your own plans.

Depending on how seriously you plan to take your new railway, planning can begin before you even purchase the house where the railway will be built. There are several things that you should be considering which will affect how you build your railway.

Gradient Of The Garden

This is not something that you can always gauge correctly simply by sight, but the gradient of the garden can have a large impact on how you build your railway – especially if you are planning to haul passengers.

Smaller (O gauge or lower) railways will not be affected by this quite so much, as they can be built raised in sections, or earth can be moved easily to accomodate them.

Look out for gardens that are as flat as possible – and try to get a picture of the finished line in your head, to visualise any potential problems with the construction – and how you could overcome them.


The size of the garden is also important – again, especially if you will be building for a gauge big enough to carry people. If the garden is too small, you may be limited by what you can build (in a narrow garden, you may not have enough space to make the track loop round, for example)

I will be discussing this issue further in future posts…

(Photo by fairlightworks)