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Phase one.

The Blank Page

There is a justifiable saying, "No plan survives first contact with the enemy"... I hope you have watched such things as "The Garden Railway" episodes on YouTube and had a look at the various YouTube channels devoted to G3 and others. The time has now come to put pencil to paper and draw out what you would like your railway to look like. There are only two basic layouts and everything else evolves from them. These are the End to End and the Loop. If you are running steam engines then the loop is your only option and you will need at least one siding or passing section for the loco to "brew up" and cool down. The end to end simply means that the two ends are not connected. Which shape you decide on is more down to the geography and geology of your garden. I live on top of a hill and have zero soil depth and lots of millstone grit. Thus an End to End was my only option. These can be long twin tracked and thin with a station at either end. The problem with a loop is that fact that it has to connect at the ends. The Loop is required for continuous running and has been described as a race track for Steam locomotives whilst the End to End may be classed as a drag strip for diesels and electrics...

Before you progress further it would now be the point where you should do some basic costings of your railway. Do not be surprised to find that it seems astronomical... Here is the point where Ball Park Figures and Russian Arithmatics come into play. Call each yard of track £15. Each set of points £100. Wagons may be £75 and coaches more £125. Locos are what you want to pay for them! It is quite permissible in the G3 arena to have no track and to use other peoples. You may have to hunt for a track, mine is one of only two in Derbyshire -but soon there will be two more(!)

The Self Questionnaire

The First Question is, "What sort of railway do I want?"

  • Pre Grouping, Edwardian or earlier. (pre WW1)
  • Post Grouping, Big Four, Golden age of Steam. (20's 30's)
  • Early BR Steam and Electrics. (50's 60's)
  • Early BR Green Diesel and Standard steam locos. (60's)
  • Modern BR Blue Diesel and Blue Electric locos. (70's 80's)
  • End of BR era and Post BR privatisation.
  • Something Different! Preservation railway, Continental or US etc.

Each selection has its pluses and minuses.

  • Pre WW1 locos are not very well documented -you may have to do quite a lot of research unless it was a major company.
  • Big Four era is very easy to find information on and examples still exist today.
  • Early 50's BR is strangely little known about as the muddle of amalgamation reigned, but 60's BR is very easy.
  • The Beeching era BR is a good trade off with nearly anything permissible.
  • The era of the big BR Diesels and fast Electrics is a large investment in time and effort -but look superb running at speed.
  • As yet I do not know of any post BR layouts -but Virgin and First would be interesting.
  • The Preservation Railway may be classed as the ultimate escape clause! You may mix and match anything from any era together. Continental railways and US railways have their own following. You may find the Spur II Gruppe in Germany an interesting site to visit.

The Next Question is, "What sort of loco do you want to run on it?"

The size of your loco dictates the size of your curves as a longer wheelbase is more inflexible that a short one. If you plan on running your tracks at a Get To Gether or simply having friends running then you will need to plan for the various locos that are around. A good working idea is to plan for an 0-6-0 or C0 loco chassis. This will allow the majority of locos to run. The tightest point curves sold by Garden Railway Specialist are 8 feet radius and (I assume) all their locomotive kits will take that curve. This would make a simple circuit 16 feet across. Thus this can be taken as the smallest layout possible. Most live steam locos are unhappy with curves tighter than 12 feet radius. It is advisable to use "Gauge Widening" on corners to make them easier to navigate. This means spreading the distance between the rails by 1mm.

The Next Question is, "What sort of track do I want to use?"

There are several suppliers of G3 track and with some levels of difficulty. The G3S supply white metal chairs that are nailed to wood sleepers and Bullhead 250 code rail is slid between the chairs. The resulting yard of track is about 2 hours work. The same yard and two yard long rail in Brass or Stainless Steel is sold by Cliff Barker. His sleepers are very easy to slide onto the rails and it is no harder than threading beads on a wire. Garden Railway Specialists sell their own sleeper packs which take the Tenmille 330 code flat bottomed rail which comes in 1.5m lengths. Normally it is advisable to stick to one type. Purists will note that Bullhead 250 rail is the one more common in early trackwork -whilst the flat bottomed is more commonly found at the start of the BR era. Other people have made their own track using steel strip and a mig welder. Others have used aluminium strip and wooden sleepers with slots.

The Next Question is, "What speed do I run at?"

The scale speed of a loco can be worked out at roughly 1metre per second for every 50mph (scale) thus a 100mph crack express is running at 2metre per second. Most people opt for running at between 25mph to 50mph (scale).

The Next question is, "How big is my train?"

The answer quite simply is HUGE!!! A BR Diesel plus six Mk1 coaches is about 21 feet long. A simple branch line train of an 0-6-0 loco and three bogie coaches will be 10 feet long easily. This means that typical stations are normally built for two or three coaches only. An RCH1923 Wagon is circa 1 foot thus a small marshalling yard will have siding circa 10 feet long.

The Last question is "How long will it take me to build?"

It would seem that the typical time from first spade to first running is in the order of three years. This is because the Summer and Autumn only allows a limited time frame for the amount of work required for construction in the garden. During Winter and Spring things can be pre-fabricated in sheds and kitchens. Typically the first year is planning and moving plants. The second year is earthworks for constructing the track bed, (see below), and the third year is laying the track work.

Phase two

On being a Navvy

If you have every done any surveying then this part will be reasonably easy. It is advisable to use the "Datum Point" system in that things are measured as being above or below this. The datum point can be anything -but I use a screw into the fence post as mine. Most Garden railways are "flat" in that there is no gradient (or very little) to the track. Unfortunately very few gardens are this flat. Depending on your personal geography you may opt for a ground level track or an elevated track. For ease of use an elevated track should be around 2 to 3 feet above the ground. Ground level tracks should be capable of supporting a loco and trains -normally this means bricks and concrete. Draw your plan out on A2 graph paper and make notes of the full sun position through out the year. The track will expand in direct sunlight and absorb quite a lot of heat. Your lovely straight lines laid in the spring look like they were laid by a drunk due to expansion...

The Elevated Railway.

The elevated railway has lots of advantages in that very little earthworks are required for it and the track base can span the humps and lumps of the typical garden. The span distance between supports depends on your local geography but a typical distance is around 1.5m. there are several books that will give you ideas and plans for the pillars and track base that will form your railway. Avoid the early works of HG as he envisaged that the work would be contracted out to a local jobbing carpenter. The books of Freezer and Jones are very good as is the book by Garden Railway Specialists. The best book of all is the one supplied by The 16mm ngm Society(!)

The Ground Level Railway.

These look very nice but can be very difficult to produce, as again the problem is getting a level trackbed for the locos to run on. You may have to have a "pit" for working on steam locos or a suitably high part of a wall. Again there are several books that will give you the required information as above. Reading some of the older books on this subject can be very amusing as the book by Tustin recommends using coal ash and roofing slates for a cheap track bed...

The Sloping Ground Railway.

Here you may be forced to have an elevated railway at the lower end of your garden in order to avoid tunnelling at the higher end! This actually has some advantages, as things like footpath crossings and lawn mower access are most convenient across the ground level part, and access to the locos without bending your back can be made on the elevated section. In practice most gardens will have a little bit of slope, and there are many ways of accommodating this. The elevated sections can be of differing height above the ground, and/or incorporate a small gradient in your lines. I would suggest though that gradients are limited to about 100:1, or steamers without radio control may be inconvenienced. If you only intend to drive under R/C then possibly as steep as 50:1 could be tolerable.


You may have to either dig out plants or remove them to make way for the railway. But some thought should be given to what plants grow around the railway. I use the rule (for my elevated railway) that it can grow over, along or under -but not across the tracks. Aim for plants that do not grow more than 90cm high. How far from the track bed the plants are allowed to grow is dependant on the rolling stock and as a guide maintain a flat zone or pruned zone circa 15cm from the track edge.


The angle of repose limits the angle of your cutting sides but a LMS LNER BR angle was 70 degrees with concrete facings GWR used 60 degrees with brick. You are advised to use some form of re-enforcement for the walls as rain will destroy them. They will require drainage either in the form of a thick gravel sub base or some other form of soak away system.


Try to avoid these as the weight and size of a G3 loco makes for a very difficult removal. But plastic corrugated drainage piping of around 60cm diameter is probably your best option. Trench and back fill over the laid pipe.

Phase three

Cutting the Ribbon

Laying track.

You are now looking at a flat track base that is either covered in roofing felt or ballast (or both!) The problem is how do you fix the stacks of track that you have to the track base and make it look "right"? I advise you to make your straight sections smaller than your straight edge (e.g. a length of 2x1). Straight sections can be marked out by stretching a string between two nails and then laying the track over the string. Use the long straight edge to produce a nice line. How you fix your track to the trackbed is a point of some debate -but I nail mine through the outer ends of the sleepers. Leave a good gap between the ends of the rails (a 10p thickness), and remember to file points on the ends of the rails as this will enable you to fit the fish plates easily.

If possible use the longest lengths of rail for making curves. This will give you two main advantages. Firstly the mechanical advantage when it comes to bending the curve, and secondly a smoother resultant curve. Bending the curve is down to the track type. 250 Bullhead brass or stainless can be bent with normal finger strength, moving the outer spacing of the sleepers will hold the curve to this shape. The heavier 330 code rail may require the use of a rail bender made from 3 wheels or the use of "Belly Bending" in which the completed length of track is bent across your stomach to shape (use a cushion to make it less painful!). EXACT curves may be made using "Rail Rulers", these can be obtained from Cliff Barker at several radii, these are useful if you have or are building one of his points kits... My technique is to knock large nails into the surface of the curve and bend the track along these. The inner rail butts up against the large nail and acts as a fulcrum for the next section to be bent. I then nail down with tacks the inner sleeper ends and lift the larger nails with pliers.

Once all the track is fixed down the hardest part comes -you have to leave it to "season" for at least two weeks. This allows the stresses and strains to work out. Some of the track will have shifted and some of the ends of the rails will be touching thus causing warps. Now you give it the once-over and correct the faults that have arisen, and then the climactic part -you put a wagon on the rails and scoot it along. Looking at how the wagon behaves will give you some insight into how well the track will perform. Use this to check your points (always a nasty). Finally when the wagon moves in a manner that you like, take out your loco, put in on the tracks -and start....

The procedure is exactly the same as for the wagon. You then add the wagon to the loco and try -eventually you will have an entire train running.


I always have a problem with guest locos. Every single one has required me to tweek my track in some way, be it filing the points frog or banking the track -this is a normal part of G3 Life!!!

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Page last modified on September 12, 2017, at 03:21 PM