The original layout
When BGRS was founded over twenty five years ago, a layout was built to demonstrate the ambience of a G Scale model railway in a garden setting and it was one of the first, if not the first, portable G Scale exhibition layout. The Whiteleaf Light Railway and all the stations are named after places in Buckinghamshire as this is from where the layout originated, even though those places never had railways.
The wooden boards were constructed for robustness with little consideration for weight minimisation, but they withstood over twenty years of intensive use. The layout started off as single track with passing places using live steam and analogue operation. Over the years, as membership grew, the track was doubled and the size of the layout slowly grew with the addition of more boards, allowing more trains to be run at the same time. The standard configuration then was 40ft long and 18ft wide with three stations. The advent of LGB MTS (DCC operation) made multi-train operation much simpler and this led to further layout extensions resulting in two overlapping continuous circuits on a layout 66ft long by 18ft wide, probably the largest portable G Scale layout in the UK. As many as eight live steam and electric trains would be operated on the layout simultaneously, requiring electric control of points and signals from a central control panel to keep everything running smoothly and put on a good display. Each train had its own driver who had to drive to the signals because some sections of the layout were single track. The layout initially featured real plants and trees, loose garden compost material and even a basin of water for the model boat in the dockyard. It was after all intended to represent a garden so plants and other materials were 1:1 scale. This inevitably left a lot of mess after the show, so we progressed onto artificial plants, compost material and grass. There was even a full size dog with moving legs and tail, digging a hole through the boards!
This layout was too large for smaller shows so a smaller layout was required that was quicker and easier to erect and dismantle. In addition, the old boards seemed to get heavier as the club membership grew older, so it was agreed that a new layout was necessary. The last appearance of the old layout was at the National Garden Railway Show in 2016.
The current layouts
The concept behind the new layouts is that they consist of a number of modules joined together to suit whatever space is available, and the different configurations provide either end to end or continuous circuit layouts. This flexible approach provides layouts for both large and small shows and they are called The Whiteleaf Light Railway or The Whiteleaf Tramway as appropriate. The layouts portray a typical light railway with sections of street running, roadside running as well as conventional railway track. They can also be themed by careful selection of rolling stock (which is supplied by the club members) to depict a particular country or a style of line. Sections of the railway are equipped with overhead wire for electric traction whereas some sections are the domain of steam and diesel traction. The layouts retain the atmosphere of a G scale layout in a garden setting, and being only two foot above the ground are easily viewed by children and those that are wheelchair bound. Photographs of the different layouts can be seen in the photographic section of the website.
The large railway layout
This is the largest railway layout using the majority of the modules and at 50ft long and 12ft wide, provides a continuous circuit with three stations and a live steam locomotive preparation area. The circuit is single track with passing loops and at every station there are control panels for the control of points so that trains travelling in opposite directions can pass each other. Operation is by LGB MTS with each train having its own driver who has to check that the line ahead is clear before proceeding. It is often difficult to tell who is driving which train or where the driver is as cordless handsets are used. This provides plenty of entertainment for the public and keeps the drivers on their toes! Two thirds of the layout features overhead wire providing the unique sight of live steam locos running under overhead wire.
The smaller railway layouts
These configurations, which are more suitable where space is limited, consist of an end to end layout using two station modules. The minimum size is 30ft by 9ft, but the length can be extended by adding additional boards as required. These layouts operate using MTS and are fully equipped with overhead wire and sometimes feature live steam operation. As the layout is of limited length, much of the operation is with railcars and trailers.
The tramway layouts
These configurations use modules with predominantly street running sections and are fully equipped with overhead wire. The minimum size is 30ft by 9ft, but the length can be extended by adding additional boards. These layouts operate with analogue control allowing multiple tramcar operation on a relatively small layout to provide lots of movement and plenty of interest. This is one of only two exhibition tramway layouts in the UK in G Scale.
The rack railway
This configuration is a combination of the tramway modules connected to a 30ft section of rack railway with a 1 in 4 gradient which forms the backdrop for the layout. The station at the top of the rack section is 2 metres from the ground and rack locos push passenger and goods vehicles up the gradient along the back of the layout to reach the top station. The layout is fully equipped with overhead wire and uses analogue operation. The overall layout size is 60ft by 12ft making it the biggest G Scale tramway layout in the UK with probably the highest model railway station above the ground on any exhibition layout.
These layouts appear at exhibitions five or six times a year and the choice of layout presented at a particular event depends on a number of factors. Obviously, the available space at the venue is critical to the choice, but also important is ease of access, whether setting up is allowed the day before the show opens and the number of club members that volunteer to travel to support the event.
written by Adrian Nicholes, BGRS Chairman