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2002 Diary: Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec
2003 Diary: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec
2004 Diary: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, closure notice, The Final Run

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Salfords Light Railway

Planning your garden railway

The two basic pieces of information you need from your garden are:

  1. How wide/long is it at its narrowest?
    This will tell you the sharpest radius curve you could get in to get a return loop.

  2. What difference is there in height overall?
    This will tell you the maximum gradient.

A good working rule for 5" gauge (narrow gauge outline - they can handle sharper curves) is 10' radius and about 1 in 50. Anything sharper or steeper than this and you will have problems.

I could just about get a 10' radius curve in at the bottom of my garden. Remember, that the width of the track bed needs to be approx 2', so you are looking at a minimum width of 22'. My garden is just under 25' and it seems tight. My garden also drops by 2' in a 100' run (not a smooth drop). All in all, my garden is JUST big enough to have a 5" gauge continuous run.

I'll not go in to the finer points of surveying and building a line, Paul Middleton has written this up and has loads of good information on his web site. Go to: www.rideonrailways.co.uk and select "Hobby Index".

What I will do is share some ideas on what you might be able to do in your garden - or indoors for that matter, the techniques work just the same in smaller scales.

  • Make a reasonably accurate scale drawing of your garden. You need to make note of solid immovable objects,  and any objects that are "movable with problems" (this might include sheds etc.). Run off 5 or 6 photocopies of it to sketch on.

  • Decide on the minimum radius curve you want to use. Narrow-gauge 0-4-0 and 0-4-2 outline 5" locos will cope with approx. 10' radius, standard-gauge or larger wheelbase locos will need larger curves. Remember that a curve's radius is to the centreline. Allowing for overhang (knees etc.) the outside of the curve will be 12"-18" more than this. Using a school compass, draw circles in the corners of your garden (complete ones for now, we're just doodling).

  • You can now see where the curves go in order to fit in the garden. If you want maximum runs and pack the garden to the hilt, then they can stay there. If you are happy moving them then that is fine, but these circles you have drawn are the worst (or best) case - depending on how you look at it.
  • Now it is easy. Draw in free-hand where you want the remainder of the track to go to join up the circles.

  • Erase the bits of track you don't want, and add the planned "scenic" elements (in my case 3 rockeries to flank the track and a pond).

I did a lot of doodling on pads, but in the end I found the easiest way to get a feel for how the final design worked out in the garden was to do it 1:1 size.

Take an old wooden stick to use as the centre of your circles (I actually jammed a big screwdriver in the ground). Take a piece of string and tie a loop in the end. Now measure out and put another loop at your minimum radius minus 12" and another 24" further along. Find an old pot of emulsion paint (water soluble - the colour doesn't matter provided it shows on the ground) and an old paintbrush. By fiddling around you can find the centre of the circle, then poke your pivot or stick in the ground, and then one at a time, put the paintbrush in each loop. Get some paint on the brush, and you can now mark the inner and outer extremes of your trackbed one at a time on the ground.

This gives you a much better idea of how it will look in real life than on a paper pad.

By doing this I found out that the small tree I hoped to keep was just too close to the track. I had to transplant the tree (I hope it survives - it is sulking at the moment, but there are still a few green leaves on it) and now the track has a far more attractive curve than before.

For some reason, gently curving track looks better than dead-straight track. Not sure why, but it does. Even if you have no NEED for a curve, slew the track over a bit, it looks much better, and it also seems as if you are traveling further. Look at this view, the proposed straight track on the left looks boring.

Here's my girlfriend helping out with the next stage - digging out between the lines. You can see here that compared to the above view we've introduced a curve where the tree was. Apart from the house itself, there are few things in a garden that can't be moved, it just depends on how far you are prepared to go.

(There are more of these views in the diary and the galleries.)

As I sad above, Paul Middleton has a lot of invaluable information on his site, so I can do little more than recommend you go and have a good read.

I hope my thoughts might be of some use to you when planning your line.

Just to keep this page up to date (though it is about planning, not specifically my track plan), here is a drawing of how the track plan will look on my line as of November 2002:

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[ author: - last updated 22nd Nov 2002 ] [ HOME ]

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