There are almost 10 scale miles (450 metres) of properly signalled main line, branch line and off shoots to sidings, with up to ten (currently) passenger and goods trains criss-crossing the landscape, passing under your feet or rushing by right in front of you.
Our trains run every day, and in all weathers! (well, apart from a good few inches of snow).
A driver’s eye view of the Gauge 1 Bekonscot Model Railway – BMR. It’s an extensive garden model railway of 1:32 scale, set in landscaped gardens with 1:12 scale miniature villages. The line was started circa 1929 and has been updated continuously for 90 years. We placed a camera to the front of one of the engines while it travelled around the network of track – and we’ve added some subtitles so you can see what you’re passing.
Maryloo Signal Box is the hub of the Gauge 1 model railway. Next to the Signal Box sits the Relay Room which is the power house for the railway, but also all the animations and music within the village.
The Signal Box houses two lever frames. The first is a fully working Westinghouse ‘L’ style lever frame that came from Purley Signal Box on British Railways Southern Region. The frame is entirely electrically and mechanically interlocked as it should be, in order to give safe and correct signalling to the trains – exactly as it would have done so during its’ career on the main line, but now it operates our trains, they’re just on a smaller scale. The frame can be used by the Signalman to operate the points and signals locally around Maryloo, while outlying parts of the network are managed by an overall monitoring system.
The second lever frame, a Westinghouse ‘N’ style frame, is from Ruislip Gardens on London Underground. It is of a very different type to the L frame, and during its working life was housed in a room without windows, controlling trains automatically. Its pneumatic operation would have required air to be pumped into control cylinders for each lever, which would then throw the lever back and forth – hence there are no manual lever catches. It was only used by a Signalman when local control of the immediate area was required. Rescued when being de-commissioned, the N frame is currently a static exhibit here at Bekonscot.
Between the lever frames stands a glass-fronted cabinet that houses all the necessary interlocking ‘Q’ style relays. The relays provide the required electrical connections that allow the Signalman to use the correct levers to signal the trains safely along different routes. Looking through the Signal Box windows, behind the relay cabinet, you’ll be able to see the trains passing through the Signal Box as they arrive and depart from Maryloo station.
The model railway has a very in-depth and sophisticated overall monitoring system that has global control of all the trains over the entire network. This system was conceived, built, programmed and commissioned by a Railway Signalling Engineer, who also developed signalling systems for London’s Jubilee Line Extension.
The trains are each pre-set on their individual routes for the day, and obey the routing appropriate to their type and identification code – but these pre-set routes can be overridden by the Signalman using the lever frame for local control around Maryloo station. Goods trains and expresses might use the passing loops to bypass platforms, whilst local passenger trains may be sent to stop everywhere across this extensive garden railway network.
Some trains will use the Evenlode branch, whilst others are too long for the platforms. The railway is constantly monitored throughout the day to ensure that everything keeps running as it should – and as there’s no timetable, our trains are never late!
Contained within each of the locomotives is a tiny radio frequency identification tag (RFID) that allows the monitoring system to confirm its identity, location, speed, and defines the pre-set route to follow.
The track network is essentially broken down into three distinct circuits, defined as: Red Main, running anti-clockwise; Blue Main, running clockwise; and the Loop, which is the branch line running all the way to the coal mine at Evenlode.
Each of the three circuits measures 150m long, giving us the total of 450m of track. To exchange trains between Red and Blue, they can be routed down the Loop, to return back on to the other line in the opposite direction. Take a look at the track plan for more information.
The Signalmen can often be found to be using the lever frame, and rather like a game of chess it takes forward planning and a good bit of skill to keep the trains running efficiently. Trains can’t crash into each other as the network of track is split into physically defined lengths (‘track sections’), and all the interlocking means that only one train can be signalled into a track section at a time. This is exactly how trains on real railway networks operate safely. The Signalman can see the location of the trains via the overhead illuminated track diagram – with each red lozenge lit, indicating a track section occupied by a train. Watching the red lights move along you can easily monitor the trains over the entire network.
You’ll see 23 levers on the L style lever frame; black levers control the points, while red levers control the signals. As a general rule, a point lever is pulled first, and then the corresponding signal lever is pulled. This communicates to the ‘driver’ of the train that they can safely proceed over the signalled route and into the next track section.
There are occasionally accidents and incidents on the model railway – usually caused by small hands getting too close to the trains!
Most visitors are unaware of the technology that goes in to running this incredible garden railway, so it’s worth stopping for a moment at the Signal Box to take a look at the trains and signalling equipment. Any duty Signalman will be happy to talk to you more about it all.
The present running lines are laid using LGB G-scale track, with points built by our engineers to fit the required standard gauge radii. G-scale track is the same gauge as Gauge 1 (45mm between the rails) but is much more durable for our continuous running demands. The trains are built to Gauge 1 standards, where 10mm equals 1 foot, or approx 1:32 scale. If you’ve read this far then you’re probably a real railway enthusiast, so you’ll also notice that the rest of the village ranges in scale from 1:12 to 1:15. But like all true railwaymen, we believe that whatever looks right is right – and it all seems to look just about right.
All locos and rolling stock (with a few exceptions) have been built by Bekonscot staff, with the inner workings engineered to our very specific requirements. Locomotives are built with a strong steel chassis and the bodywork constructed from brass sheet and lathe-turned components. Most of the coaching stock comprises of BR Mk1 type coaches, that have an aluminium chassis, and an aluminium body shell. For maximum efficient running every wheelset axle, or point of rotation has the necessary ball race bearings fitted to ensure long, reliable and lovely smooth running.
The track formations are laid on a reinforced cast concrete base, with wooden blocks floated in the top surface to provide anchor points for the trackpins. Notable engineering features around the railway line include the stone and metal replica of Sydney Harbour Bridge reaching out over Alexandra Lake (the lake being named after the princess, whose favourite place to visit was Bekonscot); and the Manor House Tunnel (scale 1500 feet long) that is buried deep into the landscape, which is formed from large bore concrete drainage pipes. Train derailments inside any of the tunnels can cause delays to the service around the network, but do provide an interesting spectacle for visitors to observe the recovery of!
The railway has run every year since 1929 in all weathers – even in the snow, despite its’ full-size counterpart failing to do so as soon as the “wrong sort of leaves” hit the tracks. The durability and reliability of the BMR is testament to the engineering skill and loving care that has been lavished upon it by successive generations of dedicated staff.
The majority of coaching stock is represented by Bekonscot-built scale models of BR Mk1 coaches; like the pannier tank engines they are not strictly 1930s but generate the right image. There are also some very unusual pieces of rolling stock that see regular service on the BMR. These include the Bekonscot-patented track cleaners, cleverly housed within one of the box wagons and one of the Mk1 coaches. We also have a coal train, breakdown train and a rake of goods wagons.
Not all the rolling stock runs at the same time, as with each train covering some 2500 real miles a year (yes that’s real miles, not scale miles!), they take quite a hammering, and so there’s a constant process of renewal taking place.
Pictures and details of our locomotives and rolling stock will be added here in due course, but nothing beats coming to the model village and seeing them all travelling around the tracks for real.
The model railway was originally built with entirely Bassett-Lowke parts and stock, and operated for Roland Callingham’s friends and visitors. Once opened to the public, the railway required several staff to run the trains and so it was only operated on summer Sundays. There were Signalmen stationed strategically around the railway line, and in the 1930s the network comprised of just the two main line circuits, with the branch line being a later addition. Money was collected from public donations and was given to the Railway Benevolent Institution. The RBI provides support to railway staff (active and retired) and their dependents.
The celebrated Henry Greenly, famous miniature railway engineer and designer, visited Bekonscot many times. Indeed it was at Bekonscot that he trialed some of his stock coupling ideas, which were later implemented on the 15” gauge Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway in Kent. Like Bekonscot, the RHDR started in 1929 and shares a common ethos of fun combined with a philanthropic creator.
Throughout the 20th century, the network grew with the additions of branch lines, goods yards and stock; but like British Railways, was consolidated in the 1950s and 1960s. At one time Maryloo took the form of a terminus with some bypass roads; it is now in the form of a country junction with buildings based on High Wycombe station. The BMR has always evolved as different engineers have made their own mark on what is an impressive garden model railway, set in rural 1930s Britain – a true miniature heritage railway!
The Evenlode branch was built in the 1940s, and was originally double track all the way from the Maryloo Signal Box to the artistic replica of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Here the tracks split; one went through the Manor House tunnel, whilst the other skirted the lake, alongside the river (now canal), with both lines then meeting up again on the site of the present coal mine. The coal mine was, at this time, a canal basin itself. The ‘Riverside’ branch was removed in the 1960s as its low level meant that it was prone to flooding and proved too problematic to use.
The model railway had always depicted ‘contemporary’ practice, as did the rest of the village. Therefore until the change to 2-rail pickup (early 1990s) it used modern style trains. There were high speed trains, express diesels, modern coaches and long Freightliner trains; mixed in with some of the steam stock from earlier years. In the post-war years, money had been tight and indeed up to the 1970s it was not unusual for a loco to be entirely dismantled, rebuilt with spare parts and scrap material from old appliances, to then re-appear back in service within a week.
Late 20th Century
With the transition from three-rail pickup to two-rail pickup in 1993, plus the addition of a very advanced overall monitoring system, the railway became much more manageable and efficient. Worn-out locomotives and stock were replaced, yet some of the earlier stock still runs, though using newly engineered inner workings; constructed to much higher standards and tolerances. At this time the ‘modern image’ stock was retired, as it was showing its’ age and Bekonscot was being ‘back-dated’ to the 1930s period, in the image of Mr. Callingham’s original village.
Maryloo Signal Box was built in the 1990s to replace the old control cabin, which had been in situ since 1929. Water leaked in, greenery grew up inside the walls, and the poor stock got rather damp and rusty. After the Signal Box was built, along with an additional Relay Room, the Westinghouse ‘N’ frame was installed. With the newly commissioned, very in-depth, complex and advanced monitoring system, this meant that the Signalmen could spend more time assisting the visitors and maintaining the efficient railway service, rather than constantly signalling the trains on their way.
The BMR has always had a close link with the ‘real’ railway; not only did it generate many funds for ex-Railwaymen, but many of our junior staff have gone on to have very successful careers as drivers, guards, engineers, administrative and support staff.
We are also very pleased to hear from anyone who has photos or memories of the railway and its’ stock from all the years past, so please do get in touch.