Ride On Railway

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Come and take a trip on the Bekonscot Light Railway! Our narrow gauge  (7.25” gauge) miniature railway weaves its way behind the model village, criss-crossing some gardens, encircles a pond and returns to the terminus.

Timetable

The light railway runs every day during our open season, from 10:30am until 4:30pm, departing “on demand” every few minutes.

Prices: £1.50 per person. Under 2s go FREE

Operation is relatively simple; either one or two-train operation. One member of staff drives the locomotive and performs the run-round operation, whilst another staff member supervises the station and assists with the run-round; readying the train for new passengers. With two trains in service, then there are two drivers and one station master.

A full train will depart from the terminus and proceed around the circuit. Meanwhile a second train can be loaded with passengers at the station. By the time this train is ready to depart, the first train will be on its way back and will wait in the old station passing loop. The second train is then signalled to depart and disappears off up the line; so the first train can now be signalled to return into the terminus. A constant stream of passengers between 10:30am and 4:30pm ensures that trains depart almost constantly – in almost all weathers!

The points in the terminus are controlled pneumatically, as is the locking mechanism for the Engine Shed traverser. All of the points around the main circuit are spring-return to enable an un-assisted operation; but they are also additionally pneumatically controlled to give different route options. Those who are keen-eyed enough will notice the station turntable is locked into position using an ingenious collection of parts from our ex-BR Westinghouse L-style lever frame, that now sits in the Signal Box at Maryloo station, signalling trains on the Gauge 1 model railway.

Our trains are not ‘miniature’, nor are they scale models. They are full-size (albeit small) narrow-gauge locomotives, coaches and wagons. The drivers don’t sit behind the locos, they sit inside them. These trains are built for rugged commercial use; they haul over 85,000 passengers and travel around the circuit some 12,000+ times every year!

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 having a trip on the Light Railway for real.

Early beginnings

It all started, as all the best plans do, as a simple sketch on the back of an envelope. We were standing in our replica GWR Signal Box that presides over the Gauge 1 model railway as it runs through the landscaped gardens and well populated towns of the Model Village.

A new project was desired that would give an added bonus to any family’s day out, further enhance the Model Village as a railway-themed day out, and provide additional benefits to the charitable ethos of Bekonscot.

A few hard head scratches later, the project was born. We set up a simple test of concept; consisting of a portable track running 80 yards in a straight line into our works yard. The Vale of Aylesbury Model Engineering Society (VAMES), lent us a portable track and we hired a Coronation 5” gauge loco from Maxitrak. Over two weekends, we carried several hundred people sitting on a wooden box with wheels, with the fare set at 20p per trip. The queues stretched around the site; it caused havoc, the railway proved a massive hit with the public.

Discussions were had with suppliers and a budget was approved. Advice was sought from VAMES, Miniature Railway Supply Co., Maxitrak and the Moors Valley Railway. We didn’t want a ‘round the park’ tourist railway. We wanted a narrow gauge, Heywood-style estate tramway, which would have passenger rides as its main function, but also have capabilities to transport goods between our yards and sheds too.

A proposal was made for a short 7.25” gauge line weaving behind some workshops, between sheds and storage areas, and around an old rose garden to the side of the site. Somewhat surprisingly, 20’ curves would give us just the route needed, squashed in alongside the boundary fences and without interfering too much with the Model Village.

Things get moving

Over the winter of 2000/1, sheds were moved or rebuilt, ponds dug and massive foundations and infrastructure laid.

A large delivery of 2lb/yd rail arrived from the MR Supply Co., and the Bekonscot team, having only built Gauge 1 railways, learned quickly how to build a 7.25” gauge railway: it’s the same principles, just a bit heavier! Maxitrak delivered one of their unusual BE Hudson Hunslets to us as motive power, and we built two large solid trollies to our own design; all ready for the 2001 open season. Although not exactly pretty, these trollies are incredibly stable and feature two footboards that provide support for both long and not so long (i.e. little) legs.

The first trains ran in August 2001 and were packed from the word go.

We were overwhelmed; we’d expected to carry 20% of the number of model village visitors but were actually taking 70% – and we’re pleased to say that this keen interest and enjoyment of the railway still continues.

Growing up

A short extension was built between 2004-6, that extended the run by only a few yards but made the whole system more flexible. The former terminus became a passing loop; the turntable became a point; and the line continued around yet another rather tight corner, re-siting the terminus at 90 degrees to the old one. Interestingly whilst digging foundations for the new station we dug up three 2’ gauge skip wagons, used by the contractors during the construction of Bekonscot in the 1920s. Later evidence suggests that staff then used them on their own estate line to move goods around the site, just as we do now.

This new terminus has longer platforms (still only 30’) but with several space-saving features; all of which have fitted into the tiny space available to us with but a few inches to spare.

The two platform berths converge towards the Engine Shed, with a point mounted on the turntable. This unique arrangement is perfect for the location, as the headshunt of the loop runs straight into the Engine Shed. This sprung-loaded, but also pneumatically operated turntable point, can either act as a simple run-round loop or a full blown turntable – yet more ingenious engineering achieved!

The headshunt inside the Engine Shed is actually any one of three traverser roads, built from steel girders, which can be rolled across and locked in place. This provides three 10ft storage roads in a very confined space.

Through accurate surveying to within several thou of an inch, we managed to get everything in that we needed, with but only a few inches to spare. Throughout the build, we’d realised that if any one of the many immovable obstacles or boundaries was but 6 inches different, we’d never have been able to do it.

All developments are constrained not just by our budgets, but also our boundaries. The site in 1929 was in open fields, but now we are situated in one of the UK’s most expensive postcodes, with large family houses on all sides.

Not content with having a neatly matured railway in 2006, we decided to rip most of it up and expand over the winter of 2006/7 to give a longer ride. The original inverted balloon loop design was taken up and expanded slightly. This gives a figure of eight route, as can be seen from the route map. We took the opportunity to use 6lb/yd rail, and as time goes on we will re-lay the whole line in this, as it’s much better for the intense service we require. It also looks the part; that chunky narrow gauge look we always wanted.

2008 saw a redesign of the abandoned station area, widening the loop, adding a single slip and some more siding space.

2009 was the year that we installed full signalling around the station and up on to the figure eight loop. The signalling provides a centralised and understood by all safety system for more intense services when running two trains – but the signalling also provides more interest for everyone, and makes the railway look… more like a railway!

Subtle improvements and refinements will continue to be made, and obviously we have to keep on top of the maintenance that comes from running every day of our open season.

Recent years have seen us taking some 85,000+ passengers in a season, and making some 12,000+ trips up and back around the figure eight route – we really do need to calculate exactly how far we travel within a year of operation!