At one level, planning the course of a garden railway is simply a question of: “how would I like to lay out my train set?”

But for an involving, operationally interesting and authentic railway, it’s worth thinking a bit about what the purpose of the line will be. That, after all, is the driving force between every design decision for a ‘real’ railway. Railways are build to get people, or goods, from A to B – for example, from quarry to quay, or to connect towns, or to link to the mainline. Every construction (and every compromise) along its route is then based on the most efficient and effective way of creating that link. Every siding, platform, loop or shed is there to serve that purpose. The rolling stock and motive power is all there to serve that purpose. Yes, railways do evolve as industries or their traffic decline and new ones take their place, but they aren’t just ornaments.

What’s my railway going to be for?

I’ve looked at the industrial requirements in my garden. In theory it should be possible to quarry the old red sandstone on which it stands… but I’ve never got that far down into the clay. I suppose there’s quite a timber industry, of sorts (I may not be much of a gardener, but I’ve always been enthusiastic – I used to have a tiny yard, and I showed it proudly to a good friend who looked at everything I had growing and said “that’s a lot of… biomass”).

But this is a bit of an artificial question. My railway is a solution looking for a problem. I’ve already decided I’m going to build it, now I’m searching for a pretext, a fiction. Not everyone does this: I’ve read articles in Garden Rail from folk whose railways are working railways. They happen to be scale models, but their wagons are filled with grass clippings, or carrots. Some even build and lift branches to serve particular purposes – just as ‘real’ railways would have done.

While that appeals to me greatly, I’m going indulge in the fiction of a 16mm scale world – albeit in limited form. I don’t envisage having little buildings springing up, or entire villages and little figures… Not that I don’t admire some of these wonderful models; but in my domain they would seem a bit like fairies at the bottom of the unruly wilderness that is my garden. Anyway, I don’t see the problem in acknowledging the fiction – I read a retrospective in which the author admitted embarrassment at a 30 year old photo of a live steam loco chugging past some daffodils, because they look so out of scale. Me, I love daffodils, and I love railways. And I’m sure that any ‘real’ railway could only be improved by having a host of 20 foot high daffodils adjacent.

I want to run models of industrial rolling stock and locos. Short wheelbases, some tight radii, rakes of tippers or 4 wheel coaches. So, perhaps ultimately I’ll build a pond with a quay to which the old red stand stone can be hauled. I need the pond for the steam-beside-the-water effect anyway…

I suppose you could argue that the purpose is whatever spurred me to decide to build it in the first place. Its real purpose is… fun!

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Simon Wood

Lecturer in medical education, lapsed mathematician, Doctor Who fan and garden railway builder. See simonwood.info for more...

7 thoughts on “Purpose”

  1. I saw an interesting garden railway in Seaford when out campaigning last week (Labour, of course). It ran down drive, through garage, assume out back, round side and then up and over front rockery garden. I have never seen one before and was quite fascinated. Unfortunately I don’t think house owner was as interested in the literature I was delivering! Good luck with yours.

    1. Thanks Sherry! (Shame Lewes didn’t go red, but that was a hill to climb, and I was delighted Lloyd increased the Labour vote.)

      The Seaford line sounds intriguing. Marvellous what you can see when you go out to engage with the electorate – even if the circumstances don’t always mean they are disposed to run some trains!

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