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The Dream City Railway: A 21st Century Layout Running Tinplate Trains in the UK

By Roy James

Welcome to my fantasy world of model tinplate trains. I say fantasy world but I do strive for realism rather than perfection.

My railway is unusual in the UK for running tinplate trains on 2 rail fine scale track. This came about by accident as the railway when I planned it was intended to run fine scale locomotives. However I soon learnt that these locomotives although magnificent to look at were prone to gradually falling to pieces with heavy handling and extensive running. It was around the turn of the Century 2000 that Corgi Bassett Lowke introduced a series of coarse scale tinplate locomotives which not only looked realistic but were able to be run on either 2 or 3 rail. These locomotives were also competitively priced at approximately one third of the fine scale counterparts. On trying these locomotives on my railway I found that they ran really well with the minimum of alteration to the point work.

The standard of the finished locomotives was that from a distance of three or four foot running through a scenic layout they were indistinguishable from fine scale.

Unfortunately the production did not last many years and they were taken over by Hornby who appear not to continue production at the present time.

A Corgi Bassett Lowke Princess locomotive

A Corgi Bassett Lowke A 3 locomotive Flying Scotsman

However in the meantime another firm, Ace Trains of London, owned by Allen and Charlotte Levy were producing 3 rail coarse scale tinplate locomotives and rolling stock. In 2008 they took the decision to make locomotives that were switchable between 2 and 3 rail operation. The models were detailed to a level not seen in tinplate before and they continue to this day to make these tinplate locomotives to ever greater detail at what are realistic prices compared to the fine scale counterparts. They have also proved their running abilities on my railway and run and run and are capable of pulling full length trains.

Ace Trains of London Duchess class locomotive

Ace Trains of London West Country class locomotive

Ace Trains of London Coronations and Duchess locomotives

The tinplate locomotives made by Ace Trains of London are unlikely to be surpassed.

Now as to my railway, Dream City Railway, I started it with manufacturers like Corgi and ACE simply because my railway is only as good as the models I run on it . Dream City Railway is so called because it is a culmination of a boyhood dream when as a youngster my parents used to take me to the London stores in the 1940’s such as Gamages and Selfridges to see the Christmas displays of model railways.

On my railway I have 30 trains that can run simultaneously through 17 stations automatically controlled from a central control room with the aid of closed circuit televisions. The stations are named after my grandchildren.

The Central Control Room

The layout is 30 feet by 50 feet in size which is 1500 square feet it is housed in five sheds in the grounds of my home.

It is a private railway not open to the public but I do allow some members of clubs to view occasionally.

This is the South shed with yours truly in the corner.

A basic track plan of the railway.

Dream City Railway is my 1/43 scale 2 rail 0 gauge railway layout in the UK. It has taken me roughly 16 years to build to its present stage. It is a culmination of many layouts I have built over the years. My guiding philosophy is if it is ready made, buy it; if it is not, make it. This railway has evolved over recent years as more and more ready made models became available from various manufacturers. This is especially true since tinplate evolved to a standard not seen before. In the early days nicely crafted ready made scale models were hard to find, and I did a good amount of kit building. However, the large undertaking I had set myself to build made time to kit build limited.

Central view in the North Shed, Lauren Hill Station.

Central view looking East in the South Shed.

Looking East in the North Shed at Clairetown Stations.

Trains passing at Clairtown Stations

Victoria Street Terminus in the East Shed

Operations on the London Underground line

Hannah Park Station in the South Shed

Hannah Park Station looking West

Looking towards the suburb of Sambridge

My railway is loosely based on London’s railways and consists of various lines operating in and around London. I am able to operate 30 full length trains through 17 stations which have a grand total of 52 platforms. I operate various liveries that cover more than four decades of the prototype that range from the period of nationalization to privatization of British Railways. My railway attempts to display most of the popular classes of both diesel and steam locomotives of that period.

When I built the layout my intention was to create a system whereby one could see trains operating in natural surroundings passing by and then disappearing not to be seen again for many minutes, in other words, seeing in miniature what one would see track side in real life. For all intents and purposes I have achieved this. Emphasis is not only on the trains themselves but also the way the trains operate. When trains enter a station they do so at a realistic speed and gradually slow down before coming to a halt. Likewise after an appropriate station stop they will slowly accelerate away to continue their journey. Colour light signals operate correctly, and when showing a red aspect, because the next block section is occupied, the train will glide to a halt and wait until a yellow or green aspect shows. Like the prototype, the system is not immune to switch point or signal failures or to train mechanical or electrical failures. However it still has a highly enviable safety record.

Buildings on the layout are mainly of porcelain construction, fully detailed inside and out and illuminated. They are primarily made by Lemax and Department 56 they are of English buildings. They originate in the United States but are manufactured in China.

Hardware shop Station Road

A good old English Pub

Fire Brigade attending the local Pool Hall

The local bowling alley

Dreamland Amusement Park is a fully operational fun fair on this railway which can be seen towards the end of the following video which gives views around the railway.

My current roster includes more than a 100 locomotives and 400 coaches and wagons and that offers plenty of variety.

A for track, I have some 2000 feet of it at the last tally. It is Peco fine scale both bullhead and Flat bottom rail. One of the first challenges I faced was keeping the track clean and maintaining continuity of power through the rails. With so much track on the layout which was not easily accessible, a method of automatic cleaning was required. For example some of the tunnels are over 70 feet long. I modified a number of Lima freight wagons to make them into track cleaning cars fitted with a Garyflex block underneath and suitably weighted to polish the track not wear it out. All track joints are solder linked which is a must for continuity of current for slow running. The power required to operate this system is over 100 amps at between 12 and 20 volts. The track system is divided into separate block sections, and each section then has further controls that allow the speed of an incoming train into the section to be controlled. Acceleration and deceleration can be adjusted, and the time each train stops can be adjusted and preset. As noted earlier the whole system is fitted and controlled by scratch built working colour light signals. Points are activated by standard solenoids at 30 volts.

As can be seen here the coaches are fitted inside with seats and lights

An Ace Trains Duchess emerges from a smoke filled tunnel

Richard Street Tunnels from Leesam Town Station

Golden Arrow passing Lisaland loop junction

Clairetown Cross Station

The railway is constructed on a walk round format with viewing on the North side made possible by via hatches in the side walls.

The railway lines are located on four levels. Access points for maintenance are provided at strategic points by means of hinged hatches, which is something I may struggle with in the future as I am now in my early seventies but fortunately at present in good health. Another of the aspects of this railway which are unusual is that it is primarily of urban scene rather than the usual scenic hills etc. It is fully populated with thousands of figures imported from China. To see thirty full length trains running at the same time is a sight to be savored with the imagination of the viewer. I hope you have enjoyed the description of my railway and if you would like a cab ride round part of the railway, please view the following video.

It has been a pleasure sharing my railway with you as many have said it is shame to keep it locked away, and I hope that it might just encourage a youngster somewhere or at sometime to become inspired as I was when seeing those railways in my childhood all those many years ago.

A few more photographs of the locomotives that have been produced in the last few years.

Metropolitan Vickers locomotives that ran until 1960

Ace Trains of London Metropolitan Vickers locomotive

Ace Duchess thunders through Leesam Town Station

Ace Coronations and a Castle at Clairetown Cross

Ace Trains Stanier tank locomotive

Various classes of locomotives passing through Leesam Town station

Coronation and Duchess class locomotives in action

Finally when “Her, indoors” allows me not to be with my trains a glass of red wine and I watch the ships go by.

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