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Liverpool Lime Street

Liverpool Lime Street by John Holden

Liverpool Lime Street is one of the most advanced EM layouts on the exhibition circuit. An accurate model of this main line terminus and its tunnelled approach, it also has an automated fiddle yard and sector plate & CCTV.

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So what's new with Lime Street?
Well, first and foremost the team has grown. We welcome Les Green, Steve Hewitt and Rob Harrison, each bringing with them their own particular skills that have without doubt enhanced the project.

Les Green - station roof and columns.
Les volunteered (read was hoodwinked) into tackling the station roof. This has represented a massive amount of work for Les, who over the past few years has quietly been beavering away on his computer designing this most fantastic piece of modelling. I hope Les will at some point in the future produce a full account but for the purpose of this article, a few lines will have to suffice.

The roof construction can basically be divided into two parts, firstly the supporting columns, and secondly the roof itself. The columns were developed first, using a 3D CAD package to design them. There are 61 columns to 21 different designs. Each column's artwork was sent to a firm who produced patterns in resin using a process known as 'Rapid Prototyping'. From these patterns, all the columns were produced by Unit Models of Keighley. These were ultimately fitted to the layout and have been seen at a number of shows we have attended so far.

The roof itself, again was designed on Les's computer's 3D CAD package from which he generated the 2D artwork to send to an etching company who produced about 40 A3 sized etched sheets in nickel silver. From these, and a 100 metres of 0.7mm nickel silver wire, a working party of four team members set about soldering up sub assemblies. Les fabricated all these into 40 odd 'bowstrings girders' that span the columns. Finally these were all built up into the eight roof sections as you see them now. Doesn't sound much when you say it quick but the logistics of this are mind boggling. There were, we estimate, some 13,000 soldered joints, 6,000 components and I think Les said 130 meters of seam-soldered girders. He really does need a holiday but can I spare him?

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Steve Hewitt - signals

If you visit exhibitions on the circuit, you may have seen Steve Hewitt on the demonstration stands with his signals. These he makes to the highest standards, both in looks and operation. They even feature illuminated lamps via fibre optics! This was one man we had to encourage (or hoodwink again), to join the team. This I'm happy to say came to pass; with the result that Lime Street now has a full set of platform starter signals. The gantry with 12 arms on is a work of art, as is the tiny LNWR ground signal with two working arms (illuminated of course). For all these signals, Geoff has made a custom version of his servo controller that handles 16 signals on each board. As we have 32 working semaphores, we have two. All of these signals, along with the existing colour light signals are automatically set by the router when setting up a route, and restored either by clearing the set route, or by 'IRDOT trip' (Heathcote Electronics Infra Red train detection system). In other words, the signalling is completely automatic. If you wish to bring a train or light engine up to a red signal, then there is a 'Signal inhibit' button you press after setting any given route (within a set time period). Pressing that button will stop the associated signal from changing. (Geoff is a very clever boy!)

One of Steve's lesser known talents is in the production of a train operating card system and to that end both Steve and I are slowly building up an interesting and at times demanding running order for the layout. This has been made much easier to produce since Lime Street was given it's own permanent home last July.

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Rob Harrison - weathering

Our third new member is Rob Harrison. Rob is a well experienced modeller of many years, whose talents in weathering are a treat to behold. Although Rob has not been part of the team for long, he has already made his mark on the layout with his weathering techniques. Such things as road vehicles, roadways and buildings have all come under his eye for attention, making them look more like models and less like 'out of the box' toys. His skill with bird muck is unbelievable ! (I am going to set him a challenge with horse muck!). As I write this, Rob has turned his attention to the station roof.

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All the 'new boys' are also regular attendees at running sessions, they can't get enough of it! The team of operators has also grown to include 'Spike' Taylor, Tony Stevenson and John Rocca in addition to stalwarts Mike Delamar and Chris Hewitt.

That introduces our new team members, so what else is new since 2009? When the pictures shown in that Annual were taken, all the platform surfaces and the sides of the big bridges over the station throat were 'mocked up' in card. These I have now replaced. The platform surfaces with 1.5mm. Birch plywood, and the bridge sides with plastic card. This, like everything else on this layout was a mammoth task. There are 11 platforms with an average length of 8', which makes 88' of platform edge to be made. These feature 'corbelling' under the edging flags, and in some cases there are pipes and trunking runs alongside too. The bridges, after facing with plastic card, were detailed with 'T'-section plastic strip,(load's of it!). The pavements over the bridges and down Skelhorne Street have now been properly finished and scribed.

Finally on the scenic side, the road traffic system (as we call it) has been provided, all be it in an embryonic form. We intend to improve this system as time allows, but for now, we have vehicles that travel round the roads and uniquely for a model railway, as on the prototype, up and down platform 7/8. These are interspersed with a tram shuttling up and down Lime Street.

Setting up a layout at an exhibition is always a stressful time and anything that can make that process easier is always welcome. Something we have found to ease that process is the use of a spinning laser, the type commonly used in the building trade. With the addition of 'targets' on each baseboard leg, we are now able to set up the layout without needing to check for level, once the laser is set up. This usually takes a short time, to the great puzzlement of other layout operators! But once the laser is set, the boards fly up. Light years ago, after the interruption in railway modelling due to the usual distractions of the fairer sex, and the subsequent bringing up of a family, my main interest was LMS carriages. I first set about building each of the main trains associated with Lime Street just after the war. I managed to build the 'Merseyside Express', and 'The Manxman' each vehicle in the train being as the prototype in the period I model. But then when I started to build the layout, I found my time disappearing into a black hole, I had no time for carriage construction. Fortunately,

Hornby and Bachmann have come to the rescue with excellent renditions of both locos and stock just right for Lime Street. Obviously there are many carriage types they don't cover, but for the time being we can manage. Re-wheeling, weathering, and in some cases different couplings will have to do for the time being.

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New home

Finally mention must be made of Lime Street's new home. After our two daughters had left home, my wife and I were left in a house with too many bedrooms and nowhere to put the railway. This had always been a problem, especially before shows. I always had to hire, at great expense, an industrial unit for a few weeks to 'shake down' the layout. This inevitably meant sorting out faults with new additions to the layout for most of the time, leaving little time for people to get familiar with operation. However, at my wife's suggestion, we started to look for a property where a 'proper' building could be built to house the 'big train set'. I am happy to say that after much looking round, we finally found just the place, surprisingly not more than a mile or so from where we already lived!

Twelve months on and we are now well installed in our new home and just across from the back door is a new purpose built 70' 'shed' which provides a home for Lime Street along with a 'slightly smaller' sewing room for her indoors. (domestic politics in action). From the start I decided that if we were going to build this 'shed', then we may as well do it right, so we have full central heating as well as toilet and kitchen facilities. I can't overstate the positive effect having a permanent home for Lime Street has had on progress since its handover from the builders.

So what next?

Well, as you probably know, a model railway is never finished. Indeed we have much still to do and with the continued support from my good friends in the team, I am fully confident we will get there in the end. Probably the most visual single item to complete is the North Western Hotel that stands in front of the station on Lime Street. As well as doing such a magnificent job on the roof, Les has also been beavering away on his laptop designing all the artwork for this. The trial piece Les has assembled from laser cut materials is always a talking point and is a very small example of what is to come. Again this promises to be another masterpiece.

A new project we will soon be starting, is the design and production of working LNWR hydraulic buffers, we need 13 of them! On the electrical side we still have a number of sub systems to install such as the comms system. Although we do have a system at present it needs to be integrated into the main wiring loom and control panel consoles. This type of circuit we tend to install one circuit at a time. This way each system is thoroughly tested at a show before moving on. As mentioned before the road traffic system will ultimately be upgraded to allow a far more complex pattern of operation.

As I said earlier everything on this layout is a big job, point rodding, barrow crossings, yard lamps, ballasting and all the paraphernalia associated with a railway all have to be started, to say nothing of the usual little people, dogs, cats and oh, the pigeons and seagulls to go with that bird muck! So, I think you can see we have a good few years' work still to do. Watch this space!

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Aug 10 2015 17:48

A fabulous layout and a very clever way of showing the classic cutting.

From the motorised mail van to the superb architecture its quite superb breathtaking in fact..but..and I don't want this to sound too critical..the operation on the two occasions that I have viewed it let it down badly.

The problem is the disconnected operators with their screens have no 'feel' for the movement of trains resulting in them arriving too quickly..leaving like an emu on steroids .. trains charging through the cutting at 50 mph and so on.

There is no substitute for an operator with a controller in his hand actually watching and 'feeling' the movement to allow trains to run into platforms and stop correctly without jerks..also depart smoothly and slowly.

All the electronic gadgetry in the remote panels does nothing for the operation of this fantastic layout and this is not just my opinion as I heard many people comment away from the layout that the only flaw was the jerky and overfast train movements.

As said this is not to be taken as a criticism but hopefully a constructive comment..Lime St if operating smoothly would be possibly one of the finest layouts to stand and watch on the circuit.

One thing that might resolve this issue is if there were cameras displaying side on images as trains ran into the platform to allow operators a better idea of the speed of the train.. cameras at right angles positioned at either ends of the platforms would hopefully sort what is obviously a problem.

Anyway I had to say the above and I hope its taken in the right spirit.. looking forward to Wigan and another chance to view your very special layout.  



Incredible layout.

Hope to get to see it on a UK visit late in the year.

How do you uncouple the locomotives at the platform buffers?  This is an extraordinary layout; thank you for all you painstaking work and for putting it on this site so we can all enjoy it.


Richard Davies