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Die Ercallbahn - Fulfilling a childhood dream.


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  • RMweb Gold

I originally posted this background in the How it all began thread and am repeating it here for completeness.

When I were a lad, only knee high to a grasshopper, and people lived in black and white my dad made the serious mistake of buying me a train set. Now being an engineer and having to travel over to West Germany on occasions for work he decided to buy a Märklin set (and quite a few extras) rather than the traditional Hornby.


This system grew very gradually (as it was more expensive and less readily available than the home grown product) and moved from my father's study, to my bedroom, to the spare bedroom and finally the loft. Eventually I was lured by the charms of N gauge - so that I could run British outline models - and the Märklin got packed away.


A little over 25 years ago it came out again as, having had an abortive dabble in OO9, I felt the need for a layout that could operate. By then the old track system was out of production and, since it was still a premium brand, stuff was horribly expensive and still hard to come by. I did get a few bits from a specialist secondhand dealer but the choice was limited and much was beyond my budget. The layout's life was brief, the closure order was served when I got married and moved out of my flat.


Around twelve years ago a few locos came out for a weekend dashing around an oval to try and worm their way into my son's affection. However they couldn't compete with tanks and aircraft so went back in their boxes.


About two years ago I was moving some stuff around and pulled the boxes of Märklin off the shelf. Well, I couldn't resist could I?




I have to admit that it took a little bit of cleaning and oil to get that shunter to run, but run it did.


Checking on eBay it all seemed to have got much cheaper. I suppose there is very limited demand and many of those who did have some are trying to unload it. Seeing some of the prices for things that I wanted when I was a child...


A couple of years on and I have acquired the items that I lusted over in childhood catalogues, accumulated some more track and signals and am laying plans to annexe the garage for more useful purposes…


Now that is out of the way, some more information...

The Märklin system was brilliant. No need to worry about reverse loops, wyes or any other odd track formation. Signals could stop trains, trains could operate points and signals automatically. Wagons had delayed uncoupling, some locos even had remote uncoupling. All this in the 1960s. Hornby still can't do that today!


Of course, I had to work through the various items, checking that they worked, replacing blown bulbs and grotty traction tyres. This called for a sophisticated test system:




Then realisation struck.

For years I have wanted a ‘system’ type of layout with a number of stations and wagons are sent to specific destinations – rather than the normal UK one station and a fiddle yard job. Think Buckingham Great Central or some of the large, classic US layouts. The main problem I have always faced is time and cost. If you work with detailed N gauge stock (which is what I had been doing) you need detailed N scale scenes for them to run through and detailed N gauge track to run on. You also need a complex control system if you want some degree of automation. As a lone wolf I need some for of automation to run passing trains whilst I shunt the freights. As for N gauge couplings – trying to shunt UK 4-wheel wagons…


However I already had a good stash of Märklin, it was now available relatively cheaply (not the new stuff, of course, but the indestructible range of my childhood) – far more so than anything in N. The necessary automation was already built in. And, I don’t know a great deal about German railways so I can happily take huge liberties with period, operation, geography and just about everything else that I wouldn’t dream about with a UK outline layout.


So a plan was drawn up for the garage. (Okay, several plans were drawn up. The current one is still up for revision from time to time as I squeeze something else in.) eBay was trawled for more track, signals, catenary and stock.


A window ledge in the living room became a short lived test of the smallest station.




The plan evolved a bit more and then I was ready for action.


I started off putting together some supports for the baseboards but then had another idea (it was getting to be a habit). Instead of starting at the bottom and working up I’d start with the small station at the end of the branch and complete that first. That way I’d have a working railway in double quick time whilst enthusiasm was running high rather than spend months with little to show for it and run into the sand.




This was a breakthrough because the site for the Ercallbahn had been accumulating junk for various domestic reasons and getting more and more cluttered since I first started drawing up the plans. It had now reached Augean stable proportions.




I realised that I could at least clear one shelf and, by a happy coincidence, I could do so just where the small terminus that I had mocked up earlier would be located. Given this divine intervention it was a case of carpe diem (especially as SWMBO was away).


Over the next few days I occupied myself in the garden...




...and underneath...




Then a bit of gratuitous posing:





Edited by ian
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  • RMweb Gold



Track-laying was then completed on the rest of the German rail network (OK, a temporary fiddle yard).




Followed by a bit of electric knitting.




With Marklin's system you don't really need to plan ahead. It is just plug and play...


Drum roll please...




Installed and working!




The fiddle yard (shaky photo - holding the camera over my head!)




The control panel.




The station itself.

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  • RMweb Gold

Having got a working railway for the first time in years my current challenge is actually remembering to operate it.

Having got the track commissioned I turned my attention to the locos and rolling stock for the branch and have been working through tweaking couplings and such like. I have also been cutting out foamboard infills for the track area in the station, pondering the topography at the throat and wondering about a backscene.

All fun stuff but not actually operating.

So yesterday I sat down stood up and ran through the short version of the operating sequence, which represents either the morning or the afternoon and timed it at 15 minutes. This comprises (from the fiddle yard): railcar outand back, freight out, shunt, run-round, back and run round, loco-hauled passenger out, run-round, back and run-round.

That comprises either a morning or afternoon at the station. The full day adds an extra evening railcar service to the end and would give a 33 minute run.

Note to self = take 15 minutes out to play trains BEFORE you start faffing around.

So, I took that 15 minutes out.


Start of play.


The railbus on the first service of the session. Infills are not fixed down yet.


The railbus returns to the junction.


A little later the freight arrives. This habitually stops at the station entrance so that the crew can change the point to run straight into the loop.


The train runs along to the end of the loop and stops over one of the uncouplers. It is an easy job today as there is only one drop and no pick-ups.


Back on to the main line and ready to go once the signal clears.


Right away!


And back to the fiddle yard.


The stock is changed for the next run.


Then we get to the big passenger train.


End of the line!


Once the passengers have got off the train reverses down and then runs into the loop, picking up the wagon sitting there on the way...


...the coaches are left in the loop as the loco and wagon run into the platform...


...then the coaches are propelled into the platform...


...the wagon is put back on the loop...


...and the train is reformed.


Back to the fiddle yard and ready to run-round which completes the sequence.

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  • RMweb Gold

I get the impression that Märklin had become a collector’s brand in the UK, but in Europe it seems to have clung on as a viable choice for modelling. Many recent models from other brands sold in France have had a 3-rail version offered, Electrotren and Mistral railcars come to mind. Your P8 with wannentender is rather fun.

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  • RMweb Gold

I get the impression that Märklin had become a collector’s brand in the UK, but in Europe it seems to have clung on as a viable choice for modelling. Many recent models from other brands sold in France have had a 3-rail version offered, Electrotren and Mistral railcars come to mind. Your P8 with wannentender is rather fun.


On the mainland it seems to be more of a 'Hornby' name - a synonym for model trains. The range does encompass the  gamut from children's set to collectable that will never leave its box these days.


In the UK it has always been a rara avis and where layouts do exist they seem to be designed as a rolling showcase rather than an operator's layout.


However, as I have a good core collection, extra bits of suitable vintage are cheaply available and it works, it seems like an obvious choice.


I have some Electrotren track that is identical to Marklin 'M' track (the metal track that I am using) in every respect except that it is a slightly different ballast colour. Somehow I can't see Hornby re-introducing that any time soon!

Edited by ian
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  • RMweb Gold


As an experiment I swapped the tichy controller for a larger one which saw a marked improvement in controllability a low speeds. The small tank engine doesn't leap like a startled rabbit when you touch the knob any more.


Local crews have been told that wagons must be put in the spur rather than the loop wherever possible. This makes life easier for the passenger crew and means that unloading doesn't need to be interupted for the passenger run round.

Obvious really. :scratchhead:


And whilst it was too hot to do anything according to the domestic authorities the Jerry builders started on a station building.

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  • RMweb Gold

So the track gang haback in action today...


The aim was to be able to isolate the loop and spur so that the goods loco can sit there whilst the railcar uses the platform line.

A feeder section was substituted for a plain straight and two isolating tabs were placed between the contacts for the centre rail at the two exits. The underboard wires were then put in place and the necessary extra wire was run from the plug to the control panel.

The old and new arrangements are shown below:


The black lines are always on, the blue ones are switchable. I had left the whole terminus as switchable so that I could run round in the sidings whilst a train was in the station. This has proved unnecessary.

All is now in and working in double quick time ready for the forthcoming timetable revision.

Eat your heart out Thameslink :onthequiet:

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  • RMweb Gold

Hi Ian,

A lovely little project, nice that you have got trains running so quickly.




That was one of the big attractions - being able to play trains quickly. Something that I have managed NOT to achieve with a number of my previous projects. 


The track has a metal track base that is virtually indestructable (as long as you don't let it rust). The third rail stud contact system combined with a fair degree of heft (more metal) in the locos makes for good electrical pick up and things like points, signals and uncouplers have their electrics built in and it all connects up with the minimum of fuss and bother. Track will stay where it is put (as evidenced by the on-floor test oval with signal in some of the videos earlier on this thread) and can be screwed down.


I have to say it is all rather refreshing and fun compared to wrestling more modern productions into submission.

Edited by ian
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  • RMweb Gold



A Wills halt has been mangled a little to create a loading platform. The crates are from Peco whilst the barrels and crates of bottles are from Preiser. About half-an-hour's work all up. (Most of that was finding the solvent, razor saw, plastic card....)




The station building is completed. Now I need to wire up the lights.

Edited by ian
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  • RMweb Gold


The two buildings have been plonked in place to establish just where they need to be sited. I was faffing around trying to add a goods shed but the baseboard is too narrow - it would be right up against the backscene.


On a branch line like this you didn't get platforms. This is a very well-appointed station - it has paving slabs instead of gravel.


The trouble with a working railway is it needs to work. The tank loco I have been using still isn't quite good enough. This little beastie was acquired with a job lot and was marked for disposal. When tested it squealed like a stuck pig - but a little oil in the reservoir sorted that and now it behaves really well so it has got the job.

The covered wagon is a new arrival - who wouldn't want one of those on their layout? The model shop in Gipfeldorf obviously sells a LOT of model railway equipment. :O


This eye-level lark takes a bit of getting used to, but does afford some smashing views.

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  • RMweb Gold

I never stocked Maerklin when I had the shop. Only because the national importer was run by a complete ****hole.


But there was plenty of latent demand in France, if only they had had a competent distributor. Some of it was very collectible and I was lucky enough to find a BB9200 Capitole (then about 30 years old) "new" in a shop. My customer was delighted as he had been looking for one for ages but could not afford one.


Back in the late 60s, we visited family friends in Hamburg who had a Maerklin layout. Just worked so well, including those loco-mounted uncouplers. Great fun.

Edited by Joseph_Pestell
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  • RMweb Gold

So as the 'operations are king' mania persists I have added Gaugemaster/Noch track cleaning pads to two items of rolling stock.


They clip onto an axle and rub along the rails to pick up any muck. Running at eye-level they do look a bit obvious.


With the extra heft of the Marklin locos and stock, plus the cleaning action of the pick-up shoe on the centre studs I am not convinced that they will be a major benefit, but they can't hurt.


A couple of runs up and down the layout has picked something up - and it is wiping the studs as well by the looks of the mark in the centre of the pad.


The last session saw a fully loaded freight with three inbound wagons. The spur holds two and the current approved spot for the third is on the toe of the crossover.


The third wagon does have to be moved when the passenger train runs around. First to the platform line.


Then after the loco is on the other end it gets picked up on the end of the coaches.

(Hmm. I wonder if a mixed train, or at least tail traffic, would be permissable?)


Then back to where it started.


The 0-6-0 tank is on today's goods as the three wagon train is a bit challenging for the runt as it hasn't got any traction tyres at the moment. Two in, three to go out.

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  • RMweb Gold


The loading dock had to be lengthened by one segment so that two wagons could be alongside at the same time. This meant canibalising a second kit so the plastic card legs were replaced with kit ones which look a whole lot better from the eye-level viewpoint.


The works have released a class 89 tank locomotive to traffic so the 'runt' has been returned to its box.

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  • RMweb Gold

Today I have been mostly practicing electrickery.


What we have here is a small light detector (and some lights for it to detect). When an item of rolling stock obscures the light the LED on top of the column lights up.

This is to help me position the passenger train over the uncoupler in the goods yard. As the uncoupler is about 6 feet from where I stand exact positioning can be a tad tricky - now I just wait until the light goes out as the last carriage goes past the detector and stop the train.


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  • RMweb Gold

Today was a good day.


The postie brought a parcel from a seller on German eBay which contained a Marklin 6699 Electronic Control. This post-dates the rest of the equipment but I'm flexible. It is an AC equivalent of a transistorised controller and makes a huge difference to slow speed running on the layout.


For those of us in the UK of a certain age (or greater) think of the difference between your H&M Clipper, Safety Minor or Duette and your first transistorised controller - ECM, Gaugemaster, etc.. A quick check with the multi-meter showed it does output AC rather than cheating (you can run the locos on DC). Result! :locomotive:

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  • RMweb Gold


The old 0-6-0 is back in service - the new controller has made it wonderfully controllable. Amazing for a 'starter train set' locomotive from the 70s!

A test print of part of a backscene is to the rear - the full printed version on vinyl has been ordered.

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  • RMweb Gold


Meanwhile a little something has arrived for freight haulage on the main line, whenever it is that it appears.

I'm not sure what it is, but it is certainly a little something.  : :)

(Actually it is an E44 electric loco for light and medium duties.)


In the same parcel was this E41 freight loco - the only trouble is that it was dead on arrival.

I checked that it was set to track rather than overhead pick up and then investigated further by removing the body.


An appeal for help on the Marklin Users Net forum identified the suspect device as a Delta decoder and provided the informaton that setting all the DIP switches off gave analogue operation.

Flicking the switches restored life to the beastie. Excellent thing this interweb. :imsohappy:

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...
  • RMweb Gold

So, moving on to Schonblick - the draft plan shows it thus:




So, given a paste table and a few quiet moments down at the unit what do we get?


Mission creep, that's what.








This is the problem when you have a generously provisioned box of track. : :)


Still, it allows for an extra freight destination - supplies for the workshop and provides for somewhere to keep the extra coaches that I have recently acquired.

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My daughter picked her up from a breeder in Devon coming back from their summer holidays, and she’s taken over their lives, besides the kids. Gardens seem to be the big problem, my son in law has had to take out all the plants with berries, and now has to diligently search for slugs before she finds them! Sorry, nothing to do with Marklin, as you say, pups are a lovable distraction.

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