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Grass Heart Vale - A Garden Railway in OO and O/16mm

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Hi all, I thought I'd post up some stuff about my current garden railway project which has progressed well across the summer and autumn. I'm covering it in my blog, but it would be nice to get some thoughts about the next steps as I progress. 


So this is the first chronicle of my time designing and making a garden railway, which is now christened 'Grass Heart Vale Railway' (GHVR), I can imagine a 'Grass Heart Vale Express' headboard already and I thought I'd just cover some of the reasoning behind why I've had a crack at this.


I have some really nice OO gauge stock and I now have some rather lengthy consists including: x2 APTs and the western-modified Midland Pullman. All of these I love, but none of my future plans for a model railway build could realistically accommodate for running these. They are too long and I’d need to commit too much house real estate to the effort. So my options were simple; I either don’t buy them (or sell the ones I have); or I commit to designing something that can accommodate them to run. And so, I took the latter route and turned to my garden…



I’ve never really thought a garden railway was that viable of an option in OO gauge, as I thought it risked damage to the locos a bit too much. My youth growing up with visits to Don Jones’ 'Miniature New Street' in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands are very fond memories of mine, though. I used to love looking at the big coal power station miniature (not something easily made indoors) and watching the 'peaks' running around the various patios and along the ponds in Don's surprisingly large back garden. A lot of the stock did look damaged and tired in my later teens, though, which I guess is the risk of running at ground level and in foot swinging distance. Don’s railway also did see a lot of running and visitors of all ages, which no doubt added to some of its rougher edges. So generally, ground-level garden 'railwaying', was not part of my plan.


I then came across an alternative build method in the ‘trestle’ format of a garden model railway where the entire affair is raised off the ground, around what looks like a ladder frame. Now, this wasn’t far off some of the other options I’d considered for a loop run indoors, which included a fairly minimal scenery loop idea for my garage.


I then started considering a nice loop running through my shed that crossed half the garden as a good start, maybe crossing a pond with a nice railway bridge, possibly terminating in the security of my garage?


This YouTube video by New Junction where Richard spent his covid lockdown making an O gauge garden railway (with the gusto many of us manifested in those strange covid times), was a massive inspiration to this project, as I thought that the design method seemed sound and the build didn’t seem that challenging to tackle. I thought perhaps with a bit less COVID gusto, I could build on/improve a bit on the design concept too.


There were a few basic principles that have come out of these initial thoughts:

  • Keep it simple - no complicated track work, no elaborate plans that will take an age to design, this is first and foremost a ‘play with trains track’
  • Minimal risk of damage to stock - no overhanging bushes, no risk of running trains off the raised platform into the floor, as safe as a design I can make.
  • A temporary (permanent) fixture - a nice contradiction, so I mean this is built to the spec of how long I might live in this house and is meant to be of a temporary design, so I have built it with somewhere between 3-7 years of play potential. Thus, no concrete and no absolute permanency.
  • The garden still needs to be usable as a garden - although the garden railway will be a very obvious feature, I don’t want to lose the use of the garden in the process. This includes mowing the lawn, putting out the washing and all that type of normal garden jazz.

Although my thoughts initially focussed on perhaps a double line of OO gauge track, I then started wondering about adding a line of a larger gauge I've never worked in before (perhaps as a taster for something in the future), so I thought maybe a loop of O gauge would also provide some fun opportunities too?


I ordered a few sections of different PECO track types to see how they would look and might work outside.


I also ordered some decking samples as I wondered if I could work out a suitable width of recycled plastic decking to use as the main running surface, but I decided against this in the end as I thought creating curves with it would be a headache and I wasn't sure what would happen to it under heat exposure for long hot summers.

Keeping to principle 1, I didn’t want to spend too much time designing and planning out the garden railway (lining up some track on a bit of decking was enough for me), so I thought the sensible first step was to build a section as a ‘proof of concept’ to see how the build would work and get an idea of how much this will cost and how long it will take.


I’ll cover all of this next time, but for now, I’ll drop somewhat of a spoiler of how far I’ve got with the build by the end of Autumn 2023 and I intend to post some insights into how things progressed in future posts.



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