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Exchange Square - a cross section through a modern city in N gauge


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Here we go again....


So "Bere Newton" (Here) is now sold, and after sharing a few ideas on my next plans (here) I have now started constructing my new layout. After a massive e-bay clear out of my 00 and DCC stuff I now have some capital to re-invest. 


After making Bere Newton I learnt a few lessons:


1. I had planned BN to be small and portable, and at only 170cm x 45cm it was as small as you can really go in 00, however it was still much bigger than my wife was expecting, and much heavier and less portable than I was expecting - therefore I am moving to N Gauge.

2. I am leaving the 60's! As a child of the 80's my railway memories are much later and I am keen to do modern image!

3. BN was great fun to build, but a bit boring to operate, especially for my two young sons who were really keen to play with it, but lost interest extremely quickly.


After much deliberation of small N scale termini (a micro 'Newcastle Haymarket' if you will.) I decided I wanted a circuit to run trains, I also fancied something different - perhaps a tram?


Looking at such excellent layouts as Smithdown Road and Stuarts Lane on here, I realised that you can have 'train-set' curves but still a realistic layout if you're clever about what the viewer can see and which bits are hidden.


The criteria are:


1. A modern city layout

2. Interesting for me and two young boys to play with (kids like tunnels, working colour signals etc)

3. Lightweight and portable are essential, I must be able to put it on the kitchen table or move it out of the spare room when we have guests.

4. However (as I have said numerous times) my enjoyment comes from building the layout - so it must be very much a 'model railway' for me to detail and not a 'train set'.

5. Must have at least one continuous run, for running in locos and watching trains go by!


So the plan:


Using Anyrail5 I mapped out what was the smallest space I could have a complete circuit - which turned out to be 120cm x 50cm (a bit less than 4ftx2ft), so this became my baseboard size. Baseboards were built from 6mm ply braced and supported by lots of stripwood framing. It is extremely light.

I decided that I would go for levels in order to create interest and get as much layout as possible into this tiny footprint. I would use set-track in the hidden loops and 1st radius curves in hidden curves, but code 55 in the scenic sections.


There will be three levels:


Level 1 (at the bottom of a cutting - baseboard level) a single track freight only avoiding line, taking freight traffic through/past the city stations. Only a 55cm section of this is visible to the viewer, this means that trains will appear from a tunnel, trundle along the dank, dingy cutting and disappear under the city streets at the end of the tunnel. For operational interest there is a working Berko signal on this line, linked to an isolating section so that trains will stop when it's red and only be able to proceed when it's green. To allow trains to go the opposite direction when the signal is red (as would be the case in reality) I have also wired a diode into the circuit to allow trains to pass the red signal from the opposite direction.


Level 2 (Street level) This level features the city's new shiny tram system, and is simply a loop of Tomix tram track which will have a stop outside the main station for connections. I am planning to have nice posh paving, maybe a few ornamental trees etc very much in the manner of a station concourse which has been gentrified in the last few years. The tram will disappear at each end of the street section under bridges beneath....


Level 3 (on top of the railway arches) is my much rationalised city 'sprinter' terminus. This will be effectively a self-contained 4ft shelf terminus to fiddle yard layout, with a couple of kick-back sidings hiding the small fiddle yard. I currently cannot decide if this is going to be a Network Rail depot with virtual quarry and a small shed, or a rail served warehouse to shunt a few vans in and out of.


This sounds daft, but being N gauge there is only 5-6cm between levels, so it's not going to be too big.






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So in my usual impatient style, I have already made some good progress.



An overview of where I've got to - level 1 is laid, wired and much of the scenic work on the visible section is complete. This is a really strange way of working - you have to get track laid and some scenery done on each level, and fully test it, before doing the sort of carpentry on the next level that you'd usually not want to do anywhere near anything finished!

The Tomix loop is laid and wired on level 2.

Level 3 will go straight across the length of the layout, with the retaining wall (railway arches with station entrance, starbucks, nero, costa etc) providing the scenic break for the tram circuit on level 2.


An alternative view showing the hidden loop and storage sidings at the back of level 1. For an idea of scale the two coaches are Farish Mk2's.


The entire scenic section of level 1


The Berko signal does work (as per post no1), it looks the part now I've painted the back of the head and the post a more realistic shade of light grey.

The cutting wall is a single pack of Peco retaining walls, glued together and completely repainted. The different pipes are made from round microstrip, decoder wire and normal 16/2 layout wire respectively. The graffiti was an enjoyable hour or so, simply painted by hand in bright games workshop paints from a Google image search for 'railway graffiti'. I am really pleased with this little section for my first ever attempt at n gauge modelling.


Close ups of the freight-only line at the bottom of the cutting. Most commuters using the main station or the tram probably never look over the parapet!


Thanks for taking an interest, looking forward to feedback as ever.



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  • RMweb Gold

"I am really pleased with this little section for my first ever attempt at n gauge modelling."


And so you should be, it's marvelous. The attention to detail is brilliant, and the whole scene is so evocative of inner city grot, and it's all in "N" :O





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Thanks for the positive comments so far.


Last night I built up the area around the tram track by gluing 5mm foamboard around the 5mm deep inset Tomix track so that I can start to blend the pedestrianised station approach.


Here are some photos of trains, and trams!



66 on a steel train pauses for a signal.



57 heads for Southampton with a container working


The Tram approaches it's stop whilst the Freightliner passes beneath. To give an idea of the next phase the retaining wall for the railway arches will go all the way along where the white foam board ends, the terminus station will then sit on the top. This will provide a scenic break for the tram loop disappearing under a bridge at each end.



A couple of shots of the tram on the lower line, which was connected to power, to show the directional and interior lighting.


The 66 again (I don't have a whole lot of stock yet!)


The Tram, oval of tram track, pair of stops and a pack of Catenary was all purchased from en eBay shop - Plaza Japan, given that these excellent Kato Portram units retail from a few places in the UK for around £95, and the track and accessories are expensive over here, the whole lot cost me around £120 including shipping from Japan. It took nearly three weeks to get here, and I was a little disappointed that the combined postage allowance wasn't particularly generous, but this probably saved me £100 vs buying it from a UK stockist. 






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  • 3 weeks later...

Evening all,


I haven't made a great deal of visible progress since the last update. The ply for the top level is now cut, and the wiring on levels 1+2 is finished. I have started trying to achieve the various textures needed for my "modern pedestrianised station approach" on the tram level with various degrees of success.


The best result so far is the Busch rolls of cobbled road in various patterns as seen above. I had tried to use some scalescenes road surfaces, but the glue turned the ink from my printer green. After this failure I have decided I am going to get a set of the Metcalfe roads and pavements and mix and match them up with the Busch textures. In the picture above I will use the Metcalfe pavements to cover the joins between the Busch cobbles and the tramtrack.


In more exciting news some new trains have arrived! This being my first foray into N scale, I am consistently blown away at the quality of the models available. 


One of my favourite trains of recent years, the 2005ish Weymouth Seaside Special heads to the coast.


The coaches are my first go at Electra graphics, which I am delighted with!


The 31 is held at the signal, as the tram leaves it's stop.


It's much more mundane replacement follows, although it is a great model.


My favourite purchase - a Hobbytrain (German or American?) Tamper. The detail on this and the open frame are unbelievable. Needs a bit of weathering and maybe some Colas/Network Rail badges, but a great interesting model.


I'm planning some more carpentry tomorrow, so watch this space for another update soon!







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  • 5 weeks later...

Hi - it's been nearly a month since the last update, but I have been making progress.



Good old Metcalfe has come to the rescue - after my experiments with photoshop and scalescenes roads, which was undone by my inability to print and glue down well, I have reverted to Metcalfe sheets and self-adhesive 00 stones to create the 'pedestrianised station concourse' effect around the tram. Clearly a lot to do, but once covered with commuters, ornamental trees, coffee shacks etc I think this will look OK.



Finally Level 3 is taking shape. The two concrete sleeper tracks will be platform 1 & 2 of the urban terminus on top of the railway arches (above the concourse/tram level.) The two kick-back sidings will be a Network Rail depot, with a half-relief shed against the fiddle yard back scene. I reckon this gives maximum operating potential, an NR depot could legitimately service locos, plant, coaches and wagons. They also seem to have prototypically have moved into small old yards/depots for their small local bases. Point motors are wired up and working, just need to finish the wiring and thoroughly test it before it gets permanently added to the layout!



Apologies if someone else has already shared this idea on here - but I am proud of this flash of inspiration! My cassettes for the top level - 25mm IT trunking with track fixed in with epoxy resin. I have used a piece of set-track as the 'dock' and at the end of each cassette with power and alignment via the normal joiners on the set-track. Everything just about fits - so long as the track is dead-centre of the trunking. The only loco which has refused so far is my Farish 08.




I have been getting used to modelling in N gauge - it is bl**dy small isn't it! As the various POA wagons seem to be perennially reduced in most places, I have had a go at a trio of Limpet conversions. The extra rib is from 0.5x1mm micro-strip and the hole is the drilled and filed out.





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Hi everyone,


I have been making progress with the top tier, with wiring now 3/4 complete. With such a small board (120cm x 20cm) it's amazing how tight it all is with the wires for track feeds, 3 pairs of points, 2 signals and 5 isolating sections!


I find wiring a bit dull, but immensely satisfying when it all works! Points and Signals are finished and tested, just the final track feeds and isolating sections to complete.


Whilst progress on the layout has been slowed down while the carpentry and electrical works take place I have followed up my first wagon conversions with some more mini-projects, as an alternative to the monotony of stripping wire and soldering!!


Before launching into my coaches, I must acknowledge how helpful and friendly I am finding all the N Gauge small suppliers, TPM and Electra Graphics have been superb.


Anyway, after acquiring a very cheap class 73, I have started making a Network Rail de-Icer, ex-Gatwick GLV for it to push around. I am a huge fan of Electra Graphics, but I am not a fan of the printed ends of DMU's/DVT's etc, so I decided I wanted to create a better 'face' of the unit, to go with the side-overlays. After e-mailing Bernard at TPM he sent me loads of useful goodies at an amazing price.


Here is the front of my GLV, a TPM EPB/HAP front, with a Ratio Headlight and home-made new light clusters (TPM lights filed down to just two lamps). I have drilled and filed out the centre window. This is after a light undercoat to show the lumps!


The inner end of the GLV is a TPM CEP front end with the windows filled in. This has also just had a light undercoat to show the bumps!


Here it is a few hours later, after a bit more fettling and the Electra Vinyls added. My only reservation is that I don't think all the windows have been blanked on the recently refurbished GLV's but instead of risking the model I decided I could live with this.

AS you can just see in the photo I have changed the roof vents to match photos, and I need to add collector shoes to the bogies.


My other 'interesting coach' project is an ex-RES PCV. These seemed to be shunted around and dumped in odd sidings for years after the end of postal traffic. Again working on the same principle of Electra sides and my own ends, this also uses a TPM EPB/HAP front, which isn't too dissimilar to the 307's which were converted to PCVs. I have filled in the centre headcode recess, added TPM Light clusters and etched RCH cables. I have added handrails from microstrip, which look great at normal viewing distance, but over scale zoomed in! Still much work to do, but coming along.



Also on the workbench kitchen table is a straight forward Electra overlay to make NR Generator Van 975280. I am modifying the roof to match pictures to finish this off.



However I have had a couple of disasters! I used Brasso to strip most of the above, but two coaches were badly damaged during this process. Luckily I have managed to salvage something from them both.

First was a GUV which warped, cracked bent all over the place post-brasso, however having the roof and chassis to one side I have been able to make new sides and ends from 1mm plasticard. Since taking this photo the sides and ends have been filed down flush, and it is now mounted on it's chassis. With Electra super-GUV overlays and TPM RCH cables on the ends I think this will be a decent Super-GUV after it's near disastrous start!


Second disaster this week has been this mark 2, which also didn't like the Brasso! I have managed to brace this with plasticard to correct the damage, and after an undercoat in this photo, I have now filed down most of the bumps! My plan for this, is to simply make 99666 - the Network Rail Brake Force runner, plain yellow with all windows blanked! This is also prototypically a bit lumpy on each side!! Very kind of Network Rail to operate such a good 'last resort' coach for a modeller in a mess!!








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I was meant to be soldering tonight, but my modelling time got used for more interesting projects...


Clearly Mr Mercig is unlikely to be phoning me with a job offer tomorrow, but these are coming on. The most difficult thing is fettling the tops of the ends in order to get the roof back on neatly!



I must finish the wiring tomorrow!

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So, after finally finishing off the wiring a couple of nights ago, and testing the top level last night, I have finally been able to fix the top level in place and the contrcution and electrics are finished!


Hopefully these pictures of the completed idea, will show my three layer idea better than I could explain it at the start of this thread! This is meant to be a cross-section through a modern city - and a bit of a "have your cake and eat it" layout with a lot of train in a small space without compromising realism. It is less than 4ftx2ft and uses train set curves and points - but not where they're visible to the viewer. The bottom level is a short section of a freight 'avoiding line' taking traffic away from the city stations, the next level is street level with the paved concourse for the station, including a tram line with a stop to change for mainline trains, the top level is a rationalised urban "sprinter" terminus and a small network rail depot on top of the railway arches.


This should now make sense....





Given the stage of the layouts development, I felt it appropriate that a track maintenance vehicle be one of the first trains on the new level.


The tamper sits in what will be the maintenance shed of the engineers depot.


The control panel - blue are sprung to centre on/off/on switches to change the points, yellow are simple on/on switches to change the signals from red - green and the red are on/off switches for the various isolating sections. I've used electrofrog points with peco motors, with the frogs switched by peco microswitches. The whole layout is controlled by a single Gaugemaster Model D, which provides 2 x track feeds, a fixed 12v supply for signals and lights and a 16v feed for point motors. I have wired up a D-sub connector so the controller can be easily attached and unattached. The whole layout therefore only needs one plug.


Storage roads and hidden sidings at the back. The red switch on the bottom level changes the power supply between the freight line and the tram, the yellow one changes the signal (and the linked isolating section) on the freight line.



With all the construction and electrics out of the way, I can now get on with my favourite bit - making it look good! I'm already looking forward to the arches, with modern cafes and an upgraded entrance to the station.


This seems to be fulfilling my aims when I came up with the idea. It is small (120cm x 55cm), very light as it's made entirely from 6mm ply and lots of stripwood bracing, yet it has loads of interest. My two young sons already enjoy this layout far more than the previous termini or loops I've built. With three levels, tunnels and working signals there is loads to keep you occupied.


I'm completely converted to N Gauge! I've even joined the society!





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Thanks for the replies and likes.


I'm looking forward to doing the shop fronts and main entrance to the station - I've been looking at the plans for London Bridge, the alternative entrance to Birmingham Snow Hill and the recent refurb of Bath for inspiration.


I've ordered a couple of "double modern shop fronts" from Ten Commandments - I've no idea what they look like, but reckon they could be a Starbucks and a suitable other shop! I'm planning to have some sort of canopy or glazed porch outside the main station entrance. I've no plans to cut through, the shops will be hidden behind catenary for the tram, ornamental trees and people, so I reckon with a detailed front and maybe some clever images of shop interiors or window displays behind the glazing they'll look ok.

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Having decided that there were no new locos I wanted this month, and that I had more than enough projects on the go, I decided to spend my "modelling fund" this month on an airbrush set.


With my wife out this evening and the kids in bed, I carried the layout downstairs to the kitchen for my first go at airbrushing. (This was the first time I'd properly moved the layout since fixing on the top level - thankfully it is still light enough to be legitimately called 'portable'!)


I figured that weathering track would be a suitable first project, before I had a go at weathering or repainting stock! I also used the opportunity of an "engineering possession" of the kitchen to apply a couple of coats of sky blue emulsion to the various scenic breaks. 


[i must recommend Wilkinson's tester pots - they are an extremely generous minature pot of paint for £1.10 - you get loads more paint, in a proper reusable little pot, without the annoying built in brush, for much less £ than more recognised paint brands. My preference for backscenes is "cloudless"]


Anyway - I reckon I probably thinned the paint too much at first, but got it right later. I turned the pressure down to approx 20psi, which seemed to work well. My compressor sounded pleasingly like a class 20, with the whistling noise of the air valve at the lower pressure! The track has been variously shaded with Railmatch Acrylic "Sleeper Grime" and "Light Rust".


After doing loads of research on various modelling and wargaming websites about purchasing my airbrush, I decided to have a go at thinning my acrylics with concentrated screen wash (I can hear the serious modellers reel in horror at this point) - however it seemed to work (apparently the neat concentrated blue stuff has most of the same ingredients as thinners - i.e. water, a form of alcohol and a mild detergent which breaks down surface tension.) It seemed to work fine, and at £1 for 1/2 litre it's much more affordable!


It was good to actually have nearly two whole hours of modelling - I usually do 30 min bursts late at night. Latest pics attached. A couple of evenings ago, I installed Dapol Esi-shunt magnets in the sidings.






The points look a bit odd as they were masked to keep the contacts and moving bits free from paint. Hopefully I can do some ballasting tomorrow. I have nice clean pale ballast for the platforms and grotty grey for the sidings.




ps - after my first sentance: Having decided that there were no new locos I wanted this month, and that I had more than enough projects on the go, I decided to spend my "modelling fund" this month on an airbrush set. I have since purchased a kit from the N Gauge Society, and about 1/2 hour ago a class 170 on ebay. I didn't think I'd win, honest!






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Has anyone else come across this problem; I have a single Maplin 9-way d-sub as the only electrical connection on the layout. It connects all the feeds (2xtrack, 12v lights/signals and 16v points) to a gaugemaster model D which provides all the power. When I push the two halves of the d-sub together it works fine, but when it clicks 'home' and is fully joined none of the connections work. I find I have to balance the d-sub together - not quite fully closed to get the best results. Luckily it does stay like this.


If it was just one feed I would think one of the pins was loose, but then it's fully closed none of the 8 connections work.

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Layout update.


I have spent the last few days ballasting, but until tonight I was far from satisfied with the job. I used Woodland Scenics light grey on the yard and open areas, and Woodland Scenics Buff on the two platforms - the main line. I wanted to achieve a noticeable difference between the yard with wooden sleepers and grey ballast, and the platforms with concrete sleepers and newer, lighter ballast.


Before I started I laid orange pipes under the tracks and painted the odd sleeper yellow or white as you often see in reality. I did a little bit of ballasting each evening over three evenings, filling in holes and making good as I went. This morning when it had all dried I thought it looked awful! The grey had dried much darker, and the buff had dried an orangey colour, when combined with the weathered track and colourful details it didn't look right at all.


I have always been interested in the idea of colour scaling. I am no artist, but it often strikes me as the best layouts at shows are the ones which appear to be in 'pastel' colours. Indeed I have heard of whole layouts being lightly sprayed light grey to achieve this effect. I would also think that the smaller the scale, the more extreme this needs to be.


So this evening I mixed up a pot of 1/3rd 'sleeper grime' and 2/3rds 'executive light grey' (the bottom bit of intercity coaches) and liberally airbrushed the whole lot. To my eye this looks much better. There are still gaps in the ballast and the odd lump to fix, but I couldn't resist plonking a few structures on the layout to see how it was coming together.









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Having spent a couple of 1/2 hours weathering track, I wanted to have a go with my new airbrush on some stock.


I started a little tentative, and got more confident. I just need to keep reminding myself of the basics:


1. Air first, then paint!

2. Don't start and finish on the model (start off one side and finish off the other!)


Anyway - I am pleased with the subtle (and not so subtle) effects you can achieve, and luckily, I've discovered that thinned acrylics can be removed easily with a cotton bud, for when my beginners luck runs out!



Having done some research, it would appear that XC keep their bodywork annoyingly clean! I have added underframe and roof shading.


My home-made GUV used as a test, hopefully disguises the slightly wonky build!


My favourite so far, the chutes and inside look so much better rusty that light grey plastic.


Perhaps a couple of glasses of wine with dinner made me experiment with a £100 train, but I am pleased with the subtle shading on the roof.



A light misting of weathered black can look like 'fly-splatter' which covers the front of most trains. Toning down the snow-plough of these makes a huge difference.


I had actually painted the lower 'snow-plough' of the 170 yellow, but it's now so heavily weathered you can't tell!


Airbrush weathering is slightly addictive - must be the fumes!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Good evening,


Steady progress continues, the shed area is now in place and has been visited by the H&S officer courtesy of Sankey Signs! This area now needs loads of junk and clutter to blend it all together.



The compound adjacent to the shed has a fence - this was a little Ancorton Models kit I purchased on a whim a couple of months ago, it was fiddly getting the mesh to stick to the posts but I am pleased with the look - I need to tackle to three strands of cotton which represent barbed wire around the top next!



A small job I had been meaning to do for a while was to add a fence around the top of the cutting and fill the small gap between the tram track and lower retaining wall. This is Faller concrete fencing and scatter - I must buy a second colour of foliage ASAP!



Finally - this is a rubbish picture - I built and painted the tram stop - loads of spares (the ticket machine is a trackside relay cabinet!) and the canopy from the Kato tram stop I ordered but just looked "too japanese". This is based on a Sheffield tram stop.



My only hindrance at the moment (if you exclude work and children!) is that one of my three Peco microswitches seems to have decided to stop switching polarity in one direction only. If I put my finger under the board and give it an extra push it works! Looking on the message boards here, this doesn't appear to be an unusual or unexpected issue with the Peco Microswitch. I may have to resort to a manual switch for this one point.

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