The wonderful thing about garden railways is that it is all things to all men (and no doubt women too) and I quickly discovered that there are any number of ways to do any number of things. Indeed, I have spent more time deliberating on methods of construction than I have spent actually building the damn thing.
At the time of conception my canvas was a garden stretching 15m x 10m at the back of which were a pond and patio whist in the centre were two conjoined rockeries. Looking from the house the garden slopes slightly away towards the back right hand corner where the patio is, the difference in height being about one foot.
My first consideration was as to the level of the railway; should it be high-level, mid-level, low level or ground-level. Each has its advantages and disadvantages; there is no wrong or right way about it and the considerations which will affect the final decision are far too numerous and complex to detail here. Suffice to say that only the individual will know which is right for them. I opted for a ground level line.
Having chosen at what level the line was to be my attentions turned to the track layout; should I go for an ‘out and back’ line like a real railway or should I go for the convenience of a continuous circuit. In the end I opted for both and went for a continuous loop with two branch lines and, after a lot of designing and redesigning, I finally settled on the track layout.
My thoughts were then directed towards the method of construction for the track bed. As with most aspects of this hobby there is any number of ways to lay a track bed and after considerable research and deliberation I chose, for the main loop at least, concrete blocks on a mortar bed atop a hardcore base. I was now ready to start the donkey work.
Phase 1 - Having marked out the route turf was cut, foundations were dug and a hardcore base put down ready to accept the concrete blocks. These were laid flat at the higher end of the garden and turned on their sides as the garden sloped away in order to keep the line as level as possible. Gaps were left in the track bed in which the viaducts were built. The track bed of the main loop was completed with a bridge spanning the pond.
Phase 2 - Upon completion of the main loop work moved to the first branch line, for which the method of gravel boards covered with roofing felt supported on posts secured in fence spikes was adopted as this line was above ground level. This was then disguised with walling and bridgework made from aerated block. The quarry to which this branch leads is a sturdy wooden frame filled with a concrete dry-mix to which water was added to set the concrete.
Phase 3 - The second branch line was then tackled. This branch leads to a wharf and has spur lines to the carriage sidings/steam-up area and the engine shed, and construction here was again different. The track bed for the carriage siding line is a low flowerbed retaining wall built from aerated blocks. The carriage sidings and steam-up area itself is a temporary baseboard structure constructed from MDF and pine battens which is supported on breeze blocks. These baseboards are erected for garden meetings. The wharf area is also built of aerated blocks and sits on a mortar bed atop hardcore base and is covered in a concrete rendering. The engine shed area is a hardcore base on which an instant concrete dry-mix was poured in sections. Water was then added to each section and the concrete left to set.
Phase 4 - The reversing line track bed was a later addition and is made of aerated blocks on a bed of mortar laid on a hardcore base.
Track Laying – Here again there are many varying methods of affixing track to the track bed. After several experiments and having given some weighty thought to the matter I opted to lay my track on a wet mortar base and to secure it in place by pressing ballast between the sleepers. Once the mortar had set the excess loose ballast was removed. This method was used across the railway with the exception of the quarry, wharf and engine shed. At these locations the track was laid in place and a dry concrete mix put down and watered in thereby embedding the track into the surface.
Structures – The two bridges on the line are constructed from aluminium angle riveted together and sprayed in red car primer. The two viaducts are of differing construction, one being comprised of four arches individually cast in concrete and the other being four stone slabs spanning brick supports. The two tunnels on the line were added much later and were incorporated into a new rockery. The tunnels were formed by placing concrete blocks either side of the track and placing paving slabs on top. The rockery was then built around and over these structures.
If you have any questions or comments about the construction methods used to create the BSLR please feel free to contact me by clicking email.
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