Taking the Overhead Wires Through a Tunnel

A challenge that was always there from the start and which had been exercising my mind from the day I started planning this model railway was how I was going to cope with taking an overhead-electrified model railway line through tunnels. The overhead on this layout is realistic in appearance but is non-functional, the trains picking up their current through the normal two-rail system just as models of diesel or steam trains would do, but it is just as important that the pantographs keep contact with the wire or else they would cause major problems, possibly including damage, if they are dewired and snag the catenary.

The solution I adopted, and which I have since heard has been done by others, was to glue a length of rail to the roof of the tunnel, soldering the contact wire carefully at each end to make a smooth transition. A pantograph then glides from wire to rail as it enters the tunnel and back to wire when leaving the tunnel, but to the observer the wire simply seems to enter the tunnel as it would in real life. Because of the presence of overhead lines it is impossible for a viewer to get their eyes low enough to look into the tunnel and see that I have thus cheated! See it done on the latest video:

Taking the OHLE through the first tunnel

The next project will be to take the wire to the next tunnel mouth which will be the entrance to the hidden sidings where I shall have to make arrangements for the overhead to end in such a way that raised pantographs are wired as they leave the hidden area for the visible part of the layout. Once that is done I can begin the gradients and spirals, with more complex tunnels, which will take the other track up and over the mountains to the terminus to be constructed above the hidden sidings. In many ways the short section of track on this first line has been the test-bed for the complex sections to come, but in any case it had to be built first because the rest will be built over it!

The Roots of the Mountains

The time has finally come to start the construction of the Alpine pass section of the layout! It has taken a little time to build the baseboard (well, I say, “baseboard,” but some of it is empty framework) because it had to go alongside some rearrangement of the room which is now dominated by the layout rather than the railway being along just one wall.

The plain baseboard which extends into the room will carry hidden sidings representing the rest of the RhätischeBahn network, and above it will be the higher-altitude terminus station. At the end of the room, across the window, will be the winding track carrying the line between the two levels via a small intermediate station. There is a lot of work to do here, and a lot of mistakes to make, I am sure, since my experience in any sort of countryside modelling is severely limited (I think I last built a rural scene about fifty years ago) and in narrow-gauge mountain modelling is zero.

I have some HOm points bought second-hand on eBay in readiness for this moment, and some Peco flexible plain track has just arrived from Hattons by courier this morning (in normal times I’d have caught the train to Peterborough and bought it from Train 4U but it is not listed on their website so I had to look elsewhere). I bought cork underlay last summer when the shops were open, and some adhesive when buying the timber last week. Ready to go …

Slow Progress, But Progress Nonetheless

I apologise for keeping subscribers waiting longer than usual for this post, and indeed for the brevity of the post, but this last couple of weeks has seen me busy with other things, such as delivering a Lent Study Course for my local church and updating my other weblog at mwtrips.co.uk. In addition, as you will see from the video, I have taken quite a bit of time sorting the railway room and workbench ready for the next phase of the layout: time well-spent but not the most entertaining of activities for the blog!

Trying a platform canopy for size and fit

In terms of the actual layout construction, there has been some progress: the platform canopies are under construction, and the video deals with these as far as they have come; and a plan has been drawn up for the mountain pass section of the layout ready for the carpentry to begin as soon as I have a decent stretch of time to set aside for it! This is probably the most challenging and exciting phase of the layout construction and will be its defining feature when in use at home. I don’t think it will be suitable for exhibition. Here is the video:

The Best Laid Plans …

I powered up the layout yesterday to move the trains out of the way for some work on the station and noticed something amiss: the lighting in the station building was not working. This was the only lighting on the layout where I had used incandescent bulbs instead of LEDs, largely because of accessibility problems which made it simpler to push a pair of bulbs up through a hole below the building than to attempt to fix a couple of LEDs in place. The big downside of bulbs, of course, is their short life, and these were far from new, so I suppose I had been asking for trouble.

So, the nettle has been grasped: the station board is on its side once more – I don’t think I need to move it to the workbench – and using a hole-cutter, knives and drills I am making my way up through the baseboard and the plastic base of the building into its atrium where I shall place a couple of pre-wired LEDs. I have to say that images of the Hatton Garden burglary sprang unbidden into my mind as I drilled my way in!

Work still in progress but unless I am interrupted I am hopeful that all will be back in place tonight with the station lit even better than it was before! Meanwhile, thanks to a birthday gift I now have more people standing on the station – it was to place these that I need to move the trains out of the way.

No ski resort is complete without at least one of these!


Task completed, for now, anyway. I can see me wanting to improve this in due course (especially now that I can see that light leak under the building!!!), but now I really must try to get the layout into a more complete state. You never know when I can start inviting friends to see it, or even take it to exhibitions!

Population Growth!

If you have been following my story you will already have seen some of my people, clearing snow, waiting for buses, visiting the Die Post and shops or ice-skating. These are well-detailed, realistically posed, and expensive, figures from Noch, Preiser and other continental manufacturers. I am fortunate to receive these from time to time as gifts, some I buy when abroad (the RhätischeBahn staff I bought in St Moritz, the skiers in Germany) and some I buy myself in UK shops when I see particularly appropriate characters, such as the snow-clearers.

For use inside the trains and buses, sheer numbers are more important than detail: they are glimpsed through small glazed windows, often when moving, and not really seen properly, so I buy cheap, bulk, unpainted (or badly painted!) figures from unbranded internet sources for these, just as I did on my British 1930s layout a few years ago. The ones I have just bought and am gradually installing in my RhB trains are underscale at 1:100 (which would be correct for TT gauge) and I would guess they are made for the architectural model maker who might use such a scale. However, people do come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, so scale is a bit vague with figures anyway, and the great advantage is that these are so much easier to place in the coach and bus seats, which often have little legroom, and again, glimpsed briefly through a train window are certainly good enough for me.

Watch the video and let me know what you think, here or on YouTube.

Installing people in one of my RhB coaches

Completing some odd jobs!

Over the weekend I completed three tasks which have occupied the back of my mind for many weeks! The big one, which did not actually take very long, was properly mounting the control panel on a permanent bracket in front of the layout: the panel itself needs to be removable for exhibition purposes, and when I get round to making legs and fiddle yard in order to exhibit the layout then I shall have to find a way of mounting it on the baseboard, but there is no hurry to do that.

The other two jobs were painting tasks. I had already painted “rust” on the sides of the rails in the platform area but still had the approach tracks and the sidings to do; one snag of working in metre gauge is that the rails are rather small and painting is fiddly, especially with overhead wires in place. Mental note made to paint the sides of the rails during track laying in future! The other task was to do something about the backs of the signals, which show almost as much light from the signal lamps as do the fronts! I had experimented with applying a lot of black paint to the backs of two of them and this was largely successful and needed to be extended to the rest of the signals. Real Swiss signals are grey on the back and so I then needed to apply a decorative coat of grey. Working colour-light signals are always going to be a compromise and the backs especially so, with overscale wiring, overscale light fittings and sturdier fixings to the post, but at least if painted the correct colour they will not draw too much attention to the compromise, and now that the aspects do not show from the rear I am much happier with them.

And now to the application of more snow, a backscene, and the station platform canopies … then the construction of the baseboards for the next section of the layout, so that my trains actually have somewhere to go!

Smooth Running of Trains

Electronic Track Cleaning

I have now installed a Gaugemaster electronic track cleaner within the control panel of the Innsdorf layout, described in my latest video. Hopefully this, along with the use of live-fog points and careful laying of track, will keep my trains running sweetly. I’ll let you know in a year or two!

Taking the OHLE Over the Baseboard Join

A real problem with portable layouts, as Innsdorf station section is intended to be, is how you deal with joins in the baseboards. I never link the running rails over joins but simply align them very carefully when laying the track and then butt them up whenever the layout is erected – so far I have had no problems. Occasionally temperature or humidity may cause shift outside the tolerance of the small wheels in HOm gauge, but very slight levering with a terminal screwdriver fixes within seconds.

Hiding the scenic gap is more of a challenge: the usual line of hedging looking a bit obvious. At Innsdorf the gap is in town and passes between buildings, but it is hard to hide where it crosses an access road – I just have to hope that here is enough interest in the vicinity to take the eye away from the line across the road.

The biggest issue with this layout was the overhead line equipment: just how would I take the overhead wires across the gap and still allow the pantographs of the trains to follow them? I decided straight away that a gantry would have to be placed immediately beside the baseboard join on one board: the catenary and the conductor wire on that side were soldered into place on the insulator and the registration arm in the usual way according to Sommerfeldt’s instruction manual. On the other side I assembled the equipment in the usual way but left the catenary a millimetre over length so that it can be curved ever so slightly and popped into the insulator eye without being soldered, and the conductor, which normally hooks under the registration arm and is then soldered, was just left hooked and not soldered. Careful placing is required, but it does work and when properly set up there is no problem taking electric trains across the baseboard join.


When I set up the cableway system and few weeks ago I noticed that some of the cars had been built wrongly (it was second-hand) and the step was on the wrong side. Not only was this unrealistic (although it took me weeks to notice it, so I doubt anyone else would have!) but it interfered with the smooth running of the system as the step caught the gear at either end, so I had to correct it.

The pylon on top of each car is moulded in one piece with the roof, so the task was to remove the roof, rotate through a semi-circle and fix back on – but this took time and care as the roofs were well-fixed down with a plastic solvent. I got there in the end, and although the roofs do show some scars from the conflict this will not be too obvious once they have their covering of snow! While the roofs were off I took the opportunity to add more passengers together with skis etc to the cars that had been modified, so the cableway no longer has just one passenger per car without luggage.

Starting to Detail the Station; Building a Swiss Barn from a Kibri Kit

The only remaining “big” project on the scenic section of the portable layout is the backscene, and I shall be tackling that soon. But meanwhile there are many small tasks to undertake to bring the layout up to a good standard, and the most urgent of these is to detail the station platforms because once I put the canopies in place over the platforms the detailing would be much harder to do. Today’s video deals with some of these, ad the making of a building kit just by way of a change!

Making this video and viewing it has shown me that there are some important little things which still need attention before the canopies are placed over the station platforms, notably the gaps here and there between the building and the platform (what you get when buying a made-up kit which relies on others’ skills!) and a crooked sign for the Kkiosk (what you get when trying to position it with forceps under overhead wires). And, of course, I still have to lay snow on the track and the open sections of the platforms … Watch this space!

Lighting the Village (2)

Do enjoy the video, and if you watch it on YouTube please subscribe to my channel and give it a thumbs-up!

Although I wanted the building interiors to be lit at all times to bring the place to “life”, I felt it would be wrong to have the street lights on all day as well, so I wanted to put these on a switched lighting circuit. My original intention had been to wire up the seilbahn in such a way that when it was switched on and the street lighting was also switched on then the exterior lighting at the seilbahn stations would also be on, but unfortunately I had run out of pins on the multipin plug for the second baseboard, so all the seilbahn lighting has to be on when it is operating. One cannot have everything.

The LEDs fitted in the Kyte’s Lights street lamps were of two types, a bright white 3 volt LED in the main road lights and a warmer, yellower 6 volt one in the concrete-style lights that I used in the pedestrian and back-street areas. I had to be careful to ensure that the correct resistor was used for each lamp standard, with none being required at all for the building lights which had a resistor built-in. Combined with the need to ensure that the LEDs were wired the correct way round, being diodes, the project was fraught with the possibility of errors! Having accidentally subjected some LEDs to the full 12-volt supply when connecting the seilbahn I was especially careful this time, for they are very unforgiving.

In order to work comfortably on the under-board connections I placed the village baseboard on its side on my workbench, as I had the other board when connecting the seilbahn last time. The wire tails on the street lights, and on the building interior lights, were extremely thin and fiddly and needed to be somewhere I could easily see and reach. While I had this part of the layout on the bench I undertook some other work, including adding more of the “dusting” of snow. I added a few more people and began planning where the vehicles would eventually stand – but I need to put some people inside the buses before I fix those – perhaps a future subject for another video!

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