History of the build- The Bushey Miniature Railway
My son and I always loved visiting miniature railways and had always fantasied about owning our own. We began by volunteering on the Brockwell Park Railway in South London that takes you on a journey from Herne Hill Gates to the Brockwell Lido. John and his team of voulnteers at Brockwell taught us alot and stood us in good stead for the start of our project.
Our railway is in the large garden of an old Georgian house built in 1816 situated in Bushey High Street. This was the only choice for us as we dont have a large garden at our home in the centre of London. Even though the garden in Bushey is quite large, it wasnt possible to install a gauge any larger than 5" due to the position of trees and outbuildings vs minimum radii etc. This was fine though, as we have always preferred the look of 5 inch track.
Cleaning The Lil'Joe 2-4-0 'Oscar' at Brockwell Park
Work started in September of 2017 with a delivery of 9m of pre-made track from Cromer White in Anglesey. We also opted for 20mm limestone chippings at first from Wicks and later in tonne bags from B&Q.
Building any miniature railway is hard work but it was made even more of a challenge due to the overgrown state of the garden.
Every section had to be OKed with my mother who owns the garden and cleared of undergrowth before anything could be laid, this compounded the delays already present due to work commitments etc.
If you are a visiting loco owner please read the specs page for details of suitability as some of our radii and clearances are quite tight. You may also be interested in our 'News' page, where you can read about the latest work on the railway also about our various trips to other miniature railways in the UK.
Attempting to make sense of a solution for the 'Stump'
One of the first hurdles was 'The Stump' a very old apple tree trunk that had special significance to my mother and on no account could be removed or cut. This was a challenge and we thought the only solution was to raise the track level over the stump as in the picture above, in the end we decided to tackle it later, leave that section of track and start laying from where you see the laser level. This was a constant worry, as we really had no solution of how the final loop would be completed at that point (more on that later...)
Work progressed and we laid the track upto our first gentle radius to the left. I have to admit- we didnt have any rail benders so we just bent it carefully without some, seemed to be fine as it was only a slight curve.
For our next order of track we opted for the PNP railways 'push fit' system, which was cheaper and worked well. By this time I had already ordered the first set of left hand 10' radius points from Richard Miller - who (fortunately for him but unfortunate for us) has now retired.
The buffer terminating at the 'Stump' The first (hand bent) curve Points bulit by Richard Miller
It was at this point where we made our first big mistake. The idea was to have a 10' radius curve coming off the points and curving round infront of the big shed. We installed the points and started to dig but it soon became apparent that the root systems and the sheer depth of the cutting would put paid to this idea. It was then going to carry on to a complete loop round the big tree at the end and then return back - all at the same level. We had to drastically change our plans...this was far too ambitious.
The curve off to the left proved to be too much and the idea was abandoned
As was the complete circle of track around the tree...severe lack of planning.-things didn't look good at this point.
A major rethink was needed. We scrapped all in red in the left hand plan below. so we decided to continue on from the points round behind the big tree introducing a gradient. This worked out to be about 1 in 45 but this was going to be down hill for the train. The track then went down the side of the big shed at its new, higher level, and then continued down to other side of the garden as planed at a gradient of about 1 in 55 - still steep but the only option. This new route is marked as grey on the right plan below:
The blue rectangle at the bottom is a removable bridge section to enable access to the garden when the trains are not running.
Above: The abandoned areas in red Above: The new plan in grey as it stands today with areas in green (yet to be built)
So work was started digging out the 10' radius curve round the back of the big tree. We had these track panels pre-made by the guys at the MRSP. We had plenty of them as they had made enough for us to make to (original) full circle idea that was later abandoned. This was hard going as this area of the garden had been used for dumping years of grass cuttings tree cuttings and random other garden waste. We had to dig down 18" or so just to get to stable ground. Lots of help from my son doing all the fishplates and helping with the ballast. In the bottom image you can see the abandoned turnout in the distance.
The compleated 10 foot radius curve with an incline if 1/45 -luckily is going to be down hill!
I worked out the inclines the only way I thought best. Using my trusty laser level (a very good buy for £25), I measured the distance of the track path in meters, then just measured directly across from the highest point to the low track end. Then divided the difference in height into the amount of meters. Then checked the level of the track every 2m as I worked up the hill. This seemed to work well and I was never out by more than 1 cm. I dont know what method others use - let me know...
We carried on down the side of the big shed which was straight forward apart from a few root issues. As we came to the front of the shed it was time for a crossing.
We didn't put much thought into the crossing, we just got some garden decking and made it in about an hour. Screwed into the sleepers and screwed into battens laid by the side of the track on the ballast. It seems sturdy enough.
The following day re collected our Maxitrack loco from Kent. We found one about 1 year old in very good condition. Maxitrack gave it a service and we also purchased a drivers truck in kit form which my son helped build.
Being able to fully test the track we had laid so far was a great help. We didnt find too many issues apart from too much ballast in between the rails causing derailments! We were working most days now and doing 10 hours a day. Progress was excellent and before long we had laid the section know as the tree tunnel. This was the biggest challenge as far as restricted access and undergrowth, you literally couldn't stand up.
The slight curve made with the new rail bender going through the tree tunnel
At this point I got a rail bender from PNP Just wish I had done this sooner. It enabled he to put the subtlest bends in the track
as you can see above, and I could have put a lesser radius of curve going into the tree tunnel instead of using the spare 10' radius curves I had. Anyway the rail bender was to be a great help for what was to come...By this point I had used about 7 tonnes of ballast.
It was now time to address the dreaded 'Stump'. We had left the rail low with no obvious solution.
Then my son mentioned that he thought there was enough room to just raise the track we first laid by a few cm and go beside it. After some careful measurements we went for this option. It involved some careful rail bending to come between the stump and the wall at the same time taking into account the radius of the curve that was going to meet up with the other end of the track to complete to loop.
I learnt some tips on rail bending from Karens Little Railway They were screwing their track but basally I bent the outer rail (or sometimes the inner) to the correct radius and laid it in place to ensure it was correct. Then we slid the PNP rail chairs on to this rail (in our case 10cm centers) We then clipped the sleepers on. Then we bent the inner rail to line up between the chair holes in the sleepers we attached to the outer rail. Then we slid the chairs onto the inner rail and clipped it in place. I found rail bending fairly accurate, but also found you can dig yourself a hole by trying to correct millimeter imperfections in the lineup. So I gave myself a tolerance of +/- 3mm if it wasn't dead on and this seemed to be sufficient.
Attaching the rail chairs to the track before bending the other rail to match
Setting out the track after bending to go between the stump and the wall while allowing for the radius of the last curve.
Of course the level of the first track panels we laid also had to raise by about 5cm to reach the correct level so as to fit between the stup and the wall. This involved wooden bracing to retain the ballast. The ballast widens out to accommodate the points which are to be fitted later providing a siding of about 5m to store rolling stock (not on the plans above).
The track panels we laid when we started the railway had to be raised by a few cm to clear the stump so retaining boards were needed. The wider section of ballast is to accommodate the points which are to be fitted later for a siding.
The completed curve that clears the stump and terminates at the bridge.
It now came to the point where I had to match the levels from where we started 2 years before to where I was now. I had been keeping an eye on it and in the end it wasn't too bad-about 2 cm higher on the new end. The main problem was getting a level through with the laser with so many trees and undergrowth in the way. I had to beam the laser round corners marking it off on stakes as I went. Not ideal but it seemed to work.
I had to build boxing to hold the ballast as I worked around the curve as the levels were now getting quite high. Eventually both ends of both curves terminated 1.5m apart at the same level. Finally we built a wooden bridge as an easily removable unit that slots in from the top. This enables people to enter the garden when the train isn't being used. The bridge was made without sleepers to save weight and the rails were just screwed direct to the wood. I plan to rebuild this in Unistrut for a bit more outdoor resilience. But for now we have a working loop. Now its time for the rest of the railway, a station, 2 sections that spur off and rejoin and a siding for rolling stock storage. Watch this space.
Finally the two ends of the railway meet and a small removable bridge is installed to enable access when the railway isn't being used.
Below is the plan for the work to be carried out in the coming weeks. The first project is to create a spur of track that starts at the bottom of the gradient behind the big tree and goes over the old pond (lots of work to do to this pond, we plan to reinstate it and install a fountain). This is highlighted in green on the plan below. Next we plan to create a 5m siding down by the removable bridge for rolling stock to be stored this is also in green on the plan. The track in grey is a later project...
Meanwhile we have created the new station with some fencing from B&Q cut down and shaped into picket style fence and some slabs from Wicks. Looks very nice after my son dressed it with some pots and a window box.
Just purchased a cordless Leaf Blower from Scewfix. This was only £59 and makes very light work of clearing the track at this time of year! One charge was plenty to clear the 70m of track multiple times. Cordless was the only way to go in our situation.
They also do a non cordless one for just £37.99 - great value for a smaller setup. The 9" Angle Grinder was also good at £49.99 when we were cutting the slabs for the new station.