Saturday, January 25, 2020

Mixed trains


I run two mixed trains on the PLR in addition to the daily pickup goods. The morning mixed always includes a flat wagon to pick up milk churns from morning milking sessions and stock for any urgent deliveries or pickups. The afternoon mixes is a much more leisurely affair.

Once the manifest for each train has been generated by my home-brewed computerised freight management program the Down trains are marshalled at Beeston Market following the railway's freight management guidelines to ensure passengers in the coaches are disturbed as little as possible en route and that a minimum of time is spent shunting at each station.

Because there is inconsistency as to the direction in which the sidings at each station on the railway faces, forethought has to be applied when marshalling wagons, dependent on their intended destination. This may all sound complicated initially, but there is a logical pattern to the placement of wagons in relation to whether they are marshalled before or after the passenger carriages.

Let's examine each station in turn.

Beeston Castle

As can be seen, the two sidings are located on the Down loop of the station. So, when a Down Mixed Train arrives at the station ......

........ the loco would have to propel the whole train back into the Yard siding to drop off any wagons.

Or, to drop off (or pick up) wagons on the Brewery siding, the loco would have run round the train .....
...... and then propel the whole train back into the siding. Both these manoeuvres would inconvenience passengers who would be jostled back and forth in the process.

So, if any wagons are required to be delivered to or picked up from either siding at Beeston Castle, then it is far better for them to remain on the Down Mixed for the entire journey and wait until they return on the Up Mixed to be shunted.

Therefore, wagons intended for the brewery need to be marshalled on to the Up side of the passenger coaches so they can be detached and shunted back into siding ......

...... and wagons which are intended for Beeston Castle Yard, need to be marshalled on the Down side of the coaches so the loco can run round the train .......

...... detach the wagon(s) and shunt them into the Yard siding. After which the loco can return to the train and continue on its way.

These movements cause minimal disturbance to the passengers who would probably detrain and watch the proceedings while puffing on their cigarettes or pipes.


Interestingly, at Peckforton, freight movements on Mixed trains are quite different. This is largely because all the sidings face the Up direction and also because Peckforton station has the luxury of a small diesel pilot locomotive to mainly serve the sawmill.

So, when a Down Mixed train arrives ......

..... the pilot / shunter loco removes any wagons destined for Peckforton from the rear of the train .....

...... and shunts them into the Yard .....

.... and/or the sawmill sidings.

Thus causing minimal disturbance for the passengers unless, of course, any wagons need to be attached to the train in which case there will be a short delay.

When an Up Mixed arrives at the station.......

...... any wagons destined for Peckforton are detached by the loco from the front (Up end) of the train and shunted into the relevant sidings.

If there several wagons to be moved then the train loco could leave them on the loop for the pilot/shunter to deal with later, thereby causing minimal disruption to the passengers.

Mill siding

The mill siding is situated between Peckforton and Bulkeley and, like the Mill Sidings on the Southwold and Welshpool & Lllanfair Railways faces Down the line.
 This means that any wagons on Down Mixed trains intended for the Mill siding need to be marshalled on the Down end of the train ........


The layout of Bulkeley station is similar to that at Beeston Castle, however two of the sidings are on the Up loop and only one siding is accessed from the Down loop. As a consequence, the arrangements for shunting wagons from Mixed trains is slightly more complicated, dependent on the intended destination siding for each wagon.

When a Down Mixed train arrives ........

 ..... the loco can easily remove wagons from the front of the train to shunt into the Up Yard siding.

Then, by running round the train .......

...... it's possible to detach wagons from the Up end of the train and shunt them into the Down yard.

To shunt wagons into the Boneworks siding, any wagons on the Down train need to travel the length of the line and be shunted when the train returns Up the line.

Wagons on the Up end of the train can then easily be shunted into the Boneworks siding.


The shunting at Bickerton is very straightforward as both sidings face Up the line. When a Mixed train arrives at the station ......

.... the loco runs round .......

...... and then any wagons which need to be shunted into the Parcels siding ......

.... and/or the Yard siding .........
..... can be removed from the Up end of the train.

Up Mixed trains

The destination of goods traffic which travels Up the line is most likely to be Beeston Market. However, from time to time a wagon might have to be delivered to an intermediate station from further Down the line. In some cases, ie wagons intended for the sawmill, Boneworks or brewery, then it would be relatively easy for such wagons to be delivered via an Up Mixed. However, if a wagon is destined for other sidings then the wagon would have to travel Up the line to Beeston Market and await the next Down Goods or Mixed train.

In summary

The following chart has been devised to guide station masters and guards when marshalling Mixed trains.

Position in Train
Beeston Castle Brewery
Up end
Beeston Castle Yard
Down end
Peckforton Yard or Sawmill
Up end
Water Mill siding
Down end
Bulkeley Down Yard / Boneworks
Up end
Bulkeley Up Yard
Down end
Up end

NOTE: The 1889 Railway Regulations Act requires that the locomotive and coaches must be continuously braked. For this reason, coaches in mixed trains are normally coupled directly to the loco unless intervening wagons are also braked or piped. However, the PLR follows the precedent of the Southwold Railway which, somehow, managed to flout the law and run trains without continuous braking for the entirety of its existence until it closed in 1929. Furthermore, the Act requires a brake van for every 10 unbraked wagons and the Southwold never had any brake vans. The PLR at least has brake vans. Like the Southwold, I have assumed that the PLR has a speed limit of 16mph.


The situation is less complicated for Pickup Goods trains as the comfort of passengers does not need to be taken into account. However, it is easier to shunt wagons from the Pickup Goods into Down facing sidings when the train is travelling Down the line and vice versa, as this does not require the loco to run round the train (a move which I have termed 'reverse shunting'). This sometimes results in some interesting (for me) shunting problems when wagons intended for Up facing sidings travel the full length of the railway resulting in the pickup goods train being longer than the run-round loops at some stations - most notably Bickerton. The train then has to be split and shunted in two sections.

If you have read other posts on my blog (eg A rationale for the railway), you will be aware that goods train movements and shunting were one of my prime motivations in creating and operating the Peckforton Light Railway. I have been gratified to discover, when reading various tomes, that the sorts of manoeuvres which I have devised to ease shunting operation on my railway mirror those which were carried out on real railway lines in the days when branchlines handled the bulk of goods traffic in the country.

[Awaiting video]

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Progress Report 78

I have decided (call it a New Year's Resolution), that this year I am going to try posting Progress Reports more frequently. They tend to be quarterly unless I feel I have a number of developments to report but this means I often end up writing quite lengthy reports which I am sure most of you loyal followers will be reluctant to read. So, I'll try shorter, sweeter and more frequent updates to see if that is easier for you to digest (assuming anyone actually does bother to read them.... 😏 ).

My last Progress Report was in October (ie three months ago) which seems to have reported quite a few developments - mainly because the previous report had been 7 months earlier. This is not the best time of year for garden railway modelling, but there do seem to have been a few developments to report.
  • The track behind the workshop has been relaid and partly landscaped
  • I have written-up how I constructed the Snailbeach hopper wagons
  • I have started painting the figures mentioned in the last progress report
  • I am working on a Bluetooth version of the 2.4gHz transmitter
  • The workshop has now been completed and used for various projects
  • I have had another couple of articles published in Garden Rail

Permanent Way

The trackbed behind the old sheds has never been a high priority and so, over the past fifteen years, has been allowed to slowly deteriorate. Despite that, it was never sufficiently neglected that it caused derailments, presumably if it had I would have attended to it sooner. However, the blocks in the middle of the section had sunk over the years and so what should have been perfectly level had developed a couple of undulations.

 Furthermore, the new workshop which replaced the sheds (see How I constructed the Workshop) was lower than its predecessors and so the track was now mounted on top of an embankment which, over time, would probably have led to further deterioration of the trackbed.

The old track was removed, a new retaining wall was constructed from bricks and the blocks replaced. The track was then reinstated.

The erection of the workshop also resulted in the six foot high hedge of conifers being reduced to around two feet. There was no longer a need for the rickety sheds to be hidden and the hedge prevented me having a view from the workshop of my railway and the rest of the garden. It also reduced the amount of light entering the window. With the removal of the hedge, one section of the railway now became more visible, the area around the junction of the copper mine branch (shown above).

This area was landscaped and will eventually be planted with suitable shade-loving foliage.

This area will no doubt feature in future videos and photos of the line in action. For more information see How I improved the trackbed behind the workshop

Rolling stock

 Snailbeach hoppers

As mentioned in the previous progress report, the Snailbeach hopper wagons have entered service and have now all been fitted out with brake gear and weathered. The process has been written up in detail (see How I constructed a rake of Snailbeach-like hopper wagons).

It was interesting to see how I could integrate the additional traffic movements to and from the sand quarry into my usual operating sessions which aim to represent a typical day's running on the railway. I've not perfected it yet, but have decided that, whereas the copper mine usually has three trains Up and Down the line each day (because the spoil is transported as well as the ore), the sand quarry will only require one train in each direction per day. See from 4m 54s onwards....



The figures purchased at the Llanfair Show mentioned in the previous Progress Report are now in the process of being painted, together with others which I have acquired over the past year.

It takes me quite a while to paint figures. I tend to do this job at intervals. I find it very time consuming, particularly as I have had 30 figures to paint. I tend to mix one blend of colours - for example blue and/or black and then paint all the bits of figures which need colours. On another occasion, I might focus on flesh colour, and so on.

Finally, I will add the fine details to the figures such as hair, facial features and shoes.


 Operating sessions

Interestingly, I have had very few full operating sessions this year. This is partly because when some of the spells of fine weather occurred I was not available and partly because I have been focusing on sorting out the Arduino control systems which has proven to be very time consuming (see How I control locos with Arduino and a phone app). However, a few part-sessions have been run and various individual trains have been run at intervals.
Manning Wardle loco No. 6 departs Beeston Market with the Down pickup goods
No 6 shunting the pickup goods at Bickerton
No. 6 approaching Peckforton with the Up afternoon mixed

Arduino based control systems

As was mentioned in the previous two Progress Reports, I have been investigating Bluetooth phone app and 2.4gHz based radio control systems (see How I control locos with Arduino and a phone app).   I have gained a great deal of satisfaction in getting to grips with Arduino programming and understanding the basics of interconnecting Arduino modules, I have been disappointed with the level of control which the approaches have given. I suppose I have been spoiled by using the Deltang system which is very reliable, easy to use and provides a very good level of control, especially at slow speeds. However, I am generally quite persistent and so am continuing to explore various options to see if I can overcome some of the limitations of Arduino which I have identified so far.

My next line of enquiry is to explore using a Bluetooth module in place of the phone app as a transmitter. I am hoping that the more positive features of Bluetooth can be combined with the advantages of having a handheld transmitter with a knob and switches. It's early days yet, but I will let you know of progress in my next report.



I am now beginning to settle into my new workshop and am in the process of making it more homely and have started reorganising the storage. In the past, I have tended to throw things willynilly into drawers and storage boxes, but have now started partitioning the various containers to make life easier when trying to find things.

I have now installed a couple of security measures, the details of which I will not share here for obvious reasons. Needless to say, it is handy having a knowledge of basic electronics and radio control .....

I am now considering installing a sink, using the rainwater supply from the roof as my primary use of water is for watering-down acrylic paints and cleaning paint brushes.

Magazine articles

I have had another couple of magazine articles published in Garden Rail since my last progress report.

Since starting my blog fifteen years ago, I have not sought monetary reward when sharing my thoughts and experiences, so it is now quite gratifying to receive a modest fee for my scribblings which, of course, I will plough into further developments on the railway.

Future plans

There is always plenty to do on the railway but, as always, I have to prioritise jobs. The most immediate are:

  • Finishing painting the figures and allocating the railway personnel to particular station related roles;
  • Experimenting with Bluetooth modules to make a more reliable handheld Arduino based transmitter;
  • Titivating Bulkeley and Bickerton stations
  • Applying weathering to the locos and coaching stock;
  • Enhancing the detailing on some of the more basically finished wagons.
There are clearly plenty of jobs which need to be done, but these are probably the most urgent.

As mentioned earlier, this is the quietest time in terms of running sessions. However, it is probably the busiest in terms of construction and maintenance. I am looking forward to an improvement in the weather and am already planning my next video productions. 

As they say, watch this space!

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

How I laid the track and landscaped behind the workshop

In this post I describe in a nutshell how I create my trackbed, lay my track, ballast it and landscape the garden around it. It also demonstrates that the approach I use to creating my trackbed is durable and also readily adaptable, should changes need to be made. I'm not saying my approaches are the best or only way of doing things, but I for one am always interested in seeing how others go about the garden railway modelling process. So, I hope you might find it of interest.

As you can see from the plan of the railway, part of the line passes behind the sheds (top left corner).

This section of the railway has become neglected over the past fifteen years since the track was laid. After all, it's out of sight and so out of mind. After dismantling the sheds and replacing them with a brand, spanking new bespoke workshop (see How I constructed the workshop), I turned my attention to the track behind it. Over the years, the trackbed had sunk by a few centimetres in the middle as the blocks settled .......

...... and so I decided it was time this part of the railway received some attention.

The first job was to lift the track. This was easily accomplished as it was held down at intervals by screws screwed into plastic rawlplugs. Some of the screws had corroded and so the holes in the sleepers into which they were inserted were enlarged to allow the heads to pass through.

The blocks were then lifted. As they were not concreted in place, this was a relatively easy process. A shallow trench (approx 8" (20cm) deep, was dug along the line of the edge of the trackbed.......

...... and garden canes tapped into place at around three foot (one metre) intervals to show the height of the new trackbed. A long builders' spirit level was used to ensure each cane was level with its neighbour and with the existing trackbed at either end.

A six inch (15cm) foundation layer of  'crush and run' (aka crusher run, quarry process (QP) or dense grade aggregate (DGA) ie pulverized stone and stone dust) was then put into the trench and pummelled flat (with the heel of my boot).

A layer of concrete (three parts sand to one part cement) was then trowelled on top of the crusher run and a course of bricks laid on top, to within a breeze-block's width (4" or 10cm) of the top of the canes - plus another 10mm for the thickness of a layer of mortar.

At the leftmost end of the section, where the copper mine branch diverges, two course of bricks were laid as the ground sloped away slightly more.

 The concrete was left for around five days to set and then the breeze blocks were laid on top on a 10mm (ish) layer of concrete. Soil was then in-filled behind the blocks to bring the garden back up to its original level (the workshop was slightly lower as the ground slopes away from the rear to the front).

Rather than concreting the blocks together, a dry mix of sand and cement was brushed into the gaps between them to discourage weed growth. The trackbed was left for three days .......

...... and then the track was relaid. Plastic rawlplugs were inserted into holes drilled in the blocks at roughly 3' (1m) intervals and the track fixed down with stainless steel screws (I'm learning from prior experience). Expansion gaps of approx 5mm were left between the lengths of rail as the temperature when the track was laid was only around 5C.

Paving slabs were laid on sand (for ease of levelling) beside the new trackbed as this area can become muddy during wet weather.

As the leftmost section had now become more visible owing to reducing the height of the hedge which formerly hid the ramshackle sheds from view, I decided to landscape it. Chunks of local sandstone were selected and dug in beside the breeze blocks to act as the sides of cuttings.

Soil was then loosely piled up behind them.

The sandstone blocks were then fixed into place with concrete (forced in between the blocks with a trowel and rubber-gloved hands). The track was then ballasted with a 3:1 mix of horticultural potting grit and cement, brushed into place while dry and then watered with the rose of a watering can.

When the concrete had set, more soil was dug in behind the sandstone blocks to bring it up the the height of the surrounding landscape.

Once the soil has settled, it will be planted with shade-loving plants as this area does not see a lot of sunlight. As you can see, moss grows freely on the rocks in my garden and so before long it will be difficult to see where the new joins the old.

Although this is only a small section of the complete layout, I am pleased that I have been able to expose and landscape what was a hidden and somewhat neglected corner of the garden.

In time, I hope I will be able to use this part of the garden for photos and video clips, though I will have to position the camera carefully to avoid the adjacent fence, workshop and from this angle, the house in the distance.

 Other related posts you might find of interest: