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Unusual British Trains, Tracks and Model Railways

I love history; it forms the basis of my interest in genealogy and has an influence on our itinerary when on family holidays.

Railway Station at Beamish (Living Museum), England.

Railway Station at Beamish (Living Museum), England.

The Birth and Growth of Railways

The world’s first ever railway to use steam locomotive was in 1804 in an ironworks near Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales. The world’s first ever public railway to use steam power was the Stockton and Darlington Railway which was 25 miles of track when it opened in 1825 in north-east England. Initially the line was used to carry coal but by 1833 was also carrying passengers.

By 1861 there was over 10,000 miles of rail track in Britain carrying both passengers and goods, and the railway network was expanding exponentially. According to one Victorian newspaper published around that time, in one year there was:-

  • 1,529,651 goods train journeys, travelling a total of 51,085,964 miles, and
  • 2,352,339 passenger trains, travelling a total of 54,055,476 miles.

The London Underground, which opened in 1863, is the oldest, and one of the biggest underground railways in the world.

Today, with 10% of public transport in the UK being by rail, the rail network now makes 1.69 billion journeys annually, traveling 40 billion passenger miles.

The Unusual

As passenger trains are an important and significant mode of transport in Britain there are plenty of websites covering the various aspects of this. Therefore, rather than focus on the norm this article focuses on some of the more unusual aspects of rail travel; including a rather quant crossing on the Welsh Highland Railway at Porthmadog, and Ghost trains.

Trains in Wales

All Shapes and Sizes

Wales is very scenic, and one of the best ways to enjoy the full beauty of this land is by rail; as demonstrated in this video showcasing the wide variety of welsh trains from the old stream to modern locomotive.

Big Train Meets Little Train in Wales

In Wales, the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways is 40 miles of narrow gauge track operating a steam train tourist service of an 80 mile return trip through some of the most beautiful parts of north Wales, including passage through Snowdonia National Park.

Part of the journey involves a rather unusual rail crossing of a public road as the train passes through Porthmadog, Wales.

Unusual Railway Road Crossing in Wales

Ghost Trains

When a service declines through lack of use, rather than close the line down many private train operators opt to keep the line open by running at least one train a week. More often than not these trains have no passengers, and thus the name ghost Trains.

Newhaven Marine Ghost Train

The advantage of operating ghost trains being that:-

  • It’s simpler, easier and cheaper than Parliamentary procedure for closing a line.
  • While the line is still open the train operator can use it for shunting trains, and
  • It keeps the option open to re-introduce a full passenger service in the future if it becomes financially viable for the train operator.

Paddington to West Ruislip Ghost Train

The South Devon Railway Sea Wall at Dawlish, England

The South Devon Railway, which was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859), and opened in 1846 is 53 miles of track that runs from Exeter to Plymouth and Torquay in Devon, England.

As well as the challenge of building the railway through mountains, 13 miles of the track at Dawlish is built on the coast and is subject to coastal erosion; especially during storms.

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On the 5th of February 2014 the winter storm undermined the seawall at Dawlish and swept away part of the railway. Immediately following the storm works started on the repairs, which were completed ahead of schedule.

After using 6,000 tonnes (6,600 tons) of concrete and 150 tonnes (165 tons) of steel to rebuild the seawall defences (stronger than ever) the Prime Minister reopened the line on the 4th April 2014.

Tracks Swept Away in Winter Storm of 2014

Trains With a Difference

Early Steam Trains and a Water and Gravity Powered Train

videos I made while on day trips in England, which includes:-

  • An early and most famous steam train by George Stephenson
  • A Cliffside train service where we had the pleasure of riding in the train cart powered by water and gravity, a free energy source. Designed and built by the Victorians in the 19th century.
  • Steam Trains and railways in the Lake District.

Puffing Billy at Beamish

We had a great day out at Beamish, a living museum in Northern England depicting life in England from the late Georgian era to the Edwardian period; the highlight of the day being our trip on the Famous Puffing Billy designed and built by George Stephenson.

Water and Gravity Powered Trains

This is a train with a difference, in Devon, linking two towns, one at the top of a cliff and the other by the sea at the cliff bottom. The pair of trains built in the Victorian era system are powered by water and gravity; a free energy source.

Lake District Steam Trains

Ravdenglass to Eskdale Railway and Lakeside Steam Trains

This was videoed by me during one of our visits to the Lake District; two most wonderful steam trains services still in operation, albeit these days just for tourism.

Who Digs Trains

My preference are the old steam trains and at any opportunity when on holiday or a day trip anywhere, if we get the chance we will take a ride on a local restored steam train; my most memorable occasion being that when we had the opportunity to ride on the Famous Puffing Billy built by George Stephenson.

Model Railways

When thinking of building your own railroad layout taking inspiration from real-life train systems can be a great way to enhance your design and build giving you a satisfying and rewarding railway model village.

A Hobby for all ages, model railways allows you to be as creative as your imagination; or for the true railway enthusiast an opportunity to re-create an authentic model railway layout. Either way it can be fun and satisfying.

Space and cost permitting, a model railway can be a simple layout with just one rail track or complex with many tracks; each one independently controlled. When I designed and built Nathanville, a model railway village for my son, I used the loft.

Nathanville Model Railway in Action

Our HO Scale Model Railway Village Layout in the Loft.

Below is a short video I made years ago of my model railway village in action.

Model Trains, Train Sets and Accessories

Every great model railway (railroad) village has to start somewhere and buying a ready to run train set is a good way to make that start; whether it be a serious model train like the Santa Fe Flyer or a fun set like Thomas the Tank engine.

Buying a ready to run train set complete with a bit of tracking often just a small three foot circle or 4 foot by 3 foot oval track layout is often as cheap or cheaper than buying just the model train and carriages on their own; and as a bonus gives you a bit of useful tracking that you can build from and expand.

The Nathanville model railway village I built with my son and featured in this article started with a basic train set which was quickly expanded into a fully functional railway with the addition of lots of extra tracking layout and modelled into a railway village with the fun of modelling our own background and scenery; sometimes from kit and sometimes from scratch.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Arthur Russ

Your Hobbies Guest Book - Share your hobby interests with others

Arthur Russ (author) from England on June 13, 2017:

Thanks for the clarification Alan, yes the same method as the ones that links Lynton to Lynmouth in North Devon.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on June 13, 2017:

Not exactly 'trains' as such, Russ - a train being a power unit and attached non-powered vehicles - more like power-assisted cabins on a ratcheted gradient. Two car systems, one at the top and the other bottom, are operated by a water tank on the cars' sides. The water drains from the tank on one car when it reaches the bottom and is fed by pipes to the top one. The added weight of the full tank takes it down and draws the other one up. Travel from King's Cross (London) via Darlington to Saltburn by way of Middlesbrough. Lots of accommodation in the area (try the Claxton Hotel in Redcar, it's where I go)

The ratchet-railed carriages on Snowdon are self-powered, as are also the Swiss and Brazilian ones (I believe there is a mountain railway at Rio).

Arthur Russ (author) from England on June 13, 2017:

Thanks for your feedback Alan and others; I wasn't aware of the other water powered trains you mentioned, so I've learnt something new, and its something I want to look into further as I'd love to visit them.

Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on May 22, 2015:

Something for everyone here, Arthur. I 'work' in Double O, (see right here, 'Rite of Passage...). I gather you're a bit more 'catholic' in your tastes.

By the way there's another water-powered cliff lift, the only one now on the east coast at Saltburn-by-the-Sea that uses sea water. Those at Scarborough used to be, but the ones that are left were converted to electric power some time ago. I think there was another at Cromer that was converted.

Enjoy your modelling.

renagirl on March 25, 2013:

love your yummy lens .I prefer to just stay home

anonymous on March 09, 2013:

This lens is awesome. I love to cook, especially when my kids will help. And I'm a reader. I'm heading right now to your toasties lens.

anonymous on December 13, 2012:

Returning to G+ this gem.

anonymous on December 13, 2012:

What an amazing gift guide and shopping experience you have created here, delightfully presented! It seems most of my waking hours are taken up with Squidoo these days but I enjoy various art forms, camping and nature. I love your frog picture, they are like the canaries in the coal mines and more frogs means it's a safer environment for us too.

Sharon Bellissimo from Toronto, Canada on December 05, 2012:

My favourite pass times are reading and working out at the gym. Oh, yes and squidoo! I enjoyed your lens, you have interesting and varied hobbies and your garden area is lovely.

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