Miniature Railways


Miniature railways are so often regarded as something of a novelty that it is not always realized that as much care and precision are required in their operation and control as in a full-sized line.

The Duke of Westminster’s light railway connecting Eaton Hall with the neighbouring Great Western Railway station at Balderton, near Chester, was the forerunner of the modern miniature railway. This line, built to a gauge of 15 in. between the rails, was constructed in the late ‘eighties by Sir Arthur Heywood to demonstrate the usefulness of what he termed the “minimum gauge line,” which could be worked by steam locomotives. Sir Arthur had already constructed a short line of this gauge in the grounds of his own house at Duffield Park, near Derby, and had built several locomotives to run on it.
There were already “toy” railways, introduced by Americans, at various exhibitions, and quite a number of garden railways which were worked by externally perfect scale models of full-size engines.

In 1904-5 several 15-in. gauge “Atlantic” 4-4-2 locomotives were built for various seaside resorts, including Blackpool, Southport and Rhyl, to work lines laid down for pleasure trips and light passenger transport.
The steam railway locomotive can be made to work quite as successfully in a small size as in a big one. It is not claimed, however, that the midget is as good as the mammoth, even when due allowances are made for differences in weight and fuel consumption. Size tends to make the large engine more efficient ; but no radical difference in design is essential. It is rather the reverse. The miniature must be made with a proper locomotive type boiler, complete with inside water-spaced firebox and a relatively large number of fire-tubes from furnace to smoke-box.
The intensity of the steam exhaust up the chimney – the “blast,” as locomotive engineers term it – increases with load and gradient, no matter what size of engine is used. The driving of any locomotive, large or small, requires the same degree of skill.
The first of the 15-in. gauge “Atlantic” locomotives, the “Little Giant,” was tested on the Duke of Westminster’s line at Eaton Hall. At this time the “Atlantic” or 4-4-2 type of engine was popular on our great railway systems and the advantages of the design were as apparent – even more so – in the model as in the original. The firebox, placed behind the coupled driving wheels, could be made without undue restriction in length, and an ample grate area was obtained.
This engine was built to a scale of 3 in. to the foot (one-quarter full size), and was of a “free lance” design conforming to no special prototype. It gave satisfactory service on the line at Blackpool, which was about a quarter of a mile long.
The four-coupled driving wheels measured only 18 in. diameter, but so well did the engine perform when “full out” on a down grade that, on several of the test runs at Eaton Hall. over 26 miles an hour was attained, with perfect steadiness and freedom from oscillation.
The “Little Giant” was designed to haul trains of four open bogie coaches carrying 48 adult passengers—a total load of 3-1/2 tons—on a level track.
The cylinders, 3-3/8 in. diameter by 6 in. stroke, were placed outside the frames with the valves inside, actuated by Stephenson’s link motion reversing gear. The firebox had a grate area of 204 sq. in., and the boiler worked at 120 lb. per sq. in.
The weight of the locomotive was only 1 ton 9 cwt. in working order, and, in addition to the driver, it carried 56 lb. of coal and 35 gallons of water in the six-wheeled tender. The driver had also to serve as fireman, and as there was insufficient room for him to stand on the footplate, a seat was provided in the tender. The flue tubes were 7/8 in. diameter, and a smoke-box superheater was fitted. When at Blackpool the engine made 120 trips a day, carrying a maximum of nearly 1,500 passengers.

On another railway, built later at the Marine Park, Rhyl, North Wales, the best performance for the “Little Giant” type of engine was the hauling of 5,003 passengers by two locomotives in one day. The line consisted of a circular route one mile in circumference. At a later date some new engines were built at Rhyl for this railway. They were slightly larger, but still of the “Atlantic” type, and were provided with two cylinders 4-1/4 in. diameter by 6-3/4 in. stroke, and a boiler with a moderately wide firebox stretching over the trailing or rear carrying wheels of the locomotive. Nominally they were 50 per cent more powerful, and weighed 2 tons 10 cwt., instead of the 30 cwt. of the previous “Little Giant” type engines.
The principles tried out at Eaton Hall, Blackpool, Rhyl and Southport were adhered to in the more powerful engines made for other lines in various parts of the country. At Eskdale, in Cumberland, the first locomotives for the light railway from Ravenglass to Dalegarth were of the “Pacific” 4-6-2 type. The increase of scale from 3 in. to 3-1/4 in. to the foot on 15 in. gauge, and the use of larger cylinders and 20 in. diameter, six-coupled wheels, made a big difference to the hauling power. The cylinders in these engines were made larger in both bore and stroke—4-1/4 in. diameter by 7 in. stroke against the 3-3/8 in. diameter by 6 in. stroke of the “Little Giant” locomotives – but the boiler proportions were considerably increased.
The Eskdale line was originally built as a 3-ft. gauge railway. It went out of use, but after WWII its activities were revived as a 15 in. gauge passenger railway.
The original line was operated because of the iron ore found in the hills at the foot of Sca Fell. When the iron ceased to be worth mining the small amount of passenger traffic was not enough to make the line pay, with the existing type of rolling stock and engines.
The attraction of the new miniature express locomotives, however, brought hundreds to see the line and take a trip up the picturesque valley to Dalegarth almost every fine day during the summer months. The miniature locomotives were speedier than the lumbering old contractor type of engine used in the 3-ft. gauge days, and more pleasing to the eye.
Many useful experiments have been conducted at Eskdale. Simple vacuum brakes in a miniature size were made to suit the Eskdale engines and trains, and this led to the export of these fittings for use on several of the continental miniature railways which followed the opening of the British lines.
Oil firing was tried on one of the smaller engines, the idea was to do away with the “smuts” to which front passengers in open coaches were exposed. The smell of the oil, however, proved to be much more objectionable.

An equally famous miniature line is the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway.
The first two locomotives on this line were similar to the “River Esk.” The engines had been tested on the Ravenglass and Eskdale line, and the “Pacific” type wheel arrangement (4-6-2), the piston-valve cylinders and the Walschaerts valve gear, with which the locomotives were fitted, proved eminently satisfactory in this small size. The site of the Romney Marsh railway had at one time been proposed for a tramway by the former South Eastern Railway, but the company abandoned their powers. These were revived by the Miniature Railway Company as a double-line railway of 15 in. gauge.

On certain other miniature railways the locomotives had “steam” outlines, but relied on petrol or Diesel crude oil engines for their propulsion. One of the earliest ventures of this kind was by C. W. Bartholomew, of Blakesley Hall, near Towcester, in Northamptonshire. He laid a 15-in. gauge railway to connect the Hall with the Stratford-on-Avon and Midland Junction Railway (part of the L.M.S.), at Blakesley Station, in order that coal and other stores might be brought up to the Hall in this way. To work the line he had built a locomotive designed externally as a 4-4-4 tank engine, but driven by a petrol motor, which worked the traffic successfully.
The same principle was adopted by the Scarborough Corporation on the popular railway was laid down in the pleasure gardens on the North Bay at that resort. Here, to give more accommodation in the trains, a wider gauge of 20 in. was adopted, but the engines, modelled on the “Flying Scotsman Pacifics” of the L.N.E.R., one-third full size, similar to those of the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. They were driven, however, by Diesel engines instead of by steam.
Another miniature railway employing Diesel-engined locomotives for running the trains was the “Golden Acre” miniature railway, situated in a pleasure park on the outskirts of Leeds. This was about half a mile in length and was also built to the 20 in. gauge. The locomotive resembled in appearance a 4-6-4 tank engine and was driven by a 26 h.p. engine. The length of the locomotive was 18 ft. 3 in.
At Great Yarmouth a railway of 15 in. gauge was built for pleasure rides on Yarmouth beach, 600 yards long, laid out in the form of an elongated loop. On leaving the station the train, having traversed a curve of about 90 ft. radius, ran down a 1 in 80 incline to a tunnel thirty-three yards long. After it had emerged from the tunnel the line climbed a gradient of 1 in 72, and then returned to the station. On this railway the engine was turned round after its trip by means of a turn-table at the station. The points and signals operated by hydraulic power, and all the signals were interlocked with the points, as in a full-size railway. Both Diesel and steam power were used on the Great Yarmouth line.

Passengers can be carried, however, on gauges narrower than 15 in. One of the smallest of seaside miniature railways was the 7-1/4-in. gauge line at Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire, on which trains ran regularly throughout the summer months. Leaving the main station, the line went over a viaduct, then through a tunnel, over a lattice-girder bridge, and finally through a longer tunnel and back to the station. All the signals on the line were operated by electricity. Among the engines used to haul the trains, one was a 4-6-2 express engine, weighing 8 cwt., capable of hauling a load of three tons. The working pressure of the boiler 100 lb. per sq. in. and the two cylinders 2-1/4 in. bore by 3-1/2 in. stroke. Another engine on this line was a model 4-4-0 type weighing only 3-1/2 cwt., which was capable, however, of pulling a load of one ton.

Even gauges of 10-1/4 and 7-1/4 in. do not represent the minimum width of track on which it is possible for miniature locomotives to pull their owners and their friends. Many model railway enthusiasts have built railways of 3-1/4 in. gauge with passenger-carrying equipment, and the limit was probably reached when, at a Model Engineer Exhibition, a locomotive running on a gauge of 2 in., built to a scale of 1/2 in. to the foot, or one-twenty-fourth full-size, pulled three adults along a test track.

At the other end of the scale there are the many railways which have been built to gauges slightly wider than those of 15 in. and 20 in. & North Wales in particular has long been famed for its so-called “toy railways.” They were built in the first place to bring slate down from the mines inland to the coast. Best known of all these lines, probably, is the Ffestiniog Railway, which, in conjunction with the Welsh Highland Railway, forms an extensive system. All these lines have been laid to a gauge of 1 ft. 11-1/2 in.