A unique ‘Taj Mahal’ Inspired ‘G’ Scale Garden Railway
In May 2016 we were contacted by our client who had seen an advert in Garden Rail Magazine. They were looking for someone to design and install a G Scale Garden Railway around an existing established pond and waterfall. Although our speciality is in the design and manufacture of bespoke model buildings and kits we felt this project could expand our knowledge and understanding of what goes into garden railways and how they can enhance their surroundings, becoming a part of the garden rather than a stand-alone structure.
We arranged to visit the site to discuss how the client envisaged his railway to look. Prior to the meeting we collated several images of different garden railway styles to help the client choose the final agreed design. It was decided that a raised platform style would be best due to the change in levels from one side of the site to the other. This would be manufactured from recycled plastic lumber called Filcris and fixed together using stainless steel screws. The finished result would be an elegant framework approximately 760mm high with a planked track bed. The layout would include a bridge spanning the width of the pond with dummy columns over the water to give the impression that they extended under the water (this would avoid disturbing the base of the pond and of course the fish). After looking at our presentation portfolio of buildings and structures the client asked if we could make a model of the Taj Mahal. This was because he had visited the Taj Mahal many times and had always wanted to incorporate it into the railway if possible. We said of course we can make any structure or building and this would be an excellent challenge for us, in fact we could adapt the footprint of the Taj Mahal to make it into a station. Whilst on site we carried out a full dimensional survey of the pond, waterfall and surrounding area, taking photos for reference. We offered to prepare a quotation for the design and installation of the Garden Railway on our return to the office. The Brief Our experience of actually building Garden Railways is limited so we had to do a lot of research into existing manufacturing techniques to find the best solution. Eventually we settled on a design and supplied a full quotation for a raised track bed made from Filcris, PECO Track, points and Smart Switches and Marklin DCC Controller which came as part of a Starter kit including loco, power supply and control box. This way the client could drop additional G Scale trains with a decoder onto the track and it would be recognised and added to the systems library. The system would also allow an App to be downloaded onto a tablet so that the trains and points could be operated remotely from anywhere in the garden. In addition to the quotation we supplied an artist’s impression to help the client visualise the finished layout.
The client contacted us after receiving the quotation to confirm he would like to go ahead. We were pleased to be working on this exciting project and began to prepare working drawings for the Taj Mahal style station building, bridge and layout for the track. The track would form two loops with one loop passing over the bridge and the other skirting the pond and over the waterfall, In addition to this there would be a line running up to the station and branch line running around the back of the waterfall with the option to extend the track to the rear of the station at a later date. All drawings were sent to the client for approval prior to manufacture and a deposit was paid in advance to cover the cost of materials and labour.
Construction of the Taj Mahal Station
The Taj Mahal station was then put into production just after Christmas. This was going to be a large structure (one of our biggest at approximately 1500mm x 900mm). The main building was made using a combination of 3mm, 5mm and 10mm white Foamex with triple thickness walls to support the weight of the towers and central dome. The main dome was made using concentric rings of Foamex glued together to form the distinct outline which is so familiar when you see an image of the Taj Mahal. This was then filled using plastic filler and sanded into shape. The four smaller domes were made in the same way. The Taj Mahal is a highly decorated marble structure so we wanted to reproduce this as accurately as possible. After studying many photographs a design was prepared and engraved onto overlaying strips and panels which were glued into position. In addition to this the four columns which are actually separate from the main building in real life were attached to each corner to give a stronger more compact appearance. The completed model was then given three coats of cellulose based primer to seal all the surfaces and created a stable base for additional coats of undercoat which was applied in our spray shop.
The inside of the model was detailed in Teracotta to represent the red sandstone and gold to represent the guilded decoration which the Taj Mahal is famous for. The outside was detailed in gold, red, yellow and green to represent the inlaid marble colours and a subtle marbling effect added using a wet brush technique. We were very pleased with the finished result and were given permission to display the Taj Mahal at Peterborough Garden Rail Show in April 2017 which created a lot of interest and resulted in several orders for other commissions.
Construction of the Bridge
The next phase of the project was to produce the bridge which needed to span the entire 4m width of the pond. A suitably sized steel ‘I’ beam was ordered from a local supplier along with two steel uprights. This would allow the bridge to be constructed in one piece without any deflection. The steels were prepared primed and painted prior to any other work being carried out. Aluminium composite side panels were machined out using our CNC machine and fitted to the steel bridge to represent the superstructure. The top of the bridge was fitted with Filcris panels and planks forming the track bed. Two safety rails were made from brass posts bolted to an aluminium frame with nickel plated wires.
Purpose made brackets were formed and bolted to the underside of the bridge to take the three dummy columns which were made from 10mm thick Foamex and laminated together. These were hollow inside to allow water to flow inside. The final structure looked impressive and fitted the scale of the track and train perfectly.
Our next challenge was the electronics. As you will probably know G Scale layouts have a powered track with the locos having a motor with sprung loaded power pick-ups on either side. This in combination with a DCC controller and powered turnouts using servo motors, smart switches, electro-frogs and solenoid switches proved to be a complicated setup. A special thanks to my friend Nigel Town who is whizz with all things electrical, without him this project would not have been possible.
The track and electronic components were purchased and a test bed built in our workshop. This included a miniature version of the actual layout which was made possible by using PECO Flexible track.
The Marklin DCC system was set up to control the servo motors on the turnouts which were operated via two sets of PECO Smart Switches and an array of Smart frogs and Solenoids all wired and programmed by Nigel.
Two bespoke waterproof boxes were made to house the DCC controller and switch box. After extensive testing of the DCC system and wireless access point everything was labelled and carefully disassembled ready for installation. A schematic electrical layout was drawn up to help with installation on site.
Delivery & Installation
So now all the elements of the Garden Railway were ready and we contacted the client to arrange for a delivery and installation date. This was agreed and two vans were required to carry all of the materials and of course the Taj Mahal station which was transported separately to avoid damage during the journey.
Setting the Levels
On arrival at the client’s address everything was unloaded and work began. The track bed needed to be 760mm from ground level so we used a Cowley level. This was a very basic but useful piece of equipment which allowed us to drive datum pegs into the ground at key points to a set depth. We then made a gauge which when placed on top of the datums would give us a height to the top edge of the raised track bed. This was especially useful because the ground level changed dramatically from one side of the site to the other meaning that the track bed would change from 760mm in height above ground level to 100mm. Installing the Bridge
After the levels were set two holes were dug (one on each side of the pond) for the bridge supports. These were concreted in making sure that they were vertical and lined up with each other and the datums. Galvanised steel brackets were then bolted onto the bridge using stainless steel bolts. The bridge was then lifted into position and secured with additional stainless steel bolts.
The three dummy columns were assembled and a temporary platform constructed using a ladder and scaffolding batten to allow easy fitting without disturbing the Koi carp in the pond. The bridge would now give us a sturdy fixing point for the rest of the garden railway to extend from.
Platform for the Taj Mahal Station
In addition to the bridge installation a suitable platform was needed to support and display the Taj Mahal station. Initially the idea was to use the existing retaining wall running along the side of the steps leading to the upper patio area but after clearing some of the existing planting it soon became apparent that the existing wall was not suitable and a little too close to the waterfall for a comfortable fit, therefore a new brick retaining wall was constructed and topped with some 450mm square slabs in an ivory finish.
Setting Out the Track Bed & Posts
Now that the bridge was in position and the datum pegs in place an old hose pipe was used to lay out the smooth curves of the rest of the layout. The position of the uprights was marked at approximately 600mm centres using a marker spray can. The hose pipe was removed and forty two 52mm holes drilled into the ground using a diamond cutter attached to an SDS drill with an extension bar to achieve an approximate depth of 450mm. The initial holes were tough going due to the amount of hardcore under the ground but this soon became easier as we moved around the rest of the site. After all the holes were cut the Filcris posts were driven in using a lump hammer and levelled up using a spirit level.
The Branch Line
During the installation of the posts the area to the rear of the pond was cleared to make room for the branch line. This involved cutting back some of the existing bushes and plants to reveal a low retaining wall which on closer inspection need repairing and re-pointing.
Building the Track Bed
The next stage of construction involved attaching the side rails and spacers of the track bed to the uprights. This was achieved by using a series of adjustable clamps to hold each side rail in place, then positioning the spacers at regular intervals of approximately 150mm. The side rails and spacers were then fixed using stainless steel screws. Finally the posts were adjusted so that they were vertical and fixed in the same way. Care was taken to make sure each section of track bed aligned with the datum pegs using the gauge.
Once the track bed was installed and all levels checked it was time to fit the planking which would support the track. This was done by using 2.4m x 140mm wide planks of Filcris for the straight sections and cutting down the Filcris material into 140mm x 75mm planks for the curves. A special jig was made to fit the planks in combination with a 10mm spacer which allowed for a fast but accurate installation.
Installing the Taj Mahal Station
At this point the Taj Mahal station was put in position early in the morning and solar powered lights fitted to add an element of realism at night. This proved to be a nice surprise for the client who at this stage had not seen the completed building. The client said, “you have made my dreams come true, I have waited a long time for this and it is fabulous”, a lovely comment which was most appreciated.
Laying the Track & Installing the Electronics
Now that the main structure of the garden railway was finished it was time to lay the track and fit the electronics. We specifically chose PECO Flexitrack which allowed us to negotiate the many winding curves of the layout and give a finer overall look than some of the heavier products. The turnouts were fitted following the schematic drawing which we had prepared back in the workshop. Additional supports were constructed using Filcris planks and blocks to support the small buildings which would protect the electronics.
Data and power cables were laid and servo motors and electronic switch boards connected to the turnouts before covering with the protective buildings.
A support structure was manufactured and fitted under the track bed to accommodate the DCC controller and switch boxes which were wired up and sealed to prevent ingress from moisture. The top of each box was fitted with a rubber seal and the lid strapped down using elastic toggles. A 13amp waterproof power socket was fitted and all the power supplies were fed into a separate waterproof box and sealed to avoid any water damage. After checking the layout the system was switched on and tested using the locomotive. There were a few adjustments to the servo motors controlling the turnouts but we were very pleased with how everything powered up.
Setting Up the Wireless Access Point
The final job was to set up the wireless access point to allow the client to operate the locomotive and turnouts using from anywhere in the garden. This involved downloading the Marklin mobile App onto the client’s own Ipad and connecting it to the Marklin Cenral Station controller. The access point was pre-programmed in our workshop so it was a simple task entering the user name and password in the settings for it to connect and transfer control over to the Ipad.
And Finally… Overall we are very pleased with the results of our first full installation, although we normally specialise in the design and construction of buildings and structures for garden railways. We have already been asked by the client to extend the garden railway in the future.
If you have a particular project which we could help you with please contact Brunel Models…
Custom House for Garden Tramway
We met David Wilkins at one of our exhibitions and discuss adapting one of our special 16mm easy build kits to suit his 1:16 scale tramway. Our master drawings were enlarged to suit this scale and a full flat pack kit supplied for David to build himself. The photos above show the completed model on his layout at home.
Our French Connection
Andrew Mountfield met us at Peterborough last year and we were commissioned to build a bespoke warehouse to fit his extensive indoor railway. Sketches and a budget cost were prepared and then detailed manufacturing drawings. The model has fully operational sliding and hinged doors allowing views through the building and working cargo cranes. The completed model was packed and shipped in three sections to Andrew’s home and the photos above
show it in position on his layout.
1:24th Scale Garage Project
Last year we were approached by Charles Emberton who sells scale model vehicles on the internet. The models are photographed in front of an old model of a garage before being uploaded to the web for sale and Charles was getting regular enquiries for the garage. We are currentl working on prototype kits which Charles can sell to compliment his model cars. We are excited to be working on this project and will let you know how things are progressing.
American 15mm Double Engine Shed
We have recently completed a bespoke American style double engine shed for Mike Lilley in Wales. This comfortably accommodates his two American style steam engines and when we delivered the model he steamed up his engine to see the effect of the steam passing through the vents in the roof.
Westfield Light Railway Viaduct
One of first projects for business partner Andrew Mitchell was a viaduct with factory units and signage. This is located at our outdoor showroom in Long Eaton. Why not arrange a visit to one of our open days or for a private viewing (by appointment only)…
Isle of Man Station for Manchester Client
In 2015 we were commissioned to build a model of Port Erin Station for Andrew Fletcher. This involved a full dimensional survey and photographs of the actual station and manufacture of cardboard prototypes before making the final weather proof models. The photo above shows the station building, water tower, engine shed and low relief elevations of the museum and entrance at the end of the line.
Nepal Garden Railway gets feature temple and traditional house
Michael McDonald saw our advert in Garden Rail and decide to commission us to design and build a traditional Nepalese house and temple for his garden railway. Unfortunately this was one job we could not survey for cost reasons and also because the temple had collapsed in a recent earthquake. Research was carried out on the internet for photos of the temple which was a challenge but we think the results were great and Mike was very pleased with the finished models which we delivered to his home.
Garsdale Junction in Gauge 3
One of our latest commissions is for Paul Barker who is planning his Gauge 3 garden railway and has asked us to build the waiting rooms ticket office and signal box at Garsdale Junction on the Settle to Carlisle route. We are currently half way through the project and have the two remaining building to assemble and paint. These will be based on pre-1950 photographs showing the original canopies and details. We look forward to completing these over the next few weeks.
Design & Build Services
Here at Brunel Models, we use our skills and experience to design and build quality models to any scale to suit your layout.
Bespoke means just that, you may have a favourite building, be it a garage, station, signal box or factory, or you maybe modelling a particular railway and want authentic buildings. The permutations are endless. We simply take measurements and can either make the building’s for you to assemble and paint, or supply completely finished ready for you to enjoy.
Please contact us to arrange a meeting so we can discuss your requirements in detail.
We will then prepare a quotation for your consideration. Once you have given us instructions to proceed, we will prepare drawings for final approval, or you might like to see a mock-up of the model to see how it looks on your railway before we construct the finished model.
As our models are weather proof you can enjoy them in your garden all year round. If you need help with your current project please contact us using our enquiry form and we will get back to you.