Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains is our new HO Layout, which made it’s debut at the 2018 Forestville Exhibition

We decided to build a new layout quite different from most of the club and exhibition layouts, one with hills, valleys, cliffs, heavy earthworks and rugged scenery, rather than the more usual flat, rural layout.

We’ve chosen to build a layout around the final years of steam operation (and start of diesel running) on the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, from 1950 to 1956.  This was one of the most extraordinary railway operations, anywhere, with frequent train operations, steep grades, double heading of most west bound trains and delays while goods trains were stopped to set and release brakes – and while goods trains ran slowly, passenger trains operated smartly on the steep grades. Again, most westbound passenger trains, even when hauled by the popular 38 class, required a bank engine. Star of operations is the use of double headed 57 and 58 class locos on 1500 ton coal trains.

We will be showing a range of trains which ran on this line:

  • 38s and then diesels on the smart new Central West Express
  • The famous Fish commuter train
  • The succession of Mail trains
  • 57 and 58 locos double heading on block coal trains
  • The steady flow of bank engines returning down the grade

and a succession of other trains.

The real operating constraints meant short trains and we can come close to running full size trains!

The layout is built on a flexible modular basis, so we can swap and add modules to expand the layout, and add members’ modules. The baseboards are designed to fit into the two trailers owned by the Association, and are 2300 mm long and 900 mm wide, or fractions of these dimensions. The baseboards are primarily manufactured from 7 mm plywood, including the main longitudinal front beam and, in some cases, the rear beam as well. The top sheets of ply are cut and set at varying levels for the trackbed, scenic levels and roads. Full ply cover means greater strength and a solid base for scenery. The ply has proven to be quite flexible, for example for roads. The rear beam and backscene are formed of 3 mm ply with 19 mm square edging. This saves on weight and adds considerable rigidity to the structure. Where needed, the backscene is curve to avoid ugly corners in the sky. Integral folding legs are included in place of the more commonly used trestles, which have a habit of collapsing.

This method of construction results in relatively thin baseboard, which maximises space for scenery and facilitates hilly construction.

The first stage covers five geographical areas:

  • The climb on the eastern side from Glenbrook to Valley Heights
  • Hazelbrook Station
  • The rugged country approaching Katoomba
  • The Vacuum Oil siding near Medlow Bath
  • The climb on the western side near Clarence

The westbound (inner) track is DCC and the (eastbound) outer track can be operated as DCC or DC. Code 83 track has been used as the point work accommodates fine scale wheels better. An 18-road fiddle yard with automatic track selection via rotary switches and diode matrix has been developed.  There are also eight ancillary sidings.  The modules are designed to fit into Mainline or Dungog trailers for transport.  An access drawbridge is provided to save the creaking knees and backs from the trauma of a duck-under.

We will be building more modules! The subsequent stage will be for a major station with stabling sidings and goods yards together with a turntable, then future stages could encompass a loco depot, expanded scenic sections and Zig Zag track. Being modular, a mix and match approach is the aim, and perhaps one day a Mega Layout of all modules will be at an exhibition that has plenty of space.

Further assistance will be gratefully received. This is an opportunity for new members (or older members) to become actively involved and learn a lot about layout construction very quickly. For example, many volunteers will be needed to make a “forest of trees” to finish off scenic aspects of the layout.