Category Archives: Model Railways

Motorising Corgi OO Gauge Blackpool Trams

This is a guide to motorising the Balloon and Railcoach Blackpool trams made by Corgi, using the motor units made and sold by Connexions2011 on ebay (There is no direct link to the specific unit, as eBay items are ephemeral, so you’ll just have to go by the photo to identify the item you need).

This may seem like nothing more that a re-write of their instructions, but it includes my observations and thoughts on the process as it goes along.  With photos.

What you will need

A Balloon or Railcoach model.

For this I’ll be using the Balloon tram.

A motor unit

(Photo taken from the eBay page – to help you identify the correct unit)

Some tools

  • 3mm Phillips screwdriver
  • A scalpel
  • A Dremel (or cheap Maplin copy)
  • A straight bit of OO track
  • Milliput
  • Superglue
  • Somthing to keep the bits in – I use a Bold 2in1 detergent box – its the perfect size:2016-10-27-08-48-07-hdr

So here we go…

Start by taking out the screws A, B and C.


The lifeguards at the ends should just pull away.  Put everything you’ve removed in the storage box. And assume that from now on you’ll be doing the same with everything you remove.

Next get the Dremel (or cheap Maplin clone) out, and drill around both of the metal poles between the wheelsets with a 1mm bit. Make a better job of it than I did.


You can now prise the base plate off by inserting a thin blade under each end of it, twisting slightly, and dropping the wheelsets on the floor. You’ll be wanting to pick them up.

Now you should have some twisted melted plastic bits stuck to the ends of the poles.


By a combination of whittling, grinding, and frantically twisting with a pair of pliers, these should come off an allow the whole tram to fall apart.


At this point you might want to do any dressing up of the top deck that you have planned, such as painting the floors, adding seat upholstery and mounting figures. I’m not doing that on this one.

Now you should have the roof unit with two poles sticking out from it.

balloon-step1eThese have to be removed, but take a lot of wiggling to do so. You might want to unbolt the pantograph/trolley pole mounting to avoid damage. If you do so, remember to re-attach it afterwards, just to avoid the screaming later on.

For now put the upper deck diecast part, upper glazing unit and upper seating area to one side. We’ll get back to them in a while.

Take the lower seating deck, and pull out the steps.



This is where we get destructive. We need to cut out a large area of the lower seating area. This is also where I deviate from the suggested instructions. The suggested idea is to re-mount the outer wheelsets. I’m not doing that, so I’m cutting the mounting points out and running the tram as a four-wheeler. This is in an attempt to get the tram to negotiate a tighter  curve than a 12″ radius.

I’ll get back to that in a moment, but for now let us deal with the upper deck sections, lower deck casing and lower deck glazing part.

Glue them together so that they all fit. Superglue is good.


Now we get to the nitty-gritty. We need to make the motor unit fit into the lower seating deck area in such a way that

If you are squeamish about poor workmanship, stop reading now, cos its going to get really ugly.

Cut out enough of the lower deck to fit the motor in:


Fit the motor from below:


Now get it in to place to that the wheels are clear of the plastic and its got this much clearance:


At this point you should be marking out where to drill mounting holes and brackets and things of that kidney. So I just decided to hold the ends in place with lumps of Milliput:


These pics also show that the ends of the baseplate and life savers have been refitted.

Now all that there is to do it put the already assembled upper section on top of it, and have a look at it:



You can hardly tell that there aren’t bogies under there!

And thats it!

Model Railway Arduino Signals – Design

As previously explained, I’m working on the use of an Arduino and an old laptop to control the points on my very small N Gauge model railway. Well, I’m also going to control the signals too.

Working on this track plan:

Simplified Garwick Track Plan

I consulted my tame signalling engineer (some say that he once completly ruined the brakes on my MG Montego, and that he spends his spare time writing cod-1950s hard-boiled detective story versions of his work, but all we know is that he’s called The Sig), explaining to him that all the lines were bi-directional. He put on his thinking-trilby, sharpened his crayons, and came up with this idea:


(Only the signals inside the box are to be modelled. The ones outside it are off-scene, and therefore just implied to be there and functioning.)

So, 6 signals. As I only had six remaining outputs left on the Arduino, I decided on 2-Aspect light signals.

And, lo, these were on eBay:


Six of them for £19 incl shipping, actually from (yeah, it says 5 on the website, but all the eBay listings show 6 of them).

Nominally they run off 12v but are plenty bright enough with 5v from an Arduino supplied to them. Plus, if you tie the Green line to 5v and the Black to GND, putting 5v up the Red line from the Arduino will switch the signal from green to red. This is counter-intuitive to me, as surely the signals should fail-to-Red, not fail-to-Green?

No, matter, it still make the wiring easier.


Eagle-eyes will spot the the lights are the wrong way up.  Ah, well, it’s too late now.

Next… build up the control board for one pair of points, and one signal as a test.


Model Railway Arduino Point Control – Design

As stated elsewhere, I’ve mothballed the Arduino Dalek Project, and started to cannibalize bits for a new project: Arduino control of the turnout points on an N Gauge model railway layout.

For a start, heres some information about the point motors I’m using: The PECO PL-11 side mounted motors, which attach to the side of the points, like this:

PECO PL-11 (© PECO Publications)
PECO PL-11 (© PECO Publications)

These motors operate on 16v AC and require only (and indeed cannot tolerate more than) momentary current, and are currently controlled from “passing contact switches” drawing power from a Capacitor Discharge Unit.

There are currently 6 turnouts/points, arranged in pairs as below. As it would be reckless (and in real life impossible, due to interlocking) to operate either of the pair independently, I’ve decided to activate them together.

points1Thus, at all times both A and B will either both lead straight ahead, of both lead off to the left (for sets C&D and E&F it will be right not left).

As the Arduino can only throw out 5v DC, each pair of motors will need to be driven via a 5v DPDT replay. But, as we can’t leave the current on without melting the motors, each pair will actually need two relays (one for each direction of change), driven independently from different output pins. Another complication is that the relays will have to energised and then de-energised within a specific time-frame to avoid motor damage, but this is a programming issue to be dealt with later.

PL-11-CDU-Relay WiringThe above diagram shows only the 16vAC side of the wiring. The Arduino 5vDC is shown below.

Arduino-Relay Wiring

Obviously I could have chosen to just use SPDT relays, and connect the outputs together, but due to the vagaries of how the motors work and the orientation and placement of them on the layout, I thought it was safer to design and wire it this way at the outset, rather than back-fix it later when it went wrong. Plus, I had all the wiring in place, so thought I might as well use it.

Note the lack of common Ground between the two halves of the circuit. Grounding AC and DC together isn’t a good idea. Just say no.

Anyway, here is all is again on one convenient image.

Arduino-Relay-PL-11 Wiring
Click to embiggen

So now the next stage to to take that abstract squiggle and build it as a circuit.

Note – for myself, mainly: Each “pair” takes up 2 outputs, so for the three pairs of points we need 6 lines from the Arduino, out of a total of 12 (not 14, as I’d rather not use the 0 and 1 lines (RX & TX) as this could cause issues with data transfers activating the relays – something that the Dalek had problems with at first.

To be continued… with a start on Signalling!

Adventures in N Gauge

It seems a long time ago that I started working on an OO Gauge model railway. Well, true to form I abandoned that idea and moved on. Because of space problems, I switched to N Gauge, which takes up half the space.

I came up with the idea of “Garwick”, a station on a mainly industrial line which still handles passenger traffic. The layout is based mainly on the long-closed Maudlands station in Preston, but with several additions which “just seemed like good ideas at the time”.

The Original Plan - it does not look like this anymore.
The Original Plan – it does not look like this anymore.

The time period is somewhat confused, being set in a fictional era where British Rail never ended, and bus deregulation never happened. Hence old-style DMUs and Ribble buses sit alongside late model Transit vans, Austin taxis, modern cars and a BR Blue liveried Class 66.

Version 2 of the layout. Still not finished
Version 2 of the layout. Still not finished

Garwick is actually two stations. Firstly there is the main station which handles commuter traffic and has a taxi rank and bus stop.

Garwick Bus Stop. A Ribble/Notional Express waits.
Garwick Bus Stop. A Ribble/Notional Express waits.
Garwick Taxi Rank. Some Austin FX/4s wait patiently.
Garwick Taxi Rank. Some Austin FX/4s wait patiently.

This station was originally a two platform station, but one of the platforms was demolished to provide extra siding space for Shocks Mill.  The underpass entrance on the platform now leads to a corridor and storage facilities.

The station sees frequent DMU trains which run to Pill End.

Since the closure of the second platform, the other through line  has been mainly used for freight traffic to the nearby coal depot and bitumen processing plant.

There is also the secondary platform which is generally only used by the single car Class 121 service to the main town station . This was built on part of the former marshalling yard of  Shocks Mill, which still stands above the site but has been converted in to a housing, and the former site of the original No 2 platform.

Unfinished version of Shocks Mill, overlooking some old coal wagons from another layout.
Unfinished version of Shocks Mill, overlooking some old coal wagons from another layout.
Unfinished Garwick Platform 2, with industrial estate behind, and a Class 101 former Express Parcels unit waiting.
Unfinished Garwick Platform 2, with industrial estate behind, and a Class 101 former Express Parcels unit waiting.

To the west, after Farish Lane bridge, the lines split. A single track line runs on to Pill End, and a line runs to the industrial sites at Chain Lane and Caul Road.

66626 hauls Bitumen tanks under Farish Lane bridge as a Ribble Atlantean heads towards Oxford Lane.
66626 hauls Bitumen tanks under Farish Lane bridge as a Ribble Atlantean heads towards Oxford Lane.

To the East, one line runs through the short Victoria tunnel to the City Centre, passing the DMU maintenance depot, while the the main line runs though the double track Albert tunnel to the south to join the main line. Locally, the Albert and Victoria tunnels have been nicknamed “George and Mildred”.

Metcalfe Row and the "Ferret and Dartboard" on the corner of Hatton Street above the tunnels.
Metcalfe Row and the “Ferret and Dartboard” on the corner of Hatton Street above the tunnels.

Obviously there is still a lot for work to do. The who track formation needs re-ballasting, the buildings need tidying up, and a lot of dead space needs to be filled. And that’s even before I start trying to hide the various point motors that are highly visible.

Model Railways – The Kitchen Floor

I’ve been thinking about the OO gauge layout again, and it looks like it is going to have to fit on a 6’x1′ shelf.

Having noticed that the tiles on my kitchen floor are 1′ square, I had a mess about with the bits of track that I had and came up with this:


Which, when rendered with XTrackCAD, looks like this:


There are some discrepencies, mainly because I was using a mixture of track from different suppliers, none of which is less than thirty years old.

My current thinking is that the middle track should look like a through-line, but actually end in a fake tunnel mouth on the right hand side. The left hand side can run to the end of the board.

The top line will end in buffers to the right, where the platforms will extend on to a concourse of some sort. To the left it will go behind some scenery to act as a very small single-track fiddle yard. It will be a bit tight, but the DMU can just about hide in there. If I can stretch to 6.5’x1′, the tank engine coach and brakevan train could fit too.

The passing loop is just barely large enough to hold the DMU or the coach and brake van, but can’t really be stretched without losing too much of the headshunt on the fake through line.

The two remaining sidings are just for extra storage space, and to use up the two space sets of points that still work.

For the backscene, I want to go with brick retaining walls and a fake street scene above, which will extend over the hidden fiddle yard.

Here are some more incredibly bad pictures taken on my really awful phone:


kitchen-railway-2 kitchen-railway-5kitchen-railway-4kitchen-railway-3


Model Railways – More info on the engines

A while a go I posted a picture of the four OO gauge engines that I found in an old box.

2013-05-19 16.05.03

Here is a bit more about the “real” engines on which thay were based (left to right).

Class 101 2-car DMU (M79628 & M79629)

Built by Metro-Cammell at Washwood Heath in Birmingham between 1956 and 1959. Withdrawn sometime before 2003 and presumably scrapped.  No further info at the moment.

LMS “Princess Elizabeth” (46201)

Built at the LMS Crewe Works in 1933 as Lot Number 099 becoming number 6201. After nationalisation in 1948, British Railways renumbered her 46201. 46201 was withdrawn in 1962. Currently undergoing its planned overhaul at Tyseley Locomotive Works. (see here for more)

LNER Gresley J50 tank engine (68920)

Built in 1922 at the LNER Doncaster Works as Lot Number 1544. Carried the numbers 3221 and 8920 until 1946 when the number became 68920. Decommisioned and scrapped in 1961. (see here for more)

Class 08 Shunter (D3035)

Built at Derby Works in 1954 as No. 13035, the shunter carried the numbers D3035 then 08035, until being converted for snowplow use and given number 966508 in 1974. It was withdrawn and scrapped in 1979. (see here for more, here, and here for a photo)


Annoyingly, the only one that I have proof still exists needs extensive repairs. Much like the real-world conterpart, I suppose.

Model Railways – Second Thoughts

I’ll start by stating that “Second Thoughts” does not refer to not going ahead with this, but is more like “my second set of thoughts on the subject”.

Firstly (or thought 2.1, if you will), the layout size is probably up to 6’6″x1′ for the main board.  This is the absolute maximum I can fit in to the available space between the abutting wall and the end of the window without fouling the curtains and intruding too much in to the room. If I extend around the corner slightly, on a seperate board, I can probably fit an extra 2’x1′ section. A bit like this:

board-egThe green section would be the main board, the brown the extension, and the grey bit non-existent.

Originally I had thought about putting the scenic bits in the corner and having the fiddle yard to the right hand side, but the addition of the extra section means I’ll probably swap things about. It would fix the problem of where to place the scenic break for the fiddle yard, as I could place it exactly on the edge of  the board. There wouldn’t be much space for fiddling, but i’ll look in to that later.

Anyway, this is the sort of idea i’m having at the moment:


Clearly I’m neglecting the freight working on this one, and just going with the DMU (topmost line), and one of the smaller engines working a two carriage train using the run-around loop. Isolating part of the topmost line would give me space to store the Princess Elizabeth, and leave space in the station for the DMU, but I’d like to add another siding or two for some of my favourite stock.

I’m trying to do this for as little money as possible, so any buildings and such will probably be card kits or scratch built. The back side will probably end up being retaining walls or bricked up arches with a sky scene above them, merging in to a tunnel to cover the entrance to the fiddle yard round the corner. I may add some fake lines going in to tunnels before the corner, which could double as short sidings for a wagon or two.

Mind you, while I’m saying that I’m doing this as cheaply as possible, I do intend to motorize all the points, add some controlled de-couplers, and make a little control panel. Maybe I’ll even use my spare Arduino at some point.


Model Railways – Initial Thoughts

I’ve been thinking about model railways for a while, specifically a small N gauge layout as I didn’t have a lot of space in my old flat.

Recently I moved house and now have a bit more space to muck about with. I’ve also got hold of some old OO gauge stuff that hasn’t seen use in nearly 30 years, namely: four engines, assorted rolling stock, loads of track and some controllers.

So now a new project is born: A 5’8″x1′ OO gauge shelf layout.

The engines are:

  1. An LNER Gresley J50 tank engine (68920) in black with the Unicycling Lion BR crest. Made by Lima, it works but is missing it’s couplings.
  2. An LMS “Princess Elizabeth” (46201) 4-6-2 with tender in green with the Unicycling Lion BR crest. Made by Tri-ang, it currently does not run.
  3. A Class 08 Shunter (D3035) in green with the Ferret and Dartboard BR crest. Made by Tri-ang, it currently runs very slowly and noisily (as the real life examples did?).
  4. A Class 101 2-car DMU (M79628 & M79629) in green with the Ferret and Dartboard BR crest. Made by Tri-ang, it runs fine but is missing some detailing on the underside of one of the cars.

2013-05-19 16.05.03

This motley selection, along with the mix of assorted coaches and industrial wagons, is pointing me towards a sort of  heritage line operation. That way, I can legitimately use anything that hasn’t suffered too badly from three decades of storage (and the cack-handed re-painting attempts of a ten-year old Tony), and anything that is knackered could be “undergoing restoration”.

My original N gauge idea would have been something similar, but the excuse would have been for buying stuff I liked the look of, rather that what would fit the time period. I had looked at a few heritage sites, like Foxfield and the Churnet Valley Railway, but one that I kept going back to was the Ribble Steam Railway, which combines a heritage line with revenue generating freight working. This is probably because they still use the line to carry bitumen to the Lanfina/Total plant that my Dad worked at long ago, in the before time.

While a station, engine shed, exchange sidings and fiddle yard could have been squeezed into a 5’8″x1′ N gauge layout, it doesn’t look promising in OO gauge, so I’m afraid its back to the drawing board. Or, more accurately, back to XTrkCAD.

In the meantime, I’m off to Wickes to buy some wood and some shelf brackets.