Association of


Railway Modellers

Authentic Model Railway Operation – Talk by Martin Nield


Martin Nield gave a fascinating and thought provoking account of his involvement in model railways and his passion for authentic train operation based on steam era practices.

He prefaced his main talk on authenticity in model railway operation by giving an account of his early upbringing and how his interest in railways developed. Growing up in the Preston area he went through the early stages of trainspotting and shed bashing (including being chased by the Shed Foreman). Lostock Hall was a magnet for those interested in the dying days of steam traction and this was extended during holidays in Scotland. Even in these early days he was interested in railway operation and this was translated into his early efforts in model railway layout building.

This led into the second half of his talk which was the subject of replicating in model railway form how the real railway worked which in his case was ultimately the steam era with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway prior to the grouping in the early 1920’s. With various career moves around the country he joined model railway clubs and was involved in building a number of model railway layouts from 00 gauge through to EM and P4, many of which had a North Eastern flavour and a developing interest in authentic operation. He was a convincing advocate for including realistic operation in layouts as it added a greater sense of fun at exhibitions for operators and the public alike.

Martin felt that in his view many layouts concentrated too heavily on the visual aspects to the detriment of how the railway should operate prototypically. Also he felt that with the passage of time knowledge of actual steam railway operation was fading away and needed to be kept alive. In his view attending model railway exhibitions was somewhat compromised by what he referred to as howlers which included unrealistic track plans, unreal operational practices, lack of proper working signals and no timetable or sequencing of train movements.

In developing his P4 layout based on the fictitious location of Eccleston his criteria were that the layout should have

  • a convincing story behind the reason for the location of the railway
  • a realistic track plan based on actual practice ( he showed examples of real track layouts for Lancashire & Yorkshire locations)
  • working signals
  • authentic train movements
  • authentic formations for passenger trains (a mixture of classes and a brake vehicle) and for goods trains (different classes, stock to reflect local industry, loading and brake requirements etc)
  • provision for locomotive servicing, light engine and wagon movements
  • a working timetable or sequencing for train movements
  • scale speed operation of stock on the layout

In exhibiting a layout every effort should be made to keep something moving, make it entertaining and informative and display timetable or sequencing movements so the public understand what is going on.

In conclusion Martin stressed that operating a layout authentically was fun and informative adding an extra element to a model railway out. There was plenty of information available to add this facet to your layout and he urged Members to give it a try.

Peter Cox, our Chairman, thanked Martin on behalf of Members for a very well presented and convincing argument in favour of adding authenticity to our model railway layouts. 


David Evans

September 2018