The Train Standing on Platform One

by John Crawley

(An article by our then Vice-President, first published in Bedfordshire County Life magazine Spring 2004 and re-produced here by kind permission of its editor, Alan Humphreys).

John Crawley writes about a remarkable passenger hauling miniature railway run by the Bedford Model Engineering Society from their site at Haynes where he takes us on an imaginary journey of discovery and entertainment.

We have heard our railway referred to as Big Boys Toys, people are probably right but then what of the bat and ball, fishing rod for example. They all have one thing in common, they provide intense interest and fascina­tion for our leisure moments and with­out these extra cur­riculum activities we would all be the worse off.

The Bedford Model Engineering Society caters for many interests, the most popular being the building and operating of traction engines and the building of railway locomo­tives and running the railway. The society is very conscious of the sad way that this country has declined as a manufacturing nation and to that end goes out of its way to actively encour­age younger members to join. Instruction and help is given in our work­shop with the aim of trying, in a small way, to slow down the loss of engineering talents and skills. Running the railway may well be regarded as playing at trains but there is a very seri­ous side to it all. Risk assessment was carried out as soon as the Government requirements were made known and all drivers, guards and signalmen now have to be fully examined on their under­standing and knowledge of the railway’s rule book because these ‘big boys’ toys can be extremely dangerous in inexperienced hands. The advent of the railways, an English invention, has probably been of greater benefit to mankind than any other invention in the same league. It is with this in mind that the society is very conscious of its heritage and is only too pleased to talk to vis­itors and to answer any questions asked of it.

The Bedford Model Engineering Society has two very different sys­tems. One catering for the smaller locomotives which run on a multi-gauge of either 2 1/2, 3 1/2, or 5 inch track which is raised from the ground allowing driver and passengers to sit astride the coaches. This gauge proves suffi­cient for the smaller engines but its design renders the inclusion of points or sid­ings very dif­ficult. The society’s ground level’ track features two gauges, 5 inches for the very large engines and 71/4 inch­es for general passenger hauling. The advan­tage of ground level track is that it provides the ability to have points located in the track and those all important sidings both missing from the multi-gauge.

The layout of the society’s rail­way track is best explained if we take the reader on an imaginary journey which, normally, would take about 20 minutes and cover a distance of approximately 3/4 mile. So let us begin. Upon entering the station there are three tracks, each having its own platform. The train taking us on our imaginary ride consists of three `astride’ replicas of pre-war coaches, once operated by the pre-nationalised London & North Eastern Railway Company, and is waiting at platform 1. The locomotives are based on LNER prototypes and could well be a `Flying Scotsman’ type or a mixed traffic one. Our engine, on this trip, is a ‘Class Al LNER Pacific, called `Great Northern’ which is owned by our driver, David Boyde. Our engines are normally manouvered into the sta­tion, prior to being coupled up by our trainee drivers who are lads and lasses who hope to pass out as qualified drivers at some point.

The signal has been set for some minutes now and all is clear and with all passengers loaded and their tickets `clipped’ by the guard the whistle is blown and the driver acknowledges with a toot of the engine and we are on our way. Leaving the station we pass the new signal box, on our right-hand side where all the train movements are controlled. Most of the track is single but with skilful operation five trains can regularly run at the same time. The first set of points, giving access to different platforms and sidings, is crossed with a clatter and we continue our journey for a while on double track passing an incoming train bound for the station we have just departed. A long blast of the engine’s whistle occurs in response to a signboard bearing the word ‘WHISTLE’ locat­ed at the side of the line to warn any pedestrians using the level crossing we are approaching. At this point there is a branch line going off to the left which is yet to be developed. Not long after we pass a train standing in the ‘passing’ loop line and we proceed up a hill. With another blast of the whistle we head off over a bridge, which cuts through a hedgerow, and leads us to a left-hand turn and after some considerable distance and three 90 degree right-hand turns, delivers us to Hammer Hill Station which completes a pattern resembling a back-to-front letter `P’ and it is at the centre of this pattern where the raised track is located. Normally, at this point, passengers would leave the train in order to either observe or to travel on the other railway but for this narrative we will stay on ‘Great Northern’ while we advance to the departure platform and take on pas­sengers wanting to return to Haynes End Station. When our train departs it commences a journey which will take us on another circuit, the top half of our back-to-front letter ‘P’ en route back to Haynes End terminus but not before we pass, once again, over the bridge where we find ourselves being diverted into the ‘passing’ loop to make way for an approaching train. As it passes this train turns out to be an LNER Class B1 called ‘Gazelle’ with a train of similar coaches in tow and being driven by the railway’s General Manager, Alan Gildersleve. `Gazelle’ works hard as she passes us on a considerable gradient. While we continue to wait our driver reports our position to the signalman by tele­phone so that we can continue on our way when the loop is clear. When we are on the double track, approaching our terminus, another train passes being hauled by a model of a narrow-gauge engine, typical of those once used in iron-stone quarries and on the similar locations. It is being driven by the society’s secre­tary, Ian Heys. Clattering over the points once again announces our return to platform number ‘1’ and once we come to a standstill a trainee driver uncouples the train gear and vacuum hose and this completes our imaginary ride on the society’s rail­way track. Our driver, David Boyde, waits for us to leave and cross the line before driving ‘Great Northern’ onto the turntable where it is turned before proceeding to the coal stage for the tender to be replenished and the ten­der tank topped up with water ready to repeat the journey.