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Newcastle Junction and Harbour North 1998- 2006

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      This article was originally published in BRM in 2004, I have altered it here and there to read better and to remove or edit background history and so forth, which have already been included in previous layout postings.


            This layout was No 3 of my “finished” project layouts, and was planned while I still was running the “Newcastle Line” about 1998.  But that layout had been on the go since 1975, and it was time to move on. No other layout of mine has lasted as long as that.

. I decided some years earlier not to opt for 21mm track (Irish railways run on a gauge of 5’3”) but to use standard 00 track, because even then I had no intention of storing or selling my beloved Dublo trains –indeed there’s the odd acquisition still happening. As a result all my layouts use  Code 100 track. I did experiment on another layout laid with Code 75, and it was hit and miss for Dublo stuff, some seemed OK, others definitely not.

 I had realized that I really did want to be able to run trains continuously – maybe it’s just the child in me still! I also think that most locos seem to run the better when they can be given an occasional extended run and the odd burst of high speed. Well, that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.  To give a decent length of run, siding lengths etc., and add scenic interest I was able to make holes in a stud wall, which separates the railway room from a roof space, and run bare boards through to allow the lines to curve around “out of sight”. I decided against any point work in there, and derailments were thankfully very rare as a result.


           The main station on the layout was “Newcastle Junction.” It had two through platforms and a bay for the Harbour line, along with a smallish goods yard and a locomotive depot with an electrically operated turntable. This was an item I’d always promised myself. The Peco kit provided the basis with a battery driven motor and Meccano gears – it generally worked well although I discovered one problem. It’s probably just my engineering skills (or lack of them) which can lead to the situation where heavy engines sometimes seem to cause the gears to lose mesh and the thing just sits there whirring aimlessly. I chose a battery operation rather than divert power from a main controller, and found that with the low gearing and a two-speed switch there’s no problem with alignment though you do have to be quite “quick on the trigger”. Beyond the turntable there was a four road Dublo shed and this was the “toy” section of the layout where I’ve made no attempt to ballast or paint track.




The goods yard at Newcastle central. No 2 use of Balllynoe gods shed.


Quite an assortment of locos on  shed, including a "W" class Mogul -taken in 2006.




At Newcastle Junction station I re-used the original model station building, signal box and goods shed from the previous Newcastle layout. The station building itself had to be significantly altered to fit its new role as a through station. – the side wings were originally much longer. These had been built of plasticard, quite a few years before and I found that with time it can become quite brittle, so I had to be careful when cutting or altering. All these buildings and the semaphore signals were based on those used by the Belfast & County Down Railway.

I had decided that a “harbour” station would be an ideal second station. This allowed all kinds of trains to be run without looking silly. As a child my parents often took me to Scotland for holidays and we would travel via Larne and catch the ferry to Stranraer. I can remember summer evenings standing with my long-suffering mother at Stranraer Harbour station watching the evening trains leave. A green diesel multiple unit was first for Glasgow, then the highlight of the evening, the London bound “Night Paddy” as it was known, headed by a BR Standard “Clan” class locomotive and a long line of red carriages including sleeping cars. Sadly today all this has gone from the real thing; Larne remains railway connected but it’s a bus transfer from Cairnryan port to Ayr.





"Harbouir North"  (aka Stranraer!) cabin!



The car area at Harbour Borth

On my layout, of course, “Boat” trains were still very much a feature. They were pulled by anything up to the largest express steam and diesel locos while on the other extreme I had the latest liveried Class 156 DMUs. I think model DMUs have their own charm provided they run smoothly and have decent underframe detail– I can allow a bit of leeway with a steam type model, as at least you’ve got coupling rods and valve gear etc., to watch, but if all you see is an apparently unattached carriage wobbling jerkily and/or noisily along the track then it just looks a bit sad. I fitted some of my Lima 156 sets with the Hurst Models underframe kit which transforms the look of these models; I think they are still in business though haven’t looked for a while. I also fitted some extra seats inside, Lima clearly allowed very generous clearances which I can tighten as 2foot radius curves are my minimum.


The name “Harbour North” was finally chosen after I’d tried out all kinds of others - I liked the sound of it. (I am in Northern Ireland after all), it allowed me to run pretty well any stock –Irish or British – that I wanted. As well as the Northern Irish stock (of which more later) I also enjoy running Scottish Region stuff from the 60’s to present day. The buildings at Harbour North weren’t based on any particular prototype but have features common to many – and I always fancied having the excuse to build an overall “glass” roof. The signal box here, originally a heavily chopped Airfix/Dapol kit, was replaced by a model of Stranraer Harbour cabin, in pre 1984 form, when it re-clad in yellow brick.


There was nothing special about the track used, Peco Streamline 100 with live frog points throughout. I ballasted it using a system which worked well for me, of carefully getting a section of track section or pointwork pre-aligned, then spreading neat PVA (or Copydex) glue on the cork base, laying the track and pinning quickly, then simply sprinkling the ballast before the glue dries off. The main advantage of this is speed and generally I find that you get less ballast in the pointwork –it’s easily vacuumed up. And of course the pins can always be removed later.  The downside is you need to be quick! The layout had cab control and each section may be controlled by any one of three controllers (with a fourth local one available at Harbour North). I still use an old 60’s H&M Powermaster – what a terrific product they were.  After some discussion and a trial I used On Track controllers for the other two main ones, the Pro version gives a good output of 3 amps –very desirable for older or stiffer locomotives pulling heavy trains, where a 1-amp output just isn’t sufficient!  I also prefer a controller with a knob control, which turns in the direction of travel rather than a separate reversing switch.  On Track no longer make controllers but occasionally these pop up on ebay.


Some old Hornby Dublo switches were used for various layout features such as section switches and points at the harbour, and some colour light signals. Newcastle panel used the probe and stud method, which also works well. Hidden point motors operated all points except for a few in the loco shed area. Most buildings were fitted with interior detail and lit, and I have even got a rake of Hornby Dublo coaches fitted with battery powered LEDs, which look very realistic; they remain on at a constant brightness. However, over time the very fine wire linking the coaches (they were powered from a luggage van and two AAA cells) began to chafe and break away.


            I’ve got a large loco and carriage/wagon stock – after so many years that’s not surprising. Most of it is R-T-R, some of which have been modified to represent Northern Ireland prototypes, this came about by a happy convergence of two things – the first Model Railway Day at Cultra transport museum in November 2002 and the writing of my book “Diesel Dawn”., published in in 2003. While working on the book I began to think that it would be nice to have a few models of the much maligned Multi Purpose Railcars, which deserved to be remembered at least in model form. I converted two or three using Black Beetle power bogies and Hornby LMS coaches, echoing some of the thinking behind the real things. I then decided it was time to have a go at a steam loco and the first Class WT “Jeep” model of No10 was made from a Hornby Fowler tank.  Ian Sinclair, who ran the model railway day, asked if I’d like to get involved; he had a small Highland diorama type layout and the UTA stuff would look OK on it. I hastily painted a couple of old Graham Farish coaches into UTA livery and ran these. It was such an enjoyable experience that Ian and I decided to enlarge it and hence the exhibition layout “Killagan” which some of you may remember, was born and first showed to the public in 2004.


class WT No 10 on turntable - the first fo many such conversions; the only one to use the older Hornby chassis.


3 MPDs pulling a goods train on the NJ railway; the picture was inspired by a shot taken by Richard Whitford, who provided me with some superb pictures for "Diesel Dawn"


Stock in these years was, where possible, fitted with the Peco style coupling (thankfully still in production). I grew up with this and still think it superior, all things being equal, to the hook and bar type. It still looks more prototypical, though the latest variants of hook and bar are certainly more unobtrusive than before. I’ve actually found a way to use the Peco coupling in NEM sockets which I got from a fellow Peco lover! As I’ve already said, I have concentrated recently on Scottish Region stock (which I still have in 2021!) but will basically buy and run anything I fancy. As far as I’m concerned that is one of the great pleasures of this hobby. 


Colm for BRM 2004/re-edited 2021 

Newcastle stn bldgs #1.JPG

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I came across a couple more pics of this layout;

Harbour North trackside view towards the buffers;



The Hornby Dublo engine shed; sadly no room for it on any subsequent layouts.



And finally, I did get the glass canopy over the main entrance built; and some buses as well. I also did some photoshop bakgrounds -can't remember how ....


The building was donated to the Downpatrick Railway in 2008; It was put on display for a while in their museum upstairs in the station building, but i think it is now in store. The plastic card will be pretty brittle by now.

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