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Sample articles

To give you a feel for the subjects that Model Trains International covers in each issue, we've added a few sample articles from the magazine to the website. These have been taken from issues no longer available - on the one hand it's a way of sharing articles with you that you couldn't get otherwise. On the other, it doesn't reduce our potential income!

"On the Nebenbahn" is editor Chris Ellis's exploration of German branchlines as potential subjects for a layout while "Budget Modelling Starts Here!" has suggestions on getting into railway modelling on the proverbial shoestring.

Finally, "Oldbury Basin" is Jordan Foster's minimum space N-scale layout and is very typical of the type of layouts featured in the magazine.

On the Nebenbahn

A sample article from Issue #1

If you fancy having a steam locomotive and goods train passing your front garden gate, the Erlangen-Grafenberg branch was the place to live, for the track passed down or alongside most village streets, as here at Spardorf, with Bavarian DXI (DR 98521) trundling past in summer 1935 and filling the roadway. What great inspiration for a model setting!
If you fancy having a steam locomotive and goods train passing your front garden gate, the Erlangen-Grafenberg branch was the place to live, for the track passed down or alongside most village streets, as here at Spardorf, with Bavarian DXI (DR 98521) trundling past in summer 1935 and filling the roadway. What great inspiration for a model setting!

Everyone who gets hooked on the model railway hobby knows about branch lines. There are probably more branch line layouts than any other type, and the reason for this is well known: branch lines are usually much simpler in track layout and requirements than main line settings, so they are ideal for limited space modelling. They also have the charm that goes with short trains in rural surroundings and, depending on where you live, the words ‘branch line’ will conjure up images of a ‘Terrier’ or M7 with old panelled coaches, or a 14XX 0-4-2T with an auto-trailer, and so on. Nearly everyone reading this will have contemplated branch line modelling at some time or other and many will have done it, or be building branch line layouts at this moment.

But what if you fancy something that is different? Every country has (or has had) branch lines so you are certainly not restricted to modelling the British variety. Of all the equipment from overseas that is currently available the German models might well set you thinking. Germany is a particularly fertile ground for further study. Not only did the German railways develop more extensive networks of branch lines than any other country, but a fair number of them survive even today after a great many have been closed or ‘rationalised’ out of existence. A few branches are visually unchanged from the 1930s, except for motive power and stock, an example being the Cadolzburg branch and to find a British equivalent you would have to imagine that something like the Ashburton branch, say, was still intact in all respects today and you could travel up it in a Sprinter unit!

Because the model railway hobby in Germany is so vibrant and so well catered for, just about every locomotive and item of rolling stock you might need for all but the very earliest years of branch lines is readily available in the well-known ranges. Furthermore they do not offer isolated models but whole series that are coordinated for type and period. For example Trix and Roco between them (supplemented by a loco from Fleischmann) have all the locomotives you would need for Bavarian branch lines either in the pre-1920 or post-1920 era, with all related coaches and wagons. They have related main line locos and stock too, of course, and you can get, for example, most key types of the Royal Bavarian State Railways in HO. A British equivalent would be a whole series of Midland or LBSCR locomotives and stock ready-to-run from Hornby or Bachmann!

An idyllic branch line scene in Bavaria (location unknown) in 1930, with a DXI 0-6-2T (DR Class 98-5) hauling just a 4-wheel full brake and a coach. The ballast appears to be gravel, there is no fencing, and even the telegraph line is on plain posts. Scenically you cannot get much simpler than this (DB).
An idyllic branch line scene in Bavaria (location unknown) in 1930, with a DXI 0-6-2T (DR Class 98-5) hauling just a 4-wheel full brake and a coach. The ballast appears to be gravel, there is no fencing, and even the telegraph line is on plain posts. Scenically you cannot get much simpler than this (DB).

Now Germany is a big and quite varied land and there are regional differences just as in Great Britain. Also, in the old days, if not so much today, there were regional differences in the railways, too, so a Saxon branch would be distinctively different in locomotives, stock, structures, and fittings, from, say, a Bavarian branch. This could be just as marked as the visual differences between a GWR and a LNER branch in England. The scope for study and research of German railways is just as endless as it is for British railways, so a short article cannot tell the whole story (though, with luck, we’ll return to it). My particular concentration has been on Bavarian branch lines, the theme of the HO layout I am currently building.

If you are tempted to try German modelling, with no pre-conceived notions or allegiances, then the Bavarian area is a good one to start with. Bavaria was thick in natty little branch lines with a distinctly rustic flavour in most cases and as a branch line ‘paradise’ for modellers it is a sort of German equivalent to the Great Western and its branch lines in Britain.

Better yet, it is popular in Germany, too, and there are plenty of models available in HO and N, the two most popular scales, aided by the fact that two main model firms, Fleischmann and Trix are located in Bavaria, and the other big firm, Roco, is not too far over the border in Austria. All their models are avaliable in Britain, too, via the specialist stockists.

My interest is, I suppose, aided by the fact that most of my German visits are to Bavaria, but I’ve always found the older locomotives and stock from Royal Bavarian State Railways (Königlische Bayerische Staatsbahn: K.Bay.St.B.) fascinating and attractive, especialiy in K.Bay.St.B. days when they had an attractive lined dark green livery and lots of bright work. Quite clearly a lot of British model enthusiasts share this view, for both the (then) Trix and Roco Importers to Great Britain told me their ‘Glaskasten’ tank engine models were best sellers, while the Roco Bavarian Mallet tank engine apparently had the highest number of forward orders recorded in Britain for a Roco locomotive when it was released. The splendid Fleischmann model of the standard Bavarian 0-8-0T design (Bay.Gt1 4/4, DRG Class 98/8) was also a best seller. When I first heard this news I assumed we would see a flowering of Bavarian branch iine layouts in Britain.

The celebrated ‘Glaskasten’, here 98310, with a 6-window standard coach and full brake at Auers in the 1950s (DB).
The celebrated ‘Glaskasten’, here 98310, with a 6-window standard coach and full brake at Auers in the 1950s (DB).
Still running today is the metre gauge Chiemseebahn, with tram locomotives, here seen at Prien in very smart finish in 1964.
Still running today is the metre gauge Chiemseebahn, with tram locomotives, here seen at Prien in very smart finish in 1964.

They may be out there but I’ve only ever seen two, one of them the well-known Alte Bayern, and these layouts only account for a few of the branch line locomotives sold! So I presume the rest went to collectors and are still in cupboards, or they are put to one side while the owner finds out enough about Bavarian branch lines in order to operate the modeis authentically!

If you have the models or plan to get them, and wonder how to make a start, then the plans and pictures here may help.

First, however, it is worth mentioning the nomenclature which you might encounter in descriptions of German branch lines.

The general name is Nebenbahn which means, roughly, secondary or supplementary railway. There is more subtlety in other names, which can include: Vlzlnalbahn - local line, Vizinal being derived from the latin Vicinus or neighbourhood (this type of branch was sometimes of tramway type, including street running); Sekundärbahn - secondary line which might or might not include some street running; Lokalbahn - local line, but a term mostly used for the bigger sort of branch line that connects several towns or at least two main destinations. There was a technical definition in that a Vizinalbahn had track weighing 27.2kg per metre and was therefore quite lightly laid. The other lines used heavier weight track of 34-37kg per metre, though in practice the distinctions were somewhat blurred when some lines that started off as Vizinalbahnen were later extended and upgraded. Lines were further described as Stichbahnen, a true branch line with terminus, and as Verbindungsbahnen, connecting lines between main line routes.

There were many parallels with branch and light railways in Great Britain, as it happens, and I keep on coming across similarities. In some ways the Bavarian branch lines - or many of them - were very reminiscent of the Colonel Stephens light railways and the more remote branch lines in Britain. Every sort of economy was observed. Track was very lightly laid, In practice limiting axle-loading to 4.25/5 tonnes. On well drained land there was economy even in ballasting, using sand, gravel, or cinders or a mix of the three instead of the regular crushed stone chips. Rail bridges across rivers or ravines were very similar in appearance to the utilitarian design used by Colonel Stephens, and where ever possible tracks followed the lines of roads, paths, or rivers to keep civil engineering to a minimum. Four-wheel coaches of great antiquity were in use right up to the end of steam on surviving branches, into the 1960s, these being the original ‘turn of the century’ designs for branch work. The nearest thing to ‘modern’ was the appearance of the steel four-wheel coaches of ‘Thunderbox’ type on some lines and these dated from the 1920s, but even these were not so common in Bavaria where the old Bavarian short and long four-wheelers were available in some numbers.

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Simplest type of station is a Haltepunkt (stopping point), with a nameboard, a timetable board, and steps or a footpath to ground level cinder-gravel-dirt ‘platform’ area

Fleischmann make HO and N models of the neat and sturdy Class 98-8 0-8-0T (Bavarian GtL4-4) which were the last steam survivors on Bavarian branch lines; 98 814 is at Schweinfurt shed in September 1961.
Fleischmann make HO and N models of the neat and sturdy Class 98-8 0-8-0T (Bavarian GtL4-4) which were the last steam survivors on Bavarian branch lines; 98 814 is at Schweinfurt shed in September 1961.

Further standardisation came in station designs and layouts. Again it is somewhat reminiscent of Colonel Stephens and the ‘big four’ in Britain. Though the Endstatlon or Endbahnhof (the terminus) was usually a substantial structure with some variety, and therefore probably built by local contractors, there was a standard design of wood structure for use at the usual sort of intermediate station, the Haltestelle. A very good model of this has been produced in HO by Pola (item 663), specifically of Rothausen, near the Pola factory, but many more looked like it with only minor detail differences, if any. Pola also produce a model in G(l711), though it looks to be more appropriate in scale and proportions for standard gauge 1. This standard station had an integral goods shed with loading platform. Where a Haltestelle had a siding, the platform might be switched to the other side of the shed, or the whole structure might be set back from the main line so that the loading bank was alongside the siding. Where there was no siding the loading bank could butt up to the main line, and the schedules were usually gentle enough for the train to just wait alongside the loading platform while a consignment was loaded or unloaded, before the whole train went on its way.

Station layouts were simple and logical. Shown here are three station plans (copied from originals in the Nürnberg Transport Museum) of stations on the very long Breitengüssbach to Maroldsweisach branch, which opened in two stages in 1895-96. According to current maps only the first (1895) section of the branch, to Ebern, now remains. There were 14 stations on this 33.8km branch.

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(1) Haltestelle at Baumach

Baumach is a typical Haltestelle with a single siding and, possibly, with the standard wood station structure. The platform area was just cinders or gravel at ground level, and the level crossings were ungated. The records at Nürnberg show that Reckendorf and Pfarrweisach had exactly the same track plan and structure.

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(2) Haltestelle at Ebern (originally an Endstation)

Next is the main intermediate station on the branch, Ebern, which was for a year, 1895-96, the Endstation, and therefore is shown with a locomotive shed on the original plan. What happened to the loco shed after the branch was extended to Maroldsweisach is not known to me and is not indicated on the original plans which date from the line’s opening. Possibly the shed was demolished and the shed road became a siding. The loading platform was probably stepped at two levels as is quite common in France and Germany. The lower level is at wagon door height for conventional freight handling, while the higher level, probably at the buffer stop end in this case, is above wagon height, allowing carts and lorries to tip their contents straight into open wagons. As no separate goods shed is shown on the plan I suspect that the station building was another standard structure with the goods shed integral. Note the use of a 3-way point, specifically marked as such, and a nice space saver for layout builders.

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(3) Endstation (Endbahnhof) at Maroldsweisach

The ultimate terminus on the branch was at Maroldsweisach where another 3-way point is marked as such and gives access to what were presumably a couple of coach or wagon storage sidings. A long loading platform is shown, plus a station structure. This may have been yet another wooden standard design but was more likely to be a proper two-storey structure featuring living accommodation for the station master, etc. A proposed additional siding is indicated (dotted) and I presume this was intended for the locomotive shed. Given the date of the plans they were undoubtedly prepared while the line was still being built and it seems likely that the idea was to close the (temporary?) loco shed at Ebern and transfer the facilities to Maroldswelsach. No goods shed is shown, but may have been provided on the loading platform, or more probably (as a later addition) where dotted. I have to speculate, based on practice elsewhere, about some of these matters as these plans of the branch are all I’ve seen of it. I have never come across actual photographs of the branch. The track plans, however, are extremely useful as very typical of branches all over Bavaria, so can be copied with a degree of confidence on the ‘prototype for everything’ principle. Ebern, in particular, is a nice one, either as a through station or as a small Endstation with loco shed. As a terminus the buffer stops were at the right hand end of the plan. If you made this as a layout project you could copy the original idea - build it as a terminus, and if you wanted to fit it into a bigger layout later on, just take out the buffer stops and extend it further. A small engine shed and the Pola Rothausen station kit would be the only railway structures needed, assuming you build up the loading bank from wood or card.

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(4) ‘Standard’ layout for a Haltestelle; (5) ‘Standard’ layout for an Endstation - Endbahnhof; (6) Endstation variation at Stadtlaurigen - none to scale; Key to all: (A) Station building (B) Loco shed (C) Coal store or merchant (D) Goods shed (E) End-loading (F) Side loading bank (G) Baywa warehouse (H) Section house or office (W) Weighbridge (J) Ground level cinder platform area (T) 3-way point (drawing by Phil Downey)

Obviously track plans varied a little depending on the sites available, area available, and the terrain. Sometimes extra sidings were put in to serve adjacent industries. Royal Bavarian State Railways had preferred plans for a Haltstelle and an Endbahnhof and these are sketched showing immediately how closely Maroldsweisach follows the plan. The points forming the double-ended sidings {and run around loops) were quite often 3-way rather than two separate points. For modellers this is good news for it is a great saver of length. Stadtlaurigen was a good example of an Endbahnhof that used 3-way points, and as a matter of special interest the excellent Pola HO model of a Baywa warehouse is a good accurate replica of the one at Stadtlaurigen, making it another perfect model for authentic Bavarian modelling.

The most basic station found on Bavarian branch lines was the Haltepunkt (stopping point) and this comprised nothing more than a station nameboard and a timetable board which sometimes had the luxury of a light above it on the post. The platform area, itself, all at ground level, of course, was cinders, gravel, or even just dirt and grass. In later years some of these stopping points acquired a shelter of primitive type just like an open-fronted bus shelter of older days, and an example of this type of Haltepunkt can still be seen today on the Cadolzburg branch. As I said, there are plenty of parallels with Britain, and the Dyserth branch also had halts as primitive as the Bavarian type - just a nameboard and timetable board at ground level, while other similar examples were to be found such as All Saints Clevedon on the Western, Clevedon and Portishead Light Railway. There were a few other oddball stopping places to be seen, particularly on street-running stretches where the usual sort of bus or tram stop with shelter might be used.

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The impressive Mallet 0-4-4-0T had a relatively short life and ex-98727 (built 1903) was the sole survivor purely because it was sold out of service and saw industrial use (now preserved) at the Südzucher works at Regensburg

There were so many Bavarian branch lines that you could easily invent a fictional, but plausible, one of your own just as I have done - as there were 164 state owned ones and 20 private lines. Most were standard gauge but some were narrow gauge, of which a noted survivor is the Chiemsee branch which still operates in preservation, running as a roadside tramway complete with tram engines and looking rather like a narrow gauge version of the Upwell & Wisbech Tramway in Great Britain. By 1977 closures had reduced these Bavarian branches to 79, and more have closed since then. In 1995 the Nürnberg Nordost-Gräfenberg branch (built 1908) was still running in the ‘traditional’ way with a locomotive (albeit diesel) and two steam-heated ’silverfish’ coaches, though most surviving branches are operated by DMUs of various types. The first specially built Nebenbahn was the Siegelsdorf-Markt Erlbach line in 1872 and the last was the Zwiesel-Bodenmals branch which opened as late as 1928. Most of the branch closures have been in the last forty years, but three branches closed in the 1930-39 period, and three others closed during World War 2.

There is more to say about Bavarian branch lines, next time I hope, but meanwhile if you need lots more information (in German), including statistical details and dates of every branch. all the histories, and plenty of pictures, the definitive book on the subject is Bayerische Nebenbahnen by Robert Zintl which was a valuable reference source for my researches. It was published by Motorbuch Verlag in 1978, but is long out of print and difficult to find these days. However, it is worth looking for.

Bavarian branch locomotives

Since the disappearance of regular steam working in Bavaria, branches have been worked by well-known modern types of power, notably the Class 211/212 diesei and the railbus, and more recently by the Class 614 and 628 DMUs. Some branches were operated by the early diesel railcars in the 1930s, but in general steam power was used. The V36 diesel seems to have been used, also, in the early days of dieselisation, plus the V80 on some branches.

The earliest branch iocomotives used were the DIII (four only, built for the earliest branches) and the DVI, built 1880-94, 53 in all. These were both small 0-4-0WTs, not modelled ready-to-run, though the Fleischmann ‘Black Anna’ has a superficial similarity to a DVI but is too big to convert accurately. Next followed the Class DVII 0-6-0T which became Class 98/7 in Deutsche Reichsbahn days. A lengthened version of this was built as a 0-6-2T as Bavarian Class DVIII, which became Deutsche Reichsbahn Class 98/6. An improvement on this was the DX, and this led to the big production run of the definitive Bavarian Class DXI 0-6-2T, later the Deutsche Reichsbahn/Deutsche Bundesbahn Class 98/4-5, some 144 being built in the 1895-1914 period. A fine model of this in both Bavarian and DRG forms is produced in HO by Trix.

An attempt at something well suited to the sharp curves and general rough conditions of some of the branch lines resulted in the impressive looking Mallet 0-4-4-0T of Bavarian Class BBII, built 1899-1908. Some 31 were built and the Deutsche Reichsbahn designation was Class 98/7. However, despite being a popular subject for modellers this proved to be the least successful of the main branch line types, due to its maintenance costs and complexity, so it was the first type withdrawn, in the 1930s. A superb model of this class is made in HO by Roco and in N by Minitrix.

The economic running of rural branch lines was a headache even in the early days of this century, and a very compact 0-4-OT ‘tramway’ type locomotive was designed, designated MtL2/2. This had a conventional cab, some 24 being built in the 1906-08 period. An improved type, PtL2/2, had a tram style superstructure, and inside cylinders. This design led to the definitive small Bavarian branch line locomotive that everyone knows, also the PtL2/2, much better known by its nickname of ‘Glaskasten’ (glass cab) arising from the prominent centrally placed windowed cab.

Trix make an excellent HO model of the Bavarian DXI 0-6-2T, of which 98477 poses with its crew at Thurnau in Deutsche Reichsbahn days as Class 98-4.
Trix make an excellent HO model of the Bavarian DXI 0-6-2T, of which 98477 poses with its crew at Thurnau in Deutsche Reichsbahn days as Class 98-4.

This 0-4-0WT was of novel design, a tram engine complete with built-in steam condenser, but with controls and coal bunker arranged for one-man operation, a new idea back in 1906 when the first was built. Production continued in batches until 1927 and 48 were built. A couple were sold to Royal Prusslan State Railways, too. The bunker took the form of a hopper and the driver controlled the feed of coal by gravity to the firebox. In DRG days, and DB days, they were Class 98/3. These engines were widely used, examples are preserved, and the last of them was not taken out of service until October 1962, the Spalt branch being its final home. The type was reliable and popular and it seems to have been afforded the same degree of affection as the ‘Terrier’ in Britain. Very fine HO models are produced by Trix and Roco in HO, covering all three periods of ownership, and there is a Märklin model (based on the Trix one) for those who favour AC electrics. In N there is a Minitrix model. Some ‘Glaskasten’ locomotives were used in Austria, and in World War 2 one was taken to Norway for harbour shunting duties. The high bunker necessitated a distinctive two storey coaling stage on Bavarian branches. The ‘Glaskasten’ was mainly used on the short or local branch lines due to its rather limited coal capacity.

In terms of character the ‘Glaskasten’ might have received all the affection, but the most important Bavarian branch locomotive of all was the GtL4/4 0-8-0T which had all the power and traction that was ever needed. This was Class 98/8 in DRG and DB days and 117 were built in the 1911-1927 period. They were rugged and reliable and some were still in service in the last years of steam. The last one of all, 98 812, went straight into preservation and is still running today. A superb HO model of this type is in the Flelschmann range, and they do it in N as well. Not produced in model form is an interesting 2-8-0T rebuild (with lengthened front frames) which was designated Class 98/11 and was done in the late 1930s.

There were yet other locomotives used on Bavarian branches, but the foregoing were the common ones of greatest importance. Fortunately for the HO or N modeller the four most important types are available as excellent and reliable models - take your pick!

N.B. The Bavarian designation PtL2/2 Indicated ‘Passenger tank loco for local lines’ with two axles, both driven. GtL4/4 indicated ‘Goods tank loco for local lines’ with four axles, all driven.