Alston in N gauge

18 September 2018
Alston-04-overall-view-30613.jpg Alston N gauge layout
Alston is an end-to-end station terminus layout modelled in N gauge by Dave Smith.


  • Gauge: N/2mm:1ft
  • Era: BR early crest
  • Location: Alston, Cumbria
  • Owner: Dave Smith
  • Dimensions: 10ft x 7ft x 2ft 'L' shape
  • Control: DC
  • Signals: Semaphore
  • Run: End-to-end terminus
  • See more: April 2006, July 2011 and May 2012 BRM.

Alston in N gauge

The station buildings were made possible by site surveys and were built by Dave's son.

Railways and modelling had always been in Dave's blood. From childhood holidays in the borders at Wooler and Tweedmouth, where a family friend was signalman, to school boy trainspotting and Airfix kit-building, followed later by membership of Birtley Model Railway Club and the Stephenson Locomotive Society. During these times he made many good friends who have all helped with his knowledge and skills of railways and modelling. So, back in 1994, after a barren modelling period he decided the time was right to start again. Living some 200 miles from his home club and having experienced the frustration of taking on too big a garden railway project, it had to be manageable in the limited time and space available.

Alston in N gauge

Coal drops are faithfully made using embossed Plastikard. The quarry excavations to the rear are authentic and make for a natural elevated backdrop.

Dave wanted a railway in a landscape, so this was as important to him as the track work and buildings. The first of a number of site surveys was undertaken which remained substantially intact, with the benefit of visiting the South Tynedale Railway which uses the station for its terminus. The results of this and other surveys has allowed the surrounding areas of disused quarries to be modelled to a reasonably accurate representation, including the disused faces that have returned to nature and the numerous silver birch trees that follow the course of the disused tramway to the stone loading areas. Traditional methods of sculptured polystyrene covered with plaster, and numerous layers of coloured ground cover, were used.
A recent addition to the layout is the scenic background which has transformed the view from the front at exhibitions. This was superbly put together by Jenny Drake of 'Photojenic' using his photographs taken from across the river.
Trees play a large part in the scenic effect as they populate a large area of the disused workings. After a few attempts at building his own, he settled for the range from Rural Railways which includes the prolific silver birch and stately Scots pine as well as a typical deciduous type.

Universal fine 'Electrofrog' points and flexible Peco track was used throughout. He obtained a set of point templates from his local model shop in Lichfield, made numerous copies and laid them out on the track bed to pinpoint the positions of point motors and avoid conflicts of space. Point motors were the SEEP type with built-in switches. These switches were used to switch the frogs of the points to avoid relying on blade contact only. Sleepers were painted in grime and the webs of the track painted with various shades of rust depending on the location. After wiring and testing, the track was ballasted with Green Scene fine ballast, grey for the running line and ash for the others. Dark green fine ground cover was also sprinkled around the quieter siding areas.

Alston in N gauge

Alston station terminus, behind which can be seen the single-road locomotive shed and right, the goods sidings.


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  • Constructed from Slater's Plastikard-covered card, taken from drawings in Ken Hoole's book
  • The main buildings were the first part of the railway to be produced
  • The John & Benjamin Green-designed Jacobean style main building to the weighbridge are faithfully reproduced

Rolling Stock
The advent of the Union Mills' J39 was one of the leading factors in his decision to build because it allowed him to run prototypical locomotives that were shedded at the single-road shed at Alston. These have since been joined by others from the same stable, plus a Langley 4MT 2-6-0 kit on a Farish chassis, again a prototype seen on the branch. The additional Union Mills' locomotives are an ex-Midland 3F that works the cattle train from Carlisle and a J26, with its tender modified to an NER type, that works the stones to Teesside. The locomotive works are currently working on the conversion of a Dapol M7 to a G5 to allow running of earlier periods.
Goods stock is a mixture of RTR and kit-built items typical of those running in the period. Of particular note are the N Gauge Society 21 ton hopper kits seen on the coal drops.
The J26 and end wagons of the stone train have had their couplings altered to the B&B type.

In the period modelled there were only three signals, plus ground signals at Alston. The thought of ground signals was put out of mind, but the three main signals presented a challenge. They were NER slotted-post types and the only parts available were the arms from MSE. Having finished the layout at this point, he couldn't resist having a go, so with square brass, some bits from the Peco range and a lot of sore fingers he produced these. Not content with that, he also decided to make them work. After much experimentation he opted for the Embedded Controls' semaphore operation units coupled to the arms by steel wire - a decision that has been successfully rewarded in operation.


Alston in N gauge

Viewed from the rear of the layout, the layout is a great composition with varying undulations - certainly a railway in a landscape.

The ambiance of a model railway is greatly affected by the tone of the setting. Either of these effects is achieved by the extent of weathering of the scenery, stock and buildings. On Alston he has tried to create an overall effect as, he remembers, in the 1950s - things being pretty grubby as befits an operational steam railway but not to the level of dilapidation as experienced at the end of steam. Weathering techniques are manifold and way beyond a few lines in this article; however he would recommend reading Martyn Welch's book, The Art of Weathering, which he uses as his bible. The techniques described cover most aspects, and although they mainly refer to larger scales they're easily adapted to N.

The layout is controlled from two panels, each with their own hand-held AMR controller. Either controller can be connected to any of the five sections on the layout.

Alston has provided many hours of pleasure over its years of building and detailing. It has received favourable comments at exhibitions, especially in the North East where many have recognised it. Its build is proof that with a great deal of patience and research, a first effort in N gauge can result in a fantastic layout.

Want to see more N gauge model railways? Click here.