Shwt in EM gauge

01 October 2020
Sharing a love for long-forgotten British Railways Western Region branch lines, a trio of friends created this inspired and influenced model.


Layout name: Shwt

Scale/gauge: 4mm:1ft / 18.2mm gauge / EM

Size: (to include and fiddle yards): 11ft x 2ft 6in

Era/region: BR late crest (1965) Western Region (ex-LNWR)

Location: Fictitious, South Wales

Layout type: End-to-end

Written by: Richard Tucker

Photography by: Andy York

All based in the Vale of Glamorgan, the team of Nick Rees, John Chivers and I have all been interested in both railways and model railways from early ages, John being a third generation modeller! We all have a desire to improve our modelling with each new challenge.

'Shwt' is the first layout we have completed together, although we have all been involved with the construction of other projects.

We were looking to produce a layout for public showing. Interestingly, our prime interest is in layout construction and application of new techniques. We virtually only ‘play’ trains at shows or during testing!

'Shwt' is purely fictitious. The design was intended to demonstrate the concept of a twin track main line, reduced to single line running and finally, truncated. Typical of the Beeching axe era, the line was gradually being reduced in importance; the passenger service removed, resulting in a simple goods delivery and loading service, and the infrastructure demolished in a corresponding time frame.

The name of the layout comes from a small hamlet in the Llynfi valley in South Wales. 'Shwt' was only served by a small railway halt. We liked the similarity between the name ‘Shwt’ and the word ‘Shut’, which is the concept the layout is depicting.

Shwt in EM gauge

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Layout construction

The layout was constructed using ‘ply’ sandwich for the frames and cross members. By using softwood as ‘risers’ built into the cross members, the 9mm ply trackbed could be attached. By carefully controlling the measurements, the top of the trackbed was then 50mm above the level of the outer frames of each board. Styrofoam insulation board was then attached to the board frames using solvent-free grab adhesive, thus giving a flat surface across both the scenery and trackbed. Increasing the height to generate an interesting topography was simply achieved by adding layers of foam board to the base layer and then carving to the desired shape. The sand piles were constructed in this way. The foam board was then covered in plaster cloth and Sculptamold, prior to base painting and the addition of static grass as appropriate.

The sand texture was created with fine ground white pepper. We invested in a high-powered static grass applicator (RTS Greenkeeper) and were very pleased with the results. The lineside cabinets were also CAD-developed and 3D-printed. The motor vehicles were commercial die-cast models, given a coat of matt varnish and subtle weathering to tone down their shiny appearance. The provender stores were modified and improved Ratio kits with the weighbridge and hut brass etches from Severn Models.

Shwt in EM gauge

We wanted to build with extra depth (2ft 6in) to increase the feel of the railway running in the landscape. The downside of this is that, when crated for transport, it does create some handling issues that we needed to overcome. We also wanted to use LED lights for illumination but had become aware of the pitfalls of choosing the incorrect colour temperature for these lights. After research, we settled on 4000 to 4500k to give the desired ‘daylight’ appearance.

The layout was intended for public shows, so is stored between outings. It needs to be worked on for maintenance purposes, but being a modest size doesn't present many problems.

Shwt in EM gauge

Rolling stock

The layout is DCC-controlled using a Sprog 3; this is a very small DCC command station that is purely designed to be used in conjunction with a computer. At shows, we have a laptop that is running JMRI; this allows us to then use smart 'phones and tablets to control the layout including the DCC-controlled points.

We like to operate from the front of the layout and it was designed for that very purpose. It allows us to interact and talk to the show visitors so that we can explain how the layout operates and answer any questions regarding construction – it’s always a pleasure!

Locomotive stock is made up of various modified and improved RTR models; modified to run on Alan Gibson and Ultrascale wheels. Wagon stock is mainly kit-built from Parkside, Dapol and Red Panda kits running on Gibson wheels. All stock is fitted with Kadee couplings to allow for hands-free shunting. The wagon loads were constructed on 3D-printed bases that were designed with hollow centres to allow the addition of car wheel weights to add mass to each vehicle; the top of the wagon load then being finished with the appropriate material.

Shwt in EM gauge


The main station building and platform shelter have been demolished with the small amounts of rubble remaining being slowly overtaken by the advance of Nature. The rubble remains are modelled using scale model rubble from Juweela. The cast iron footbridge is a heavily-modified rebuilt Bachmann Scenecraft model. The remains of the abandoned engine shed and the signal box base were scratch-built using foam board for the carcass, covered with DAS air-drying clay and then scribed for the stonework once the clay had dried fully. Acrylic washes were then applied to give the subtle finish desired. The station platforms were constructed using the same DAS clay finish, but using balsa wood for the structure. The platform flag stones are individually-cut laid pieces of plastic card.

Shwt in EM gauge

Modelling advice

In terms of inspiration, the modelling of Maggie and Gordon Gravett, Iain Rice, and the buildings of Geoff Taylor are all inspirational and well-published modellers. Maggie was responsible for guiding Richard in the art of DAS carving for example – "Just have a go at it", was the inspirational line!

In terms of layouts, it needs to grab our attention. Layouts that offer something new every time you see it keeps us interested – 'Arun Quay', 'Trerice', 'The Gresley Beat' and 'Copenhagen Fields', to name a few.

Also, look beyond the railway modelling scene. We looked at models and dioramas produced by military modellers who are amazing at squeezing incredible amounts of detail into very small areas. We have made several trips to the IPMS show in Telford – it’s worth a look for checking out new techniques and the latest modeling materials.

Shwt in EM gauge

In terms of 'Shwt', we all like different parts of it for different reasons, although we all have a soft spot for the crossing gates and abandoned signal box.

Parting thoughts

Our advice to other modellers would be to avoid copying other layouts and find a prototype for everything. The internet is awash with many images of railways from all eras and depicting wide subject matter. The coal yard on 'Shwt' was researched in this way, looking at different layouts of yards and the equipment that was typically used. Some of the equipment that was not commercially available was then created on CAD software and 3D-printed; e.g. the weigh scales, scale weights and loading conveyor.

To overcome any challenge in construction, test, test and test again! If in doubt on a technique or construction, build a test piece and keep repeating until the skill is mastered – much easier to build two or three tests than rebuild an entire part of the final layout!

Don’t be afraid to employ the services of other experts in their field – figure painting, for example. No member of the team is good at it, so we employed the services of Claudia Everett to oversee this aspect of the layout – superb!

If we were repeating this project, we’d probably use a different method of supporting the layout. The metal trestles we use are excellent but take up large amounts of transport space.

Shwt in EM gauge

We regard 'Shwt' as complete now, save for any ongoing maintenance. The next layout ‘Elmore’ is already under construction albeit with a slightly different build team. With a scenic area of 16ft x 2ft, it will be an ‘early’ crest Western Region branch terminus layout. Again, as with ‘Shwt’, ‘Elmore’ is being constructed purely for public show appearances.

Watch this space.

To read more about Shwt, see the July 2020 issue of BRM. Download today from