Layout build: Runcorn Salt Union

04 May 2020
Follow Howard Smith's build of this OO gauge layout in this series of 'behind the scenes' updates from home.

Back Story


Runcorn Salt Union

Extract from March 2020 BRM "The Runcorn area has long been associated with the chemical industry, with products such as caustic soda and chlorine being produced in plants located close to the River Mersey. The products were shipped out of the nearby Runcorn Docks as well as by rail. However, the focus of this article is not on these chemicals but on the production of salt-based products and their transportation by rail. A branch to Folly Lane from the main line at Runcorn was opened in 1868 by the London & North Western Railway. It was this branch that would play a significant role in the transportation of chemicals and salt traffic in the Runcorn area.

By the early 1930s, Western Point salt works was receiving over 1.5 million gallons of brine each week from Northwich. However, just before WW2, the production of sodium hypochlorite ceased after an agreement was reached with ICI.  Salt Union then became part of the ICI Salt Division in 1937. In 1952 a new loading point for bagging salt and loading road and rail vehicles was opened at the salt works.

In the late 1980s, with the decline in rail traffic, ICI withdrew its shunters from service, with a British Rail Class 08 taking over duties at Folly Lane. Traffic to the salt works continued to be reasonably buoyant, although eventually the 08 duty was withdrawn and the train locomotives took over the shunting of wagons in and out of the salt works. Wagons were tripped from the yards at Warrington Arpley, often by a Class 31 or 37, with 4 or 5 wagons being the normal load....."


A full account of this layout build can be read in BRM, commencing with a Prototype Inspiration piece on the history of the site in the March 2020 issue of BRM, on-sale January 30 in print, or download as a digital edition from from January 23.


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April 20, 2020

The previous magazine articles (see below) were about creating elements of the layout, but finishing everything else takes time. It's well-documented that 20% of the visual effect on a layout requires 80% of the time. So, what could be better (lockdown aside) than a week outside with an airbrush, a motley bunch of paints of dubious vintage (many of which were discarded) and a nice selection of layout detailing kits. Read more in the June 2020 issue of BRM, on-sale May 15 from

Runcorn Salt Union

Weathering ballast with a Harder & Steenbeck airbrush. Loaded with Lifecolor Surfaces Shadower it enhances the 3D appearance of smaller objects and is also used to reduce the silver sheen on the kit-built miniature galvanised steel fencing.

cleaning airbrush harder and steenbeck

I lost count of the number of times I cleaned the airbrushes, but it's an important step to keep them in 'as-new' condition.

OO gauge vegetation planting scenery runcorn salt union

Weeds aren't forgotten - read more in the June 2020 issue of BRM, on-sale May 15 from

Runcorn Salt Union

The placement of some buildings was a compromise – the boards are only 60cm wide.

Runcorn Salt Union OO gauge

Layout complete? For the series in BRM, yes, but for future detailing articles, it's a great test bed with ample opportunity for enhancements. Besides, is a model railway ever finished? Read more in the June 2020 issue of BRM, on-sale May 15 from

April 1, 2020

A few days have been spent completing the scratch-built salt stores building. You can read how it was made in the May 2020 issue of BRM, on-sale as a digital edition from April 16. Though at a glance it appears simplistic, it has sloped roofs, over which I've used 1200 grit sandpaper for the felt. It should be dead scale. Pipe work around the front comes from a plastic sprue from a Gaugemaster Fordhampton kit.

Runcorn Salt union building

The window frames were individually cut from laser-cut windows by Scale Model Scenery. They had to be shortened in height and width, acheived by cutting a small amount of wood from between each frame and re-gluing them together. Patience was required.

Runcorn salt union salt store

Though the building had been recently repainted in the 1990s, rust was soon appearing through the cracks from the steel reinforcements.

runcorn salt union how to model pipework

The rusty pipework was created using Rustoleum Chalk Effect spray paint, leaving it to crack, then rusted by dry-brushing various paints. Read more in the May 2020 issue of BRM, available from from April 16.

March 6, 2020

The office block is complete! Phil Parker has been triumphant in capturing the mid-century lines of Runcorn Salt Union's office block. Here's a quick teaser on the completed building and the control panel for the layout. If you'd like to read how it was made, pick up a copy of the May 2020 issue of BRM, on-sale April 23. In the meantime, here's a quick look:



March 2, 2020

If you're interested in creating tarmac or concrete effects for your layout, why not pick up a copy of the April 2020 issue of BRM? You'll be able to read how Runcorn's roads were made, and how Faller's car system was installed. In the meantime, here's a quick teaser...


February 21, 2020

Phil has been at work on the office block for Runcorn Salt Union. Our in-house 'luddite' has been using some technology to take the hard work out of the modelling, with impressive results. Read about his build in the May 2020 issue of BRM, on-sale April 23.


February 12, 2020

Howard Smith and Phil Parker update us with progress on the building mock-ups... though with his window tinting ideas, I wonder if Phil has been watching too many Fast & Furious films? 

In the meantime, the layout has been wired, in preparation for a control panel. Read how this was done in the Spring issue of BRM, on-sale February 27.

Runcorn Salt Union Layout Wiring

Solder, flux and hot fumes! Wiring must be underway...

Runcorn Salt Union Layout Wiring

Control panel wiring complete!

January 20, 2020

A fruitful couple of days in the studio has seen considerable layout progress acheived - it's wired and now officially DCC, folks! Read how this was done in the Spring issue of BRM, on-sale February 27, or download as a digital edition from from February 20.

Cutting through polystyrene to install the point motors was a messy task, however, so here's a quick video shot mid-way through the build in the studio. Some shots of a silo under construction thrown in for your viewing pleasure...


December 19, 2019

When you're modelling a real location, particularly one as complex as this - and in such a short time frame - you realise from an early stage that it makes sense to build as much as possible from kits. These have had most (if not all...) of the planning done for you. That means less time spent working out measurements and determining if something looks 'right'.

I noticed a large pair of storage silos from photographs to the right of the industrial site. Finding more detailed photographs of these is proving difficult, mostly because the site has been transformed since its sale to Ineos. It's a mixed blessing; I can adapt an 'off-the shelf' plastic kit from Faller and adapt it to suit and few can 'pick holes' in it for lack of photographic evidence.


Faller 120260 silo kit

Two of Faller's (120260) dual silo kit.


A quick call to my friends at Gaugemaster secured an extra kit, parts from which were robbed to extend the height of this silo by 50%, bringing it closer to the prototype. Overall it's not a bad kit to build - there's little flash to remove from parts, though the design of the modular injection-moulded walls has led them to warp from the machine. They are easily bent back to shape.


Runcorn Slat Union Silos

The duo of Silos at Runcorn Salt Union in the early 1990s.


Faller 120260 twin silo kit

Of a slightly different design, once painted, the kit can be made to blend.


Faller Gaugemaster Silo kit OO gauge

A little filler, plastic primer and these silos will be layout-ready after paint. A day and a half well-spent!


December 12, 2019

A sigh of relief as press week is behind, leaving an opportunity to update this thread on progress with the layout. I've built a Portakabin card kit from Scale Model Scenery, one of three that are required on the layout. This one was used to guard the entrance to the site, the other two were double-stacked by the large salt building. Despite first impressions, it's an inticate build and one that'll feature in the Spring 2020 issue of BRM. Photo-realistic textures mean you don't need to be a wizard at detailed painting, though precise cutting and sharp folding of the corners is a must to ensure realism. I can recommend it, but you'll need to set a day or so aside to build it.

Portakabin Scale Model Scenery

A Portakabin from Scale Model Scenery, read my build in the Spring 2020 issue of BRM.

Portakabin Scale Model Scenery

Internal lighting required? Possibly, but that'll require more detail inside first. Office furniture, anyone?

December 3, 2019

With a little help from Ruth Jamieson, Designer of BRM, preparation of the baseboards has begun for painting. We're using the same neutral grey as our previous Christmas-themed model railway. It's not lurid and hides dust, unlike black paint...


November 19, 2019

The baseboards from White Rose Model works have been setup in the office. Designed as an 'L' shape, they were to be for a different project, though for this model of Runcorn Salt Union they're ideal, though the board that connects to the other was flipped and attached to the other side to offer a layout which would closely mirror the trackplan.

Runcorn Salt Union layout plan

It all starts with a plan - or two. Top, a part 'photoshopped' image of the boards with track partially laid, and below, Stephen Rabone's original concept plan after his research for the prototype inspiration article for the March 2020 issue of BRM.

Runcorn Salt Union layout

The White Rose Modelworks baseboards are precision-cut, though needed drilling for new bolt holes to suit this re-configured trackplan. Their construction is sturdy, with a cork top and foam inner to reduce resonance.

Runcorn Salt Union layout office

Plenty of room in the office to work - and, it's located between my desk and the teas and coffees! Perfect!