The Great Model Railway Challenge - Series 2 - Grand Final "Suprise, Suprise"

27 October 2019
It's the Final! More teams. More rule changes. More amazing layouts. Who will triumph in the end?

The Teams

Railmen of Kent – Fred Garner, Nick Garner, Nik Wilson, Chris Busbridge, James Garner, John Garner.

After losing to the Rivets in the semi-final are they are out for revenge?

Who's Counting Rivets Anyway? - Charlie Johnson, Alex Bingley, Gwion Rhy Davies, Richard Ballan, Steven Dodd, Richard De La Camp.

The team with a bag of servos in their pockets. Promising a 'whole new style of modelling'.  

Team Grantham - Richie Mason, Graham Nicholas, Andrew Burchell, Paul Bolton, Pete Jarvis.

A couple of perfect scores in the previous heats, but that doesn't mean anything now.

Rail Riders - Les Cliff, Melanie Lewis, Marcia Yould, Jenny Kirk, Brian Long and Simon AC Martin.

Brought together for this competition, the team members have had their differences in the past, can they pull together now?

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The Theme: 'Surprise Surprise'

And the first surprise is that each of the team's earlier layouts are going to be wheeled back in to be connected to whatever the teams build this week. It goes without saying that everything must work faultlessly, but Tim says it anyway.

Kathy wants there to be surprises. Steve says things that make me think he's borrowed James and Tim scriptwriter.

Construction starts

James points out to Rail Rider Les that they were the lowest-scoring team in the room, just in case Les was feeling too confident at the start. Not to worry, their plan is Austin Powers evil nemesis volcano (yay, another volcano) with animated vehicles inside preparing a giant rocket. No dinosaurs, but we are promised sharks with lasers. Are lasers a good idea for a team Steve describes as 'disjointed'?

The Railmen are going green with their layout, The High-Speed Green Research Centre. We'll have giant, transparent domes, an automated bus and a new train arriving to be named in a puff of entirely environmentally-friendly smoke. I'm not sure the shape of those domes is suitable for tea-time TV.

Having walloped the Rail Riders with the low scores, James now piles the pressure on Grantham by pointing out they are the highest scorers. They promise to deliver again with a fairground, log flume, go-karts, twin trains on a rollercoaster track. and a ghost train. Steve explains this is a “Rabbit Warren” design of layout, something popular in the 1980s with 009 modellers – no show was complete without one at the time, but they fell out of fashion. Could Grantham start a comeback?

There is plenty of ambition in the Rivet team. They are aiming to build Miniatur Wunderland, the famous Hamburg exhibition. In three days. The Germans have been at it 18 years. Automated aircraft, a miniature train, automated bus, wireless technology (clockwork?) and FIRE!

Graham Grantham has hidden his team away while he cracks on laying 100ft of track on his own. It's an ambitious plan that should take a day and a half. On the Rail Riders board, Simon, Jenny and Les are laying track, although Les also seems to be munching on crisps while Simon talks to the camera in the style of one of the candidates for The Apprentice. Les has rubber gloves, lubrication and plaster bandage. He says it's for scenic work.  

First to run trains are the Rivets and Steven is running the first train he was given, bought on the day he was born. That influenced him enough to end up as a professional model railway builder.

Railman Nick has built a road using the Faller system. The problem is, it needs to cross the tracks and no-one has quite worked out how.

Over in the Design Room, Andrew Grantham is scratch-building a working carousel with horses that bob up and down. It's an amazing piece of work, especially in the time he's had so far. I'm worried that he's sold his soul to the devil to get those sort of skills. Surely there must be witchcraft involved?

Another scratch-builder is Railman Nick, who is in charge of dome making. We all remember his St Pancras and Kings Cross so these should be good. A day and a half's work beckons.

Back at the layouts, Tim learns about static grass, applying it to James's head for that Action Man look. It's funny, but you need to clip the grasser wire on to something to make it work. Where did they put it?

Creativity scores. Steve doesn't feel they are stretching themselves. Kathy goes 4, Steve 3.

Kathy isn't convinced by the Railmen's domes but Steve bangs the drum for building a traditional style layout. He's from Yorkshire where tradition is bred into you. Still only warrants a 3 though.

Steve thinks the Rivets deserve a 3 because they are copying someone else, but Kathy disagrees and awards a 4. It's not a copy, but a container for their imagination. 

Things are not looking so good for Grantham, but the model of the model does the job and Kathy awards a 5 but Steve goes for a cautious 4.

Back in the room, Simon is now in full Apprentice mode with the work of Captain Les, so Brian drags him outside for a staged swift talking to. Simon isn't trying to take charge. He's not leading, honest. But he does use the word “facilitate”. Will Les say 'You're fired' before the end of the show?

Day 2

The Railmen are running trains with some very therapeutic figure-of-eight operation, giving Tim time to discuss Captain Fred's musical side much to the embarrassment of James. I'm intrigued by the acts Tim compares them too – Rod Stewart with his much-heralded model railway work makes sense, but Right Said Fred? Is that a deeply dippy idea?

The Rivets have a mountain to climb – literally, as the basic shape is looking both good and massive. There's even an animated Millennium Falcon circling the top. Tell me that someone in that team works in IT and has a space on their desk now. Good move to appeal to sci-fi nut Kathy though.

Simon explains they are all human beings. Human beings who can't lay track to Kathy's satisfaction.

Now the big news – No Scratch Build Challenge!

Instead, Tim and James are 3D scanned by Modelu and 7mm scale versions of them will be given to the teams. It's suggested that these could appear on the layouts for extra kudos, if not points. No news if these will be available in the range in the future, unlike the best-selling BRM team.

Grantham admits there's not much to see but are apparently firing on all 4 cylinders. In the Design Room, they are building large chunks of modular scenery, which will be installed right at the last minute. Graham still sounds confident.

Now for the science bit. Wireless powering of model building lights from the Rivets. LEDs powered by an induction loop – just like a wireless phone charger. Kathy wants one and I don't blame her. That's a top bit of kit. I'd spend all day lifting the model on and off the baseboard to make the lights work, but then I'm easily pleased.

Over at Rail Riders, Les trips over the controls for the mountain, ripping them out just as Mel had installed them. She heads off to sit on the footbridge and calm down – it's against the rules presumably to beat your captain to death with a plastic rocket. Simon draws a parallel with Liam and Noel Gallagher and Oasis, it's all about passion apparently. Since the Gallaghers are refusing to talk to each other at the moment, I'm not quite sure that's helpful.

Team Grantham are in trouble, Graham is scratching his head and there's very little to look at for build quality judgement. Kathy isn't happy so it's a 2. Steve sees them on target for a 3 but it might go up or down.

Both judges are worried about the ructions within the Rail Riders and award a 2 and a 3. Steve looks like he wants to knock heads together, in a supportive and helpful way of course, as any good Yorkshireman would.

Steve loves the Railmen's build quality, 'architectural standards' he says, so it's a 4. Kathy loves the great curves of the trackwork so it's another 4.

Steve's much happier with the Rivet's build quality as they make more progress. The animations are a bit small for him but they still get a 4. Kathy agrees with another 4.

Back in the room and Grantham are still running behind. By half a day! Kathy is, well, shocked. Tim tells Graham to pull his finger out. The camera doesn't record Graham giving Tim that finger, but I wouldn't blame him...

Day 3

All the teams old layouts are back and now they have to finish the new layouts and join them all up. Scores depend on the functionality of all the layouts, so let's hope those old animations are still working.

It's time for FIRE with the Rivets demonstrating flash paper to Tim. We're not to do this at home – in case anyone is thinking setting fire to their layouts is a good idea. This is their surprise, so let's hope no-one noticed the conflagration in the corner of the studio. They're probably all right, I bet no-one could see past the army of production staff and safety officers wielding extinguishers and clipboards.

Railmen have trains running causing Fred to perform a jig around the layout to the amusement of John, who knows what will be on YouTube soon.

Progress is being made on the Rail Riders model. Simon is still practising for The Apprentice, but more usefully, Mel has built a face (complete with winking eye) for the side of the mountain.

One hour to go and the panicky piano soundtrack is ramped up. Grantham is hurling scenery at the baseboards and Kathy frets that the boards aren't connected.

Railman Nick has to explain the inspiration for his domes and doesn't boob when he claims the idea comes from the top of a birdcage. Tim doesn't look like he believes him as they obviously look like giant Tunnocks Teacakes. Stop sniggering at the back when he says they are a 'cracking pair'!

Talking of cakes, the Riveters are pretty well finished so while Grantham Graham wipes the sweat from his brow, the Railriders move their boards together a millimetre at a time. they are delivered some cake, which for no good reason, Tim cuts with a chainsaw. What a waste of good cake!

Times Up!

Group hugs all around and everyone says nice things about each other, although the Grantham guys aren't happy with their efforts. Never mind, no-one will notice. Apart from all the other contestants and a hoard of friends and family who now arrive.

Who's Counting Rivets Anyway? - Miniature, Minature, Wunderland

A pre-production Bachmann Class 24 and inspection saloon heads across the Earths Core heat 1 layout, but the animations don't work. Jurassic Park is better with goats being eaten and nodding Triceratops. The T-Rex doesn't whack the train and it's on to the new layout.

FIRE! Just before the train arrives, there is a burst of flame. The centrepiece is a rock concert with one of the 3D presenters and, if I'm not mistaken, a 3D team member Charlie on stage. James then ruins it by applauding a 'chuff chuff train puffing real steam' and a thousand railway enthusiasts spit their drinks out in disgust.

The star train reaches the mountain, which has three levels of animation including the Millennium Falcon chasing a balloon. No word if the balloon can also do the Kessel run in 12 parsecs, but the Falcon isn't catching it.

Inside the light-up building, there is even a model of The Great Model Railway Challenge, revealed to a round of applause.

Rail Riders – Dr Evil's Lair

Six wagons behind Rail Riders Class 20 – braver than their opponents' single coach. It traverses the War of the Worlds layout easily and all the animations work. We head over the child bedroom but ghost Percy isn't moving. Nice scary eyed bat though.

On to the third layout and we run over the bridges but there's a derailment and the train splits. While this is fixed, we look at the volcano.

Behind the winking eye, Dr Evil and his mini-me from the film lurk. Moving inside, there are a couple of henchman's railways and most excitingly, a Tupperware box with laser-beam firing sharks swimming around inside. In the middle, the biggest rocket we've seen on the GMRC this year.

Finally, we all watch as the swimming pool pulls back over the giant space vehicle – and a tiny foam rocket flies out nearly killing an audience member.

All these Bachmann trains make me wonder, how about a re-run of the old Airfix Dr X train set for Christmas? Perhaps with a 3D-printed Simon in the box?

Team Grantham – Fun of the Fairground

First steam loco as star train today, although the TPO set it's pulling is a little incongruous with the pre-group livery model. Never mind, the superb radio telescope still operates and a rocket launches in a plume of smoke. We make it to the second board and King Author rides from his wagon and crosses the drawbridge to Camelot – probably my favourite animation this series.

On to board three and the carousel is working, complete with lights and moving horses. The go-karts go, and then crash. A miniature railway runs, swing boats swing and Tim can be seen at a Test Your Strength machine. I'm not sure he is a 7mm figure as he seems to match the others on the layout.

After the water slide slides, we head to the ghost train, which finishes with some impressive synchronised appearing from tunnels to almost distract us from the derailment on the chopped up Hornby suspension bridge.

Railmen of Kent – Green Research Centre

A Bachmann Western Pullman, badged GMRC (a future limited edition perhaps?) leaves St Pancras, occasionally changing to a HST thanks to continuity errors. We ignore this for the flypast and tram operating around the park at breakneck speed. Moving to Harry Spotter land, the Quidditch game continues, the Ford Anglia flies, Tim reprises his 'JK Rowling stock joke' and Bonnie Price Charlie spins.

There's some iffy tracklaying on the bridge to the third layout, but it causes the long Pullman no problems. Snaking around the domes we see giant video screens showing pictures of trains to groups of school children in one dome and a futuristic roundhouse in the other.

Smoke announces the arrival of HSG – the High-Speed Green train – which is walloped by a swinging bottle of champagne in the naming ceremony. Finally, we have a statue unveiled of James with his static grass hair.

And the winner is...

Oh no – a tie!

Railmen of Kent and Who's Counting Rivets both score the same. Do we have a re-match? Nope – the judges look back to previous episodes.

The Winner is: Railmen of Kent

Traditional modelmaking and craftsmanship win out in a very tight contest. There are tears, a few disappointed faces, but overall, every layout was amazing so no-one should be disappointed with their efforts.

So that's it – the end of the series. We've seen some fantastic modelling, ingenious and inspiring animations and loads of great teamwork. We'll be rounding up the series in January's BRM with the team picking their favourite moments, along with comments from many of those who took part.

In the meantime, join the discussion on RMweb.