Downsizing to N – the pros and cons

Pete Kelly, who recently took up N gauge after modelling in OO, tells of his experiences as he nears completion of a large urban layout in the smaller ratio, and joins it by branch line to one almost as big in a rural setting.

After taking the carefully considered decision to pull down my very first OO-gauge layout, ‘Slagdyke’, and take a completely new direction by putting everything I’d learned into an ambitious N-gauge project called ‘Cathedral City & Meadowsweet’, I was amazed at what it was possible to achieve from bare boards in less than a year.

In mid-January 2015 a friend, Chris Davies, helped me dismantle and box up everything from ‘Slagdyke’ (which was featured in the November 2014 issue of that excellent publication Railway Modeller) in eight hours flat, including the locomotives, rolling stock, track, buildings and scenery. Next morning we brushed out the large, panelled-off space in the corrugated iron shed where ‘Slagdyke’ had been housed and completed the new tables.

This photo gives some idea of the range and extent of ‘Cathedral City’. A track gang keeps a wary eye as a 4F 0-6-0 on the centre road gets the ‘double peg’ and heads under one of the bridges with a long mixed freight. The large London Midland Shed can be seen at the top left, with the smaller Western shed in the bottom left corner. A ‘Jubilee’ is about to leave one of the station platforms towards the camera. At the far end of the bridge is the old LMS Social Club – an imaginary but still-thriving throwback to the past in 1957 – and out of sight at track level, the bottom of the same building serves as the St Werburgh’s LMR shed canteen.

Where there had been an intricate, but totally unplanned, OO-gauge layout there was now nothing at all. A massive new
N-gauge track plan, more than 15ft 6in long and 4ft deep, had to be worked out, and this time planned very carefully indeed in light of the experience that had been duly amassed with ‘Slagdyke’.

Recalling childhood train-spotting days at Chester in the 1950s, when locomotives and their trains from the former Great Western and London Midland & Scottish Railways came together, I decided to call the 1957-based layout ‘Cathedral City’, and while it has little in common with Chester apart from the general mix of locomotives and trains, I decided to name the main line station at the heart of it St Werburgh’s after the former abbey that once stood on the site of today’s Chester Cathedral.

This time, I wanted two levels right from the start, so the railway and station complex sit at the foot of a very long retaining wall with the houses, shops, pubs, cinemas, churches, schools, factories and so on above. This entailed a lot of woodwork and the construction of three road bridges, two of them to get traffic down to station entrance level.

Laying, ballasting and wiring up OO-gauge track (the old-fashioned way) is one thing, but having to face the whole thing again, on an equally huge layout, but this time in the diminutive N scale, seemed daunting indeed!

For the full article and more images, see the June edition of Modelling – available now!

For a complete list of stockists and how to get your copy, visit: