Letting off Steam: The Biggest Little Railway – behind the camera

Lawrence Robbins, board member of the Model Railway Club, London, who was leader of A Team on the Channel 4 programme, gives his take on the show that took on an epic modelling challenge.

The split reaction to The Biggest Little Railway in the World has been interesting. The bulk of the criticism has come from within the existing members of our hobby whereas the response of the general public on social media has been very positive.

In the February editorial RMM editor Sarah Palmer posed a question as to whether the series was an exercise in railway modelling, engineering, team building or problem solving. The answer is that it was all of them.

Silver Lady, the plucky engine that travelled more than 70 miles.

On The Biggest Little Railway, we had a fortnight to lay 71 miles of track and get Silver Lady from the start point in Fort William to the terminus in Inverness that our colleagues from the Inverness MRC so kindly built to welcome the engine.

Specially built track for the show, made from extruded plastic sections, required 43,000 pieces, carried on eight HGVs. In addition, it was laid down on an unprepared landscape that we had to leave pristine once the train had passed. In short, we could lay track, but we could not affect nature, landscapes, roads or canal paths.

As well as 56 contributors and three presenters, the production team included a further 125-plus people. This consisted of seven camera and sound crews, runners, food-supply teams, security staff, production management, highways teams to ensure safe working on busy roads, ambulances and first-aiders, teams to move the encampment across its four locations, and a further team to lift the track once the production had finished. The investment by Channel 4 in this production should not be underestimated.

So where did the producers find ‘such a gang of lazy ill-educated pseudo rail enthusiasts’? The answer, to Peter Blencoe, is auditions. Having spent a fortnight working, camping and socialising with them, his description is both inaccurate and offensive.

For the full article, see the April edition of Modelling – available now!

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