Rae Bridge

The origins of Rae Bridge station are in the first shelf layout named Craigcorrie which I built in 1968/1969. This was rebuilt several times until ending up as the centrepiece of the first double-deck layout during the early 1980s, which was described in the Peco Modeller Book of Narrow Gauge published in 1985. When the C&DR was relocated to its present home, priority was given to completing Dunalistair and Inverlochan. Meanwhile, Rae Bridge soldiered on in a dismal state, with a temporary track connection at one end, without a backscene, and with the scenery slowly crumbling to pieces.

Over the years I made several plans for another rebuild which came to nothing, until I finally decided to take a different approach. Having exhibited Dunalistair once or twice, I decided to build a really portable layout that could also be used as a part of the main layout. So the new Rae Bridge was designed on three identical lightweight baseboards that would enable me to fit them into a carrying case. In due course these were built and prepared for tracklaying. Early in 2001, the old station was closed. After lifting the track and removing the buildings, it looked like having been axed by the infamous Dr Beeching. Not for long though, as the old baseboard was extracted from the layout and the new ones substituted.

Plan of Rae Bridge

When redesigning Rae Bridge I wanted to preserve the atmosphere of its predecessor as much as possible and at the same time solve its problems. What has changed is the track layout which now lies diagonally across the baseboards. This enables one to view trains slightly head-on, and creates space for the tram depot. The branch line runs in the road behind the station and is shared by the electric trams. Another change is the high level railway sweeping in a curve across the left-hand unit, which adds to the unobstructed view of trains running over the C&DR’s upper division towards Inverlochan. Unavoidably the present layout is slightly more cluttered than it used to be, but on the other hand it is an important rail junction and the hub of the entire C&DR system, so a compromise had to be reached between realism and functionality.

A short train in Rae Bridge station.

Shunting the goods shed.

The distillery yard, with the coal and peat store on the left.

Overview of the distillery, with Reinier Hendriksen's tiny Bagnall in the yard.

The mountain tram arriving in Rae Bridge. The link line between the C&DR and the branch crosses the gate in the foreground.

The Creag Dhubh Mountain Tramway's depot.

A Highland scene

The scene is that of a small Highland village – a church, a few houses, a hotel, a stone arch bridge and the distillery across the river. It is just a single row of attractively coloured buildings on a minor road that appears beside the distillery, runs past the houses, the station and the church, then climbs towards the stone overbridge and continues towards the Glenclachan gorge to the left. In the distance the rugged mountain scenery is ever-present - great, brooding green, purple and grey humps all carrying soft-spoken Gaelic names. The tallest of them is Creag Dhubh, which since the early days of the century has a tramway running to its top.

The village is the half-way point of the railway and apart from the terminus of the Creag Dhubh Mountain Tramway also is the starting point of the long straggling Glenfinnan branch, built by the military during the Great War. It is home to the C&DR's modest locomotive works and running shed - there is another shed at Craigcorrie and a small one at Glenfinnan, but this is the oldest and most important. The line from Dunalistair arrives on the scene between the main buildings of the distillery. It crosses the river on a plate girder bridge and divides into the main line which continues into the station, and the Glenfinnan branch which climbs steeply to the rear of the station and joins the electric tramway in the road.

Murdoch & Adams' distillery has a small yard with a few sidings - the long siding to the malting shed to the right of the track is out of view behind the complex. The distillery is an attractive collection of buildings: the malting shed, the drying kiln with its distinctive pagoda roof, and a siding leading into it right up to the ovens where the peat is burned. Behind this is the processing building where the smoked malt is crushed, steeped in water and allowed to ferment. The stills are at the back of the building. Further left is the warehouse with its rows of barrels inside, the boiler house and the whitewashed office building, the top floor of which is occupied by the manager's family.

The hump-backed road bridge carries the road into the village, past the grand Macdonald Arms Hotel, which is popular as a starting point for hill walks and fishing excursions. Past the post office and the 'White Horse Inn' the church and the old graveyard are reached, where centuries-old headstones rest in the shadow of yew trees. The church is very old and is claimed to have been founded by early Irish monks who settled in the West of Scotland, but it is more likely to have been built after the Viking period.

Another attraction is the tramway up the mountain, which starts from a wooden depot across the road. The tramway runs along the road for a short distance and disappears below a girder bridge carrying the Inverlochan line of the C&DR. At the top of the mountain there is a tearoom, and in summer the trams are well patronised. In nice weather it is claimed one can see the Hebrides, as much as 30 or 40 miles away.

The railway buildings are mainly built of stone, with a timber-built workshop added behind the loco shed and the carriage shed as the other major timber structure. An iron footbridge crosses the line in the manner seen on many Irish narrow gauge railways. Beyond the footbridge is a tall water tank and the overbridge mentioned before. The railway line to Glenclachan and Inverlochan disappears into Creag Dhubh tunnel after running in a short cutting. Above this are the remains of the old incline and winding house from horse tramway days.

The river bridges, with a sombre-looking mountain in the distance.

A loaded coal train bound for Dunalistair crosses a train of empties headed the other way.

The open doors of the timber-built workshop. The open wagon is an original Craig & Mertonford item - a gift from P.D.Hancock.

The engine shed, boiler house and to the left a corner of the carriage shed.

The Garratt on its way to Dunalistair with another coal train.

The same view from a different angle shows the waterfalls in the river.

Operation

As I mentioned earlier, the layout is designed as a standalone exhibition layout with a continuous run, but normally resides in my railway room where it forms part of the C&DR system. The circuit is then cancelled out by setting two points under the scenery on the left-hand layout unit. Trains are thus diverted on to the lower C&DR division towards Dunalistair, or the upper division towards Inverlochan and the Craigcorrie return loops.

During home operation, in terms of real goods traffic the station offers a little bit of everything, but the actual goods volume is limited. The distillery generates some of that, as does the loco works, but the goods shed is only small and the only additional traffic seen by the station is coal transferred to the tramway which, like the Snaefell Mountain line, has a power station halfway up the hill. Despite that, shunting moves needed during normal operation offer a lot of variety and the rather complex track layout really forces me to plan ahead any move, say, towards the distillery. Rae Bridge is much more interesting to operate than Dunalistair which has a very straightforward layout. The station could do with a few additional section breaks, for example one that switches off the entire distillery yard independently from the crossover leading to it.

The works yard is slightly more cramped than the old one used to be. Here, apart from the locomotive movements needed to change engines, there is works traffic to the repair shop and the occasional movement of a carriage to or from the carriage shed. This also doubles as a railcar shed as it is largely empty otherwise, with most of the carriages allocated to trains out on the remainder of the system.

The main line service connects to the trams and the branch service, and the sequence timetable had to be carefully re-planned to enable passenger services to connect. The normal practice for branch services is to clear the main station by reversing from the platform and negotiate the connecting line to what is usually referred to as the tramway. Here the branch train waits for its connecting service on the main line. Thus, it is possible to take a train from Craigcorrie and change at Rae Bridge to the branch train bound for Glenfinnan. I’m still not quite used to the routine, but having a flip-over sequence book with a page for each move helps quite a lot when compared to the old sequence table. The idea of having a branch service reverse over the junction was inspired by the practice on the Schull & Skibbereen, where trains reversed out of the Schull terminus on to a headshunt where the actual journey started.

The Creag Dhubh trams are a new feature and have their own movements in the sequence book. At present there is only a single tram and trailer set doing the passenger workings, and a box cab locomotive which comes into action when a wagon of coal is offered for the power station, but I hear there is a nice new kit for a Snaefell tramcar by Worsley Works which I’d like to try. The box cab, incidentally, was built by the military to propel the stores to their WW1 observation post at the summit, but in reality is a model inspired by the Kinlochleven Aluminium Works box cab electric loco and it runs on a Kato tram chassis.

Goods traffic is still working on the tag system described in the 'operation' page. Briefly, every goods vehicle carries its own route marker on top in the form of a colour-coded removable washer, with four independent destinations marked out. These govern the moves of every individual vehicle without the need of a separate card system. As far as I know the idea was first launched by the late John Allen in the United States. It results in an unpredictable traffic flow which sometimes needs the stationmaster to ask Angus Macnab, who incidentally has now been promoted to shed foreman, to turn out the banking engine, or even to telegraph to the next station to take up a number of empty wagons that are clogging up his sidings…

Time has stood still in this photo.

Overview of the engine shed. There is some evidence of recent re-signalling following a discussion in the 009 News.

The sand store and the diesel fuel tank next to the loco shed.

Another view of the loco and carriage sheds pre-dating the installation of the footbridge.

Signal and point control

To some extent train movements are guarded by signals. My fellow modellers in the 009 Society probably regard me as a signals freak – after all, who would want to signal a narrow gauge railway? Basically though, I only use a few working stop signals and several non-working subsidiary signals (one of those however is set by the yard entry point, and another works off the main line point at the tunnel end, so these can be regarded as working if I shut one eye). The idea of enforcing the use of signals for train movement is to switch off a section of track if the signal isn’t set correctly. The down side is that it tends to drive stand-in operators at exhibitions to despair, although I remember my good friend Robin Winter once made a pretty fair job of it.

Rae Bridge, like Inverlochan elsewhere on the railway, has a mechanical system to control signals and points. Only in this case the movement is transferred by rods and wires below the baseboard. The control system was planned early during construction and uses very basic components like bicycle spokes, mains voltage terminal blocks and wooden clothes pegs. The spokes are guided by mains terminal blocks screwed to the underside of the baseboard and provide a stable sliding bar to attach wires to taking the movement to the points and signals through flexible tubes. The end drive to the points is in most cases one half of a wooden clothes pin functioning as a lever to fine tune the amount of movement needed to throw the point, by positioning the attachment of the wire at a certain distance from the pin that engages the point’s tie-bar.

The most complex operation performed is the single-lever working of the junction point and co-acting distillery siding point. The point lever slides a bicycle spoke which works the tie-bar of the siding point using a pin soldered to the spoke. In addition the sliding action is transferred to a crank on another spoke at right-angles to the first one. The rotating movement of this is used to work the tie-bar of the junction point, using another pin soldered on. The mechanical system includes micro-switches to cater for track switching.

Most of the points and signals are operated from GEM lever frames dating from the 1960s. A few needed to be operated directly from bicycle spoke ends sticking out through a piece of printed circuit board at the front of the layout. The mechanical system was rather complex to create and may seem a bit Heath-Robinson in concept, but it has proven to be very reliable and stands up effortlessly to exhibition conditions. The signals were either transferred from the old layout, or scratchbuilt using Ratio kit parts with improvements made to the mechanism. Signal arms rotate on household pins running in a small gauge aluminium bush, and have an end stop to prevent the arm from drooping in horizontal position. Apart perhaps from the pair of signals controlling the junction at the down end of the station, no signal conforms to a single standard. After all, this is a freelance narrow gauge railway.

Overview of the tram depot.

The tram on its way to the summit of Creag Dhubh.

Tramcar under the canopy of the depot.

Close-up of the entrance of the tram depot.

More photos of Rae Bridge

Finally

Imagine bringing Calabar to a controlled stop as it arrives on the afternoon mixed from Dunalistair, then reverse the two vans tacked on to the rear across the junction points, with the guard pinning down the brakes to prevent them from rushing downgrade the way they came. After the train has returned to the platform, the wheezing distillery ‘pug’, which looks remarkably like the old Chevalier that used to work at Campbeltown, creeps out on to the connecting line. The signalman throws the points and clears the branch signal with a clatter from the open door of the signal box, and back she rolls on to the vans to take them to the distillery. Soon afterwards, the starter at the far end is cleared and the big Hunslet quietly accelerates until it whistles for the tunnel and the sound is cut off, leaving only the distant rush of the river as Rae Bridge returns to its usual sleepy state. It will take several minutes before the train can be heard in the distance, labouring against the steep gradients in the Glen, with its fierce exhaust echoing round the hills…