Rising to the challenge
Barry Morton has recreated the fearsome Lickey Incline with his layout in ‘N’.
Infamous for its punishing gradient, the Lickey Incline was a formidable challenge for those working on the footplate. Barry Morton wanted to highlight how diesel and steam locomotives tackled it in the transition era.
Dusk is falling on your worn-out LMS ‘Crab’. The long goods train has taken its toll on this old workhorse. Its axleboxes are worn, the cab shakes with every revolution and your fireman has the blower hard on as he battles with poor coal and blocked tubes. This night’s work is already hard enough but you know that the worst is yet to come – the formidable Lickey Incline. You clank to Bromsgrove and give two crows on the whistle. An answering whistle comes and, as you look back along your train, you see the glow of an approaching headlamp. You smile at the thought of ‘Big Bertha’, the old Lickey banker and now long gone. The ‘9F’, which now has ‘Big Bertha’s’ light, indicates that it’s ready. Your fireman is as prepared as he can be so you exchange whistles with the banker, put the reverser in full forward gear and, with a prayer to the railway gods, open the regulator. For the banker’s crew, it’s just another day in the office, and the next train needing their help won’t be far away. The Lickey Incline boasts the steepest gradient on Britain’s main line. Today’s multiple units make light work of the two miles of 1-in-37 between Bromsgrove at the foot and Blackwell at the summit. But DB Cargo still keeps a couple of Class 66s on hand to give freight trains a helping hand. Bromsgrove South junction was a hive of activity in steam days, particularly in the early 1960s when ‘9Fs’, ‘Jinties’ and WR ‘94XX’ panniers were employed as bankers. It’s this that has inspired Barry Morton
re‑creation in ‘N’. That and the fact that Bromsgrove is not far from his house. His 12ft by 8ft layout encompasses Bromsgrove South Junction, Bromsgrove station and the incline but, even working in ‘N’, he had to compromise. “I couldn’t do it justice in ‘OO’. Even in ‘N’, it would need to be 18ft long, and as I only had 12ft available I’ve had to make some sections shorter than they really are. I’ve maximised the space available by making the layout an ‘L’‑shape to keep the compromises as small as possible, and I’d like to think I’ve pulled it off!”
Being local, Barry was able to get in contact with drivers and firemen who worked on the Lickey Incline to hear about their experiences and memories. After gathering all that information, he obtained track diagrams from the National Railway Museum to ensure that his plan was as accurate as possible. There are four running lines at the junction (Up and Down, with a Fast and Slow for each) but only three lines at the station, as the Up Slow was used by freight trains awaiting banking. “I didn’t want to rely on pictures or memories, so I thought if I went and took a look at the actual track plan to work from then I could relax, knowing that I’d got it right,” he says. “Getting the track laid down and operational was the priority, as the fun for me is in running trains and performing the operational moves around the incline.”
Proof of this is the fact that Barry started work in January 2014, but only the junction area has so far received its scenery. But even getting the ballast to look right is an important priority. Barry first sprays the track (Peco Code 55) with Railmatch Sleeper Grime. Then he applies Woodland Scenics Fine Dark Brown ballast, finishing it off with Phoenix Precision Track Colour, applied through an airbrush. “As soon as the track was down I could begin to think about the backscene,” Barry says. “The landscape has changed so much around Bromsgrove that I couldn’t go and take pictures to make my own, so I opted for an ID Backscenes ‘hills and dales’ scene. “All too often the backscene is added as an afterthought, but I’ve found that if you consider it
“It is far easier to blend your scenery into the backscene than it is to find one retrospectively”
from the start you create a much more convincing layout. It’s far easier to blend your scenery into the backscene than it is to find a backscene that matches your scenery.” Any layout based on a busy railway location such as Bromsgrove requires a lot of electrical gubbins in order to mimic its complex operations. ‘Bromsgrove’ required over 120 metres of wire and 45 Dccconcepts Cobalt point motors. These are controlled by six CML DAC20 Accessory Decoders. The whole layout has been separated into 40 block sections, covered by three Digitrax Loconet occupancy detectors. “Thanks to Railroad & Co. computer software, I can leave the layout in ‘fully automatic’ mode if I want trains to run while I’m working on the scenery,” says Barry. “However, if I want to take control, I have hand-held Digitrax controllers that allow me to be more hands-on.”
THE RIGHT SIGNALS
One of the striking features on ’Bromsgrove’ is the signal gantry next to Newton bridge with its 11 signal arms. This was made by Barry’s business partner Mark Seward, with whom he runs model accessories company MB Model Railway Products (www.mbmodelrailwayproducts.co.uk). All the signals are fully functional, operated by servo motors and, like the trains, can be controlled automatically should Barry desire. Those signals control the trains that a transition-era trainspotter is likely to have seen on the Lickey. Happily, all the key steam locomotives – ‘Jubilees’, ‘Black Fives’, ‘4Fs’, ‘Royal Scots’ and Standard ‘5MTS’ are available ready-to-run in ‘N’. Banking power in the form of ‘9Fs’, ‘Jinties’ and ‘94XXS’ is also available RTR,
although Barry hopes that someone will produce the Hawksworth pannier to modern standards so that he can retire his old Farish models. Diesels are common too, with Type 4s, ‘Hymeks’ and ‘Westerns’ available from the main manufacturers. The Lickey Incline is still a magnet for enthusiasts and photographers but while the character remains the same, track rationalisation and vegetation growth means that classic scenes from the 1960s are difficult to repeat today. That’s where Barry’s layout steps in, for he has – despite its compromises – captured the essence of this unique railway location. The layout is still very much a work in progress so we can’t wait to see what the Lickey Incline and Bromsgrove station will look like when they are completed!
Right: The only ‘94XX’ available in ‘N’ is the old Graham Farish version. This pre-dates DCC, so Barry had to hardwire decoders into his model.Below: Barry commissioned the baseboards from Model Railway Solutions (www.modelrailwaysolutions. co.uk). They’re made from 9mm ply covered with 3/16in cork sheet.
Above: The coaling stage was designed using a CAD program and cut from 2mm MDF using a laser‑cutter. It was then painted and weathered.