Having decided to build an N Gauge layout the first step was to join the N Gauge Society. As luck would have it, soon after I joined they announced a competition to bring more modern-image layouts to the exhibition circuit as some of the old faithfuls had recently been retired. So in a rush of madness (I get them a lot) I entered with a deadline of the AGM in May 2009!! I didn't expect the layout to be completely finished by then (is a layout EVER finished?), far from it, but I deemed it should at least be operable with some of the basic scenic contours completed.

With this a whole list of questions followed:-

Not being one for extensive researching I stuck with what I know and grew up with – modern diesel/electric express trains and multiple-unit commuter trains. I did make some concessions with regard to era though, as what I grew up with was blue-and-grey everything! Also being a big fan of the HST, aka "Intercity 125", I had always loved the look of the Intercity Swallow livery which suited this train so well, so that set my era as late 80's to early 90's. I am being deliberately vague here as this allows me to move the date either way and therefore run a bigger assortment of stock not otherwise seen together. Incidentally I'm also a fervent supporter of '125 Group' - a group dedicated to ensuring that at least one HST set is preserved once their mainline career comes to an end.

The layout itself had to be big enough to allow a full-length HST to stretch its legs, but not be too unwieldy or complicated to set up, or take up too much room when stored. The longest manageable board-length was set at 6 feet since this will fit vertically through a standard doorway, and the width set at 3 feet to comfortably allow multiple tracks without the end radii being too tight. Two of these boards joined end-to-end make the layout 12 feet long – more than enough to run a scale-length HST at 5' in length. In the interests of keeping it looking realistic the end curves were to be hidden somehow, and to add some height I wanted one track to cross another somewhere. I eventually settled on a fictional section of the East Coast Main Line, with a branch line heading off somewhere.

I downloaded some excellent layout-planning software called Anyrail and got stuck into the planning . . .

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