by Tony Galiani
After my first retirement I spent time in Bolivia on a volunteer project. Being away from home and my normal routine, I had plenty of time to research various modeling ideas and decided to complete a Japanese model railway project. Once back home, I went to work with all the notes I had compiled and layout plans I had looked at to get my project going. The layout represents a Japanese third sector private railway, well away from the high tech, high speed trains we often see as representative of Japan's modern railway network. But many single track lines remain providing passenger service to remote rural regions.
These railways can be interesting to model though operations can be somewhat basic. A single car DMU makes up a typical service. Traffic is light with the most complicated operation being the meeting of two units at a station with a passing loop. I wanted a bit more activity than that and, after a certain amount of trial and error, came up with a tailchaser design that has three areas, the town center with factory freight siding, the center passing loop between town and country and the country station at the lower left.
This layout provides several stations for DMU passenger service as well as two locations for freight service. While not at all typical for the modern era, I could not resist the operational opportunity that some freight sidings would provide.
The foundation of the layout is a 34 inch by 20 inch piece of scrap foam board which serves as a base for the Kato Unitrack. Wiring is very basic with power feeds on each side of the oval to ensure good performance while the power routing feature of the Kato Unitrack turnouts allows several locomotives or DMUs to be on the layout at one time. The layout operates with conventional DC power.
After the track was secured in place with PVA, acrylic paint was used to improve the appearance of the sleepers and oil pens were used to paint the sides of the track for a (hopefully) more realistic appearance. Despite the built in ballast feature of the Unitrack, I wanted to add my own ballast to improve the look of the track. This proved quite tedious and slowed the project down considerably but, after much procrastination and muttering, the ballasting was completed. Several weathering washes were applied to further the effect of well worn track. Fortunately, my extensive research--that sounds better than my extensive procrastination – showed that vegetation can encroach on the tracks of these rural lines. Any areas that did not look good to my eye were conveniently covered with greenery.
I had started this without much of a plan and sorting out the town and roadways became a bit of a challenge. Eventually, a road and town plan fell into place. I wanted an area of closely packed buildings to replicate what I was seeing in the videos.
The buildings come from a variety of sources: plastic kits by Tomytec, Green Max and Rix, a cardstock kit from Sankei as well as some kitbashed structures from part built kits I found in my spares bin, including two Faller kits that I made more Japanese in appearance by removing the chimneys. Roads were cut from artist’s board and painted with acrylic paint while road markings were then added with a white paint pen.
I wanted to reproduce the lush landscapes I had seen in the videos and made use of copious amounts of ground foam, fixed in place with dilute PVA then misted with cheap hairspray to make sure it all stayed in place. Somehow, I managed not to glue any of the turnouts and trains would run though it took several track cleanings. Lesson learned--the track needs to be very covered carefully to keep it in in good running condition. I had originally planned a rice paddy for the left side of the layout but the track elevation was not high enough for a realistic look so I opted for some farm fields with the crop just starting to develop.
The three stations came next. Having noted that most of the stations I viewed had fairly simple platforms, I cut the various platforms from foam board, then added various platform walls and accessories. I was surprised at the variety of fencing and details I saw in my research and this led me to be a bit haphazard in setting up my stations. I left off any shelter on the rural stop in the lower left corner so this spot doubles as either a station or freight platform depending on my operating mood.
Buildings came next with considerable movement until I came up with a placement that seemed reasonable. The main town area has homes and some small shops including a café while the factory area has the fish market and some other workshops. I am not quite sure what the factory produces but it gives a location to place a variety of freight cars.
Operation alternates between passenger services provided by DMUs and rail buses and some freight traffic. The layout allows me to stage a passenger service at the town and rural stations then run trains to their opposite station with a meet at the passing loop. After I started this, it dawned on me that the passing loop station should really be a center island platform between the tracks so that may be a future modification.
For freight service, the DMUs are stabled at the town station and a short freight train picks up and delivers cars at the factory and the rural stop.
The DMUs and rail buses are by Tomytec/Tomix. Kato and Tomix supply the diesels used for freight service and the freight cars are from a variety of manufacturers including Popondetta, Tomix and Kato.
In a world of ready to place structures and ready to run rolling stock, Japanese modellers have a good availability of kits which vary in the skill required for completion. The Tomytec DMUS were purchased as unpowered models plus power chassis and assembled into running units in a relatively easy and enjoyable process. This allows the modeler to have operating models that are less common than the many ready-made models of Japanese rolling stock.
Another benefit of modelling Japanese railways is that many of the items are relatively inexpensive, especially in comparison with models from the major European manufacturers. Though some might consider the Kato Unitrack to be pricey, it is very robust and offers good value for money. Rolling stock from manufacturer such as Kato and Tomix is second to none and is also reasonably priced, especially when ordered directly from Japan (which nowadays is very easy to do). While elaborate layouts are a possibility, it is also nice to be able to do some fun modeling without a lot of expense and modeling Japan allows this option as the railway variety is tremendous varying from some of the busiest stations with the fastest trains to small local lines. And much of the equipment is fascinating to see with special liveries and designs quite common.
I quite enjoyed building Chihiro Tetsudo and am planning future Japanese railway model projects.
This article contains content from my original article which appeared in the August 2017 issue of Continental Modeller.All photos by Mira Gloss.