Yamanouchi Oshika - A British Club Goes Japanese

by Nick Harling

Yamanouchi Oshika is a Japanese layout with a difference, for a number of reasons. Firstly it is one of only a small number of Japanese-based layouts on the exhibition circuit in the UK. Secondly, it is the product of a small local railway club, as opposed to a specialist group; and finally it was never originally intended to be Japanese; it started life as a UK set layout named Cottleston Park.

This layout, measuring 16’ x 3’, contained all the attributes of what we though made a good exhibition layout: Double track circuit for continuous running, some terminus platforms for extra operational flexibility, a branch line, carriage sidings, freight yard and finally a loco shed. All this was served by a large ten-road fiddle yard, with a separate two-track yard for the branch.

Construction started in 2003, with completion and initial exhibiting in early 2006 in its UK form. The track-work was PECO flexitrack, using code 55 on the viewing side and code 80 at the back. All the switches at the front are PECO electrofrogs, powered by SEEP motors, whilst manually operated Insulefrogs suffice for the back. We used code 55 at the front owing to the UK N gauge trains being scaled to 1/148 as opposed to 1/160. This makes the standard track (the code 80) look too narrow, and although code 55 is the same gauge it is set into the ties as opposed on top, giving a finer appearance and disguising the narrowness. Controls were from a combination of Gaugemaster and Bachmann units. The layout lasted in its UK form until 2008, when a number of changes took place.

For a number of years we had become increasingly frustrated by the poor reliability of UK N gauge models, and cast envious eyes over those who had far superior US and Continental European trains. Far less common were Japanese trains, which I had been introduced to back in 1997 with the purchase of the then-new Kato Eurostar set. This was a model at a completely different level to what I was used to, bettering even the likes of Fleishmann and Minitrix. A Tomix EF81 electric locomotive and carriage set were bought a year later, however that remained it until 2008, when I fulfilled a lifetime ambition to visit Japan.

I immediately fell for the country and its trains, which were the most diverse designs and colours I had ever seen, even away from the iconic Shinkansen. I came back armed with a newly obtained 700 series set and a whole host of ideas. This lead me to change my modelling direction and sell my British collection – gathered over 25 years – and concentrate on Japanese.

At a similar time, the other member of our club heavily into British modelling switched his attention to US outline and left the club to get more involved in a more specialist group. This meant that we had a layout without sufficient stock to operate it. As Cottleston Park was only two years old at that point, and in very good order in terms of track and electrics, it was thought to be a shame to scrap when there was plenty of years good service to be had from it. The best option, and certainly the most interesting for us, was to convert the layout to Japanese outline.

Although we are a small group (with only twelve regular members), we have a wide variety of interests ranging from T gauge right up to 0 gauge, covering UK, US, European and, of course, Japanese prototypes. The majority of us are members of either a modelling or a prototype society and certainly enjoy a challenge, as well as learning about the railways from other countries.

From a UK modeller’s point of view, the immediate benefit of converting to Japanese was that the trains, and road vehicles, travel on the left hand side. This meant that track-work was already correctly aligned, especially in the fiddle yard. Also, due to the huge variety of good quality scenic details, in particular structures and road vehicles, available from Japan that far exceeded anything available for UK modellers, we already had some items either in place or set aside for anglicising for future layout expansion.

In view of the existing track and wiring, the changes would be limited to cosmetic; a wholesale overhaul and improvement of the scenery which is still ongoing. This is a guide to our progress so far.

click on photos to enlarge

This is Cottleston Park Immediately prior to the conversion starting. As can be seen, the intention was to portray a medium sized town ‘somewhere in the UK’. The buildings are almost all kit-built from a variety of sources with a few heavily modified kits. The distinctive roads are Faller products, along with the brick arches. There was a mixture of UK and Continental items on the layout and care needed to be taken to try to hide the difference in scale. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


This is a closer view of the town. In the foreground is a bus garage, with the terraced buildings in the back are modified kits with scratch-built shop fronts. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


Looking the other way ares the depot and yards. The motorway flyover and tunnel portals were all scratch-built, whilst the wind turbine is a Faller model. The buildings here are a mixture of Pikestuff and PECO; the small brick block is from a company called Muswell Models. The gradient on the main line can also be seen clearly here. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


We started playing early on in this picture! Aside from the Japanese trains, a better view of the industrial estate can be seen here, as well as the end of the carriage sidings. The industrial estate is one of the few survivors of the layouts UK past, the flyover in the distance being another. The two trains in the picture are both Kato models and the prototypes both operate the Chuo main line; which is where Yamanouchi Oshika is set. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


The first task was to remove the British town. Fortunately a large area was on a removable section to enable access to the tracks below. We also removed all the buildings in the area beside the station and from the platforms. The platforms themselves were retained as they fitted the track spacing. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


A new board was fitted over the tracks to get us started on the town. To give us more room to build an interesting townscape the previous multi-level base has gone. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


Upon this base the town was planned. The majority if the buildings here are from Kato and Tomix, with a couple of examples from the Tomytec range. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


Originally there were plans to retain the road climbing into the town. We decided not to keep this so we could have more space to create a transport interchange around the station area. Note the tracks to the immediate right, which are the start of the tram line. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


Another significant change around this time was the addition of the overhead catenery. For Yamanouchi Oshika, these are all Kato products. The train here is a Micro Ace class 215 double-decker EMU. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


This picture was taken two weeks later and shows the impact the overhead wires had in altering the appearance. A new building – a Kato office block - has been added to the yard to give a little more interest. The unit is a Kato Minobu livered class 115, which a Micro Ace EF64 sits on shed. The DD16 switcher can be seen in the distance is also a Micro Ace model. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


The layout was first shown in its unfinished form just three months after the conversion work started, in February 2010. Progress was slow owing to five weeks being last because of some of the worst snow-fall in the UK for over twenty years. Our club is based in the middle of the countryside, in a little village accessible only by small single-track roads. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


The town still had a long way to go, but certainly looked better. The very nice looking tram is a Modemo product. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


The station still looks rather bare in this view, despite the addition of the catenery. A Kato KiHa 110 DMU can be seen idling in the branch bay. Notable here is the station building, just behind the two busses on the intermediate level. This was a very well built Green Max kit, constructed by the same club member who built the terrace shops in the third picture. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


Following on from this initial show, we had another three weeks before the next outing. During this time further improvements were made to the roadway in the town. This is painted using the Woodland Scenics tarmac paint, and lined out using Kato road markings. Signs and street furniture are all from the Kato range. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


More changes were made over the next couple of weeks, especially around the station area. We added a couple of platform structures, as well as vastly improving the car park and transport terminal area. As with the roads in the town, the car park surface is the Woodland Scenics tarmac paint with Kato markings. The traffic islands are fashioned from card.

Still present is the old UK footbridge. This was constructed from three Kestrel footbridge kits, Kestrel are the manufacturers who also produced the platforms. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


We were able to add a good many extra little details to the station scene in time for this view taken at the second exhibition.

Following this show, Yamanouchi Oshika was packed away as attention shifted to the club’s other project; a 00 gauge terminus layout set in 1950s southern England. It was not until August that work restarted, during a club working weekend. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


The overall view of the layout can be seen here. Immediately obvious is the long embankment running across the back of the layout. This used to have a row of houses on it, replaced in the first phase of the Japanese model by a planned tram depot; the shed can be seen in the distance. We felt this area could be put to better use, therefore decided to cut the tram track back to the stop beside the station and remove the embankment onwards. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


A new an improved car park was added, as well as a petrol station. This is a very nice model and comes from the Tomix range. The car park is constructed from a sheet of flexible tarmac, available from Busch, with pavements fashioned from card. The tramway embankment can clearly be seen in the background, as can the backscene being modified to give us some extra room for more town. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


A small industrial complex was also added here for extra interest. In the background the backscene has been doubled in height to improve the overall appearance of the layout. The pilings holding up the embankment over the branch line took over two weeks to construct…I had no intention of removing them in view of the work put into their construction! (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


This view of a Tomix class 115-1000 EMU shows the Kato signal box, as well as the industrial units following a repaint to make them look a little less British. These small buildings are also from the Kestrel range. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


Next came some changes around the station area. In the background, two new Kato office blocks have arrived as part of the town modifications. The brick arches have now gone and there are some platform canopies being sited. The platforms need some further details before the canopies are fixed down. Note we also have a new footbridge. This will be extended to the station building via a high-level walk-way.

Further modifications here include extending the station area to cover the bay platform and the eagle-eyed will see that the area in front of the nearest platform has been cleared. The plan here is to add some high level half-relief buildings facing the platform to give the station a more enclosed feeling.

Bringing the story completely up-to-date, as of December 2010, some significant scenic modifications have taken place. Firstly the road now turns and crosses the railway more or less mid-way along the layout. The old road way is now covered by cliff and hillside, aiming to emphasise the mountainous terrain of the area the layout is set. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


We have also added a backscene, depicting a low mountainous landscape – no jagged peaks, just high rolling hills with plenty of trees. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)


There is much still to do on Yamanouchi Oshika, with a number of exhibition attendances being planned for 2011. (photo copyright 2010 Nick Harling)



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