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AUGUST 05, 2007  

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Our Tunnel is open… at both ends!

The writer’s Hunslet pauses in the tunnel mouth in the final stages of the project.


Written by Phil Ashworth

Regular Discover Live Steam reader Phil Ashworth suggested to Jim it might be interesting to read about a railway on the other side of the Atlantic. Phil is also a proud member of the Vale of Aylesbury Model Engineering Society and the Seven and a Quarter Society. Here he takes us on a trip around his club track in Buckinghamshire, England.

You wouldn’t expect someone to write about his or her own club and track without being biased. Well, I won’t disappoint you. When I took the plunge and changed from being an armchair engineer, I landed on my feet. I have much to be grateful for, companionship advice and practical help. It is all given freely, without judgment, by a fine group of individuals with the widest of experiences and backgrounds.

The Vale of Aylesbury Model Engineering Society (VAMES) is based on the Buckinghamshire Railway Society’s site at Quainton Rd, just north of Aylesbury, just about 4o miles north of London. It was founded over thirty years ago and since moving to the current site has grown from strength to strength. It’s a busy set-up too, with nearly 30,000 passengers a year taking the ten-minute trip round the 1km long line. When the society started-up they managed to buy the track and fittings from a garden railway, the ‘Golding Springs Miniature Railway’ and that name lives on at Quainton Road. The agreement with our landlords is that we run everyday they are in steam. In effect that means every Sunday from Easter to the end of October and Bank Holidays too. It is quite a commitment and the Chairman does a great job encouraging people to turn-up and help without it becoming a chore!

A journey around the line
The long rectangular site is home to a figure of eight track with a diamond crossing half way round. The first visitors see of the line is when they pass the standard gauge running shed and loco pit in Quainton’s up yard. A level crossing takes you into the club's car park close to the steaming bays. They were rebuilt with concrete slab surfaces and every facility you’d ever want!.

A pleasant walk through a small wood brings you to the station and booking office.

The main station has three platforms and a through line, very useful on busy days when visiting engines are around, as the public services can load without delay. There are six carriage sidings and an impressive roof covers the platforms, ideal for the rainy days. It’s likely that your engine will be fairly hefty. Over the last few years there’s been a distinct move towards narrow gauge rather than scale locos.

Bob Jones prepares his Wren for a day’s running

Roy Urquhart’s "Bagnellesque" 0-4-0 leaves the station on a summer’s Club Night driven by member Derek Ardron.

After loading the train pulls away from the station and runs parallel with the standard guage demonstration line and the Network Rail freight line from Aylesbury to Calvert. It is quite an experience when a GWR pannier tank and a class 66 diesel pass you at the same time! Just before the level crossing a signal gantry indicates your route. At this point it’s possible to take the full journey round the track or use "the cut-off" to shorten the route to the steaming bays (very welcome at the end of a long days running).

A drivers eye view of the approach to the
crossing with the signal set for the "cut-off" line

Mick Hutt’s freelance 0-6-0 leaves the station with a full train.

We are staying on the main line and soon the bell sounds to warn the unwary on the level crossing that a train is approaching. Then over the crossing the next home signal protects the diamond crossing that will take the train to the eastern side of the site. It’s useful to glance ahead to see if another train is approaching as a crawl to the signal can often save coming to a full stop.
Once across the diamond a long straight section of track opens up and the engine can be given a good blast before slowing for the curve that brings you through 180 degrees. This is a challenge to many engines as the combination of the curve and a climb of around 1in 75 kicks in.

The track straightens out before the line’s other station, Denham Halt. It is a picture, with its platform and refuge loop and an increasing display of sidings, a scale signal box, water column and superb station buildings. It is a fitting tribute to the man who painstakingly built it, one of our much-loved members, Bill Denham, who died a few years ago.

Ted Goodchild’s Bagnall on the crossing

Pic A group of visiting enginemen pause at Denham Green
The station has the cleanest chimney in Buckinghamshire, as sweep’s brush emerges at regular intervals, much to the amusement of passengers young and old. In fact all round the track there’s a light, humorous touch, carefully positioned crocodiles basks near the pond, Action Man guards the station and Bob the Builder is hard at work. It provides a lot of interest for younger passengers. I hope everyone goes away with a smile on their face!

Trains stop at Denham Green from time to time to pick-up track-workers before heading down the "grade" through the trees before approaching the diamond crossing again.

Then after a short cutting the "cut-off" line joins from the right. The steaming bays are now in view on the right with it’s connecting siding before an even deeper cutting starts ending in the line’s impressive tunnel. It has solid block walls and a reinforced roof. On top is a grassed picnic area. The picnic benches offer a wonderful view down the line and are always popular with families. The tunnel attracted some very welcome publicity in the local paper.

One day a rather determined lady sailed-up to the Station Master and demanded to know…
"Is your tunnel open?"
Not fazed, and with a straight face, he replied;
Yes Madam. At both ends".

The writer’s Hunslet.

After the tunnel the original carriage shed is on the left before the line curves sharply to the right through 180 degrees. To the left is another of the railway’s engineering accomplishments. The ‘new’ carriage shed is raised on pillars, some five feet off the ground. It’s connected to the running line by a stunning approach viaduct made from square steel section. To the right is another of the club’s attractions. It’s the "G" scale railway with track in both 32mm and 45mm gauge. There’s a thriving group of "G" scale members in VAMES and their activities complement the other facilities. When there’s a special event on they can always be relied upon to entertain the crowds. There’s another very useful advantage too. Most of the "G" scalers are also passed out as guards and so, if there’s a sudden influx of passengers on "the big track", a guard can be found and a relief train whistled up, quite literally.

An impressive line-up of "G" scale live steam courtesy of  Club Secretary, Mike Clemence, who also owns a ¼ scale 7¼" Hunslet!

But back to the journey around the track. Ahead is the station-approach signal; warning drivers which of the platforms or the by-pass line the train will take. Alongside are three carriage sidings and the lines signal box. It’s more than just window dressing as it contains the switchgear and circuitry that controls the whole of the lines signals.

The train comes to a halt at the start of the platform as the usually delighted passengers alight before the engine and coaches pull down to load once more. At busy times the trains are in and out of the station with hardly time for the driver to catch breath let alone the engine build-up steam. The most testing times are when the 12" to the foot fold "over the fence" are running a Thomas weekend. The society now has 15 "trolleys" or coaches and everyone is in action. It takes great determination and sheer professionalism to keep the queues down and the passengers moving. In fact, I think, I probably work harder on a Thomas weekend than during the working week!

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A great deal of work goes on unseen by the visitors. Wednesday is by far the busiest day of the week. It’s quite common for at least 20 members to be there cleaning, tidying, building, rebuilding and attending to all the other jobs that keep a track like ours running efficiently. I suspect there’s a very important ingredient that attracts so many. Comradeship and good humour!

Then there’s another group that keep the whole society and visitors well watered. The station also houses a "Refreshment Bar" serving drinks and cake and biscuits. With so many picnic tables on hand it’s very popular with visitors. In fact it’s quite easy to let an hour or so slip by even though the actual trip round the track takes only ten minutes. It’s a fine body of women, by and large, that staff the facilities and keep the customers satisfied. The classic un-sung heroes that don’t often get a mention! Well, that is, until now!

Mick Hutt and "Lilla" enter the station with a busy train.
The signal box can be seen in the background and to the left is the picnic area with the "G" scale track in the distance underneath the trees.

If you’ve never been to Quainton Road a visit is long overdue and if you venture up to the VAMES site you’ll be sure to get a warm welcome and even a cuppa!

A version of this article first appeared in the Seven and a Quarter Society magazine. For more details of the Society go to

Written by Phil Ashworth


the end

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