2023 London Festival of Railway Modelling

Every year, the London Festival of Railway Modelling brings a huge number of model railway layouts and trade stands to Alexandra Palace in North London.

The level of detail in the models, and the complexity of the trackwork, are testament to the thousands of hours people invest in their hobby.

The layouts range in size from a few short lengths of track, to massive systems on which multiple trains run, requiring multiple people to control them. The photos below show just a selection of the model railway layouts that were exhibited at the 2023 show.

Kingsbury – O Gauge Fine Scale


This was the first time I had photographed model railways. I quickly ran into challenges.

  • First off was ambient light, it was darker than you thought as the eye is very good at working in low light
  • Even though the barriers only kept visitors one metre away, due to the size of a lot of the models, I could of done with a more powerful zoom. A lot of the pictures on this page were taken with a 105mm zoom
  • But using lots of zoom on something close to meant problems with shallow depth of field.
Combatting Shallow Depth of Field

Wherever you focus, there is a margin extending further away and closer which is also in (at least) partial focus. Closing the aperture (increasing the F-stop number) improves the depth of field, but reduces the light coming into the camera which means you need to adjust shutter speed and/or ISO to create a well exposed picture. A lot of these pictures were taken at ISO 20,000.

Arcadia – S Gauge

A Sense of Size

You get a lovely picture which is missing one thing. There is no sense of size. Part of the joy of these models is just how small and intricate they are.

This is why, when most people were trying to just take pictures of the models, I was deliberately including people to give a sense of scale to show how amazing these models are.

The picture of Arcadia with just a part of a hand tells you exactly how big the models are.

St Etienne-en-Caux – HOe Gauge

A narrow gauge model railway layout set in Normandy, France.

Model Railway Scales

There are dozens of different sizes, or scales, of model railways. Lots of people have heard of OO Gauge, most famously produced by Hornby, which is 1:72 in size – that is, every centimetre on a model locomotive is equivalent to 72cm on the real life locomotive.

The next step up is O Gauge which makes for large models at 1:43 in scale, the next step down from OO Gauge was traditionally N Gauge at a scale of 1:148 which means the models are much smaller.

Then you get into less well known scales such as Z, TT, EM, P4, S, G and Gauge 1. And that’s before you get into the scales used for narrow gauge models like OO9, HOe and O16.5. There’s a whole Wikipedia article on the subject.

Blackfriars Bridge – P4 Gauge

A model of the station on the South side of the River Thames in Cetral London as it was around 1873.


Unlike the majority of passenger trains you see on the real railways today, most historic trains you’ll see on model railways could only be driven from one end. Until 30 years ago in the UK, it was common for passenger trains to be pulled by separate locomotives.

When the train reached the end of its journey, the locomotive had to be disconnected from the front of the train. and taken to the other end before it could then take the train back to where it had originally come from.

Which causes problems when you are running a model railway, how do you disconnect a locomotive easily? Which is where these hooks come in, they are used to connect and disconnect rolling stock (locomotives/carriages/wagons). The picture shows a two wagons about to be connected during a shunting manoeuvre.

James Street – N Gauge

Using N-Gauge allows the modellers to pack in a huge amount of detail with many trains able to run simultaneously. It is a huge model railway layout requiring multiple operators.

Controlling Everything

Lots of the layouts featured impressive electronic control panels.

The track diagram is a schematic diagram (rather like the London Underground map) of the model railway layout. Switches, electric pencils or even computer control is used to move the points. Moving points sets which track route a train will follow with a controller used to make it move.

Electronics on model railways can become pretty advanced, something the Model Railway Electronics Group supports.

Dovington Camp – OO Gauge

A model of a railway terminal serving a British Army base in 1990.

Hartley Poole Too – N Gauge

The most prominent feature is a power station with smoke lazily rising from the chimneys. Set in 1944, the model even features a crashed enemy aircraft.

Fiddle Yards

Running a large model railway at a two day exhibition needs lots of model trains. The trains are stored out of sight, until needed, in the fiddle yards.

There are several types of fiddle yards. Some are a series of through sidings, whilst others allow whole trains to be lifted in and out of position. These two types can be seen in this section’s pictures.

Blowers Green
New Sodbury
Plumpton Green
North Ballachulish

Norwich Central – O Gauge Fine Scale

Set in the late 1800s, Norwich Central depicts on a fictitious central railway for Norwich.

Spirit of Swindon – N Gauge

Swindon is one of the UK’s famous railway towns and is the setting for this layout based in the 1960s.

Wolfe Lowe – O Gauge

A quiet branch line set on the edge of the Staffordshire Moorland.

Wolfstatt – HO Gauge

The stunning mountainous scenery depicts the Austrian Alps with present day trains running through it.

Alderford – OO Gauge

A model railway layout set in the 1980s.

Copper Wort – OO Gauge

An exquisitely detailed model of a brewery in Burton-on-Trent set in the early 1900s. Beer was a very important goods traffic for the railways, even the under croft of St. Pancras station in London was designed around beer barrel sizes.

Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends – OO Gauge

Engaging a new generation of modellers is key to the hobby’s future. What better way to engage than an appearance by Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.

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