BLOG: The Lure of the West


There’s something magical about heading for the West Country. Maybe it’s the stunning scenery, the rugged coastline, clotted cream teas, Cornish pasties fresh from the oven – or perhaps it’s the prospect of a behind-the-scenes look at Britain’s westerly Traction and Rolling Stock Maintenance Depot outpost, that took my fancy!

And, so it was that I took a six-hour trip to Penzance recently to visit Great Western Railway’s (GWR) Long Rock Depot open day. As it turns out, it was just over a year since I’d previously ventured down to photograph the new depot buildings from ‘the other side’ – I’ve always found this particular location fascinating.

This time though, I got to view the depot close-up track-side, along with several thousand others. Luckily the sun was out, although the wind was howling for much of the day. That, though, didn’t dampen my spirits.

On this occasion I wasn’t there simply to admire the wonderful array of full-size exhibits on display, I wanted to photograph the depot infrastructure and get a better understanding of how a well-designed track layout works in the real world, for my own ‘OO’ gauge project.

Long Rock has recently undergone a major makeover with improved facilities and new, larger depot buildings as well as reconfigured trackwork, enabling the site to better serve GWR’s new InterCity Express Trains (IETs) and act as the main base for the company’s Night Riviera sleeper service. Interestingly, there are a few space saving techniques employed at the depot too, such as a double slip leading into a three-way turnout, as well as a kickback siding as well.

For me, it’s also about the smaller details such as depot signage, point levers, safety walkways, ground signals and the like. At the far end of the stabling sidings I noticed different types of buffer stops, including an old sturdy concrete block example.

Not only that, there were also some novel ‘buoys’ suspended across a couple of the tracks, presumably to ensure High Speed Train (HST) sets stop at the correct position, just ahead of the ‘buoy’ coming into contact with the driver’s windscreen! Power socket connectors, step ladders, standpipes and more all add to the additional detail that will prove invaluable when I come to build my own model.

Closer inspection of the trackwork also revealed derailing mechanisms to protect the depot roads, which could be an interesting item to model – perhaps with a servo?

As with some main line track, temporary braces occasionally need to be put in place between the rails to maintain consistent track gauge, and again, an example of this was evident and could easily be added in model form.

Also of note, is that this depot has east and west entry/exit routes: the easterly (London end) example being protected by a normal colour light signal gantry along with TPWS grid, as part of the closest stabling siding to the single-track mainline at this point.

The westerly exit/entry (Penzance end) runs alongside the depot buildings towards the former Ponsondane sidings before re-joining the main line closer to the station at Penzance.

As I’ve mentioned before, site visits can help put things into perspective and certainly enable me to visualise how I could perhaps recreate something similar in model form, albeit with a fair degree of compression to allow it to fit. Factor in the ability to create plausible and engaging movements and this is why progress has inevitably slowed on my diesel-era ‘OO’ depot project, as I’ve realised I just don’t have enough space to do it justice, at the moment.

Having grasped a better understanding of a working modern maintenance depot, it was only right to update my photo library with some of the locomotives on display including a well-travelled Class 73 GBRf electro-diesel and newly-painted 08645 St Pirran, resplendent in its glossy black colour scheme bearing St Pirran’s flag – establishing the newly-arrived locomotive as the resident depot shunter.

With more depot open days to come over the course of the next few months at Crewe (Locomotive Services) and Carlisle (Direct Rail Services), there’s bound to be plenty more inspiration for the modelling melting pot…

I hope you enjoyed this latest post and if you have anything you would like to comment on, drop us a line to




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