Tapiola Parish Model Railway Club

Club in a nutshell

While talking about Model Railways the mental picture of a little boy crawling on the floor next to a toy train set comes to mind. Model railway enthusiasts wish to demolish that image. Model Railway is not always a toy! At it's best, a model railway is a huge scale model of a transportation system made alive by trains operated according to a timetable.

Model Railway involves and develops all kind of skills. To construct a sound baseboard, carpenter and cabinet makers skills are needed, the scenery calls for artistic taste and talents, electrics -- or even electronics -- will become familiar while installing the controllers and alike, plastics need to be handled in order to create houses and rolling stock, some may use lathe or a milling machine to create a brass model of of a locomotive. Railway operation will develop discipline and requires the skills of co-operation.

What could be a better way to get and develop these skills than joining the local model railway club.

The Club

Tapiola MRC is part of Tapiola Parish Youth activities.

The club meets in the basement of the Tapiola church about once a week. The club nights are mostly spent building the present modular layout. Now days our members have started building locos from etched brass kits. Occasionally we'll arrange slide shows of interesting subjects, often from abroad.

The Tapiola MRC was apparently formed in 60's. The present layout is at least third on the line. Unlike the previous ones, this is designed with portability in mind. As the previous layout was scrapped due to renovation of the premises, a decision was made that the future layouts must be truly portable, not only transportable.

It appears that model railway enthusiasts have learned that the hobby must be advertised and exhibited in order to get future members to clubs. By making the Tapiola MRC layout modular, we can exhibit the layout, and also show, how ordinary layman can easily build a layout that will fit in any kind of space and to build it using ordinary tools and without professional skills.

The Modular Layout

[Note: the text is out of date! The club has since quit making modules of our own standard and are now following the german FREMO standard. The modules of the system described here are due to be scrapped in near future.]

Modules are basically 30 x 120 cm scenic dioramas of open top chipboard grid construction. Modules are joined together using coach bolts and wing nuts. With the aid of corner modules, loops of any size can easily be created. The corner modules have possibilities for diversions so almost limitless amount variations are possible.

The layout has already attended numerous exhibitions: The layout has been on display at Helsinki Model Railway Club Christmas exhibition (1994, 1995, 1999, 2000 and 2001), and at Model Expo hobby exhibition in Helsinki Ice Hall (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2000 and 2002) and at annual National Model Railway Exhibition (1995 in Lahti, 1997 in Helsinki and 1999 in Turku. 2001 in Porvoo we had only some self-made models and a little piece of track.), National Model Railway exhibition is an annual exhibition organized by different rail related organizations in Finland.

In 1999, in National Model Railway Exhibition, in Model-Expo 2000 and in Helsinki Model Railway Club Xmas Exhibition we drove the trains with digital command control, which we have constructed around an old computer (8088).


Layout at MRC Xmas Exhibition 1994 (3,9 x 1,2 m).

Layout at Model-Expo 1995. "Hidden" yard on the left.

Layout at Model-Expo 1998 (11,1 x 2,7 m).

Construction Methods

Construction methods are intentionally kept simple. The baseboard/framework is assembled from pre-cut chipboard using white glue and screws. Track is laid from flexible track elements that are nailed on the chipboard roadbed. Scenery is supported by chicken-wire stabled to the baseboard.

Paper towels are torn to pieces, diluted in plaster and laminated over the chicken wire. Basic vegetation is made of dyed sawdust and ground foam (ground with a hand operated meat grinder!). Tree trunks are made of steel wire, or cable, main foliage of steel wool covered with dyed ground foam.

The trackwork is ballasted using real sand (dirt) and glued with diluted white glue with a drop of washing-up-liquid to reduce surface tension.

Bridges and buildings are made from plasticard (polystyrene) or by converting commercial kits to suit.

The left hand picture shows the underside of a short 60 cm front-back transition module. Clearly visible is the chipboard frame and roadbed, chicken wire support for scenery and the underside of the plaster hard cell scenery. The cable is for track power and it has RCA phone connectors at each end. During transit the connectors are fixed with clothespins that are glued underneath the baseboard.

The right hand picture shows a rock cutting. Here we used expanded polystyrene (styrofoam). The foam slabs were formed with hot wire cutter and then covered with plaster, and the sharp edges of rock face of the cutting were finished after the plaster had settled. The rock is painted with latex and "finger paint" colours: We had an open plastic box with black, white red and blue paint in each corner and the paint was mixed with the paintbrush to create all kinds of different shades of dark granite.

The basic vegetation is formed by liberally painting the plaster surface with earth or green colour and dyed sawdust was then sprinkled over the wet paint and secured with spray of diluted white glue. Spuces are made from bits of untwisted manilla rope and soft wire twisted with a hand drill, pines are made of pieces of (lichen-like) washing sponge and soft wire and birches from steel wool and soft wire. The trees were then finished with a spray of latex paint and dyed ground foam (home made or Woodland Scenics).


Electrification is quite time consuming. Electrification of a modular layout is easy, as the modules can be set on table and work done without kneeling underneath the layout and getting hot solder all over your face ;-)

Olli (one of our members) is installing some digital command control connectors under the module.

A basic connection of a dc throttle.

We used hand held walk-around dc controllers/throttles. This enabled the operators to stay closer to the moving trains especially during shunting/switching. The controllers/throttles were powered using inexpensive car/automotive battery chargers. As those are capable of delivering currents over 4 ampere, electronic current limiter in the controller/throttle is essential!

Capacitor Discharge Unit (with charging and discharging LED's).

Control panels

Turnouts and signals are controlled from control panels (left) attached to the side of the layout. The panels have push buttons for turnout control and levers for setting the signals at each end. The layout wiring is designed for dc operation and around power routing turnouts, so that the need for sectional switches is minimal. If a train is to depart, and the layout is operated with dc, the signal switch is turned away from the station and this will disconnect the yard end from the local controller/throttle and connect the yard end to the line between stations. If a train is to arrive, the signal switch is turned towards the yard, and thus the line will be connected to local controller/throttle and the station operator here can take the train from the next station to this station. If no trains are to depart or arrive, the signal switches are kept at centre, and the local controller/throttle is connected to yard. The turnouts may be thrown only if the signal switches are a centre position. With the command control the need for connecting and disconnecting of sections and controllers/throttles has gone, but in case of breakdown we can easily convert to "old fashioned" dc control.

Power supply

The power source for auxiliary devices (lights, relays and point motors) was taken from a centralized power unit. The unit contained half wave rectifier and huge capacitor for 15 vdc aux. power and a voltage doubler to feed the capacitor discharge system also housed in the same case. We have now abandoned the centralized CDU and installed local CDUs to all control panels. In 2002 we abandoned the central power source and instead fitted all stations with independent power source and panel mounted CDUs (picture on the right).

We have plans of converting the control panels to use RS-485 bus. This way we would be able to reduce the cables between panel and layout and prepare for future plans of centralized traffic control (CTC). This way the stations would no longer be manned, and the local panels are then only to be used for shunting/switching by the train driver.

The Digital Command Control

The club now has a command control system to operate trains in more realistic manner. With command control the layout does not need to be sectionalised to gain individual control of locos, all the commands needed to control the locos are sent through the rails and locos have special receivers, or decoders that can interpretate the commands that are intended for this particular loco.

American Model Railroad Association -- NMRA has standardized the commands that are sent through the rails, so by adhering to NMRA Digital Command Control Standards one is not tied to a single manufacturer.

The heart of the system at Tapiola is a do-it-yourself central unit built around used PC-computer. Controllers/throttles (right hand picture) are connected to the computer's joystick port and the layout booster (left) to the parallel port.

The software and schematics to build this system are from the Internet. The system -- TMW-DCC -- is designed by Mr Lars Lundgren from Sweden. We have kept a diary about the costruction of the Tapiola system.

The PC is no longer used at exhibitions, as the "PC-eliminator" and Infrared remote controllers have taken it's place!


We build our stations from two sections, always used as a pair and thus forming a two-part module.

Station yards are intentionally kept quite small, but are aimed to be somewhat challenging for switching. The yards only have two or three through tracks and some spurs.

Our largest station is quite unfinished. It's 60 cm wide and 240 cm long. The station will also have a separate loco depot, and it extends the station area to 450 cm The turntable project is featured at our projects page. The unfinished depot was displayed at Helsinki Model Railway Club's Xmas exhibition 2001 and at Model-Expo 2002 -exhibition.

Club Evenings

The layout is still far from finished, so there's plenty to do to any local over 12-year-old. We have set the age limit as more time is spent in construction than driving, so patience is required. We also use power tools which may turn out to be potentially hazardous to children of younger age.

Our members are also building rolling stock from etched brass kits. On right hand picture Mikko, Kari, Opa and Olli are building Hr1 and Vv13 class locos. On left hand photo Masa builds the turntable and Hv4 class steam locomotive (scratch built).

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