Live Steam roars on in miniature!

Regular readers of “Trainphilos” are most likely well aware that I tend to visit London with some regularity. I like the hustle and bustle of the United Kingdom’s capital city. There are a myriad of historic nooks and crannies to be explored, and most importantly, while indeed busy, it does not have the exhausting frenetic pace of New York City. For a railroad enthusiast like myself, the UK is without equal. There are dozens of heritage and museum railways all over the country: from the 7 and 1/4 inch gauge Great Cockcrow Railway to the standard gauge, mainline like, double tracked Great Central Railway in Leicestershire.

Crucially, I also have a wonderful place to stay in West London, courtesy of my friend “macfilos”. He is more of a photographer and camera connoisseur than a railway enthusiast, but I have managed to drag him along to some of my train excursions. It doesn’t seem difficult for him to find great motifs for his photography, even during a railroad centric outing!

A few trips ago “macfilos” casually informed me that one of his neighbors, just a few doors down, was also a train enthusiast: layout and all. After pestering macfilos for a while I did get to meet the neighbor and have a look at his trains. Turns out that he is into live steam, of course meaning that the locomotives are run by steam. Like the real thing.

Certainly I had come across Live Steam in my years. Fascinating as the technology is, it just never grabbed my interest. Certainly these are neat trains, beautifully crafted! But for many years I have been pretty much invested in HO and N scale model railroading. I was not about to take on another gauge and scale. To me Live Steam was always the realm of the larger scales and just way too large. Like the aforementioned Great Cockcrow Railway which runs on 7 and 1/2 inches and carries folks around the track. Or this “Atlantic” type 4-4-2 (UIC: 2’B1′) running on the Chesapeake and Allegheny Live Steamers  7 and 1/2 inch track in Leakin Park, Baltimore Maryland:


Photo by Ralf Meier

This blue wonder weighs in at around 600 pounds (272 kg), is coal fired and operates at 125 psi (8.6 bar). None of these Live Steam locomotives come cheap.

This little beauty will set you back around $80,000:ee2627d4-ea6c-4564-b77f-29cc7ffca684.jpg

If one gets tired of the “small” 7 and 1/2 inch gauge and desires something just a tad larger, how about a 24 inch gauge Live Steam locomotive replica? Here is one to make any ferroequinologist’s heart beat faster:IMG_20190915_170220.jpg

This is a ten ton 24 gauge “Mogul” Live Steam locomotive. And it is a snip at around $175000!

Perhaps I have made my point now. I have always considered Live Steam to be way too big and expensive for my purposes. My outdoor, garden railroad is 45 mm (1.75 inches) gauge so conceivably I could run some Live Steam around the garden. Like this one:


Photo by Astor/Accucraft

An Aster/Accucraft British Railways Class 9F Live Steam locomotive for 45 mm track. I am certain that this would look just beautiful running around my pike. Trouble is that I believe my better half would have a hard time swallowing the $7500 price tag!

So, back to macfilos’ neighbor in London. After a short introduction I was invited to have a look at his layout. And what do you know? Live Steam! In HO gauge no less! Well, the Brits call it OO gauge, but the real world calls it HO. Both are 16.5 millimeters between the rail. The scale of the rolling stock is just slightly different.

So imagine my surprise to see Live Steam in this gauge. I had never heard of it before, nor ever seen it until now. It appears that Hornby, a UK model train manufacturer, had at one time thought that OO/HO Live Steam would be a great addition to their product line up.


Photo by Ralf Meier

So in 2003 they started production of a OO/HO scale Live Steam locomotive modeled on the British A3/A4 class. Apparently the production run only lasted for a year. At first the locomotives sold quite well, even at close to £500. But sales plunged due to significant issues with locomotive control, reliability and ultimately manufacturer’s indifference, forcing the production to be stopped.

Of course, as happens so often, with the limited number of models out there, clubs and organizations formed, dedicating themselves to just this one Live Steam model. The neighbor (let’s call him Mr. R) is a member and very much involved in the OO Live Steam Club. Of course an appropriate web site has been constructed where one can get tips and information about every aspect of running an OO Live Steam locomotive, as well as finding spare parts and upcoming running sessions. (As an aside: I can really relate to the spare part problem. One of the major garden railway manufacturers here in the US went under some time ago. There are probably sitting a dozen or more of this company’s locomotives in my basement for which I can not find spare parts. So they continue to gather dust until I can come up with a viable solution)

Here is a very brief look at Mr. R’s collection:DSC00162.jpegDSC00160.jpegDSC00161.jpegIMG_3778.jpegIMG_3777.jpegIMG_3775.jpeg

IMG_3776.jpegI am not sure about the technology behind all this. These locomotives were difficult to run. Apparently the track supplied 15 volts to heat the water for the steam. Appropriately the water tank was in the tender. If I understand correctly the speed was controlled via radio. Here is a short blurb about the travails of running one of the units: Hornby Live Steam Review.

Here are links to a couple of other videos:




Also do click to link to the OO Live Steam Club for more videos and photographs here.

All photographs by Ralf Meier, unless otherwise attributed.

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