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The clearances you require have so many variables there is no hard and fast rule.

Consider -
  • Type and stability of rolling stock
  • Passengers - public running or private only
  • Type of obsticles - bushes could be closer than a concrete wall
  • Approach angle - a fence coming in at a shallow angle is better than a sharp corner of a wall

Behind the wall of the down local platform at Chadwell Heath Station is the Ilford and West Essex Model Railway Club. Existing obsticles means there are tight clearances. It is either this or no railway.

Clearances are not a one time issue, things change and need to be monitored -

  • New or visiting rolling stock - can be wider, different seating position (knees sticking out further)
  • Plant growth - especially thorned bushes
  • Type of driver/passenger - children are notorious for leaning out
  • Movement/settlement of track


  • You decide. Sit on your train and physically measure it. Make sure you get the tallest adult to be the model. Add extra to allow for those moments when you forget where you are.

  • One word of caution - if possible do not put overhead objects (signal gantrys, tunnel entances etc) at the level between your eyes and the top of your head. Put them in front of your eyes or above your head. It is too easy to miss an object in this range. This is also the range where you stand up forgetting the low ceiling.

  • One driver at a childrens theme park in Milton Keynes area paid the ultimate price for a tunnel on the railway. Nobody knows why he stood up. Enough said.

5" Gauge Private Garden

These notes below are a record of what we did on the Middleton Garden Railway and are the absolute minimum requirements. We have ended up with these measurements by necesitty rather than choice.

Diagram above shows the absolute minimum we have worked to on our line. An assessment of risk for individual objects should take place before deciding on the minimum distance.

Running through our tunnel we have placed the tracks at 450mm. that is the two rails are 450mm apart. This is not ideal but it allows us squeeze the inner loop with a 10' radius. We wouldn't recommend this by choice as it only leaves just over 100mm between knees. These dimensions are no good for a public railway.

In contrast to the above, I know of several clubs that work to a 1m clearance from the rail. This may seem excessive but if you are starting from scatch, why not. Makes tunnels a bit roomy though.

Next Stage -Track Choice

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