News & Reviews News Railnuts, Pete Waterman set world record with Making Tracks 4 layout

Railnuts, Pete Waterman set world record with Making Tracks 4 layout

By Mitch Horner | May 9, 2024

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A 208-foot layout in the United Kingdom set the world record for “longest portable model railway” following Guinness World Record certification on April 27th, 2024, at the Model World Live exposition held at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham.

A goup of people stand around a part of a model railroad layout, with one man holding a world record certificate
Jonathan Newton/Hornby Magazine

The layout, which was created by famed music producer Pete Waterman and the group known as the Railnuts, had to meet a set of criteria established by Guinness World Records prior to their record attempt.

The story of how this project came to be starts in 2021, when the Chester Cathedral approached Pete, a well-known rail enthusiast, about the creation of a model railroad layout to honor the legendary railway engineer Thomas Brassey. From this was born Making Tracks 1, a 64-foot layout that was installed in Chester Cathedral. This project was a success, having raised money for the Chester Cathedral and drawing people in to view the layout. This resulted in the group being invited back in 2022 and 2023, which saw the creation of Making Tracks 2 and 3, respectively.

In October of 2023, for the Great Electric Train Show, the three Making Tracks layouts were all connected, resulting in a 152-foot layout. These layout modules share a common theme, representing the West Coast Main Line, which runs from London to Glasgow, and were built to similar dimensions, which allowed for them to be combined into a large, unified, but still portable layout.

A group of five individuals atdn in front of a model railroad layout holding a world record certificate between them, with a fence in the foreground
Jonathan Newton/Hornby Magazine

Following the success of the layout at the Great Electric Train Show, the group was then asked to bring the layout to a newly formed modeling show called Model World Live. For this event, the group wanted to go bigger. Per Railnuts’ Chris Clenton: “Wouldn’t it be great if somehow we could include a world record in that?”

From that idea, Making Tracks 4, also known as The Final Frontier, was born.

“So we began working with Guinness. We can’t claim to be the biggest model railway in the world, but (most of those layouts are not) typically moveable. So Guinness created a set of criteria … for the largest portable model railway,” Chris said.

The criteria for the largest portable model railway are as follows:

  1. This record is to be attempted by an individual or a team of unlimited size.
  2. This record is measured in meters (m) to the nearest 0.001 m, with the relevant equivalent given in feet (ft) and inches (in).
  3. For the purposes of this record, a railway model, also known as a model railroad or model railway, is a miniature representation of a railroad system, typically built to scale.
  4. The model railway may be made from custom-made or commercially available model train components.
  5. Evidence that the model railway is portable must be provided. It must be assembled in one location and then disassembled, transported, and reassembled in another location.
  6. Photographic evidence of this entire assembling process must be provided, as well as a statement by a specialist witness (with suitable model train expertise/qualifications) present in both locations, confirming that the model railway was operational on both occasions.
  7. The railway must be made to a professional standard at the discretion of Guinness World Records.
  8. The record is measured by the total length of usable tracks in the train set.
  9. Although the record is measured as described above, additional details such as the quantity of trains, rail interchanges, track loops, and concurrent engine operations must be included. The design of the portable model railway must be submitted to Guinness World Records for pre-approval before the attempt. Any design not sent in for pre-approval risks disqualification.
  10. Each track must be shown in use. i.e. automated model train/vehicle travelling across the tracks. This must be demonstrated in the presence of two independent witnesses. Photographic and video evidence of the demonstration must be provided.

With the record being measured by “the total length of usable tracks in the train set”, a method needed to be devised which could accurately measure the usable track. A measuring tape wouldn’t cut it, as the slack which would accrue over the 208-foot-long layout would yield inaccurate measurements. So what to do?

It’s at this point that the Railnuts found themselves lucky to count an aerospace engineer, Dan Rotherham, among their members, and the second youngest of the bunch at that (beaten only by his 15-minute-younger twin brother, Tom Rotherham.) He designed what the Railnuts are calling a “sonic track measuring wagon.”

The design principle is simple, as all the best engineering is. A small, custom-made plastic tab is affixed to an axle of a model freight car, and as the axle spins, the tab clips a small bit of metal which in turn produces a clicking sound. This clicking sound is picked up by a small microphone and recorded. This recording is then fed into audio software, which isolates the clicks from the background noise. From there, the clicks are totaled up and multiplied by the distance traveled in a single rotation of the sonic track measuring wagon’s axle. The official track length, as certified by the adjudicator assigned to the attempt, is 2,279 feet, or 694.9 meters.

The layout features some impressive details, including over 1,208 feet (368 meters) of overhead catenary, and digital displays in the three passenger stations which shows live information corresponding to the trains on the layout, which are equipped with RFID tags communicating their position and estimated time of arrival to each station.

The ultimate goal of this undertaking? “(W)e want to raise the whole hobby and bring modern modeling to a wider audience. Everybody knows about world records. They might not necessarily know about model railways. So if you can connect the two together, perhaps you’ll (be able to) engage with more people,” Chris said. To achieve this, the Railnuts focus on rolling stock that can be found on the rails today, as it’s more familiar to contemporary audiences. Previous iterations of the Making Tracks layout allowed for the public to interact with the hobby through controlling trains on the layout via tablet, an interface familiar and approachable to many, younger generations in particular. Making Tracks 4, though, due to its size, required four groups of four operators on the layout simultaneously, one group per module, all communicating with each other via walkie-talkie. There were three shifts per day, totaling 48 people working on the layout each day.

Two men shake hands as they exchange a world record certificate
Jonathan Newton/Hornby Magazine

What’s next for the Railnuts? “It’s all about new stuff. That’s the reality,” Chris said. “There’s no point in just doing something we’ve already done. And we can do something different. We’d rather accept the challenge and do it. How do we bring something new, innovative, unusual to model railways that captures people’s attention? That’s what we’re trying to answer.”

Click here to see behind the scenes of the Guinness World Record attempt.

2 thoughts on “Railnuts, Pete Waterman set world record with Making Tracks 4 layout

  1. I wonder if Sir Rodney Stewart had any part of this? I understand that Sir Stewart and Pete Waterman know each other. Knowing what a “train nut” that Sir Stewart is, I’d bet he had some doings with this.

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