A CENTREPIECE of this year’s Swindon Railway Festival took its designer nine years to make.

Will Heath’s Spirit of Swindon model railway display recreates Swindon Station as it looked in the 1960s.

The layout requires a team of six people to operate, features a fully-automated train storage yard, and includes lighting that cycles through day, dusk, night and dawn, with sounds and even smells added to bring this period of the town’s history to life.

Will grew up in Rodbourne Cheney and has had a lifelong of model railways, so he finally decided to make his own after he retired.

He said: “These have been two of the best days of my life, it’s an amazing culmination of years of work.

“Making a model railway is something that I’ve always wanted to do ever since I started playing with train sets as a young boy.

“The Spirit of Swindon is designed as a piece of miniature theatre – and one that I could show specifically at this exhibition, this is its home.

“We’re operating it like signalmen, with two people co-ordinating and controlling train routes over headsets in shifts on opposite ends of the layout.

“We’re taking it in shifts and there’s also a third person at the back to make sure the storage yard is running smoothly, while another one of us chats to visitors and tells them all about it.

“It’s all built with materials that anyone can buy, none of it’s specialist.”

Will had never built a model railway set before he started the project, and the enormous scale of the task he’d set himself took a while to fully sink in.

The 21 foot by six replicates, in intricate detail, key Swindon landmarks like the Mechanic’s Institute, the Carriage Works, and the terraced houses of the railway village, with a slightly-simplified railway track layout

His friend Chris Moller sorted out the technical design and programming while he made all the models.

Will added: “It started life as a few tracks over 10 tables in my dining room but it became very complex.

“The first year was all about planning it out on long rolls of wallpaper, then the next two years were focussed on researching the area and going on a deep dive into Swindon’s history.

“I did wonder if I’d bitten off more than I could chew and perhaps my ambition had outstripped my ability.

“Two-and-a-half years ago, my wife told me I needed help and, looking back, it was madness thinking that I could do it all myself.

“My son Simon did all the lighting and sound effects, my friends worked in shifts on the switch panel for the trains, and the Little Layout Company made all the grass landscapes.

“As we worked on it, I sent articles to the Railway Modeller magazine and it ended up on the front cover, which was unbelievable.”

The Swindon Railway Festival attracted huge crowds to STEAM over the weekend, with 27 detailed model railway display layouts and 30 trade stalls set up alongside the museum’s regular exhibits.

Hatch Heritage & Steam Engineers presented a live steam engine display just outside the museum and sounded the steam-powered Swindon Works Hooter every hour.

The event provided plenty of nostalgia for older visitors while intriguing and engaging youngsters who left the museum with an increased interest in the railways.