Northern Ireland

The model railway hidden in a Belfast basement

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Media captionUlster Model Railway Club at Euston Street School

Trains are more commonly associated with Euston Station in London than a street with the same name in east Belfast.

But down in the basement of Euston Street Primary School lies a secret hideaway.

The space, which was once used as a public library, has swapped the sound of silence for the rattling of trains on tracks.

It is now the rather unique HQ of the Ulster Model Railway Club.

Image caption John Gough is the chairperson of the club

"The club was established in 1963 and used to meet in Royal Avenue," said chairperson John Gough.

"Then we moved to the old library on the Donegall Road, before we were introduced to this place - so we're no strangers to libraries."

Test track

The club has access to two rooms in the school's basement.

One for running trains and the other for building new tracks and scenes.

Image caption Members can test their trains on the running track

"We have about 11 test tracks where the boys come to test their trains out," said train enthusiast Kenny.

"It can be noisy at times, especially when you've a lot of trains with metal wheels.

"When it's all going you can hardly hear yourself think."

Image caption The club room is covered with old train memorabilia

Harvey has been interested in trains from a young age and for him model railways are a chance to relive some of those childhood memories.

"I first started playing with trains as a kid, and you know what they say, 'blokes never really grow up'," he said.

Image caption If walls could speak, this corridor would be able to tell many stories of years gone by

"I almost get more enjoyment of trying to get old ones to run properly.

"They can be quite challenging and I enjoy footerin' at them to get them back in action."

Image caption Great care has been taken to create miniature scenes

Difference in styles

Trains and carriages come in all different shapes and sizes, however for Seamus Higgins, the colourful ones are best.

"I only got into model railways about 12 years ago," he explained.

"I would run mostly American trains rather than the British ones - I've about 70 American trains.

"Most of the British layouts, in previous years, they were all grey or blue, but the American ones come with a lot more colour and are far more vibrant."

Image caption The speed trains travel at is controlled by electric switches on the side of the track

For some, an enjoyment of model trains came later in life.

"My wife and daughters bought me a rail set for my 60th birthday," explained Jim Wilson.

Image caption Model designs of Northern Ireland Rail trains are also used by club members

"Then I spoke to a neighbour who had some similar trains and he invited me in to show me what he had built in his garage.

"I then decided to become a member of this club. It's an awful lot of fun."

Laying 100 yards of track

Image caption Scenes look life-like when completed

While it's a spectacle to watch the trains in action, a lot of work goes on behind the scenes building the life-like sets and making sure they work.

"We have a building room and most of the parts in it aren't fully formed," explained lead designer Tom.

"At the moment we're building a 21ft long and 9ft wide scene and we'll probably use about 100 yards of track to complete it.

Image caption Mr McCotter is one of the club's founding members

"We basically consult members and get ideas about the kinds of things they would like to see on the set.

"Then I got the job of trying to devise something that makes it all possible.

"We then draw the plans roughly to scale on strips of wallpaper, before transferring them to the base boards and laying the track on top."

For Eddie McCotter, who's one of the club's founding members, it's the engineering side that he enjoys most.

"I definitely enjoy the building more than anything else," he said.

Image caption Drawing the design for scenery requires precision

"You're working with colleagues who have similar interests and you can talk about new techniques of how to do things.

"You never stop learning new things.

"I mean, you could spend your time working on your own stuff at home, but it's nice to work together."

Reliving old memories

Image caption The club was founded in 1963

Terry Conway said he joined the club more recently - but it's not the first time he's been in Euston Street Primary School.

"When this used to be the public library I used to come down with my dad, and get the old books," he recalled.

"The Secret Seven, Famous Five - they were the Harry Potters of the 1960s.

"You had a card and got it stamped by the ladies who sat close to the door.

"It's lovely to come back to the same place and relive some of those memories while making some new ones too."

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