Love of a branch line that runs on time

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The Independent Online
THE TRAINS ran in Harrow and Wealdstone on Friday, just as they have done every strike day throughout the signal workers' dispute, writes Russell Neumark.

Yet this railway, sweeping along the tracks and negotiating the curves and gradients, tunnels and bridges, never takes commuters to work, nor back to their Metroland semis.

Instead, the railway is set out across five floors of Norman Balch's home. Each week, around 20 members of the Harrow Model Railway Club spend three hours sending Hornby steam trains, including 1,000 locomotives, along hundreds of feet of track built on different levels andpunctuated by fully working signals, stations, yards and sidings. Walls have been demolished, windows taken out and doors moved to make way for the railway, run according to the BR rule book. The main line alone is 35 miles long, and the whole operation run by a control centre and seven fully equipped signal boxes - five in one room alone.

For Norman Balch, the fascination with railways began in the Fifties. Today he says: 'I'm not interested in trains, but railways.'

(Photograph omitted)