Starting the Wampo, NIeke & Sonkrai (Version 1)


May to October- Railway salvage?
It was after I finished  A River Kwai Story The Sonkrai Tribunal, that I decided to build
a model railway based on my research, to model the real bridges on
the River Kwai.

But at that time there was trouble brewing.
Management at CBC had applied for conciliation and that had started
the clock ticking towards the lockout that began in August. Money was
tight, but my basement was full of material left by the one the
previous owners of my house, that could potentially be used for a
layout. A large pile of wood, probably structural wood, taken down
when the wall was taken down between the living and dining rooms.
There were also two doors in the basement, not the standard hollow
doors available at your local hardware store. There was a solid door,
same pattern as the rest of the doors in my house and a hollow
cupboard door. So that became my planned bench work. The plans were
put on hold as it became clear that there would be a lockout and I
was working on the first round of revisions of the manuscript. In
August, the model railway gods favoured me while  my income was
reduced by the lockout. I was able to get more salvage material from
construction sites on my block. The first was some old-fashioned wire
mesh, three different types, which I picked out of a pile of
construction waste. Then a couple of weeks later, another house on my
block was being renovated. The exterior walls were covered in lovely
blue extruded Styrofoam. And a colleague and lockout picket captain
owns the house next door, so I was occasionally a visitor and one day
I was there when the contractor’s crew was outside and I asked
and received all their scraps.

October to
November. Layout planning.
The lockout ended (see


Garret Tree
for my blog on the lockout) and once my pay cheque
resumed, I dropped by my local Home Depot and bought one large piece
of 4 x 8 one inch pink Styrofoam and a couple of pieces of two inch 2
x 8 foam. I knew the rough layout and I what was essential, the great
Sonkrai trestle bridge in the centre of the layout and the
spectacular Wampo viaduct on one side. As well, by watching the
forums and e-mail, I concluded that for viable freelance operation,
the railway needed an economic reason to operate, over and above the
long-standing idea that it should be a short cut from Southeast Asia
and China to India. When I visited the region in 1997 I saw the
devastation of clear cut logging, similar to the cut, clear and leave
the slash that so familiar to me when I was growing up in British
Columbia in the 1960s. The Imperial Japanese Army had created small
sawmills along the route of the railway to produce ties and material
for bridges, so my economic assumption is that there was a small
post-war logging and lumber industry that provided some support for
local trains. So that meant a branch line going to the sawmill. The
layout is designed as point to point as the original railway was. But
since the Burma Thailand Railway had what were called air raid
lines with little clearance from the jungle that were designed for
trains to hide during Allied air raids, the return loop of an oval is
partly the air raid spur.

Christmas holidays
I built the bench work during the Christmas holidays.

and February
Going slower than I thought it would, but
then by monitoring the forums, it seems it goes slowly with everyone.
I glue down the base extruded Styrofoam. Then I layout the basic
track plan, using Kato Unitrack for the lines. I planned to use Atlas
Snaptrack for the many bridges (there were 688 bridges on the Burma
Thailand Railway). My plans at this point call for four trestle
bridges based on the photographs and drawings of the real bridges on
the Kwai. (The movie bridge had trusses, the real ones did not) plus
a plate deck bridge (Kato model) based one of the railway’s
steel bridges in Burma. The problem is for this mountain layout is to
figure out the maximum inclination that can be modeled. The Burma
Thailand Railway steep inclines and in that location two locomotives
were used in a push-pull configuration.

Prototype Elements The Burma Thailand Railway (aka the Railway of Death)

This model railway is classified

The prototype elements of the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai are based on
two post-war intelligence reports on the Burma Thailand Railway.

main report was written by then Lt. Cecil Carter Brett, a Canadian
intelligence officer serving in Southeast Asia as part of a joint
British-Canadian-U.S. Intelligence, interrogation and translation
corps. (Brett later became head of Asian studies at Monmouth College
in Illinois).

The second report was written by the Japanese under
issued under the name of Yoshimoto and introduced as evidence in the
Tokyo War Crimes trial. The locomotives and rolling stock I have
chosen are based on lists in Brett’s report, with additional
information from the Yoshimoto report and information obtained from
rail and steam buffs and websites.

After the end of the Second World
War, the British military ran the railway, in cooperation with Thai
State Railway and the Burma Railway for about a year. The Burma
portion of the line was abandoned in June 1946, due to the high cost
in money, equipment and possibly lives of maintaining the line,
Britain and the rails salvaged for scrap. Britain turned the railway
over to Thailand in October 1946 for £15.Million and the line was
dismantled north of Nam Tok.

Freelance elements The area where
the toughest construction for the prisoner of war and coolie labour
was at the mountain border crossing at Three Pagoda Pass, an area
with a sparse population even today. Under normal circumstances (as a
recent United Nations study showed) a railway in this area would be

For the purposes of this model railway The
complete line continued to operate after June 1946, operated by Great
Britain who had claimed ownership of the railway because it was built
partly with POW labour and as the colonial power in Burma and in
cooperation with the Thai State Railway system. The freelance
assumption is that the railway continued to operate and that it is
now late 1947.

Locomotive and rolling stock

The standard gauge in Southeast Asia is
three metres, one metre narrow gauge but almost all the locomotives and rolling
stock were standard gauge prototypes. All were modified somewhat for
use in Southeast Asia, so most of the locomotives I have purchased
are “as close as possible.” On the BurmaThailand Railway,
the Japanese used:

  • Locomotives androlling stock
    shipped from Japan

  • British locomotives and rolling
    stock based on British models from the Federated Malay States
    Railway and Burma Railway

  • US built Baldwin locomotives built
    for and modified by the Federated Malay StatesRailway

  • Japanese built locomotives purchased by Thailand prior to the
    outbreak of war.

Layout (1) profile Summer 2005


Name: Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai

Scale: N Scale:
1/160; 9 mm

Prototype: The Burma Thailand Railway

Railway continues fully operational after October 1946.
A couple of locomotives and some rolling stock are also freelance

Period: Circa June to October 1947 and beyond

Locale: Wampo viaduct with a skip to Nieke depot point, the
Sonkrai bridge and Three Pagoda Pass

Layout Style: Tabletop

Layout height: 28 inches

Benchwork: Modified,
door-based, cookie cutter with some framing

Roadbed and track:
Kato Unitrack for mainline, Atlas snap a flex track, MicroEngineering track for bridges.

Length of main line: TBA

Kato 6

Minimum radius : 9

Maximum grade: 3.0 Scenery: Exruded foam

Backdrop: Based on Photoshop video screen capture (work in

Control: Model Rectifier Corp. Tech 4 200