Erik de Zwart
Erik de Zwart (born 16 June 1957 in Amsterdam) is a Dutch radio and television maker, former D.J., and media entrepreneur.
He was already fascinated by the Rhaetian Railway as a young man and often visited Graubünden. At home he built his own garden railroad of the RhB, of which he is very proud. His latest project is the online platform 24trains, à la Netflix, with high-quality railway content for train lovers, which was launched in 2019. The RhB and 24trains have been working closely together since the beginning of 2020.
1 Erik, what made you decide to build a garden railroad?
As a child I had a Märklin track on a folding table but at the age of 14 I sold it, I got other interests. In the 80’s I came across an artist at my tv-work, who had bought a new kind of train, for his son that I had never seen before LGB scale 1:22.5. He lived in the center of Amsterdam and could not find enough room for the railway, so he offered it to me. I liked it immediately and I loved the idea, building a model-railway in my garden.
2 What motivated you to choose a garden vs. an indoor layout?
I think a garden track is more of a challenge because it approaches reality more such as the unstable weather conditions or leaves on the tracks, etc. You really must lay the track with concrete and stainless steel, just like in reality. I like the technology and the electronics. Otherwise, for LGB, I had to sacrifice my basement and my wife didn’t like that. We have a deal; the cellar and terraces are hers and I’m in charge of the garden.
3 How big is the railroad (__x__ meters)?
The garden is 625 m2 and the train track runs through the borders to the front garden and back. There is a total of 180 meters tracks, including the stations.
4 What challenges did you face in design and construction?
In the beginning I thought I could just lay the rails on the ground with pebbles, which prolapsed, causing the trains to derail. So, I thought I make a stone surface with street tiles, which also prolapsed. The entire track has now been fitted with a concrete bed of 25 cm wide and 5 cm thick. And I can also anchor the overhead wires in the concrete.
5 What made you choose to model the Rhaetian Railway in particular?
As a child I went on holiday to Switzerland with my parents, my parents wanted to walk, I hated that, I always wanted to take the train. We stayed in the house of an aunt and uncle in the village of Langwies with a beautiful view of the Langwieser viaduct where ‘die Kleine Rote’ passed by every hour. That image has always stayed with me and I think the Rhaetian Railway is kind of a model railway in real life.
6 We can discuss the model’s motive power (like the Crocodile) and how it operates.
All LGB locomotives do very well on my track, unfortunately I have a too big ascent in the front yard, which is why the locomotives cannot pull too many wagons. One thing is for sure, LGB locomotives do better than any other brand. I have also made the locomotives heavier so that they run better and have more grip. The LGB can rise significantly less than in real life, this means that a maximum of 3% can be overcome.
7 What did you use to build the catenary? (That is a nice touch.) Was it commercially available or something you fashioned yourself?
At first, I had the catenary from LGB, but for outside the aluminium poles are fragile, especially in combination with the plastic rail clamps, I didn't like that. Together with a good friend who also has a garden railway, Paul, who had the same problem, we went looking for a creative solution. In the end, for the same price as the aluminium masts, I had stainless steel portals made at a sheltered workshop. The contact wire was specially manufactured by a Dutch cable company for the miniature attraction Madurodam in The Hague and we were able to buy a few hundred meters from them. The shape of that wire has a sort of 8, which makes the bottom free for the pantographs and the clamps on the top are easy to mount on the masts. The copper contact wire is tensioned on both sides by means of strong springs. This means that the shrinking and expansion of the copper is under control, just like in real life.
8 What other materials did you use in the railroad's construction? We could include plant specimens that fit well with a garden railroad, how he powers it and maintains it, etc.
Concrete, there is probably more concrete in my train track than in my house. I have discovered that you should only use solid material such as concrete and stainless steel, otherwise the climate in the Netherlands will leave nothing. I also laid ballast plates, which are located between the rails. This is glued with a special type of epoxy, so that it stays in place and you can keep it clean. Before driving I must clear the track of leaves and twigs with a blower. Then I must check the switches, because there may be stones and such blocking them. When it has rained heavily, I clean the rails with German rail cleaner, which I am very satisfied with. And as an extra, a drop of ATF fluid on each track gives a much-improved current absorption. I have 2 power supplies of Digi Tracks with 2 Powerhouse 10A boosters. I also use feedback decoders from Uhlenbrock, the single and switch decoder from Digi-Keijs. The software to drive is from iTrain, a Dutch brand which fortunately works on an Apple computer.
9 We are impressed with the long bridge. Is that hand-carved concrete?
We made a mould and used it again and again to pour concrete. My friend Paul also used the same mould.
10 How did your love of trains lead to the launching of 24Trains?
Apart from the LGB and the garden railroad, I am involved with friend Paul in an old Dutch electrical train unit, the Hondekop, that means dog face, check www.hondekop.nl. We are both chairman of this non-profit foundation.
With Paul I made many train trips in Europe and during one of these trips the idea for 24trains was born. We like it very much that you and all kinds of other people in different countries response enthusiastically. We are getting more and more content such as magazines, videos and books, which only makes a membership more interesting. The aim of 24trains.tv is to become the largest media library on trains for young and old, all over the world!