James May and miniature trains set for big return

Joseph Bulmer

Top Gear star to film Toy Story spin-off in North Devon on April 16

A TINY train and two big stars will be pulling into railway stations in Bideford and Barnstaple next weekend.

James May is making tracks back to North Devon to attempt a second model train run along the Tarka Trail on Saturday, April 16.

The Top Gear presenter will be joined by wine expert Oz Clarke in a bid to beat a team of German miniature railway enthusiasts for a special spin-off to the 2009 BBC2 series James May’s Toy Stories.

The show, which currently has the working title James May’s Toy Stories: The Great Train Race, will see each team racing three trains along a 9.1-mile section of track between the two stations.

The original six-part series featured stunts with some of Britain’s best-loved toys including Airfix, Plasticine, Meccano, Scalextric and Lego, as well as the Hornby trains.

Director Tom Whitter for Plum Pictures, which has been commission to make the show by the BBC, said all had worked well except the railway attempt, which was beset by bad weather and problems with vandalism.

“When we came to do the train link, it went a bit wrong for a number of reasons, but this time, by hook or by crook we are determined to get a train from one end to the other,” he said.

“We’ve come up with a revolutionary track laying device and have found a better way of powering the track this time and are confident that a train will make it from one end to the other.

“We’ve been experimenting with different types of propulsion but all trains will be box-fresh Hornby originals.

“James will be racing his own personal 1972 Flying Scotsman Hornby original, the same train that famously broke down 50 yards from the start last time.

“We’re not interested in beating the world record for the longest model railway this time – that record has since been beaten in the States – but James and Oz will obviously be doing their best to beat the Germans.”

The trio of brothers from Germany run the Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s biggest model railway exhibition, in Hamburg.

“They came to see the original attempt and wanted to see if they could do better than us,” added Whitter.

“Each team will race three trains setting off from stations at opposite ends of the trail at 7am, weather permitting.”

Spectators are welcome to cheer on the teams at either station, where town criers have been signed up to provide regular updates on the teams’ progress. Model railway stations are being built at each station and a steam fair is planned for Bideford.

“We’ve even asked local vicar, the Reverend Alan Glover, to bless James’ Flying Scotsman – he’ll need all the help he can get!”