British rock singer Rod Stewart has over the years earned a reputation for extreme openness: he’s spoken candidly about his colossal cocaine use in the 70s and losing his virginity to a rotund woman in a beer tent, and righted wrongs surrounding a much-whispered rumor involving a crew of sailors, a gay bar in San Diego, and an emergency stomach pump. When it comes to his model-train collection, though, Stewart has stayed decidedly mum.

It turns out that over the past 23 years—during which Stewart released 13 studio albums and toured 19 times—he’s also been at work on a 1,500-square-foot model railway, which resides inside his Los Angeles home. Depicting an industrial American skyline rendered in impeccable detail, Stewart’s meticulous microcosm comes complete with hand-painted brickwork, road signs, and litter-strewn streets. His 1940s-style cityscape includes hundreds of buildings, from skyscrapers stretching five feet into the air to hulking factories and trackside operators, all inspired by Stewart’s vision of postwar Manhattan and Chicago.

The set might be situated in Beverly Hills, but its look draws on postwar Manhattan and Chicago.

Capable of running eight trains at a time, the project, which Stewart named Grand Street and Three Rivers City, also features a railway station and a latticework of bridges and pathways stippled with period cars, trucks, and taxis. “It’s really noisy because we have sound effects when the trains go through the city. There’s a city sound of New York; they go through the country, and there’s birds singing. It is quite incredible,” Stewart told BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine. But it’s not the mechanical infrastructure that interests Stewart most. “It’s the landscape I like,” he told Railway Modeller magazine, a niche British publication that has been running since 1949, which Stewart has described as “better than Rolling Stone.” And as a five-time Railway Modeller cover star, Stewart should know.

Time isn’t the only thing he’s invested in the project: “Attention to detail, extreme detail, is paramount. There shouldn’t be any unsightly gaps or pavements that are too clean. The cracks have to have some black chalk … and then you add a little bit of rubbish in the gutters, you add a little bit of rust here and there. When I take on something creative like this, I have to give it 110 percent,” Stewart continued. “For me it’s addictive. I started, so I just had to finish. I’m lucky I had the room.” A point worth noting, as the train set takes up the entire third floor of his 28,000-square-foot Beverly Hills home. “If I’d have realized at the start it would have taken so long, I’d have probably said, ‘No! No! Nah!’”

It should come as no surprise, then, that the recent trashing of the Stamford model-rail show, in Lincolnshire, by four teenagers struck a particularly strong nerve with Stewart. In May, Stewart donated more than $13,000 to the Market Deeping Model Railway Club after the vandalism occurred. With Stewart’s gravitas, a fundraising page originally set up to raise about $600 collected more than $90,000 for the club in just over a day.

Having now decided his own project is fittingly complete, Stewart shares photographs that do justice to the intricacy of his gargantuan undertaking.

Bridget Arsenault is the London Editor at Air Mail