Sunday, 18 February 2018

Review: Auscision Model's NCNX wagons

The recent January 2018 release of the 36' foot fish belly under-frame wagons by Auscision Models includes the NCX/NCNX/RCNF coil steel wagons with or without the tarp support hoops designed to hold Auscision's coil steel loads. The models are amongst the shortest modern Australian prototypes, (save for going back to the 4 wheel wagon era), and measure just 13 cm over the couplers. As such, the model has been high on my hit list since first being announced for a future production. Unfortunately, (in my case anyway), the long wait didn't really live up to the hype.

The Auscision Models NCNX fish belly coil steel wagons are VERY delicate! So handle with care.

While it is a visually interesting model, the prototype wasn't exactly ringing with an enormous amount of detail from end to end, and aside from the depressed coil steel cradles built into the deck of the wagon, neither is the model. Take a look at the above photo, and you will soon realise that the model has had three coats of weathering wash applied to it just to get the existing detail to stand out in a photograph. Without the initial first treatment of weathering, the model appeared shiny and plastic, and reminded me of many earlier 1980's paint finishes we were once accustomed to. Accurate? Yes. But the detail when transferred to a 1:87 model form wasn't all that noticeable. Even on the inside of the triangular end headboards, I could easily see the circular release mould marks, something I've never seen on an Auscision model before. Compared to some of Auscision's other releases, I felt this one looked a little spartan underneath and particularly on the sides, in part I suspect to the all-over one colour finish.

The model does however, have blackened metal wheels (RP25-110 according to Auscision's website), rolls freely through a set of medium PECO code 100 points, comes with scale-sized metal knuckle couplers that latch on perfectly like all their other models and has separately applied metal ladders and grab irons depending on whether we're talking about the MLV van, NCX steel wagons or PCT cement hopper varieties.

The model comes in packs of 4 wagons, in the now familiar Auscision blue packaging and retails for $260 Australian. What you won't see in any of these models is just how fragile the tarp hoops and end headboards are. Noticing that 3 of the 4 tarp hoops were loose on one side of the model I was photographing, I inevitably fumbled the model in my hands while making a repair and broke all 4 plus both end headboards off, instantly performing an accidental conversion to a NCNX without the tarp supports. I could have left the model like this as an accurate representation of the prototype, but as I already had some tarpaulins waiting around for this model's release, out came the super glue. The wagon is designed to hold the steel coils that Auscision sell in packs separately, only wider rolls don't fit between the support posts. I used their size 4 (14.8 mm wide coils) in the photo you see above. I've been told the support posts can be re-positioned wider to accommodate the larger rolls, but after repairing the tarp support hoops I wasn't going to tempt fate twice.

The VR style tarpaulins need cutting away at the corners to clear the white grab rails and sit flush above the brake wheel.

The wagons are very similar to their previously released Victorian Railways counterparts, the CSX/VFSX/RCSF coil steel wagons, of which there were sets of plastic sit-over tarpaulins designed sit in place atop the model. Having bought a variety of these several years ago in the anticipation of this model coming out, I soon discovered that the CSX wagon tarps aren't exactly the right fit for their New South Wales cousins. The problem is due to the white grab rail that is mounted to each end of the deck frame. What this does is cause the tarpaulin to sit a little too high, with a slight gap noticeable above the end headboards. To correct this, the end corners need to be cut back so that the tarp corners clear the white hand grab rail and enable the tarpaulin line to come down flush above the NCNX data signage beside the brake wheel.

Overall, this isn't a bad model. It just wasn't Auscision's best either. Certainly not compared to their NCNX open steel wagons which I thought were worthy of 5 stars. What is needed is a heavy coat of weathering to rid the model of its plastic finish and add some depth to the plainly detailed nature of the prototype. (I'll put some photos up in my next post of one that I've finished). Oh, and some super glue! Unless you want to mimic real life and cut the tarp hoops and end headboards off every time you handle the model.

Review Card: Auscision Models NCNX 36' fishbelly underframe wagons

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: A visually interesting model that can only benefit greatly from some heavy weathering to lose that shiny plastic finish.

See also; Auscision Models' NCTY/NODY Wagons

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Review: SDS AustrainsNEO NR Class

The layout overhaul continues on Philden, with the latest arrival bringing about a return of some big, modern horsepower in the form of the new NR Class loco released this month by SDS Models under their AustrainsNEO brand. The 4,000 horsepower National Rail units built in 1996 have long been a popular model produced by Austrains since the year 2000. They are a big locomotive which at first glance looks longer than it actually is, probably on account of the number 2 end protruding flush with the coupler box. Measuring 22 metres long in real life, the HO scale version stands 25.5 cm long over the couplers which is the same length as On Track Models 82 Class or Auscision C44aci locos, but still a suitable choice for operating on my 9' foot long shunting layout. So how much better are the new AustrainsNEO models?

The new look AustrainsNEO packaging, but wait... the model even comes with spare horns!

The decision to keep the branding of the SDS Models and the former tooling inventory the company bought off Austrains separate could either appear as a strange one, or a nice tribute to one of Australia's model railway pioneers, John Eassie. It's no secret that Austrains filled a huge hole in the Australian market back in 1997 with their 80 Class locomotive at a time that LIMA had disappeared. Their NR Class loco followed soon after in 2000. Easily the highest selling Australian model railway locomotive of all time, (thanks to 7 re-runs that might be construed as over-supplying the market), SDS Models simply HAD to do something different with the NR when effectively making this the 9th run of the model if they wished to sell any at all.

Using the original Austrains body shell and chassis, the model has been given a huge do-over with heaps of detail.

But by NOT trying to re-invent the wheel, I think they did. Sure this is the same body shell moulding, bogie and chassis arrangement they purchased from Austrains, but they finally gave this model a finish expected from a leading supplier. Sure if you look closely you'll see the shallow side pilot steps and moulded cab side hand rail that are carry-overs from a past where highly detailed plastic tooling was well short of today's standards, (we're talking close to 20 years here). Plus the side ladder remains mounted to the bogie instead of being body mounted as a necessity for the loco to negotiate our tight model rail curves. But then look at everything else on this model, by today's standards its pretty darn good! From the better paintwork, to the finely placed graphics. Everything about this model is just better. Way better! Well, apart from any interior cab detail which I'll get to later.

The fuel tanks and chassis now look as good as any other model, though the side steps remain bogie mounted.

If you own, or have seen an original or earlier version of the Austrains NR Class locomotives, then this side shot will make you want one of the newer models! I purchased this Pacific National NR29 loco for the sole reason that this was the very first loco painted in Pacific National colours back in March 2003, the other being NR103 which was released the following month in an all-blue trial livery. It fits my 2005 era perfectly as the liveries with the now common 5 stars added was not adopted until 2011.

Compared to earlier models, the couplers are now pilot mounted with more details around the air hoses.

Earlier models of the Austrains NR Class had a gaping hole in the pilot where the couplers were mounted to the end of the bogies. The last Austrains re-run made them pilot-mounted. As with any re-release, you expect improvement. The SDS AustrainsNEO version has finished this model with a pleasing amount of detail, including choice of 29 different liveries in either standard analogue DC, DCC or DCC with sound. Each model has operating LED headlights, marker lights and ditch lights as standard, along with Kadee equipped knuckle couplers.

Speaker enclosures and directional head and marker light override switches as standard.

Underneath the model is the provision for a speaker and two headlight/marker light manual override switches for those wanting to run these in pairs. To be clear, my purchased model was a standard DC model only, meaning I cannot vouch for the sound or DCC qualities of the loco. But the manual override light switches work in DC mode, and are there if I need them.

The head lights and ditch lights on this model are exceptional...

The model also has the same factory sourced motor and drive gear as the original NR's, making them speed compatible with the earlier Austrains releases and ensuring spare parts won't be impossible to track down if ever needed. Talk to any regular who has run the earlier NR's, and you'll likely be told how many shows they've done without the models missing a beat. So we're talking a motor and drive gear that is tried and trusted here. And these locos are known to be able to operate on a radius as tight as 18" inches.

Straight out of the box the loco started nicely. It was smooth, quiet and most importantly made it through a pair of medium Code 100 points and a PECO double-slip point without any problems, something which you'd expect from a model that says its NMRA standard. First impressions are that this model has a slightly different feel to the Auscision, Southern Rail and On Track models that I've become accustomed to. There seems to be less throttle play at slow speed before it moves of the mark. I don't really know if that's a good thing or a bad thing. It just feels a little different. The LED headlights however are brilliant, and are just as bright at either end of the loco making them easily the best that I've come across on any model so far.

The red marker lights are there too, just a little more subdued, but there's noticeably no interior cab detail.

The red marker tail lights are a little more subdued, yet equally as effective. I need to pay attention to NR's running light engine a little more to compare their brightness with the real life prototypes. Which brings me to one last area. The interior cab. There is none. While there is a slight glow to the inside of the cab, there is noticeably no driver visible through the window and only the slight resemblance of a bare room beyond the windscreen. I thought this may have been one area that a re-do of this model would have benefited from, either some form of interior cab, console outline or whatever, with or without the little guys sitting inside. A little interior detail might have been all that was needed for this model to stand comfortably alongside the best five star Australian diesel models.

Up top, the model finally gets the top-class finish it deserves. This is a HUGE improvement over the original.

In a world where costs are continually spiralling up, (especially when it comes to Australian model railways), it was a welcome relief to see this model re-released with all its improvements at the same price of $275 Australian that the prior Austrains version was priced at. Given that the tooling already existed, and taking into account the enhanced paintwork and graphics applied to this model, the model seems very well priced. Non-powered models at the same enhanced level of detail are also available for $165 Australian.

The NR locomotive in 1996 changed the face of modern Australian railroading. Its model counterpart in 2000 changed the face of Australian model railroading. Now the widespread popularity of this locomotive is sure to live on, thanks to the work SDS have made to make this model relevant again. By today's model standards, the AustrainsNEO version is so much better than the original Austrains version in so many ways, yet is essentially the same model. It just shows that sometimes you don't need to reinvent the wheel to make a considerable improvement.

Review Card: SDS Models' Austrains NEO NR Class locomotive

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: The team at SDS have worked wonders to bring essentially an 18 year old model up to today's standards. I'm very eager to see their next locomotive project, the NSW 81 Class.

Monday, 12 February 2018

Review: Auscision's high cube containers

It's hard to believe its February 2018 already. What happened to January? Where did it go and what have I been up to in Philden layout land? Well, a lot is happening behind the scenes and before I fall behind with posting reviews of all the cool new stuff that is arriving in Philden yard, I thought I'd better share my thoughts about the containers I swore I would never add to my layout. Because here they come in waves, starting with the recently re-released Auscision high cube 20' foot and 40' foot boxes.

The re-released 40' foot high cube container packaging on the left, and the version 2 blister pack on the right.

First released in February 2010 (that's 8 years ago, and gosh hasn't that time flown?), Auscision really raised the bar with their 40' foot high cube containers, compared with the generic overseas varieties that are commonly produced in moulded plastic only. Sold in blister packs of 2, these containers featured modern domestic Australian transport logos and colours for the first time. The original 23 different liveried containers were re-released in August 2017 along with another 24 different designs released for the first time as Auscision's version 2 range. Although structurally and design wise, the only difference I could tell between each version was the blister packaging, with the original blue Auscision pack shown above on the left, and the new version 2 pack shown above on the right.

Two styles of the 20' foot Australian domestic containers first released a decade ago.

The 20' foot high cube containers were first release a decade ago in January 2008, and carry the same superb detail as their bigger cousins. What immediately struck me was the separately applied door latches that really set these apart as models in their own right rather than just a plastic model train accessory. The four corner pin holes in the base of the model mean that they are ready to place straight onto any Auscision produced container wagon. I can't speak for other brand container flats, but I'm sure fitting holes onto pins would be a common occurrence.

What the container does highlight however, is the different nuances of the container wagons that Auscision does produce, with the CQBY/PRRY container wagons first requiring the fitting of the twist lock pins to the wagons. Anyone who has done this before may be able to back me up here that fitting them in the provided holes on the model with tweezers was a bugger of a task. I couldn't fit them in without having some of the tiny suckers fly off my desk never to be seen again. And having them line up perfectly with the holes on the underside of the containers called for some cheating by shaving the tip of each twist lock pin with a knife to get the pins and the holes to marry-up. The NQYY/NQTY container flats by comparison come with the pins moulded as part of the deck. You simply place the container on the wagon, making them my instant favourite by far. But more on them later.

Nice looking models, just a bit too clean... weathering to follow!

The fact that these models have been re-released a decade after first being produced is as much a testament to their quality as their popularity. The 20' foot packs retail for $24.95 Australia, while the 40' foot containers sell for $29.95 per pack. Price-wise, in my opinion they hit the spot. At $12-$15 Australian per container they quickly add colour to any layout. Without them... well, the container wagons would look pretty pointless. For a small layout, budget, or both, a set of just four container wagons can soon give a layout a completely different looking train by just mixing and matching an array of different containers. Which is what I intend to do. The above examples shown are just the first of many containers that will soon appear across my bookshelf layout.

Behind the scenes, my new extension is almost complete. I've just been too busy to present a step-by-step like I did when first starting this blog, but basically it is following the same perspex-enclosed-shadow-box concept as the rest of the layout. When finished it will replace the current staging shelf with an extra track, a new operational point of interest and full scenery complete with a second station. Whether the scenery is finished in time for this year's Brisbane Model Train Show or not remains to be seen. If not, then the reversible backdrop will come into play and I'll exhibit Philden from the other side, while the new section plays the role of hidden staging.

But for now there are containers and container wagons waiting for me to weather. While a new loco and still more containers are due to arrive any day now that will only further reinforce my honing in on 2005 as the year that Philden exists in. As for 2018? Its showing no signs of slowing down, and Auscision are planning on releasing even more Australian domestic containers in the form of 48' foot and 20' foot side door versions. I'll share my review of the NQTY wagons and some examples of the finished weathering on the containers over the coming weeks, but for now, its safe to say that the little square boxes have won me over.

Review card: Auscision Models 20' foot & 40' foot high cube containers

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: Much better than just a plastic model railway accessory, these containers deserve to be treated as models in their own right. They're sturdy, highly detailed and look real nice.

See also; Auscision's CQBY/PRRY Container Wagons