Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Review: Southern Rail's L Class

When you purchase a new model locomotive with the mindset that this may very well be the last HO scale locomotive you ever buy, you want to ensure that it's going to be a good one. Purchasing a Southern Rail Models HO scale W.A.G.R. L Class diesel locomotive might just have ticked all the boxes. In keeping with my taste for everything old is new again, the big West Australian repainted in the ATN Access livery as ran in New South Wales during the early 2000's has added another colourful paint scheme to run on my small HO scale bookshelf layout. It's a big loco, that's even bigger on detail.

The model still looks superb, despite the missing ladder rung at the top that I only noticed through this photograph.

The intricate detail on the model I purchased was both breathtaking and a little daunting to handle when I first placed it on the rails. The striking ATN Access loco that I had chosen ahead of the release of Southern Rail Models' matching XGAY grain hoppers has all the bells and whistles. There are more aerials, hoses, lift hooks, handrails, warning stickers and exhaust fan details than I first realised. Even the driver's side mirrors are movable. In an age of highly detailed plastic ready-to-run railway models, this one almost has a little too much detail to feel confident in handling. The brake cylinders on the bogies or trucks are applied separately in the factory and include some delicate details, (one dislodged when I first took the model out of the box), while the sanding pipes are about as close to rail height as you can get. The small amount of play on the sand pipes still has me worried they might one day catch on the frog of a turnout and break. Fortunately the track work on my layout is perfect. Unfortunately my gripe with missing pieces on Australian models continues. I've counted one missing lever on a roof panel, a missing top ladder rung on the side of the locomotive and a bent spike in the centre of the short nose platform that should be standing upright.

The metal frame of the locomotive looks basic, but lends the model a good amount of weight.

The underside of the locomotive is your basic, plain model train finish complete with the manufacturer's logo. Once on the track however, the model's performance is amongst the best I have experienced. It is smooth, responsive and on DC mode crawls along nicely at slow speed. There's the usual directional white and red LED lighting we've come to expect on a quality Aussie model, though the lights on the no. 2 end are not quite as bright as those on the no. 1 end. That aside, the model is equipped with factory installed genuine Kadee couplers, see-through etched metal grilles, chemically blackened wheels and an all-wheel drive and electrical pick-up. The metal chassis and 5 pole motor lend quite a bit of weight to this model which should equate to exceptional pulling power.

The model comes with a 21 pin DCC socket and is also available with a factory-fitted ESU Loksound sound-equipped decoder. A word of warning however, although this model was originally advertised as a DC/DCC sound equipped model, the DCC sound equipped version in my opinion did not perform adequately on a DC analogue layout. The basic model is DC without sound, whereas the DCC version comes with sound. You can read my full thoughts on DC versus DCC models in another post here. So just to make it clear, I'm purely reviewing the merits of this locomotive as a DC analogue model.

I love the overhauled L Class model's cab with the air-conditioning unit.

The painting is superb! I couldn't spot a blemish or single area of the model where the paint work didn't match a photo on the internet of the prototype. The real-life locos had air-conditioners mounted shortly after re-entering service with ATN Access, so the models of the ATN locos feature the characteristic black box on the left hand side of the short nose along with the air-con grille located in the centre above the drivers' windows. The Wisconsin Central shield that features on only one of the ATN Access models produced, in real-life was just a removable magnetic sign that was added to the lead loco. So don't panic if you come across a photo of a different numbered loco wearing the nose shield. I personally preferred the look of the locomotive without it.

Dubbed by many as the Aussie SD-40, the W.A.G.R. L Class was once the high horsepower king of Australia.

Like its prototype, the HO model looks huge. Based closely on the US SD-40 locomotive, the 27 L Class locomotives that were built between 1967 and 1973 for the West Australian Government Railways (W.A.G.R.), were easily the heaviest and most powerful locomotives being operated in Australia at the time. By 1997 they were being withdrawn by the W.A.G.R. and the ATN Access units that later operated in NSW between 2000 and 2007 were the result of a sale of some stored locomotives to Australian Transport Network, a company owned at the time by the USA's Wisconsin Central company. Apart from the initial variations of the government owned Westrail liveries, the locomotives also later sported a number of different paint variations under various new ownership, including Interail, Genesee & Wyoming's Australia Railroad Group (ARG), and Pacific National, (who later inherited the ATN Access locos following the sale of that company). There's a nice bit of a story behind the model that comes in the nicely presented booklet inside the box. The packaging and presentation of the model gets a big plus.

Southern Rail Models presentation booklet accompanying the L Class is to be commended.

The L Class model was first released back in October 2015, and has already been reviewed favourably in the pages of Australian Model Railway Magazine and even Model Railroader magazine over in The States, so naturally many of the liveries this model was released in have by now sold out. To be honest, I never really gave the model much thought when it first came out. Yes it was nice, but the pricing at the time was a huge deterrent, and at $375 Australian or $495 for the DCC sound equipped version, my thoughts are that this model still sits at the absolute ceiling limit for what most modellers are able to justify spending their hard earned dollars on. At the time there was also a limit as to what NSW modellers could run with it. The clincher for me was the special run-out prices being offered on the ATN Access locomotives at the Brisbane Model Train Show back in May. Ahead of the pre-order pricing ending on Southern Rail's matching ATN Access XGAY hoppers, I picked up my ATN Access loco cheaper than the pre-order prices being offered on the same model 2 years ago. In a world of lengthy pre-order waiting periods, it turned out to be a stroke of good luck in my favour!

ATN Access locomotive L270 waits patiently in Philden yard to collect its string of XGAY hoppers.

Every locomotive has to have a train to haul, be it in real-life or even model form. Australian Transport Network bought these stored locomotives for a grain contract with the Australian Wheat Board, and with a few exceptions during downturns in harvest where they were short-term hired out, the refurbished L Class locos were only ever seen hauling grain hoppers to port. Thankfully Southern Rail Models is producing the matching XGAY hoppers that were also owned by ATN Access. As in life, its a case of you can't have one without the other.

Philden will soon undergo a cosmetic change to incorporate a grain silo in the space between the gum tree and the red signal in the above photo. Surely that will bring to an end all that I can do with a 9 foot long bookshelf layout. So from that perspective, Southern Rail's L Class may very well be the last new locomotive to join my small fleet. Despite wanting to give this locomotive a 5 star score for so many reasons, I just couldn't bring myself to do so on account of the missing ladder rung and lever. While there will always be new models being announced by manufacturers everywhere, for me the L Class and XGAY hoppers were simply a case of the right price at the right time. Together they will make a great final addition to my layout. I'll feature a review on the XGAY grain hoppers when they arrive in the coming weeks.

Review Card: Southern Rail Models W.A.G.R. L Class locomotive

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: Easily the most highly detailed plastic ready-to-run Australian HO scale locomotive I've come across. Almost to the point of perhaps having a little too much detail.

See also; Southern Rail Models Xplorer

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

All at below cost N scale Clearance!

I thought I'd share this link to my eBay store where I've just placed 48 listings for some top quality brand new US N scale items all at below cost. I won't say too much now, but I've just turned my new model layout project back to the days of steam, so I have some modern KATO, InterMountain, Fox Valley Models, Woodlands Scenics and Classic Metal Works models all in N scale that I'm now keen to get rid of.

~ this post will be removed once they are gone.


Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Signal Box Part Two

After completing my small New South Wales signal box in my last post, I found myself staring long and hard at the photos I had taken of Neath Signal Box in the Hunter Valley. While it captured the essence of the hardy little survivor from the steam age, I soon realised that I was only going to get one chance to make this look like a replica of the original before gluing it into place on my layout. And that meant taking a scalpel to the so-far finished model to give the building some cosmetic surgery.

The long vacant concrete slab still needed some modification to fit the signal box's shape.

With the assembly and painting of the Walker Models kit already finished in my Signal Box Part One post, I started by testing that the structure was going to fit on the concrete slab I had built into position two years earlier when first constructing my layout. It turned out it didn't. Fortunately the building fitted perfectly between the lengthwise gap I'd left between the fencing. The foundations however were about 9 mm too narrow for the width of the building, which called for me to scrape away some of the scenery base and cut, paint and glue a fifth strip of balsa foundation in the area shown above.

Leftover flextrack ties or sleepers and some 1.5 mm round polystyrene make for easy line-side fencing.

Next up was the white metal post and rail fence shown in the photo. For this I cheated a little and used some 1.5 mm round styrene strip shoved through the holes of some plastic PECO sleepers or ties that were trimmed from a scrap piece of flextrack. I then pre-drilled the holes where the fence would sit alongside the track, and cut the sleepers to the desired height.

I glued the fence into position as I constructed it.

With the extra strip of balsa wood foundation now secured in place, I then glued the sleeper posts with the styrene rod in place into the pre-drilled holes and fixed a second railing to the top using some super glue. I came back to paint the posts white later.

Some orange paint applied to my silver mesh ribbon turns it into some modern orange safety barrier mesh.

Next I turned my attention to the orange safety barrier mesh that had been tacked onto the bottom of the stairs in the photo. Using the same silver ribbon as I did for the security screen mesh on the windows, I painted this with some old Humbrol Enamel No. 18 Orange and set is aside to dry while I turned my attention to the awning supports. There is a strip of piping conduit on the corner of the building that runs all the way from the roof awning to the ground. I cut this using the same 1.5 mm round styrene strip and glued it to the painted using some balsa cement before painting it in the same Senco Off White Acrylic that I used for the weatherboards. I then matched the bottom of the styrene strip to the photo by painting in in the matching Tamiya XF-11 J.N. Green that I used for the brickwork.

Finally I cut the cross beam supports away from the side roof fascia, and also the platform awning support post from the corner of the handrail. Turning to my box of scrap parts leftover from my Faller Cement Works kit, I found a leftover section of 1 mm diameter drain pipe complete with a 45 degree angle bend, and used this as the awning down pipe that is awkwardly positioned between the signal box and the stairwell. I then used a leftover off-cut from this to glue the angled awning support beam that can be seen beside the door on the original. I then drew the latchbolt onto the balsa door with a black pen, and added the blue rectangular security company sticker to the left of the door.

The end result viewed in daylight, and once more out of place against the Caloundra skyline, 

My photos also showed an interesting radio antennae that was anchored to the platform base and platform awning. In the photo it is quite tall, and I guessed it to be around 4.5 metres tall. So I cut another length of 1.5 mm round styrene strip to a height I thought looked right, and then glued two angle brackets from my leftover kit scrap-box either side of it before painting it with my silver paint pen. Finally I could then add all these signature pieces to my finished model, and weather it accordingly.

I next added the LED light and glued the structure to the layout.

To add the tiny LED light inside the signal box, I taped the wire to a 1.5 mm x 40 mm high strip of styrene rod and shoved it up from underneath the layout into the pre-drilled holes in both the concrete slab and the base of the Walker Models building before gluing the signal box in place on my layout. The styrene riser holds the LED just above the height of the window frame so that it is not visible through the security mesh windows. If ever I need to replace the LED, it can be pulled back out from underneath.

The completed signal box now stands guard by the entry to Philden Station.

On the rear of the signal box I added a resin cast silver power metre box. The resin casting was a seconds sample given to me by Stuart from Walker Models to play around with, and I just gave it my silver paint pen treatment followed by a little dab of Rustall. I don't know if there was one on the back of the signal box as it was the one side I forgot to photograph when I visited the Hunter Valley in 2016. But for the sake of adding a little interest, I think it looks pretty neat.

Its a little bit ramshackle, but still structurally strong. Just what I was aiming for.

I measured the length of the orange safety barrier mesh before I trimmed it to ensure it just tucks messily in behind the white track-side safety fence. I've set my model in the era between 2002-2005, and the photographs I took of the building a decade later in 2016 show the building in a little worse condition and the safety barrier near trampled to death. So for arguments sake, we'll just say that this captures the beginnings of trespassers pushing their way through the safety barrier.

The end result was a pleasing enough match to Neath Signal Box. That's me on a visit in May 2016.

Since purchasing this kit two years ago, Walker Models have since released a newer version of the Neath Signal Box kit that is more accurate when it comes to the window sizes, roof awnings and supports and the shape of the platform as you can see on the real life version above. The original version I have just shown you how to build is now sold as the small NSWGR Signal Box. For myself, I'm glad I stuck with building the original kit, as it still enables me to keep the bus set down area on my layout that sits between the backdrop and the end of the railway station platform. Making the few cosmetic changes has enabled me to at least capture the essence of that day back in May 2016 when I visited what remained of Neath Railway Station, didn't see any trains, but at least had a great dinner at the nearby Neath Hotel.

In keeping with my promise to always have something new to show on the layout each time it is exhibited, Philden now has a signal box finished in time for the Gold Coast Model Train Show on the 28th-29th October 2017. Following my layout's third public outing, there is a new structure to be erected in the railway station precinct, and some heavy modifications to the spare siding opposite my cement plant to accommodate my new XGAY grain hoppers expected to arrive any week now. With an ATN Access L class loco already waiting to haul in the first set of empties, Pacific National still bringing in steel and cement, and the daily Countrylink Explorer leaving to and from Sydney, there's reason enough to think that there's still life in the old signal box yet. But as usual, I'll let that be a story for another day.

See also; Signal Box part One