Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Detailing the Steel Train

There's nothing like an impending model train exhibition or the arrival of a new model, or both, to spur you towards finishing some small projects that had been placed on the to-do list for too-long. In this instance, it was finishing the weathering and detail on my steel train, something which I first began back in May 2017 by weathering the NCTY open wagons. As you can see above, the NCTY wagons have looked grubby for just on two years, but were joined this week by my long awaited 442 Class locomotive in the form of JL406. It was time to finish detailing the steel train.

Getting to work with first Rustall, and then some water based acrylics.

The biggest cause for concern were my RH/RV 'Butter-box' coil steel containers which had trundled around at the past two model train shows in their pristine straight-out-of-the-packet marigold and yellow. Out came the Rustall once more, as I added a light coat of their Number 1 'rust' followed by a heavier coat of their Number 2 'grime'. But this time I went a little further. After they had dried, I then made a grubby but streaky mix of some burnt sienna with just a hint of black artist acrylic paint and painted a not-too-watered-down coat of this on all sides top and bottom on the RH/RV containers, and waited until they had almost dried.

Wipe on, wipe off. This method gave a much heavier weathering result.

I then used some dry paper toweling to wipe as much of the drying paint away as I could. If the paint has almost set, you can slightly dampen the paper towel to remove the required amount. I next added some more black to my leftover paint mix until I had a sooty mix of brown-black and did the same with the plastic tarpaulins that I use with my NCNX coil steel wagons. I only have one NCNX wagon, but acquired a mix of all three National Rail and Pacific National tarpaulins by buying a packet of each, keeping one of each type and selling the rest on eBay. It is the same method I employed to build my now impressive fleet of mixed containers which I will cover in another post.

Some era-appropriate late National Rail coil steel containers and weathered tarpaulins, ready for action.

The results you can see above and below look pretty good. The tarpaulins look well used and still a little shiny in patches, just like the tarpaulins often do when they are folded in the same places. The butter-box containers now have a convincing level of grubbiness about them while still being able to tell the difference between the National Rail marigold colour and later Pacific National yellow.

Four Butterboxes all in a row.

Which led me back to the tarpaulins for the sole surviving NCNX wagon on my roster. This wagon had not run on the layout since taking a tumble onto the floor back at last year's Redlands Model Train Show. Thankfully I now have the clear perspex panel semi-permanently glued into position at the end of the harbour tracks to avoid this ever happening again, but first I had to glue the end panels and some coil steel support bars back into place and touch up any glue marks with another round of Rustall weathering.

The NCNX coil steel wagon glued back together again just fine, hopeful its days of playing Humpty Dumpty are now over.

The sole surviving NCTY open wagon still looks great from its now 2 year old weathering job.

I didn't need to touch the NCTY wagon I'd weathered two years earlier. Although with an air-brush now high on my shopping list as I venture further along on my N scale project, expect this wagon and my container flat wagons to maybe go another degree dirtier in time.

JL406 arrives to work the steel train in Philden. The OneSteel siding is on the right and holds 3 wagons.

So there you have it. The steel train becomes the first completely weathered train on my layout, and I have since moved on and completed my container fleet with the same effect. The steel train will provide the option of removing the butter-box containers or individual coil steel loads at one of two unloading points; the concrete apron beside the cement plant, or the OneSteel siding that ends hard against the goods shed. The empty wagons will then have to be stored in the OneSteel siding until they are called for back in Phills Harbour, where they can be reloaded in between cement and container trains and sent straight back. The 4 butter-box containers on my roster will call for 2 NQTY/NQYY container flat wagons, and along with my sole surviving NCNX and NCTY open wagons makes for a 4 wagon train. Its a straight forward train, but once my carded timetable is implemented, will have to share wagons and duties between the container train while not holding up the 5 wagon cement train or incoming Xplorer or XPT. There are now just 11 captive wagons on my layout, and each of them has an allocated place from which to leave and return to, and a common destination of Phills Harbour that each carded train will need to visit in sequence.

The only item I now need to take on or off the layout for my operating sessions are a), whatever passenger train I feel like running at the time, the XPT or Xplorer and b), whichever locomotive I assign as the Phills Harbour shunter. Speaking of which....

My long awaited 442 Class loco in the attractive CFCLA experimental livery circa 2002-2004.

The train I first ordered sometime around the end of 2015, then cancelled early 2017, only to re-order early 2018 has finally arrived. JL406 in the striking CFCLA livery may have taken a while to arrive, but in a word, 'wow'! This is definitely the one loco I've always wanted to see run on my layout and feel pretty lucky to now own. I'll post a review on it in the near future.

So with Easter now only 6 weeks away, I'll have my layout ready and looking better than it was last year by the time I return from a week-and-a-half holiday just in time for the 2019 Brisbane Model Train Show. For once I'm going to be spoiled as to what locos to run, instead of just resorting to my 42109 Interail loco that has been to each exhibition I've taken Philden to. And if my ears and eyes serve me well, I could have a record 4 locomotives to choose from if the 422 Class locos arrive in the coming month. The Northern Rivers Railroad's 42206 is going to be Philden's final addition, as I then start pestering Adam at Wuiske Models some more, over what QR locos ran with what rollingstock for my next little project. Other than that, watch for my book Last Train to Bunbury to finally be released in the coming weeks, and a big announcement regarding a book project after the Brisbane Model Train Show.

See also; That steel ain't light

Saturday, 2 March 2019

A full XPT schedule

What a week it has been! Hot on the heels of adding an XPT set to Philden was the news of Auscision Models' arrival of their long awaited 442 Class loco. So after a Friday afternoon of running XPT's to and from Philden and Phills Harbour, I thought I should explain how I transform running a train back-and-forth on a 9 foot bookshelf layout into something so much more, before this blog gets overrun with pictures of the new locos which are headed my way.

Actual timetables from the era you are modelling can be so much more than just a reference tool.

Just as I do with my 2 car Xplorer train, I begin by selecting a random Countrylink timetable, in this case from September 2003. Collecting timetables from the era I model is another extension of the hobby that I enjoy, and in this instance I've grabbed the North Coast timetable. As my operating session is taking place on a Friday afternoon, I scan through the timetable to find a starting point and time for my simulated 7 day sequence. Sure enough, back in 2003 the next departure time is for Countrylink's service 004 The Murwillumbah XPT departing Murwillumbah at 9.50 pm. From this point I now have 7 days to have this XPT set returned to Murwillumbah in time for next Friday's departure at the same time. All while making as many trips as I possibly can without overlapping any arrival and departure times. The challenge is to maximize the amount of trips and station stops the XPT set can make and minimize the amount of down-time the set will accumulate between runs, all while making the scheduled stops listed on the timetable. Its a challenge that can yield different results every time I try this.

Stations were designed to be more than viewing platforms for passing trains, so enjoy making your trains actually stop.

Phills Harbour momentarily becomes Murwillumbah and Philden at the other end of the layout becomes the next stop, Mullumbimby, as I work the train back-and-forth while making all the stops listed on the timetable on the up service to Sydney's Central Station. Train 004's arrival is at 11.38 am the next day. The next Saturday service the train can realistically be serviced and turned around to work is Train 001, the 4.24 pm overnight Brisbane XPT. So its back up the North Coast we go, with Philden and Phills Harbour once more filling in for each station shown on the timetable before arriving in Brisbane on Sunday morning at 6.35 am. Here the train is refueled and returns south as Train 002, departing at 7.30 am and arriving in Sydney at 9.51 pm Sunday evening.

One of my highlights is making the trains slow to a smooth stop at the platform.

Monday morning sees the same set head west, this time on Train 427, the Dubbo XPT. Departure from Sydney is at 7.10 am with arrival in Dubbo at 1.40 pm. The same XPT set returns as Train 428, departing Dubbo at 2.10 pm and arriving back in Sydney at 8.48 pm Monday night. Tuesday morning 7.43 am, and the XPT forms Train 603, the 'Daylight' Melbourne XPT, arriving in the Victorian capital at 6.15 pm that same evening before returning at 7.45 pm as Train 602, the 'Overnight' Melbourne XPT arriving back in Sydney Wednesday morning at 6.25 am.

A physical timetable to hold in your hand lends a sense of attachment to the model train you are running.

About this time, my wife interrupts to ask if I'd like a cup of coffee while I'm 'playing trains'. I consult the on-board services section of my timetable and inform her that coffee is available from the buffet car which happens to be Car D on my XPT set. She returns minutes later and tries to charge me $4 for it. Anyways, Train 005 is now ready for departure from Sydney, the 11.35 am Grafton XPT arriving in the north of the state at 10.00 pm Wednesday evening. After an overnight layover in Grafton, it departs at 6.30 am the next morning as Train 006 arriving back in Sydney Thursday afternoon at 4.34 pm. Friday morning and you guessed it, 7.15 am sees the departure of Train 003, the Murwillumbah XPT which will arrive back where we started at 9.00 pm that evening, bringing to an end my 7 day schedule.

Crew changes, refueling and overnight lay-overs between services all add to the realism of running passenger trains.

By now, more than an hour has passed without my having to worry about a fast-clock or timing the departures of each train. From my laptop, I'll play a station announcement prior to the departure of each new service, and randomly play an XPT sound clip featuring the train's twin air-horns and passing diesel rumble to add to the scene. By the time I've finished my $4 cup of coffee, I'm ready to call it a day from running the passenger train. The next time I power up the layout, I'll pull a different Countrylink timetable from my collection, an depending on the time and day, end up with a completely different sequence as I try to coordinate a schedule without any pre-planning.

Operating is probably the most enjoyable aspect of a model railway once the layout is complete, and adding some form of realistic attachment between your layout and the way it is operated becomes just as important as the scenery. I've found with a point-to-point layout that I prefer running my passenger trains in the manner I've outlined above, rather than the more traditional approach of drawing my own chart that would effectively only shows arrivals and departures of trains running between Philden and Phills Harbour. But I suppose it is a case of each to their own. If you find something that works, and makes operating your layout more enjoyable than simply making your trains move, then you're onto a winner!

See also; Running some Countrylink Timetables and Snacks for operating sessions

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Review: Auscision Models' XPT Train

Every once in a while a model comes out that grabs everyone's attention, is brilliant in its prototypical execution, looks superb and features highly on everyone's must-have list. This is such a model train. Auscision Model's faithful recreation of the train that forever changed the modern railway landscape in Australia was first released in September 2015. The reason I am three-and-a-half years late in posting a review of the XPT, is that it has taken me that long to save, and save, and save some more, before finally deciding that if I was ever going to add this model train to my collection, it was best to do it before the model had completely sold out. As luck would have it, Tates Toys and Hobbies of Geelong posted one of their last few remaining sets for sale on their eBay store at a reduced price, and courtesy of a further 10% Off eBay promotion that was running at the time, I went..... ahhhh, why not.

The presentation of Auscision Models' XPT set is simply brilliant.

Inside, the 7 car set includes 2 power cab cars, and 5 carriages with differently modeled interiors.

When the postman carries a box large enough to contain a bicycle to your doorstep, you know that
this is going to be a big model. How big? Well, the 17.3 metre long power cars equate to 19.9 cm long in HO scale, while the passenger cars are all a uniform 24.2 metres long, or 27.8 cm in HO scale. Considering that there are two end power units and five cars in the set, Auscision's HO scale XPT comes in at 178.9 cm long allowing for the close fitting couplers the model is equipped with. If running this train on greater than 24" radius curves, the manufacturer recommends fitting the long-shank couplers which are provided in the presentation box, which you guessed it, are going to squeeze the length of this train out that little bit more. When my main layout area only has a track length of 188 cm before my rails exit the scene, you'll know why I hesitated purchasing it for so long.

The close coupling looks incredibly realistic....

....but its the working diaphragms and between-car details that really impressed me!

The XPT is perhaps my favourite train of all-time, and in deciding I wasn't going to let prototypical accuracy rob me of the fun of running a four car set up and back on my layout, I bought this set to future-proof my modelling interests. If ever I do indeed get the space to build a simple room-sized layout, then my interests would lead me to recreate a section of the old Murwillumbah Line on the NSW North Coast in the 1990's. I now have the era-appropriate XPT set, some Northern Rivers Railroad locomotives and my trusted cement hoppers to do so. For now, what doesn't fit on Philden will stay safely inside the box. Speaking of the box, what a delightful presentation box it is. Its almost too good to put away in the cupboard!

The end power cars include directional headlights top and bottom, adjustable working strobe lights on the roof....

...and working directional red marker lights on the number 2 trailing end.

So, let's get to the nitty-gritty! Introduced into service in 1982, the XPT's bumped pretty-much every diesel-hauled long distance train from the state within their first 10 years. By the time they were all repainted into the Countrylink livery that my model is decorated for in 1993, they were headlining trains to Brisbane, Murwillumbah, Grafton, Dubbo, Albury and Melbourne, and before that had even worked to Canberra and Tamworth. Come 2021 they will be phased out after just on 40 years of service. The HO scale models feature a lot of the standards we've come to expect from Auscision, such as operating headlights and marker lights, blackened metal RP 25-110 wheels, metal knuckle couplers, separately applied metal handrails, driver's side mirrors and windshield wipers, fitted air-hoses, a detailed cab interior with driver seated at the controls and a 5 pole twin brass flywheel motor. My Countrylink liveried set even had working strobe lights on the roof that are fully adjustable with the micro-switches concealed beneath the locomotive unit, something that wasn't even mentioned on Auscision's website!

Even the passenger cars steal a bit of the attention away from the already impressive power cars, not only with the detailed interior layout of the different seating arrangements of each class, but the operating diaphragms over the doors between each carriage. They are sturdy enough to withstand the customary poke with the finger and the accompanying "no way," that is sure to be followed by another gentle touch of the sprung components. In a word; amazing!

The passenger car interior, rib-sided fluting and door details are exceptional.

One power car in the 7 car set has a driver seated at the control panel...

....while the trailing power car has a beautifully detailed empty drivers compartment.

There's a lot I can rave-on about with this model, but its probably nothing that hasn't already been said over the past 3 years, so I'll leave it at that. Other than pointing out that both units are powered if you were considering the cost of converting this set to DCC. With the XPT sets retailing for $1,200 Australian, its definitely something you have to weigh up. For those like myself still suffering from the initial price-shock, the cost break-down equates to $295 per (locomotive) power car, and about $120 per carriage or sitting car which actually turns out to be quite reasonable. Especially if comparing the quality with the repainted British-HST sets that Lima once offered in the Eighties.

The double-ended, sleek-nosed XPT's were based on the British HST sets of the late 1970's, but built here in Australia.

So, will I run this train at any upcoming exhibitions? The answer is probably not. My layout was built for the 2 car Xplorer and an accompanying diesel locomotive to perform some simple switching operations. The 7 car XPT set is going to look ridiculous on my layout, even to me. However, when you save for so long to acquire a wonderful model of your all-time favourite train, the last thing you want to hear is someone killing the fun by pointing out that 2 cars between 2 XPT power cars is un-prototypical. I already know that! But at home? You bet I'm going to have fun running it that way. Otherwise it would only be sitting in its box waiting for that room-sized layout to come along, instead of letting me indulge in some nostalgic fun. Which is what the hobby is all about.

Review Card: Auscision Models HO scale XPT passenger train

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: While not for every era or every budget, this simply is one fine model! And if this is indeed the final piece in the puzzle to complete my layout's roster, then I've surely ended it on a high!