Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Review: Auscision Models' 86 Class

I have to be honest here. When Auscision Models first released their HO scale model of a NSW 86 class electric locomotive in late 2014, I paid it no attention. It wasn't until 18 months later when I was drawing up plans for a second level expansion that I gave the model a second look. Having just pre-ordered a 4 car double-decker Tangara passenger train, the thought of adding overhead wires for my future suburban Sydney scene suddenly made the 86 class electric locomotive look pretty good. Despite the candy colour 86's having all sold out, I was fortunate that the 1990's era Freight Rail/Freightcorp livery models were still available.

Auscision Models' locomotives sit inside a protective cradle keeping them safe when stored.

Taking the model out of the well-presented box does cause you to hold your breath for the first time. Not because of any foul odour escaping from the packaging, but simply because of the finely detailed pantographs that sit atop the model. If you had any previous thoughts that the 86 class locos were a little unassuming in their detail, then think again. The Auscision Models HO scale version has captured a surprising amount of detail on these locomotives that you may never have known existed before now. With a warning sticker advising to take extra care to ensure the overhead pantographs are in the down position when placing the model back in the box, my first thoughts were; "I'm going to break something here." Fortunately my fears weren't founded.

The lighting isolation switches are hidden from sight beneath the underframe.

Taking the model from the packaging cradle, I couldn't help but be surprised by the weight of the model. Underneath there are 4 isolating switches for the lights, catering to modellers like myself still content to linger in the dark ages of DC operation. They control the headlights (H/L), marker lights (M/L), number board lights (N/L) and ditch lights (D/L), which like Auscision's 421 class loco I reviewed previously, is perfect for if you are wanting to run the locos in pairs on DC only operation. The wheels are blackened metal NMRA standard RP25-110, or so the manufacturer's specs say. But just like the prototype, they look huge and appear ready to do business. With the weight of the model, I don't think there will be any problems with the RP25 scale wheels derailing for those who worry about how deep the wheel's flange is when running trains on derail-prone model track.

They look fragile, but these 86 class pantographs are actually metal.

Placing the model on the track, I then scratched my head as to how I was going to get the pantographs into the raised position. I soon discovered that a gentle squeeze and pull on the edges of the centre bar, (as shown above) causes the spring loaded pantographs to extend on their own. A simple gentle push back down on the centre bar of the pantograph clicks it into position once more to pack it away. There was no need for me to worry about breaking them. The pantographs are made out of metal and are really quite sturdy.

There's also a lot of detail on the bogie frames, (that's trucks for our U.S. modelers).

The model worked perfectly straight out of the box, but at first its hard to resist the urge to pause it under lights to take in all the detail. Freight Rail blue on a boxy-looking locomotive may not seem a detailed enough colour choice to some modellers, but take a close look at the bogie frames. They are among the most detailed I have yet to see on any HO scale model. I was able to find the Comeng manufacturers mark as was cast onto the prototype's bogies, while on the white line on the locomotive body is one of the smallest manufacturer builder's plate you'll ever see. Then there's the etched metal side mirrors and handrails before even mentioning the pantograph detail.

That sure is one beautiful HO scale locomotive. Ready to run Australian models like this were once just a dream.

To me, the front of this locomotive is what makes the 86 class a beautiful model. The brass horns, etched metal windscreen wipers, metal and plastic handrails, M.U. cables and air hoses, foot rails and uncoupling bars are all there. As are the LED lights that give off that warm white light. Even the Kadee-style scale metal knuckle couplers look a treat. The inside drivers cabs at both ends are detailed. A driver and 2nd man occupy one end while the other cab is empty.

The 2 person crew inside the drivers' cab is another nice touch.

The marker lights on the model are bi-directional, with white lights at the leading end and red lights at the trailing end of the locomotive. The SRA 86 class had a central European-inspired number board above the drivers windows, giving them a unique appearance. Some of my first train photos I ever took were of brand new 86 classes passing through Gosford at the head of passenger trains to Newcastle. They were built between 1983-85 and all were released in the State Rail Authority candy livery. By 1994-95, all were repainted Freight Rail blue, and later received FreightCorp badging under the side drivers windows. Surprisingly the class had a relatively short lifespan, by 1997 some were being withdrawn due to cracked frames. After National Rail's reluctance to use them in the electrified network from 1996 on, they finished up largely on coal train working across the Blue Mountains, with the last withdrawn in 2002. The one reprieve for the class came in 2004, when 4 were leased back for use on the Bondi Junction underground railway turn-back project.

The HO scale version of the NSW 86 class measures 23.5 cm over the couplers.

The manufacturer's sheet that comes inside the box recommends the use of 18" minimum radius curves, and the model is designed for either code 70, 83 or 100 rail. The model is also DCC ready, with a 21 pin socket and sound enclosure for ease of adding sound, something that is comforting to know for the future. With nothing missing, broken or sitting slightly out of shape, my Auscision Models' SRA 86 class electric locomotive truly is a 5 star model in every sense of the word. The 23.5 cm length from coupler to coupler makes the locomotive a great candidate for a mid-sized layout, while the double-ended cab design of the 86 class is exactly what I like running on a point-to-point bookshelf layout such as mine. For all the talk of Australian model railway prices soaring beyond the $295 per locomotive mark in the very near future, this model may just well be the best value for money Australian loco still available on the market today.

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: First class presentation and finish, right down to the scale metal pantographs, in my opinion makes this one of the best value-for-money Australian locomotives on the market today.

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