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). 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 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, (the sanding pipes are about as close to rail height as you can get). Fortunately the track work on my layout is perfect. Unfortunately, the model always seems to derail when negotiating a PECO code 100 double slip point, while all my other locomotives can make it through at frightening speeds. That in itself leads me to think that this loco would be better suited for a larger layout than mine.

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. 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, unless of course the double-slip dilemma gets the better of me.

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, and the problem with it negotiating the double-slip turnout on my layout. 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. 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

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Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil