Wednesday, 10 February 2016

"Hornby and the model railway media"

Unless you've been sat under a rock today, you'll know that Hornby have announced a profits warning. Read on this here.

It makes for sobering reading, amidst the back drop of what I believed to an entirely positive 2015 for the company, particularly in terms of the models it was producing.

The magnificent Peppercorn K1, the J15, the Goods Arthur, the Great Western King, the Gresley J50, announcing the new Merchant Navy, a plethora of wonderful carriages and wagons alike: this was not the design of a company on the way down but one very much on the way up.

I've been privileged to share my knowledge over the course of the last few months with a couple of individuals and they've been good enough to allow me into their confidence. I say this not to show off, as others might, but because I feel it is important to give both sides of the story: and that is I feel Hornby are going in a very positive direction in their Research & Development, and I am anxious that this isn't scuppered or spoiled for a ha'porth of tar, so to speak.

I don't feel it is giving anything away to say that Hornby have surprised us all, and will continue to surprise us, with their planned new products into the future. I have been very impressed by the openness of Hornby in many ways, and I feel their approach to their Research & Development is spot on. They have the hobby, the modeller and the beginner's best interests very much at heart, in my view, and I don't say that lightly. It is not something I believe is true of all other manufacturers.

It is clear, on the flip side, that their sales and in particular with their retailers, have been a most commanding influence in the profits warning issued today. I have said previously that I feel Hornby need to have a round the table discussion with their retailers to improve the situation all round: here is my offer to act as an impartial adjudicator for all, representing no sides but helping everyone be heard and look for a solution to the problems which my local retailers and Hornby are finding increasingly difficult to cope with.

I make that offer in the spirit of wanting to help: and after all, I am a financial adjudicator in my day job. It is something I am particularly good at: researching, and then analysing both sides of a particular story and then offering a practical solution designed to help both sides move forward.

So there you have it. Yes, it is disappointing news today, but let this be where the line is drawn, and we go no further. Constructive rather than destructive going forward. Being critical and able to analyse is fine, but Hornby could rightly be described as the backbone of the hobby and certainly it is the entry point for many of the younger generation. Let's not lose sight of that.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

"Flying Scotsman"

With the news that a ticket for Scotsman's inaugural run is going to cost £450, here's a letter I can finally publish after five years which shows what could have been.

In the end, I fear I'll be dreaming of being on that train on 25 February 2016...

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

"Happy new year...Great Western Glory's first artwork"

Happy new year to all of our readers! 
This year sees the development of Great Western Glory ramp up. 
This piece of artwork from our artist Dean Walker is our first look at the main trio of characters featuring in our book, each with their own back stories. 
From right to left, our narrator for this book is the Star class Princess Charlotte. She is the oldest of the trio.
Clifford Castle is in the centre, and King George VI sits on the far left. All three engines have some incredible adventures ahead of them...
Great Western Glory takes place at the height of the first and second world wars, and promises to be a thrilling and dark follow up to the now sold out Tale of the Unnamed Engine.
Our young enthusiast, Stanley, finds an old steam locomotive amidst poppies, ivy and weeds in a long forgot goods yard. 

What stories does our fallen Star have to tell...?

Sunday, 27 December 2015

"Manufacturer Voting..."

In a change to the proceedings from this year, there will be two sets of "Model of the Year" awards, with a new set coming from the red corner with Model Rail, and a separate set coming as per previous years from BRM / RMweb / MREmag.

This year I decided to check the categories for which one could vote as the choices would ultimately influence whether I voted or not.

I think we can all agree that Kernow Model Rail Centre is in fact a manufacturer. They commissioned the Beattie Well Tanks and the Adams O2 models through Dapol and later DJ Models but both locomotives have appeared under the Kernow branding to date.

The latter, the Adams O2, has been included in the OO steam locomotive of the year poll and is described as being the "Kernow Model Rail Centre Adams 0-4-4T O2".

Yet Kernow was not included in the OO Manufacturer of the Year and was also not included in the overall Manufacturer of the Year award.

DJ Models, we know, has close relationships with two of the large shops (Kernow and Hattons) and works on their behalf for their commissioned models.

Yet DJ Models has no model in any of the categories this year. No OO model of a steam locomotive, diesel/electric locomotive, wagon or coach, and nothing in the other scales. DJ Models was included in the OO Manufacturer of the Year and the Overall Manufacturer of the Year awards, however!

We know of course that no DJ Models branded products have actually appeared on shelves yet, borne out by their absence in the other categories.

This inconsistency frankly baffles me. It's such an obvious inconsistency that one might call it cynical.

I've since written to MREmag's editor, hoping for my email to be included in tomorrow's edition with a suitable answer:

In the interests of openness and honesty, I include my letter here unedited:

Dear Sir,

Noting that the awards are now in the voting stage, I took the liberty of looking through the categories to see if I would be voting this year. One thing stuck out which leads me to ask: under what criteria can someone be called a manufacturer?

The thing which stuck out was the inclusion of DJ Models in the "Manufacturer of the Year" category for OO, despite having no products in any of the categories that preceded it in the same section (no steam or diesel/electric locomotives, no wagons and no coaches).

No DJ Models branded products have been produced or sold to date, and those products for which Dave Jones has I understand had partial responsibility, are under their respective commissioned brands of Hattons and Kernow.

Yet DJ Models is also included in the overall manufacturer of the year category.

Kernow on the other hand was not included in the overall manufacturer of the year award and yet they have actually sold Beattie Well Tanks and Isle of Wight O2s under their branding.

In the interests of fairness and transparency, would the panel who picked the categories and the nominees explain their reasoning for including DJ Models under two manufacturer of the year awards and not Kernow in the overall manufacturer of the year award? 

Best wishes

Simon A.C. Martin

My only interest - as an adjudicator who has to be impartial in his day job - is seeing some fairness and consistency applied across the board.

If Kernow have sold a product with their branding on it, then are they a manufacturer, and if so, should they not be included in the overall manufacturer of the year award?

In short, the above choice of nominees in those categories does not appear fair to me and I have written in only to get some fair and reasonable answers.

Until next time.

Friday, 25 December 2015

"Merry Christmas!"

Merry Christmas to you all. I hope you have a wonderful day!

To those of you on our Facebook group, there's a little Christmas treat, free to download and read. A sample chapter of our next book...

Best wishes,


Monday, 7 December 2015

"These are the stories we tell..."

Well, that's it ladies and gentlemen. The last copy of Tale of the Unnamed Engine left Sidcup earlier today, bound for Nova Scotia in Canada. We released the paperbacks for the first time in August 2013 and two and a bit years on we find ourselves with only our stock allocated for our stockists left. 

To say that today was a difficult day was an understatement. We did, after all, print and bind 2000* copies with help from Tony Lord of the London College of Communication, Blackheath's Binders, and many more besides.

I think I speak for myself and Dean when I say that we thoroughly enjoyed bringing this volume to print after releasing it as an eBook back in the summer of 2012. 

I'm so very grateful to everyone who bought a copy of the book. For those of you who didn't get a copy, have no fear. Email us on, and if we have any left from returns or similar from our stockists, we'll be in touch.

All that is left to say, is that these has been the first story we told...and we're getting closer to the second one, day by day.

Here's some artwork Dean has been working on - the faces haven't actually been illustrated yet, the shading is the colour of the smokebox. Note also that the steam and smoke is yet to be done too, but there's so much rich detail in the picture already. I think you can guess what railway these engines come from!

Until next time.

*Actually, it was 35 boxes of 60 books each, which is 2100 copies. The overspill comes from printing, we had to make sure we had enough for 2000 books to sell! 

Sunday, 29 November 2015

"Model trains and their reviews: time for a shake up?"

Now that Warley is almost over, and the big announcements of the year are out of the way, I feel I can post freely again on my own blog and ask a few questions of the hobby.

In the last week, you may have noticed an email published on MREmag. You can find that email here, but here's a full transcript of the email (which was published unedited).

Kernow 02

The stories and reports circulating around the Kernow commissioned O2 model are getting more and more curious. One video in particular has been circulated around and this is the one by Andy York from RMweb which was posted on YouTube showing a Kernow O2 running with a train of coaches.

The train of coaches are the older type of Hornby's Gresley LNER corridor coaches (most recently used by Hornby as part of the basis for their Railroad range, and still in production to date).

I can see that all of the coaches used in the video match the types I already have in my collection. Therefore it follows that the coaches I have should be reasonably identical to those the O2 pulled in the video, and therefore reasonably representative of the same train Mr York put together for the Kernow O2. These are all moulded plastic coaches, made in a small number of clip together parts, which originally came with plastic wheelsets (but for a time turned metal wheelsets before a return to plastic wheelsets for the Railroad range).

I have weighed my own coaches and they range from 90g to 100g (the former a composite and the latter a brake third). Therefore on the basis that we take the lowest possible coach weight, and the highest, we could make some reasonable assumptions of the train weight in the video.

If we extrapolate the information that Mr York has provided for the train lengths he put his sample O2 to work on, and assume that his test trains comprised these type of model coaches only (as shown in the short video), we get the following representative train weights:
  • 6 coach train: low = 540g and high = 600g
  • 7 coach train: low =650g and high = 700g
  • 8 coach train: low =740g and high = 800g
I also have in my possession samples of Hornby's more modern Gresley teak coaches. These are far closer in weight and detail to the coaches a modeller would most likely run behind his Kernow O2 (the forthcoming Gate stock, for example, has little in common with the Railroad Teak coaches that we have seen the O2 pull). My sample coaches of this type weighed in at 120g and 125g for a composite and a brake third coach.

So, using some reasonable assumptions, based on the same assumptions above, we get these potential train weights for a more detailed and more likely sample train:
  • 6 coach train: low = 720g and high = 750g
  • 7 coach train: low = 840g and high = 965g
  • 8 coach train: low = 960g and high = 1090g
You can see that even accounting for the lowest possible and highest possible sample weights, there is a huge discrepancy in the potential train weights between the older, much simpler and lighter construction LNER Gresley coaches and the newer, more modern and detailed, heavier equivalents. The 6 coach Railroad rake could be as low as 540g and as high as 600g, but a more likely, detailed rake could be as low as 720g (or to put it another way, another coach heavier) and as high as 750g. Taking into account the heavier coaches the weight differences get bigger.
Now, we all know that the vast majority of these O2s being bought are unlikely to be pulling trains of this length. That's a given, we all accept this. The longest trains on the Isle of Wight were around 6 coaches, I am reliably informed. So in the interests of balance, you could say that the train weights above are irrelevant, because they're not going to be pulling anywhere near the like on a daily basis. Fair enough, as long as we're all agreed on this.

However you will agree with me, I hope, that such a defence of a model's performance will have viewers asking why this was necessary. There are reports a plenty on the Internet regarding the performance of the O2 and Chris Leigh of Model Rail also raised this as an issue. Bearing that in mind, I have to question the validity of the video produced in regards to the performance of the O2 on that basis.

Pulling a train of these extremely light weight coaches is not proof of the potential performance of this sample model with more likely rolling stock. Furthermore, there's no video to show the locomotive starting the train and/or stopping it and then starting it again, so we have no frame of reference to the model's overall potential performance here either.

I would hope Chris Terise - who I know as a very reasonable chap - would be able to take any constructive criticism on the chin if it should arise for any of the products he markets. The O2 model looks lovely and has a wealth of detail. That is not in doubt. That it is being sold at a competitive price and comparable to other similarly sized and detail models is also not in doubt.

But is such a video as that shown above really in the best interests of Kernow? I remain sceptical. Muddying the waters further with such productions does not help the case of those defending the models' potential performances. It raises more questions than answers.

I would be interested in the thoughts of other readers to MREmag. What constitutes a reasonable test for the model railway media to show the performances or otherwise of a model locomotive? It could be suggested that across the board in the model railway media, there is no clear objective way of showing this as yet.

Simon A.C. Martin

I'd like to express at this point that there was, is, and will always remain the fair point here about consistency of message and what constitutes a fair and consistent test of model train haulage. That was my sole purpose for writing the email. Nothing more, nothing less. 
The response from the editor was interesting and goes as follows:

Editor: Perhaps I can clear this up a little since I was the one who set the train up and drove the loco, and presumably should also be in the same firing line for the attacks in this letter.
There have been many people saying that the 02 isn't the strongest loco in the world so as Andy was doing a photo shoot at the Leamington clubrooms, while we waited for the layout to be set up, the opportunity was taken to test Andy's own model with some coaches available on a continuous run layout.
The first set available were the old Hornby LNER set so that's what we used. I simply hooked the model to the entire set and gave it a run. The model pulled them perfectly well but stuggled a bit more when hanging more on the back.
You are correct that all it proves is that an O2 will haul 6 light coaches around a layout. That's all it was intended to show. It was not "necessary", the video was shot for fun. There are no extra questions, the video is what it is.
In no way was it intended to be the comprehensive test you are making it out to be, if it had been we'd have put some numbers of drawbar pull on the model and considered rolling resistance of the stock - far more relevant than the overall weight. We'd also have put more effort into the filming than simply pointing a mobile phone at the train.
Perhaps we all need to stop having fun. Perhaps all discussion should be passed through a committee of "the great and good" before it is allowed to be released to everyone else. Or perhaps if anyone else had shot this video, and I'm sure the are plenty of other films showing O2's running on the Internet, these comments wouldn't have been made.
I have said before, MREmag is not the place to come if you just want to take potshots at other forums, no matter how veiled. There are plenty of other sites for this, we'll stick to talking about railways.

I won't legitimise the viewpoint suggested that my email was in any way about taking potshots at other forums: because that would infer that I regard any other railway forums as fair and balanced places to discuss model trains, and that I in any way care for their way of doing things. No, I'm afraid that was quite far off the mark this time!
That video was originally posted - I am told - as a direct response to complaints about the haulage capacity of the Kernow O2. It was made to show that it performs on the track. I'm happy with that: it's a legitimate response but my point was that the model railway media can - and really should have done by now - some research into what constitutes a fair and reasonable test of a model's abilities.
There is no standard across the board in the model railway media in terms of reviewing model trains. There are no clear ways to define the ability of a model nor any clear way of defining how prototypically correct it is or whether its finish can be considered fine, heavy or whatever. There just isn't any clear guidance or thought into what consumers need to make informed decisions on their purchases.
I've tried before when making videos for YouTube. The following video is a little old now, certainly very dated, but it and the other review videos I made followed a format and they were fair and consistent across each video.

This to me is the fundamental issue. Consistency. If reviews in the model railway media were fair and consistent in their appraisal, then naturally you wouldn't get accusations of collusion every so often and complaints that they don't go into enough detail. If you had agreed tests for performance (such as a weight test for haulage, speed trap test to show a model's gearing) then you're not going to be pulled up for treating models from different manufacturers differently: it would be a level playing field for reviews, and you'd be more fair and impartial as a result.

For me, it's not good enough - as it seems to be the case elsewhere on the net - to be seen to be impartial. It's about actually being mature enough to know that you have to be impartial, because it's the right thing to do for all parties.

Chris Leigh recently wrote a review for the Kernow O2 for Model Rail Magazine and was pilloried for it across the internet. 

I have read the review and can't get my head around the response. 

It was one of the most fair, balanced and constructive reviews I've ever read. I can only conclude that because it was a commissioned product, and that many people seem to have had their hearts set on the model, that Chris' review was attacked because the truth is sometimes difficult to hear, or because there's something more sinister going on.

There's something of a cult of personality about the model railway media at the moment, and one wonders how long this will go on. Hornby took the unusual step this year to ramp up their own marketing and communication direct with their consumers. I have praised this previously, and will continue to do so because by opening up their lines of communication direct to their consumers, they're getting the actual story and not a potentially edited one. 

People can be - and are - more honest on Facebook, Twitter, and similar than on model railway forums because they only have to justify their view to Hornby and remain accountable to themselves.

 In my day job I am expected to take both sides of the story from two parties with a dispute, and make a decision based on the evidence available which is fair and reasonable to both parties. It's not enough for the decision to feel vaguely fair: it has to be fair. My test of fairness has been tested a lot over the last few years with model railways, and when all is said and done I have observed some woefully inaccurate and unfair commentary from those who are in positions of authority and should know better.

I couldn't care less what anyone thinks of me in terms of model railways: anyone who has met me knows what I am about and that I do not care for politics. I'm one man, acting alone, so you'll always know on this blog that what I am writing are my own views.

If you are reading this blog and feel that I've picked on you in the past - perhaps you're a manufacturer, or a reader, or someone somewhere who has taken offence to something I've said - maybe the question to ask on reflection is: did I make a good point - and was it fair and right to raise it?

If you can say yes, then I've done my job and I can rest easy. 

For my regular readers, a side note. I apologise for the lack of updates this year. I had no idea how 2015 was going to go. It's been both amazing and heartbreaking; terrifying and exciting. I love my chosen career and I am working hard to become the best adjudicator I can be. I take my role seriously because it lines up with my core values: hearing both sides of the story and bringing balance to a debate.

Thanks for reading today: there'll be a Christmas update on The British Railway Stories and a few modelling bits and pieces, but that's mostly it for 2015 now. Roll on 2016 when normal service can be resumed in earnest.

Particularly as the boards are finished for my model railway and the track is finally laid! I hope to be running test trains and starting the full scenic work in the new year.

Until next time,