Wednesday, 27 March 2013

"Flying Scotsman Railroad Model (2012): Review & Musings"


Is it a rebuild too many? I speak not, of course, about the real locomotive Flying Scotsman (that's a debate to be had elsewhere!) but of the latest incarnation of Hornby's model of no.4472 Flying Scotsman.

Before we move onto to the new model, a quick step into the annals of history, and a reflection on the effect no.4472 has on one's childhood.


There has been a model of no.4472 Flying Scotsman in the Hornby catalogue continuously since they took over Tri-ang, reusing their tooling for their own (of which, my father's very first model train, is a sample of).

This lovely model locomotive may have been very much in the toy train mindset, but as proven by James May in his excellent television series, James May's Toy Stories, it remains a legend in its own right, complete with the chuffing sound tender and the glowing firebox door. My father's model is the same as James', in all but its original tender: for when it was bought, it actually had a BR dark green tender provided with it. This has been put right some years later!


When Hornby stopped making their Tri-iang tooling, they made a succession of new toolings, which accounted for the many variations in the Gresley A1 and A3 Pacifics, and allowed different tenders, boiler and chimney combinations to be modelled, along with different names and numbers for the first time.

By the late 80s and early 90s, Hornby had started to produce a model of Flying Scotsman with a tender drive mechanism, and this was available in lots of different guises, including a model with two tenders, as per the 1968 non-stop run to Edinburgh under Alan Pegler's ownership.

My first electric train was this one: Flying Scotsman in its dark green guise as British Railways no.60103. This was bought for me shortly after a visit to the Llangollen railway, where I was to see my first ever steam locomotive. Click here to see what that first steam locomotive turned out to be...!

No doubt that visit helped instil a love of railways and in particular, those locomotives of the London & North Eastern Railway. Though nowadays I would state happily for the record, that my favourite locomotive classes are the Peppercorn A1s and the Thompson rebuilt Holden B12s, Flying Scotsman herself remains very much in my heart, despite the well publicised problems of recent years.


By the end of the 1990s, Hornby's tender drive model was looking increasingly out of date, and Hornby replaced it with an all new, loco drive model, of which the above express passenger blue liveried no.60103 Flying Scotsman is a member of.

This model was made exclusively in a train set for Marks & Spencer, the "Blue Scotsman" train set, recreating no.4472 as it was in the late 40s and early 1950s in the short lived blue livery that was standard for Pacifics in the 8P category (and the Great Western Kings).

The super detail loco drive tooling has a huge range of variations, including tenders, cabs, chimneys, domes, boiler types, smokebox doors, bufferbeams, superheater headers and even left or right hand drive models included. This was always a clearly high end product, with a price to match, and Hornby has released it in many liveries and variations over the years, including a special edition NRM model in wartime black, to celebrate the delayed return to steam of the real Flying Scotsman.

Hornby then produced a new range of models a few years ago, called the "Railroad Range": an entry level range of budget models, based mostly on older tooling but updated with new, DCC ready chassis and given bright liveries to match. Their first model in this range was no.4472 Flying Scotsman, based on the old tender drive tooling, but incorporating sprung buffers, the super detail model's excellent chassis (albeit with the older, more robust valve gear) and the large, over sized tender drive tender (minus its motor now).


In 2012, the original Railroad Flying Scotsman model was retired, and a new tooling was introduced to replace it. I had originally intended to review this model as one of my video reviews, but time due to my full time job, and money became a factor in delaying it indefinitely. A friend of mine has lent me this model for review, complete with a challenge for me to complete in remodelling it.

When reading through this review, I must ask that you consider these points below.
1. It has been developed as, and is being sold as an entry level, budget model. 
2. It has been sold as being an "all new" model. 
3. The main target market are children and their parents, and newcomers to model railways.
4. I have no affiliation to Hornby, nor do I have a desire to be anything other than fair and balanced in my views: critical where it is necessary and give praise where it is due.
So on that note, how has this rebuild of no.4472 Flying Scotsman gone for Hornby?


On the face of it, very well. The model is very well presented in a basic version of the London & North Eastern Railway's (LNER) apple green livery, everything looking very crisply moulded or fitted, with no manufacturing errors present on my sample anywhere.

Instead of the white/black/white lining out, only the white lines are provided, and the normally gold shaded red lettering and numerals are printed in gold only. This gives a deceptively detailed appearance from a distance, but to the discerning modeller, it looks very plain when viewed at close quarters.

The model looks to have been designed to represent no.4472 in its 1934 guise, when it completed (along with another A1 Pacific) the first non-stop runs between London and Edinburgh. It therefore has a corridor tender, no superheater headers and a boiler moulded to depict the original 180lb A1 boiler type.


One thing to note are the moulded handrails on the cabsides and tender. In my view, these would have looked better if they had been painted in some form, as the green plastic finish gives them a rather sunken look which doesn't match up to the size and look of the separately fitted handrails fitted to the boiler.

This does however make the model more robust in this area, which is a thumbs up for Hornby as that is part and parcel of their aim to make this a budget model aimed at a particular demographic.

In terms of accuracy to the prototype, the cab side sheets are beaded and straight sided, unlike the entirety of the class A1 and A3 which had beaded, curved turn ins at the end. This has been done it seems to make the cab area more robust and is acceptable in my view. Somewhat bizarrely, this makes the cab more accurate for Thompson's rebuild of Great Northern!


Where this logic starts to break down a little is in the bufferbeam area. The actual buffer shanks are exquisitely moulded, better even than the super detail model in terms of capturing the shape of the prototype's buffer shanks, until you see that there is an additional "step down" from the buffer shanks to the buffer. A very odd addition, however what is more heinous is that the buffer heads are extremely thin moulded plastic, and are very flimsy.

They can and will be easily damaged early on in any child's ownership of this model.

I said this at the time of the Railroad Tornado release (which as you will find out in this review, shares a lot of traits and components with this model) that this is one particular area where unsprung, metal buffers would have been more acceptable. This is I'm afraid a poor design decision on Hornby's part, as they are clearly not robust enough for the demographic the model is aimed at.

The steps at the front, on the other hand, are very robust and are moulded as part of the whole body shell. This is a positive move in my view as the steps are quite robust in their own right.

The bufferbeam is very plain, with a moulded plastic hook and a hole drilled for the vacuum pipe (which is included along with some brake gear in a plastic packet at the back of the model's polystyrene packaging).



Accepting that this model is probably designed to reflect no.4472's condition in 1934, there is a discrepancy in terms of the chimney height. The type modelled is in fact the taller, Great Northern Railway (GNR) chimney, which was replaced by the time of the 1934 non-stop run, along with the taller cab and the GNR eight wheel coal rail tender.

Regarding the dome, I personally think it's fine, but one friend has said it's too tall, another has said it's the wrong shape...make your own minds up on this point I feel.


One very clever bit of design work can be found on the roof of the cab. The vents are moulded to look like they open. This did in fact completely wrong foot me as I went to try and close the vents out of habit with my super detail models!

The one vent slightly more closed than the other look gives the cab roof a sense of realism despite being otherwise very basic. I like this sort of clever tooling, particularly in mind of its intended demographic and its place in Hornby's budget Railroad range.


Inside the cab, we find the boiler back head moulded in plain black plastic. Now, this isn't the best photograph (I could not believe how difficult it was to photograph the inside of the cab!) but the moulded detail is incredibly crisp and well defined, as well as being correct for a right hand drive locomotive (note the placement of the screw reverser).

There's no bucket seats, but these can be easily added from spares obtained elsewhere, or made out plasticard.


It's under the bodyshell that has seen the most changes. The chassis is actually a further development of the existing super detail chassis, as it was before with the original Railroad 4472 model. There is only current collection pickup on the driving wheels, however, although in my experience this doesn't actually translate into poorer running on DC or DCC, as long as the track is well maintained.


A new 3 pole motor and flywheel has been fitted to the same basic chassis block used under the super detail Hornby A1s, A3s and A4 Pacifics. This arrangement of motor and gearbox has previously been used on the Hornby Railroad Tornado model, to great effect as it is a very smooth operator.


The valve gear is very nicely detailed, and is much finer than the previous Railroad 4472's coarse tender drive era valve gear. This I believe is also shared with the Railroad Tornado to an extent. In spite of the so far logical and welcome changes for this model, however, there is a strange oddity here.

The cylinder block is an all new tooling, but is clearly and based directly on the super detail chassis' cylinder block, being dimensionally identical, and fitting in exactly the same manner, but leaving out the holes for the cylinder drain cocks (somewhat understandably, as Hornby don't supply any with this model). Making this new tooling specific to this model seems to me to be a bit pointless.

Why spend the money tooling up a whole new cylinder block when you can simply reuse the current one? It's made out of what appears to be the same grade of plastic, fits the same way, and (after testing my theory) fits both sets of valve gear (this type and the super detail one) perfectly.

By all means, don't add the printed red lining out or the silvery paintwork for the front cylinder casing, but save money by simply reusing the existing tooling, surely?


When you compare the previous super detail chassis to the newest Railroad incarnation, you get a good feel for how similar the two chassis are. The major difference at the rear of the model, is the addition of a die-cast block for the cartazzi instead of the previous moulded plastic affair.

This is in my view a good addition specific to this model, given its intended demographic, as it adds weight to the model which will add traction (and the plastic cartazzi has always been, in my view, a rather unnecessary and very flimsy component, despite its very pleasing and very accurate moulding).


Now we move onto the tender, which for me, is a major point of contention. If the buffers were unacceptable for their lack of robustness, then the tender must also be rightly criticised for its lack of robustness in a specific area.


Firstly, we'll look at the positives. It's a very nice model actually, the tender body being directly based on Hornby's super detail 1934 built tenders, but simplified with moulded detail in terms of handrails, the water filler cap and other normally separately fitted details.


This is at its most evident when looking at the tender's front plate.


So, how can we conclude that this tender body is in fact based on Hornby's previously existing super detail tooling?

The biggest clue can be found under the tender, in fact. It reuses the same bottom plate and wheel sets as the super detail model, even including the very welcome NEM pocket coupler at the rear. Where it differs are the brake hangers (moulded onto the side frames, which is welcome when you consider the demographic this model is aimed at).

The buffers are like the front end of the locomotive's body shell, and are too flimsy, so I'll say no more on that point, but I will pick up on Hornby's most ludicrous design decision. Bear in mind that the vast majority of this tender tooling (and in fact, that on the chassis) has been carried forward from the previous super detail model. 

Hornby have changed the tender coupling to match closely that of the latest Railroad Tornado model. Now this would not be such a big problem in itself, but (as I said at the time of the Tornado model's release) the coupling is extremely flimsy (a simple formed piece of thin metal with three holes designed into it for train set curves and close coupling distances). 

More importantly, the attachment point for the coupling (which is on the tender, and no longer on the locomotive) is a newly tooled plastic box with a screw mounting. This I have not dared take to "failure" levels, but it's clear from playing around with it that the tender coupling isn't going to be up to the job of more than rough playtime with its intended demographic. It's far too frail. 


Not to mention that, as a result of this change in tender connection, you can no longer simply couple up one of the previously made Hornby A1/A3 or A4 tenders to your locomotive. The backwards compatibility of the super detail and Railroad range models proved extremely useful both for modelling, and for dealing with broken models via spares, so to retool this area (and do so with such a frail component) is absolutely unacceptable in my view. 


It's frustrating as the model is so very nearly there physically. Hornby's decision to fit plastic buffers and this entirely flimsy tender coupling don't hold much water I'm afraid, when you put these facts alongside their assertion that the Railroad range is meant to be a robust, entry level series of models to get youngsters and newcomers into the hobby. That does not add up at all with this model.


Furthermore, the Railroad range is meant to be a budget range. It's certainly been sold as one since its inception. The original RRP of the Railroad 4472 model (which, let's remember, was based on the old tender drive model) was set in and around the £55 mark. A very reasonable price to pay for a DCC ready locomotive, which featured as its sole positive in terms of the older bodyshell tooling used, extremely robust sprung buffers and some degree of compatibility with its super detailed counterparts.



So, bear in mind that the new Railroad 4472 model has a vast degree of shared tooling, re-uses CAD work which already existed, with minor modifications, and actually uses components which are of a lower quality (looking at the very flimsy, very cheap moulded plastic buffers against the sprung metal alternatives of the older model) and are less expensive than that used in its predecessor (looking specifically at the 3-pole as opposed 5-pole motor and lack of tender pickups combined with the 3-pole motor combination).

You would think, therefore, that this model would have an RRP similar to the original Railroad model.

Not quite.

This model has a staggering RRP of £79.99.

So one penny under £80 for what is supposedly a budget range, robust entry level model locomotive? It is also very much a case of not getting it for much less than a few quid under this RRP at the box shifters either. This sample, bought by a friend, cost £75 from a well known box shifter.


For around the £80 mark, you can buy the forthcoming Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway 2-4-2 tank locomotive from Bachmann, or their excellent London Midland Railway 3F tender locomotive.

Both of these models are supremely well detailed, are very robust (featuring die-cast metal components throughout) and in the case of the latter (as have not seen the former run yet) you will get a superb, DCC fitted locomotive with excellent high and low speed running characteristics.

You must remember that Bachmann's models are not budget or entry level, they are top of the range with lots of separately fitted items, at prices directly comparable to this model which is sold both as a budget and as an entry level model.


I want to be fair to Hornby, but how can they possibly justify lowering the overall quality of the components, reusing older tooling as much as possible, and then upping the price of the entry level model by around £30?

At an RRP of £79.99, it's not actually good value for money at all. I could harp on all day about the buffers and tender coupling, and the over height chimney and other details, but the fact remains that this model is a miss-mash of components and CAD work which Hornby already had in their inventory. If we look a little closer at the model, you can see that actually, much of the model's genealogy comes from previous models.

The buffers and the tender body are genuinely the only new "tooling" the model has. By the way, did I mention that the front bogie is actually shared with Hornby's B1 model? I didn't? There's another example then of the miss mashing of parts.


I can't recommend this model as either a budget or an entry level model. It's too expensive to be a budget model, and it's too frail in several key areas to be robust enough for the entry level, for children predominantly. It's replaced a tooling which was older, granted, and not up to the detail standards of the day, but was near perfect for the market it was supposedly being aimed at.

What perhaps has really got my goat is that the buffers and the tender coupling smack rather badly of a rather underhand concept: planned obsolescence. We know all models have this built in to a degree in some respects, and that it's the nature of consumerism today that everything has a pre-designed shelf life, but it's utterly irresponsible and rather mean spirited in my view to design that into two of the most important areas of a model locomotive, in terms of the rough handling they will get from children. The buffers, and the tender coupling.


My original Flying Scotsman model was definitely roughly handled in its day. It was pushed along by hand, it was picked up and dropped on a constant basis, it was run round a train set at breakneck speeds...and to this day shows very little sign of giving up the ghost, motor and all. Even the smoke deflectors are still intact!

It was extremely robust, and it was to Hornby's credit that the first Railroad model was the tender drive Flying Scotsman model, updated with a better chassis for the new generation of young railway modellers.

Note that the buffers on my model - which are not metal, but plastic in fact - have survived the tests of time and old age. These buffers were well designed by the toolmakers in Margate (yes, mine says "Made in Great Britain" on the bottom!) and are the sort of thing Hornby should have designed into the new model.

Looking at this model purely from a reviewer's point of view, and bearing in mind those four points I asked you to consider earlier, do you feel this new model suits its target audience? I don't. Not at that price and not with those buffers or tender coupling.

Hornby very nearly had this model right. With metal buffers (they don't need to be sprung) or simply more robust plastic buffers, keeping the previous tender connection and keeping the tender pickups (which, let's face it, if you are going to go to the expense of re-using your super detail tender in many ways anyway, how much extra cost does that actually add?) along with putting the right chimney on the model, thus cementing it as a 1934 era no.4472, it would have been perfect as an entry level model intended for children to play with.

At an RRP of £60-65, it would have been a more than reasonable budget model too. As it stands it's neither robust enough where it counts for the entry level, and it's £20-30 too expensive to be a budget model.

You can't expect much goodwill from your customers if you are going to lower the overall quality of a model and then push the price up.

That's before we get onto the alternatives. You could buy the older tender drive Railroad range model (which I recommend for children in particular for all of its superb features, e.g. robust sprung buffers, tender pickups and DCC ready) more cheaply on eBay thanks to the emergence of the new model, or any one of Hornby's newest top of the range Flying Scotsman models...all at eye watering RRPs of £144.99 and £154.49 respectively.

Again, you are unlikely to find a box shifter willing to sell them for much less than that.

It's very easy to call this blog an example of "Hornby bashing" and I'm under no illusions that people will do so without realising the ramifications of that sort of unnecessary (and unfair) branding.

So let me be clear: nobody in the hobby wants Hornby to fail: everyone wants to them to succeed on some level. If you think I'm being unfair, go back and read my Hornby O1 and B17 reviews from last year. I give out praise when it is due and criticism when it is warranted, and never without some level of constructive thought on the matter.

Hornby's problems are more or less summed up in this model. They don't know what they want to be.

They either want to be the entry level and budget model railway company, in which case prices, quality and robustness have to match the expectations they put out to their customers, or they want to be the top of the range manufacturer producing exquisite locomotives for their customers who will gladly pay higher prices for higher standards.

They produce two ranges to that effect, and whilst the super detail range more or less meets the criteria (but, as I say later, with very high jumps in price) the Railroad range is looking increasingly less than good value for money.

I've noted that some models from the 2012 range have been introduced, some with £30 price rises, some with £5 price rises, and some are entering the market later this year with what they would have you believe are bargain prices for the design on offer.

I think it has to be a case of wait and see, but it must say a lot about Hornby's current situation amongst modellers that there's been so much written about "Design Clever" and the quality, against the specification, against the price that you simply don't see spoken of elsewhere as much about other manufacturers.

- - -

I've been issued a challenge by the owner of this model to "turn it into something more authentic" so look out for a modelling blog later in April on the trials and tribulations of turning this model into something authentic and special in its own right.

Until next time, thanks for reading.

1 comment:

locoyard.com said...

This is a very interesting right-up Simon, very interesting indeed. I have to say that I was confused when Hornby announced a "new" Railroad Flying Scotsman... with a down-graded spec and an increase in RRP. £80 is an insane asking price!

What I see with Hornby at the moment is lots of investment in social media and increasing prices. Meanwhile, Bachmann gradually improves making models that people want for generally reasonable prices. I agree that I do not want Hornby to fail, but you can't help but think that they need a serious shake-up when they invest in de-specing a model and making customers pay for the pleasure.

Anyway, I look forward to seeing you try and get the best out of the model, just be careful not to damage those fragile parts! ;)