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,



Matt Wickham said...

Sadly those who run the online mag are similar to those who run RM web.
The Model Rail review was reasonably fair but the error was 2 people did the review one did the model the review and the other did a running test. In the words of consistency the same person should of done the whole review.
The O2 models including my own have had back to back issues, which in the review was actually recorded as it stated the back to backs were 15mm, 0.5 out. which was tracked down to being the issue, as I believe Chris Leigh has now purchased his own after the findings.
Sadly it looks like Model Rail people don't discuss things, and can't edit things properly... as the model doesn't have traction tyres either when it says it does in the review.

The review was fair in reflection of each persons findings, but not of a single individual doing the review through out as he would of known of the back to backs being out.
The o2's will pull around 5 coaches, 6 at a push, and maybe more if the weight was further forward.

Overall it's a good model, and runs well have done my own review due in the next few days.

Copley Hill said...

Absolutely agree that where errors occur in reviews it is right to have them corrected. That's what retractions are and Chris Leigh published one in the next issue.

I also agree that there has to be consistency in reviewing, and yes one person doing the whole review would be consistent overall.

I've no doubt it is a good model and I've put forward my view regarding its details. But there's been a lot - noticeably a lot - of reports of poor and different running and derailments.

The way to satisfy those who want to be proved wrong is do so in a manner that shows the model as it is, not throw up more questions.

I'm glad it's working well for you Matt. I know there's a lot of people who've been waiting on an O2 for a very long time! I had one pass through my hands and I sorted out its back to backs and added some weight too for a friend.

Anonymous said...

Hi to anyone who gets this far. I have done my own in depth investigation of the Kernow/DJM O2 using GA drawings, photos and known official dimensions. Whilst I agree there are some deficiencies in the MR review these pale into insignificance compared with the almost total whitewash by other reviews and the lack of information published on certain forums. The model actually has a large number of gross errors on the detail components and also lacks certain rather obvious details completely on some or all versions. The chimney is nearly 15% too large making it very suitable for an S gauge model at 1/64th scale. The Westinghouse pumps, regulator control cylinder, electrics box and sidetank mounted air reservoir are similarly well oversize. There is no Steam brake cylinder, merely a bump on the chassis casting and the prominent pipework under the LH footplate on P/P locos is absent. The steps are poorly positioned and have vestigial treads and one is not even properly tooled. The cab back and front detail is wrong, particularly the ventilator holes. The Footplate air reservoirs on P/P locos are undersize on diameter and wrong in both length and position and do not match any of the full size arrangements at all. Brakegear is badly aligned and the rodding is overscale (cf a Hornby M7)
The worst aspect of all which fortunately only affects the Maunsell livery loco 207 is the seriously faulty lining on the cab front and upper sides, LH tankside, steps, valance, superfluous boiler band and splashers, none of which matches the full size engines.
All in all this model does not come up to standards predicted by Kernow and compares very poorly with the Hornby M7 which is now 10 years old but costs much the same at full price.