June 30, 2016

"Hornby Raven Q6 review: a northern beauty"

It's with great pleasure that I present for the first time on this blog a locomotive class which isn't part of my overall modelling plans. I had no intention of buying a Hornby Raven Q6, and yet I now find myself besotted with the original and having ordered another, with both destined to become Tyne Dock examples in due course. So how did we get here?

That's one question. Perhaps a better one is why didn't we get here earlier? In the North of England there are many beautifully industrial railways with steam locomotives of various vintages that ran to the end of  steam. The Raven Q6 is one of those, and luckily for us, one is preserved and currently running on the North Yorkshire Moors Railways.

There were some people who wondered if we'd ever actually get here in modelling terms. A specifically North of England steam locomotive made by a major manufacturer for the mass market. It's all well and good throwing in the odd elderly Shire class, or a Scottish liveried Black Five, or a Robinson D11 with a slightly different chimney and cab roof, but it doesn't escape the fact that for the North of England, and specifically the North East of England, model railways have been severely lacking in products, excitement and general all round recognition that the region exists.

Hornby and Bachmann have produced some buildings in their Skaledale and Scenecraft ranges (including specifically North Eastern style sheds, water towers, signal boxes and even Goathland station).

It is made even more strange when you consider that the North Eastern Railway (NER) in particular was one of the major components of what has been Hornby's money maker for some years: the London & North Eastern Railway (LNER). Sir Vincent Raven's designs built for the NER varied hugely from humble tank engines, fast Atlantics to the somewhat unwieldy Pacifics and the beautifully rugged freight engines. It's in this bracket that we find Hornby's latest steam outline model, the Raven Q6, answering the prays of many people who've hankered for a steam locomotive with that North Eastern pedigree.

Of course, it could have all been very different. There was also a "crowd funded" model mooted by DJ Models a few years back. Happily for modellers there's been no duplication this time around, and the Hornby model was pushed ahead for release in 2016.

Let's face it, when it comes to steam locomotives and particularly ex-LNER steam locomotives, Hornby has a track record by far and away better than anyone else in the market. Bachmann has come very close with a few of its models, most recently the Ivatt Atlantic, but Hornby's Thompson L1, B1, Gresley B17 and most recently the Worsdell J15 and Gresley J50 are on another level to everything else. They led the way with revamped models of the Gresley A3 and A4, and the rest followed. Truly, if you follow the LNER, now is the time to be a 4mm scale modeller. You will never be able to have it as good as it is right now.

Heljan recently released a model of the Gresley O2 fright engine at an entirely comparable price to Hornby's Q6. It however doesn't measure up very well by comparison, I am afraid to say. If you need a Gresley O2, this is the only game in town. It has a number of features which I personally do not like, and objectively speaking its overall finish is not particularly fine when compared to many of its excellent diesel electric locomotives (I cite Falcon and Kestrel - both beautiful models).

Given the Hornby Q6 has a similar wheelbase, overall size and is being sold at a similar price point makes it in my opinion a reasonable comparison of models.

But there is no comparison. Objectively speaking there is an incredible gulf between the two models. In almost every way possible, the Hornby Q6 is the superior model, even accounting for some potential detail errors (lack of capuchon, mechanical lubricator, etc). The fit, finish and running qualities of the Q6 just by far out strip any other steam outline model out there.

For this review, I conducted some running in trials of the Q6 on 29 June 2016 and everyone at ERMS (Erith Model Railway Society) who examined the model was taken with it. But we were blown away by how incredibly quiet and competent the chassis is, without any modification. By contrast, my Heljan O2 runs extremely poorly and is much louder. I have previously been forwarded some screenshots of work done by others on the internet to improve their Gresley O2s and to me it's an excellent starting point for some modelling.

But the Hornby Q6 is better value for money. Less modifications need to be done, if any, to make it look like a proper LNER workhorse. It has a better motor and gearbox arrangement, separately fitted lamp irons, metal handrails and handrail knobs (Heljan's O2 has hideous plastic ones which look and feel cheap), sprung buffers and a plethora of other separately fitted details.

By comparison, Heljan's O2 has mismatching tender handrails, poorly designed outside valve gear, an incredibly misshapen chimney and a less than smooth drive in either forwards or reverse running. I feel like I could trust the quality control of Hornby implicitly with this release, which I can't say with Heljan's O2. The Hornby Q6 hasn't got the double fly wheel drive of the Worsdell J15, but it doesn't need it either.

Bear in mind, I have always previously praised Heljan for their excellent mechanisms and it is regrettable that such a high profile new release falls down in what is normally their strongest area (if we accept of course, some notable problem models such as the Clayton. Art imitating life more than we'd like!)

So does the Hornby Q6 measure up for accuracy to prototype? You bet it does. Surprisingly, this is a model which Hornby haven't laser scanned, preferring to climb all over the real thing and measure it up traditionally.  Which I approve of wholeheartedly as you may find things which you don't get from a laser scanning device (a useful tool undoubtedly - but not infallible).

This means that in real terms, the Hornby Q6 model compares very favourably to scale drawings and photographs of the real thing. This model - like all in the first batch - carries a diagram 50A boiler (the later type fitted by the LNER) and a chimney without a "windjabber" or "capuchon".

It also has the mechanical lubricator fitted to the right hand side, and does not have a sandwich buffer beam fitted. It is in late LNER livery, with the plain yellow Gill Sans lettering and numbering that Edward Thompson introduced when chief mechanical engineer of the LNER.

The detail in the cab is absolutely bonkers: the boiler back head is possibly the most realistic and detailed I have seen on any steam outline model. It is extremely fine, and really only needs some weathering and a crew to complete the look.

If I have one criticism of the design of the model, it is that the tender is very light and possibly prone to derailing as a result. I have not however in eight hours of running this model encountered a single time that the model's tender derailed. So this criticism may in fact be unfair. It is easily fixed by adding real coal or liquid lead when the moulded plastic coal is removed to add weight.

There's a few other nit picky details I need to get out of the way at this point. Bear in mind, I'm an LNER modeller and as such I, and others like me, are going to be looking closely at these models for modelling purposes, and we may find more fault than others because we know what we're looking for.

(But I caveat that with fully accepting the Q6 isn't my normal fare and I have relied on my friends who have looked after the real thing to point me in the right direction of prototype photographs and film online).

Firstly, I'm pretty sure looking at the photographs I've collated that this Q6 (3418) should have a capuchon on the chimney. However when I asked Hornby about this, they replied that on this particular locomotive, they had evidence the capuchon had been corroded away and had taken the decision not to model it as a result.

It's a fair response in my view. In my time rustling through books (RCTS, Yeadon's, a few books on the North of England railways and my late grandfather's photo collection) there's a few photographs to suggest that the capuchon was damaged regularly on Q6s. Whether that justifies not modelling the capuchon on this locomotive, when they have such a chimney tooled up on the British Railway liveried models, is up to you.

Secondly, the mechanical lubricator. The RCTS (Railway Correspondence and Travel Society) series of books indicates that the type fitted to this model was post 1949, which is British Railways days. I've looked at photographs and I believe it's not wrong for a 1946 era Q6 to have this type of lubricator. However whether it is correct for 3418 is another matter. I simply don't know - I haven't as yet found a photograph of 3418 herself.

Then there's the smokebox door. On some forums there's been doubt about whether it should have been this type of smokebox door or the larger, more bulbous later one as fitted to the British Railway versions. Happily I've found a large number of 1946-49 era Q6s in photographs fitted with this door, so I am content to say it's most likely accurate, if not for 3418 then at the very least for a classmate in this period.

The numbering and lettering on this version looks a smidgeon anaemic to me. However the colour and shape of them looks accurate. That is the most minor point possible.

The biggest criticism of this model I have seen is that as an LNER liveried model it doesn't represent the largest period possible as it has a diagram 50A boiler and not a diagram 50 boiler which has many different details including, but not limited to, washout plugs, safety valves, dome placement, and so on and so forth...

This is a fair criticism if what you expected was a pre-war Q6, but Hornby haven't sold it as such. It's definitely post war and its condition reflects that. In order for Hornby to model a fully pre-war Q6, it also requires tail rods to the cylinders, possibly a sandwich buffer beam, original NER buffers (and not the square based group standard ones fitted) amongst other minor details.

I asked Hornby if they were going to produce this type, and they stated a pre-war version with the 50A boiler type is definitely being on the cards. I suspect (and this is my view, not one Hornby have offered) that an LNER liveried Q6 was always going to be needed for the first batch, but to maximise the tooling available a post war one was easier to produce than a pre-war one. There's nothing wrong with that intrinsically, but if you model the LNER 1923-46 then this Q6 isn't accurate.

That takes nothing away from what is the model of the year, for me at any rate. I've never known a model to look so comfortable pulling a train or be so quiet and smooth when doing so. The chassis is a testament to Hornby's current design ethos, and the sharpness and accuracy of the body shell a testament to Hornby's tool makers.

For me, Hornby are at the top of their game once again. The excellence of the K1 and J15 last year have continued into 2016 with the superb Q6.

Of course this is all set against the current backdrop of Hornby as a company being in dire straits. The situation is grave. 

All I can do, as a railway modeller who understands the value of Hornby as a company, is encourage those closet North Eastern modellers to buy the Q6s and the 21 ton hoppers in spades. They are both excellent models, and no doubt this won't be the last Darlington built model to be released by Hornby in the future.

For the sake of the hobby, we need Hornby to survive. We can do this by helping them to understand when they get it wrong - and by supporting and praising them when they get it right, like any other manufacturer.

At the end of the day, I'm not paid to write these reviews and I have absolutely no interest in mincing my words. I've previously always been very forthcoming with constructive criticism where it was required - see Hornby's Great Western heavy tanks or their Duke of Gloucester models to name but two that felt the wrath of my keyboard - but equally we've got to praise and support them when they get it right, because it's to the advantage of all of us in the hobby that Hornby as an entity survive.

I don't normally give scores on this blog, but if I was to give a score out of ten, this would be a nine: not perfect, for like any model there are people like me and more knowledgable than me who will know a few details are wrong, here and there. But the overall quality of the product and its performance by far out strip any other steam outline model on sale today.

Well done Hornby, sincerely, and gratefully.

No comments: