Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Review: Auscision Models' 86 Class

I have to be honest here. When Auscision Models first released their HO scale model of a NSW 86 class electric locomotive in late 2014, I paid it no attention. It wasn't until 18 months later when I was drawing up plans for a second level expansion that I gave the model a second look. Having just pre-ordered a 4 car double-decker Tangara passenger train, the thought of adding overhead wires for my future suburban Sydney scene suddenly made the 86 class electric locomotive look pretty good. Despite the candy colour 86's having all sold out, I was fortunate that the 1990's era Freight Rail/Freightcorp livery models were still available.

Auscision Models' locomotives sit inside a protective cradle keeping them safe when stored.

Taking the model out of the well-presented box does cause you to hold your breath for the first time. Not because of any foul odour escaping from the packaging, but simply because of the finely detailed pantographs that sit atop the model. If you had any previous thoughts that the 86 class locos were a little unassuming in their detail, then think again. The Auscision Models HO scale version has captured a surprising amount of detail on these locomotives that you may never have known existed before now. With a warning sticker advising to take extra care to ensure the overhead pantographs are in the down position when placing the model back in the box, my first thoughts were; "I'm going to break something here." Fortunately my fears weren't founded.

The lighting isolation switches are hidden from sight beneath the underframe.

Taking the model from the packaging cradle, I couldn't help but be surprised by the weight of the model. Underneath there are 4 isolating switches for the lights, catering to modellers like myself still content to linger in the dark ages of DC operation. They control the headlights (H/L), marker lights (M/L), number board lights (N/L) and ditch lights (D/L), which like Auscision's 421 class loco I reviewed previously, is perfect for if you are wanting to run the locos in pairs on DC only operation. The wheels are blackened metal NMRA standard RP25-110, or so the manufacturer's specs say. But just like the prototype, they look huge and appear ready to do business. With the weight of the model, I don't think there will be any problems with the RP25 scale wheels derailing for those who worry about how deep the wheel's flange is when running trains on derail-prone model track.

They look fragile, but these 86 class pantographs are actually metal.

Placing the model on the track, I then scratched my head as to how I was going to get the pantographs into the raised position. I soon discovered that a gentle squeeze and pull on the edges of the centre bar, (as shown above) causes the spring loaded pantographs to extend on their own. A simple gentle push back down on the centre bar of the pantograph clicks it into position once more to pack it away. There was no need for me to worry about breaking them. The pantographs are made out of metal and are really quite sturdy.

There's also a lot of detail on the bogie frames, (that's trucks for our U.S. modelers).

The model worked perfectly straight out of the box, but at first its hard to resist the urge to pause it under lights to take in all the detail. Freight Rail blue on a boxy-looking locomotive may not seem a detailed enough colour choice to some modellers, but take a close look at the bogie frames. They are among the most detailed I have yet to see on any HO scale model. I was able to find the Comeng manufacturers mark as was cast onto the prototype's bogies, while on the white line on the locomotive body is one of the smallest manufacturer builder's plate you'll ever see. Then there's the etched metal side mirrors and handrails before even mentioning the pantograph detail.

That sure is one beautiful HO scale locomotive. Ready to run Australian models like this were once just a dream.

To me, the front of this locomotive is what makes the 86 class a beautiful model. The brass horns, etched metal windscreen wipers, metal and plastic handrails, M.U. cables and air hoses, foot rails and uncoupling bars are all there. As are the LED lights that give off that warm white light. Even the Kadee-style scale metal knuckle couplers look a treat. The inside drivers cabs at both ends are detailed. A driver and 2nd man occupy one end while the other cab is empty.

The 2 person crew inside the drivers' cab is another nice touch.

The marker lights on the model are bi-directional, with white lights at the leading end and red lights at the trailing end of the locomotive. The SRA 86 class had a central European-inspired number board above the drivers windows, giving them a unique appearance. Some of my first train photos I ever took were of brand new 86 classes passing through Gosford at the head of passenger trains to Newcastle. They were built between 1983-85 and all were released in the State Rail Authority candy livery. By 1994-95, all were repainted Freight Rail blue, and later received FreightCorp badging under the side drivers windows. Surprisingly the class had a relatively short lifespan, by 1997 some were being withdrawn due to cracked frames. After National Rail's reluctance to use them in the electrified network from 1996 on, they finished up largely on coal train working across the Blue Mountains, with the last withdrawn in 2002. The one reprieve for the class came in 2004, when 4 were leased back for use on the Bondi Junction underground railway turn-back project.

The HO scale version of the NSW 86 class measures 23.5 cm over the couplers.

The manufacturer's sheet that comes inside the box recommends the use of 18" minimum radius curves, and the model is designed for either code 70, 83 or 100 rail. The model is also DCC ready, with a 21 pin socket and sound enclosure for ease of adding sound, something that is comforting to know for the future. With nothing missing, broken or sitting slightly out of shape, my Auscision Models' SRA 86 class electric locomotive truly is a 5 star model in every sense of the word. The 23.5 cm length from coupler to coupler makes the locomotive a great candidate for a mid-sized layout, while the double-ended cab design of the 86 class is exactly what I like running on a point-to-point bookshelf layout such as mine. For all the talk of Australian model railway prices soaring beyond the $295 per locomotive mark in the very near future, this model may just well be the best value for money Australian loco still available on the market today.  But then again I may be biased. I think I may have a new favourite locomotive on my layout.

My Rating:


Final Thoughts: First class presentation and finish, right down to the scale metal pantographs, in my opinion makes this one of the best value-for-money Australian locomotives on the market today.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Meet Philden's Blues Brothers

Philden is now home to the Blues Brothers following my latest arrival of an Auscision Models NSW 86 class electric locomotive in the Freight Rail livery. So with my staging shelf now in operation, it was time to pose 8633 beside my On Track Models 82 class diesel for the customary photo shoot.

Being a New South Wales Blues fan living behind enemy lines in Queensland, I thought it might be fun to pose my talking Rugby League Footy Mates dolls of Paul Gallen and Brad Fittler beside the locos before making their first side-by-side run together. Like the 82 class loco Paul Gallen is a big NSW front row forward, while Brad Fittler (also nick-named Freddy) was an electric player, who like the 86 class loco, is also now retired. So I've nick-named my NSW Blues locos Gal and Freddy. Anyone who had purchased the Footy Mate dolls during State of Origin time would now be well familiar with some of their off-bat sayings. So when Gal suddenly spoke up with "let's go out the back and tackle each other," I cleared the line and let them race.

An electric loco in un-wired territory? What's more of a worry is the overhang from my cement plant!

Passing Philden's cement plant at slow speed, the overhanging office looked a little too close to the 86 class's pantographs for comfort, and sure enough the lead pantograph soon came into contact with the plastic kit building. Luckily I had stopped the train just in time to avoid any damage, but I'll have to keep that in mind for when I add the finishing touches to the cement plant. If you notice in the background, there is another new addition to Philden, a Southern Rail Models NPRY cement hopper number 18208 in the FreightCorp livery, which now gives me 3 different NPRF/NPRY livery variations to run on my layout.

"I've got you covered Freddy. Don't let those Queenslanders knock your block off."

By the time both locos had passed the cement plant, it was obvious that the Auscision Models 86 class was the faster of the 2 locomotives. While both locos are exceptionally smooth runners, whatever motor is in the Auscision Models 86 class kicks into high speed a lot earlier than the On Track Models 82 class. Despite stopping them a couple of times to shoot a clear in-focus picture, 8633 easily reached the end of the platform at Philden Station first.

"No-one can catch me Gal, I'm still the fastest retired locomotive going around."

Re-posing the pair at Philden Station for a final photo, I soon cleared 8243 from the mainline and placed my Southern Rail Models Xplorer on the rails at the staging end of the layout.

"Did you know I won the Golden Boot in 2000? True story."

Those familiar with the fact that some Southern Rail Models Xplorer/Endeavour 2 car sets were wired incorrectly will understand that this causes the model to run in reverse direction to what your control pack shows. So the 86 class on the return journey was soon passing the Countrylink Xplorer coming from the other direction on the mainline. I'm now glad that for my small layout I didn't re-wire the polarity on the Xplorer as the instructions that came inside the box suggested. Using only 1 power controller I am able to simulate 2 trains passing each other, just for something a little different.

The mouse-hole door exit to my staging shelf is now complete.

As for the staging yard and layout transition? I'm glad to say that it is a success. The highway overpass disguising the mouse-hole door exit on my layout is finally doing what it was designed for, enabling trains to disappear from view. The painted black surround of the staging shelf helps disguise the transition as you peer down the layout to see where the track disappears. It simply looks like the train has disappeared beneath the overpass. I'm also glad I built the overpass high enough that the pantographs on the 86 class pass beneath it at full height. Despite having no plans to string overhead wires on Philden, it gives me the chance to run the 86 class until my as-yet unnamed upper-level extension is completed with overhead wiring.

"Gal and the Blues, what a combo!" No, "Freddy and the Blues, what a combo!"

The simple staging shelf extension has completely transformed operations on my layout. No longer are trains confined to the 6 foot visible portion of my model railway. Allowing them to disappear from view has opened up a lot of different ways to have some fun running trains, which on a small bookshelf layout like mine is what it's all about. Fun.

So with Gal and Freddy continuing to argue about who was the better player, I have to admit that like our Rugby League greats, our former NSW locomotives are each unique too. While the 82 class were being re-badged with Pacific National lettering in 2002, the 86 class electrics were all being withdrawn. The only exception came in 2004 when some 86 class were reinstated for use on the Bondi Junction underground turn-back project. But for someone who is just happy enough to stick with modelling the Countrylink era pre-NSW TrainLink, if I can say it's somewhere between 1993 and 2013, than for a small layout I consider it good enough. I'll feature a review of the Auscision Models 86 class soon, and also share a simple trick that I used for making sure my trains don't head over the falls at the end of my staging tracks. But as usual, that's a story for another day.

See also; Staging setbacks, simple solutions and Making staging look sensational, or Review: On Track's 82 class and Review: Southern Rail Models' Xplorer

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Making staging look sensational

After 3 weeks of sawing, sanding and varnishing, (and a weekend away from any model train projects to go to the Gold Coast for my Mother's 70th Birthday), the staging shelf for Philden is now finished and in position in my apartment. Never one to do things by halves, I turned what was a design setback into something that now resembles a railroad art-piece, thanks to sticking to my goal of giving my small bookshelf layout a museum quality finish.

Even a model railway staging yard deserves an authentic railroad presentation.

Always one to trawl the pages of eBay in search of interesting yet small collectible railway items, I had some aluminium station indicator name signs and a 520 mm long Countrylink station sign pointing to the coaches bay, set aside for such an occasion. With my staging shelf needing to be confined to a dimension of just 730 mm x 320 mm, it was time to turn my relatively small staging area into a part of the layout.

I used the same vinyl film covering I used along the rear of my layout for the panel on my staging shelf.

Following the same process I outlined in my previous post (improving rear layout views), I first turned my attention to the 3 mm MDF panel board that would fill-in the gap at the rear of the staging extension. I had already measured, cut and painted what would be the inside face of this panel in the same satin black water based enamel I used on the underside of my layout. So it was just a matter of covering the viewing side in the same steel-checker-plate vinyl wrap as I had previously used, and trimming the edges with a sharp hobby knife. After spending the best part of a week painting, staining and varnishing the staging shelf to match the rest of my layout, it was time to bring the finished staging extension up the 5 flights of stairs to my apartment, and give it the finishing touches.

This time I was able to hide the LED lighting power pack away from view.

Before gluing the now finished steel-checker-plate panel into position, I first had to mount the coaches sign into place on the black backdrop using 2 x 25 mm cup head bolts and washers (as you can see in the following photos). I also mounted the control pack for the LED strip lighting away from view inside the cavity of the framework. The LED lighting strips were then attached beneath the overhanging pelmet for what will be the staging shelf for my upper-deck extension. For this project, I scored a free LED lighting pack from Arlec, sent as a replacement after reading my previous post installing LED strip lighting. This time there was no problem with non-matching white lighting strips, and I didn't even need to cut a strip to size, 2 x 300 mm strips fitted perfectly beneath the pelmet.

The mouse hole door leading from my layout also needed to be concealed when open.

This final view before I glued the steel-checker-plate panel into position shows the ample amount of room I have inside the cavity of my double-deck staging extension. The LED lighting power pack, the mouse-hole door from my layout proper and any future wiring or DCC receivers can all be concealed within here.

I glued the checker-plate panel to some plywood strips using clear, fast drying craft glue.

I used Boyle craft glue to glue the panel into position. If you look carefully, you will see that I added some 9 mm plywood strips to all four sides of the staging shelf framework to enable the panel to be recessed back from the edge of the framework. This was just to keep it looking uniform with the removable backdrop I constructed on the layout.

The rear of my staging extension faces our lounge room, so I decorated it with some railway artifacts.

Here is the finished view of the rear of my layout. I mounted the Woodford station name sign on this side, and also two signal box plaques I had left over from my project where I turned awful into awesome by using some railroad artifacts to disguise an eyesore. The varnished timber on the top level is the height that my upper-deck extension will be built to. The black painted strip of plywood is to screen the trains on the upper-deck staging from view. The rise and fall of the scenery along the upper level will then be built to this height. For what is essentially just the back of a model train layout, I think it looks pretty appealing.

The current level staging shelf on the bottom, with the upper-deck extension staging on the top.

I next did a swap-sie with the end panels that support the layout. Readers may recall that I initially built two of these in my post replacing legs with panels, only to stain them in the wrong colour Jarrah stain and have to start again by building two new ones. Well, they were sanded back and re-stained as best I could and are now in use as the two middle panels. This enabled me to move the panel with the Butlins girl metal advertising sign to the outside of the layout where she can remain visible. The above side-on view also shows the importance of having your levels line up on a project like this, and I am happy to say that the track level transition between the layout and the staging extension is millimetre perfect!

Finally Philden has some staging in place. And it's not too bad looking either!

My staging shelf was only supposed to be a place to park my trains away from view, and be removable so as to pack it away when I wasn't operating the layout. Somehow it has ended up looking like this. In a small apartment where I didn't really have any room for a staging yard to begin with, being able to hide a 2 car Xplorer train from view without impeding on the space required for us to move around the apartment is simply an added bonus. As my desk was already there to begin with, building my bookshelf-style layout above the desk has only taken up the amount of room required for my staging extension to stand beside it, and going up a level is not going to require any more space either. Having decided to build the upper-deck extension open-aired (in other words, not enclosed like my current layout), will also avoid interfering with the views from our apartment as you can see in the photos below.

Staging only creates the illusion that your trains go somewhere, but with a night view such as this....

At night time, with only the layout lit-up, this is the view we enjoy from our apartment at the top of Caloundra on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. I'd rather have my trains running on the upper level of my layout set against the backdrop of a real city, instead of adding another sky blue painted backdrop that would essentially divide the layout of the lounge room in two.

....those tracks can be anywhere I like!

Finally, with the coaches railway station sign protruding 12 mm from the black staging backdrop, I need to fan the 2 staging tracks out a little to allow enough room for my hands to add or remove trains from the staging tracks. That's alright. I not only have the room, but also plan to install 4 x LED light toggle switches to the left side of the shelf to control power to my various staging tracks, which will make the above scene look pretty cool at night. I agree that it is probably the most simple staging yard design you could come up with, but for a small layout I think that it's big on presentation. What's more, it is surprising just how much enjoyment I gained from putting so much work into my layout's presentation.

See also; Adding that WOW factor! and Painted, stained and varnished