Sunday, 29 January 2017

Review: Minimodels Comeng Sydney double-deckers


The latest Sydney HO scale suburban electrics release by Minimodels features the Comeng Series 2 stainless steel double-decker cars, universally recognised by Sydney train fans as the S-sets. To be perfectly honest, I should have ordered this model for the upper level of my bookshelf layout right from the beginning. With a history of operating in either 8, 4 or 2 car sets, they have been plying the rails of Sydney's city network for more than 40 years and are still in use today as the oldest operational commuter train on the SydneyTrains network. What's more, a 2 car set with a total length of just 46.4 cm from end to end is probably the only suburban electric train that is easily able to disappear entirely from view on a layout that is just 278 cm long. So why hadn't I added one to my roster already?

My wife commented that the Minimodels sets came in the nicest model train box she's seen. I think she's right.

Released in October 2016 through Berg's Hobbies own Minimodels label, the 2 or 4 car sets were made available in a combination of the original all stainless steel cars from the 1970's, or the 1990's modified city-decker version complete with yellow ends, doors and destination screens. The yellow-end version was not only a perfect match for my 1995-2005 era layout, but the two car version was guaranteed to work on a small bookshelf layout such as mine. So I finally made the decision to add this 2 car Sydney double-decker to my small layout roster ahead of building an upper level extension. Arriving safely in the post, the first thing I noticed when unwrapping the parcel was the beautifully presented box the model comes in. I know its just a box, but the artistic drawing of the model looks superb. But don't get too excited, as inside it is just another foam tray holding a railway model.

Inside, the foam tray was a little too tight, but came with extra detail parts and decals to be added to the model.

Getting the model out of the tray was a little tricky. The driver trailer car on my set was wedged in tighter than the Hammer of Thor, and took a bit of gentle upside down shaking before it worked itself loose enough to squeeze out. Once on the rails however, it coupled straight together with the Kadee-style knuckle couplers, unlike the fidgety 21 pin connection on my Southern Rail Models 2 car Explorer set. The pick-up for the directional front and rear marker lights are mounted on the bogies of each car, and work correctly in DC mode straight out of the box. The model sits very low to the track, just like the prototype, so any underfloor detail would be pointless. As such, there is nothing to see other than the Minimodels logo and a series of holes for ventilation.

The underneath is plain as it sits closely to the rail, but I've never been a fan of nylon tyres on the driving wheels.

The HO scale model is designed to operate on 18 inch curves, and is 12 volt DC with a can motor fitted with dual brass flywheels. Inside is an 8 pin plug for those who wish to convert the model to DCC operation. The model also features nylon rubber tires on the 4 driving wheels, something which I've never been a huge fan of as they ultimately collect a greater build-up of gunk and eventually break. Also inside the box is a small packet of what is referred to as "additional parts", including an EP brake unit and air tanks to fit to the model. Only I have no idea where to stick them, and the instructions don't so much as provide a clue. Parts that look identical to the ones in the packet already seem to be mounted to the car behind the leading bogie as shown in the above photo. So I'll provide some more information at a later date when I've had a chance to research it further.

The details instantly make this model recognisable as being uniquely Sydney, (and much better than NY subway cars).

The initial details are very nice; windshield wipers on the drivers window only at each end, correctly painted buffer plates and carriage end walkway panels, metal handrails fitted separately on each doorway, sprung overhead pantographs on the driver car, air vents on the roofing and see-though metal grilles above the motor compartment on the roof of the driver car.

The see through grilles above the driving end look great, as do the handrails on the doorways!

The windows on the modernised city-decker version differ from the original beclawat aluminium windows, and are a darker tint that allows just a hint of the interior seating to be seen on the upper level. There is no interior lighting in the model, and the lower level windows appear a little darker to help obscure the placement of the motor inside the model. The blue guards' lights above the driver compartment door is only painted on, and is non-operational. The same goes for the destination indicator screen above the windows on the drivers' end which is just a blank, black screen. The stainless steel finish to the car bodies however is simply superb, and features the two different variants of corrugations between the extended roof area and the Budd-style fluting to the main area.

The cars couple closely, and the open-air passage between cars was a hallmark of Sydney's early suburban trains.

I'd like to say that the lettering and CityRail logos on the model are crisp and clear, but the car numbers and era specific logos are provided separately on a decal sheet included inside the box. As there were 306 of these Series 2 double-decker motor cars, trailer cars and driver trailer cars constructed by Comeng between 1973 and 1978, I'm guessing the manufacturer thought it easier to include a large run of numbers on the decal sheet for modelers to pick and choose which car numbers and era logos they wished to letter the models as.

The numbering of each car needs to be better researched before I just whack decals on the side of the model.

Once more however, apart from a well explained history of the electric car sets that comes on the included sheet, there is no simple explanation given as to where the numbers and logos should actually be placed on the model. A Google search turns up a number of variations of where the CityRail L7 logo was placed. There are also blue and yellow or solid yellow platform stripes to add beneath the lower deck windows, depending upon the era you are modelling. Perhaps the strangest observation, (and really it's the only disappointing thing when it comes to this model), is the absence of the target plates themselves, either on the model or on the decal sheet, that readily identify each train as either a 4 car S-set or a 2 car L-set. It looks like I will have to make those from scratch myself, but it is a simple enough project and I may show you how in a later post.

The No. 2 end or driver trailer end has working red marker lights, but no set target plate on the bottom right corner.

Overall, the quality of this model compares very well to the excellent Southern Rail Models Xplorer that runs on my layout. Straight out-of-the-box it ran well, slowed and accelerated pleasantly and crawled along beautifully at slow speed. Although some of these sets had brighter twin headlights fitted at the top of each end for outer suburban runs, within the CityRail network, Sydney's trains operated with just the white marker lights or trailing red marker lights on, (just as Britain's railways did). So maybe that is the reason why the headlights on the No. 2 driver trailer end of the citydecker version appear to be for visual effect only? I suppose a working LED light could be added behind the light housing if you really wanted to, but the No. 1 driver end of course already has the modern destination screen added in place of where the headlight would have been. For inner Sydney working however, the model is correctly lit as is.

These 2 car double-deckers ran local Wollongong, Newcastle, Carlingford and Richmond Line services in the 1990's.

Aside from the confusion that surrounds the decal sheet and the additional parts, this is a beautifully executed model of an easily recognisable Sydney double-decker train. Sydneysiders may not regard the last non-air-conditioned trains still running on the SydneyTrains network very highly, (especially on a stinking hot summer's day), but to train fans and modelers alike, the S-sets have long endeared themselves as a part of Sydney's railway culture. It will be a sad day when the last of them are retired in the coming years. This model captures the look and feel of the real life version perfectly, from the modern stainless steel finish of the Seventies that would become the standard for Sydney's passenger train fleet, to the sad droopy-eyed face of the driver cars. While the 4 car sets of this model retail for $695 Australian, the 2 car sets are a little more within the budget at $415 Australian.

The 2 car Minimodels Comeng double-decker set suits a 3 foot staging shelf just fine.

For those wanting to see more of these fantastic Sydney Trains in action, you can check out some excellent video clips of S-sets in action around Sydney such as STV Sydney Trains Vlog 700 on the YouTube channel hosted by the enigmatic Phill, (no, its not me, but another internet genius by the same name who is responsible for over 1300 YouTube videos of trains running around Sydney, and for me wasting up to 6 hours each Saturday night watching them).


Review Card: Minimodels Comeng Series 2 Double Deck Sydney Suburban Electrics

My Rating:

 (4.5/5)

Final Thoughts: A fantastic model of a familiar Sydney favourite. Although a little more detailed instructions to go with the decal sheet would have been very helpful indeed.

5 comments:

  1. Great model, and review. I have a Hanovale resin 4 car S set last seen running around "Yendys", but the Bergs models look good, and probably better than my kit. My concern though is the mechanism. The 4 car Bergs set uses just one powered bogie (hence the traction tyres). I agree it is sad that we have a new model with fudge - although Bullfrog Snot can come to the rescue once the traction tyres fall apart. I await the Auscision Tangara to complement the Bergs S in the modern suburban scene

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    1. On the 2 car set, the single powered bogie seems to be working just fine. I can imagine however, a 4 car set on a slight incline really putting the traction tyres to work. Hopefully on a flat bookshelf layout the traction tyres will hold up just fine for many years to come. I'll post another update when I have the decals applied and correct car numbering sorted out. Thanks for the tip about the Bullfrog Snot!

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  2. April 2017 issue of Australian Model Railway Magazine has an advert for the Comeng Series 1 (coloured series, i.e. Red, Blue & White). Wonder if they are going to do the Goninan version of the non a/c power car and trailers as well as eventually the K and C Sets!?

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    1. So far there are no plans to produce the Goninan cars or the K and C sets.
      Alex

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  3. Sorry, forgot to mention it is on Page 12 under the Powerline ad.

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Thanks for taking the time to visit Philden. I hope you'll book a return ticket soon. Cheers, Phil