Rails of Sheffield/Dapol ex-LB&SCR A1X Class 0-6-0T Review

May 21, 2020

Rails of Sheffield and the National Railway Museum (NRM) could hardly have expected such a challenging release when announcing Dapol had been commissioned to produce the 1:76 (OO) ex-London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) A1/A1X Class ‘Terrier’ in Mar’18.


© Rails Holdings Ltd


Having already produced the ‘Terrier’ in 1:48 (O), Dapol had been hoping for swift progress however delays in production were compounded by a rival announcement from Hornby Hobbies as well as the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.


Hornby Hobbies’ announcement was a continuation of their association with the ‘Terrier’ which began in 1996, obtaining tooling from Dapol first conceived in 1989.  The initial release under their own brand came in 1998 with over twenty variations following.  It eventually cascaded into their Railroad range due to the hybrid nature and dated appearance becoming increasingly apparent.


Plans for a retooled ‘Terrier’ were curtailed due to a subsequent change of management however the return of Mr Simon Kohler as Marketing & Development Director in 2017 meant these were swiftly resurrected and prioritised, buoyed by the Rails of Sheffield announcement.  Intended for launch in 2020 (presumably to coincide with the company’s centenary), a surprise public announcement followed a year sooner with a total of six ‘Terriers’ available in the first half of 2019 - the period between announcement and delivery demonstrating how far advanced the project had progressed.  The only locomotive to be manufactured by both Rails of Sheffield and Hornby Hobbies thus far has been A1X Class No 32655 (#4S-010-005 and #R3767 respectively).


Competition between Rails of Sheffield and Hornby Hobbies was theatrically heightened by a two-part BBC FOUR documentary, introduced and narrated by Mr James May, following a year inside the latter.  James May's Big Trouble in Model Britain portrayed the ‘animosity’ between Mr John Barber, Managing Director Rails of Sheffield, and Mr Kohler with the infamous Battle of the Banners.  What followed was arguably a tit-for-tat marketing approach from Rails of Sheffield branding the Hornby Hobbies offering “corned beef" compared to their own as “pedigree”.


A popular prototype amongst enthusiasts and modellers alike, the locomotive was first mused in 1870 with the LB&SCR struggling to manage with an increasing share of the London suburban traffic.  Seventy-two different classes of locomotives designed by Mr John Chester Craven, Locomotive Superintendent of the LB&SCR, were in traffic at this time however Mr Craven refused to compromise on the issue of standardisation and resigned to be replaced by Mr William Stroudley. Much of the line south of London was of poor quality and subject to challenging gradients, which necessitated a locomotive with a lighter axle loading and shorter wheelbase than the existing fleet offered.  Mr Stroudley’s answer was a light tank design and his first drawings were completed in June, although this proved to be too small for suburban use.  Drawings dated May’71 evolved the design, however it was not until the following November that a third set of drawings were approved, leading to an order for six A Class locomotives (later to become the A1 Class) with construction commencing at Brighton Works in Mar’72.


The distinctive ‘barking’ exhaust note of the locomotive led to the class becoming known as ‘Terriers’ - they proved popular with the crews, being comfortable, easy to steam and mainly reliable, although the condensing pipes were later removed by Mr Stroudley’s successor, along with the steam brake.  A further forty-four locomotives were built at Brighton Works and with exception of six all were operating in the London area.


A series of cylinder modifications took place between ‘92 and 1900 and by this point the class had extended their working area out to Portsmouth.  However, due to the need for more powerful locomotives across the network, the decision to reduce the class to fifteen was taken leading to withdrawals and numerous sales to other constituent railways.  The introduction of motor-train services from ‘05 arrested the decline of the class and the A1X reboilering from ‘21 onwards gave the remaining ‘Terriers’ a new lease of life.  Scattered throughout the south of England, the type continued in service until 1963, with ten locomotives being preserved post-withdrawal.


It is primarily due to their longevity that the ‘Terrier’ is a notoriously difficult prototype to produce for the ready-to-run market.  Constituent railways introduced so many modifications that manufacturers will inevitably struggle to provide tooling for every eventuality, leading to significant compromises or a far greater RRP than deemed viable.


The Rails of Sheffield/NRM tooling allows for most variations to be produced including two cab/bunker types and two smokebox/boilers with wooden and metal brake rigging, as applicable.


Four variations of the ‘Terrier’ are initially available, with an RRP from £110.00: -


- #4S-010-001 (London, Brighton & South Coast Railway Improved Engine Green) A1 Class Boxhill*

- #4S-010-002 (Kent & East Sussex Railway Blue) A1 Class Bodiam

- #4S-010-005 (British Railways Lined Black-Early) A1X Class No 32655

- #4S-010-006 (British Railways Lined Black-Late) A1X Class No 32661

- #4S-010-009 (London, Brighton & South Coast Railway Marsh Umber) A1 Class No 643


*Also produced for LOCOMOTION MODELS as part of the ‘The National Collection in Miniature’.  A boiler band registration issue was identified on the production batch of this livery and rejected, requiring new bodies.  The LOCOMOTION MODELS version is as preserved with a shorter toolbox and minor livery differences compared to #4S-010-001 which is as built with the longer toolbox.


© Rails Holdings Ltd


Six additional variants including those pertinent to the Isle of Wight were announced in Jul’19 and will follow subsequently.


The chassis and running plate of my example (#4S-010-005) are diecast, however the wheels have plastic centres, contrary to the initial announcement.  The centre driving wheels are sprung to give compensation to an all-wheel electrical pick-up powered by a five-pole skew wound motor.  A factory fitted 'sugar cube' speaker is fitted as standard as is a flickering firebox.


© Rails Holdings Ltd


The body is moulded plastic with a separate cab/bunker to accommodate the differing styles.  Regrettably, the top of the rear cab sheet forms part of the roof as opposed to having a roof enclose the cab/bunker structure, thus leaving a noticeable join across the entire width of the cab.


The biggest tooling compromise is unquestionably the coal rails which on the A1X should be flush with the cab/bunker.  Instead they are inset, resulting in a prominent rim as highlighted above.  The top lamp iron is also positioned incorrectly having been moulded to the bunker as opposed to the coal rails themselves.  On both occasions, this tooling favours the A1.  It is interesting to note that there is no moulded coal load.


The cab itself is somewhat basic, consisting of a simple black moulding with printed dials and unpainted pipework.  Vacuum brake controls necessary for the A1X are not included.  One positive of note are the spectacle windows which are individually glazed as opposed to have having a single piece running the length of the cab.


Elsewhere the boiler-mounted pipework, lubricator pots and Salter valves are finely detailed though noticeable traces of glue are evident on the body.  The characteristic recessed tank tops appear correctly.


The locomotive itself is overall well-proportioned and captures the character of the locomotive well, though there are noticeable imperfections with the smokebox; significantly, the hinges are too wide apart, causing the smokebox number to sit fractionally higher than evident on the prototype.  The shed code plate, printed directly on to the smokebox, should also sit lower.  Elsewhere, the front lamp irons are attached to the tops of the buffer housings, in a curved part of the moulding, which appear a little harsh to the eye.


A further compromise is the inclusion of a generic air pipe on both the front and rear of the locomotive, as opposed to a vacuum pipe.


© Rails Holdings Ltd


Livery application, on an even satin black finish, is crisp but unfortunately suffered from some abrasion on the smokebox number and lining during delivery.


Whilst comparison to the Hornby Hobbies iteration is entirely appropriate, it would be unfair to cast judgement without a direct assessment.  Considering the short failings highlighted, it is questionable whether this really is the ‘pedigree’ option following a two year wait, however it is a welcome addition to the collection nonetheless.

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