John Borkowski and Adrian Knowles inspecting the 70XX 'Castles' at the Incheon factory
For the last 10 days Adrian and I have spent our time out in South Korea with the builders, inspecting and checking over 250 locomotives and discussing our current and future build programmes. And have we got some exciting things to tell you about and show you!
The main thing to say is that all our customers who have remained remarkably loyal and patient during the unexpectedly long build cycles for the 70XX ‘Castles’ and the 45XX/4575 Prairie tanks are about to be rewarded with models that are second to none.
In total we inspected 160 GWR/BR Prairie tanks and 108 70XX ‘Castles’, involving an overall visual inspection, checking of measurements, squareness and gauge, followed by running trials for each engine to verify electrical continuity, smoothness of operation at low and high speeds and sound (where fitted). We were highly impressed with the detail and also the running performance of the locomotives, as well as the very realistic sound package cleverly compiled by Bryan Robertson who deserves to be congratulated on what he has achieved.
Seeing and hearing all those ‘Castles’ was a bit like being at Old Oak Common in the 1950s and early 1960s, or Laira in the case of the Prairies. I can still hear the sound of whistles, the fireman stoking the fire and steam escaping from the cylinder cocks before the engines move off in slow motion!
With a few small corrections and refinements having been made here and there, it is expected that the bulk consignment of Prairie tanks will be shipped by British Airways in the coming week, with the ‘Castles’ following about 10-14 days later depending on flight availability. We were able to bring a few finished models in our hand luggage for display at the Kettering Gauge 0 Guild show on Saturday 4 March, as well as the first Prairie tanks for customers who had said they would be at Kettering. Everyone was able to see the fine work that the builders have put into the models.
We also had on display the first sample model of the later cab GWR Pannier which seems to be amazing everyone who sees it. It is a superb execution of the prototype with an extraordinary amount of detail in every area of the model and the builders are now working on the second sample with the earlier style of cab, which we hope to receive in April. Both will be on show at the ALSRM Reading show on 6 May and the Gauge 0 Guild Summer Show at Doncaster on 3 June.
Inevitably there will be some changes picked up by our expert panel and these will be incorporated in our final production design. Our objective is to shorten the review and testing process so that we can bring the models to market faster than we achieved for the Prairies and ‘Castles’, both of which became more complex and difficult for the builders than we originally anticipated. It just shows that one always has to learn new ways of improving performance as a result of experience, especially where things do not go quite to plan.
Other exciting arrivals are the first pilot models for the forthcoming programme of Great Western tender engines. These painted models cover the eagerly-awaited 47XX, the 49XX ‘Hall’ and 68XX ‘Grange’. To accompany the ‘Grange’ in particular is a brand new tender – the Collett 3,500 gallon design which looks superb and will be offered alongside the Collett and Hawksworth 4,000 gallon tenders and the Churchward tenders already in our catalogue.
While these models have yet to be assessed and refined, we think they are a very good demonstration of the superb workmanship and skills of our Korean colleagues. The plan is to put these locomotives into production as soon as have had the samples evaluated by our technical team. However, as we have to make a minimum of 240 locomotives we will probably split it into two programmes, most likely starting with the 47XX and either the ‘Grange’ or ‘Hall’, followed shortly thereafter by the 28XX and either the ‘Hall’ or the ‘Grange’. Following advice from our expert technical team we have been rethinking the programme. Trying to build four different classes (not to mention subclasses) of locomotives simultaneously is not probably the best way forward either for us or for the builders. We are now drawing up a detailed work schedule to try to ensure that the gap between the first build and the second build is not too long, so that we keep the gap down to 6 months if possible.
Another project now well under way is the Class 52 ‘Western’ Diesel Hydraulic. The first test etches have been made and work has already started on assembling the first prototype. We also took the opportunity to go through the scans that we made of Western Champion at Kidderminster late last year. Once again we would like to thank the Diesel Traction Group for all their help and advice without which we would never be able to make the ‘Western’ model that everyone wants to see. We remain very excited about this project, which we hope will be the first of several future ventures by us in the non-steam locomotive domain.
During our visit we came under intense pressure to increase the payments to our builders. Unfortunately, due to the fall in the value of the Pound following the result of the EU referendum, the builders are facing a reduction of around 20% in the income they were expecting to receive when we started our contracts. Since the middle of last year we have been monitoring the situation closely in the hope that there would be a more significant recovery in the exchange rate. Sadly this has not happened and as a consequence we now have no alternative but to raise our prices to alleviate the hardship that the builders are facing.
By absorbing half the increase in cost ourselves, we can contain the price rise to 10% which will apply to all new orders placed on and from from Saturday 8 April 2017. Existing orders where deposits and staged payments have been made, and orders placed before 8 April will be held at the original prices, which gives everyone a month to be able to secure models at the old prices. We are very sorry to have to apply this increase and if there is a significant recovery of the value of the Pound we will see what can be done to reduce our prices again.
6 March 2017