Category Archives: DMUs

The next Bee Pee?


The ubiquitous MetCam has already been the subject of two RTR models, with a third one nearly upon us from Bachmann.  Is the Trans-Pennine waiting in the wings, or lost amongst the shadows?

To anyone of my generation, the current availability of 4mm scale RTR DMUs is  a far cry from the tokenism of the Hornby and Lima ranges in the 1980s.  There’s still a way to go of course, lots more classes and unexploited potential, but like all things you’d expect a natural limit to what’s sensible and viable.  For a while now though, I’ve been quietly amazed at just how often the Trans-Pennine, the eponymous unit of my username, crops up in the wishlists.

Now I literally grew up with these things;  I saw them almost daily, rasping in and out of Paragon or being serviced at Botanic Gardens depot, which was right at the end of the street.  I travelled on them as well of course, to Leeds and further afield, and generally we headed straight for the compartment accommodation in the MBS, which set them apart from lesser units.  I once absent-mindedly walked off and left a transistor radio in one of these, on the early train to Liverpool which stood at Leeds City for 45 minutes; we got back from our morning stroll round the concrete cavern to find it still playing away on the wee table under the window!  I remember the arrival of the mechanically-similar WR class 123s from the WR, the 1979 timetable recast that saw them formed into 17 ragbag hybrid units for services to Lancaster and via Sheffield to Manchester, and taking photos of them on the last weekend in 1984.

Despite this though, I would always have  classed them as a bit of a niche interest.  Whether rightly or wrongly, I get a tad proprietorial about them whenever I get that feeling (one that will be familiar to many at the thinking end of the hobby), when you sense somebody clearly doesn’t have the first idea what he’s wishing for!

There is logic though, of sorts, in the wishlist requests – if Bachmann eventually get around to the BRCW class 104, the viable short frame designs will have been exhausted and thereafter, long frame sets would appear to be the growth area.  The various Inter-City sets were a step up from the Cross Country units, generally similar in ambience and appointments but of stronger construction.  By the very nature of their specification and relative scarcity, they tended to be restricted largely to the routes for which they were built and one or two others.  Added to that, the early Inter-City sets were not known for their looks, whereas the ‘Pennines’ benefitted from the attention of the same designers that produced the Glasgow electric ‘Blue Trains’.  It was only the addition of gangways throughout that slightly marred the later class 123s in that respect, though at the same time it gave them a unique character of their own.

If long frame sets do appear, the smart money has always been on either a Cross Country set or a high density suburban set.  The former would almost certainly be the Swindon class 120, very widespread in usage over a longish career, with the tandem possibility of the GRCW 119 as the cherry on the cake.  As to the suburban units, all too often that slot is seen as  being fulfilled by an updating of the old Lima Pressed Steel class 117;  I see this as particularly flawed thinking though because until very late in its life, the 117 was restricted to the WR plus rather small bits of the SR and LMR.  The earlier Derby-built 116 would have much more potential and I can only conclude that the calls for a 117 arise from that unfortunate phenomenon of  people being aware of models because of other models, rather than knowledge of real live trains .

But just what is it about the Pennine? Is it just its looks, and if so, can it really be considered as an iconic train  in the same way as the Blue Pullman?  Maybe I’m blinkered by familiarity and adolescent contempt, but I just don’t see it. Maybe again it’s that ‘collective unconscious’ that seems to underpin the hobby, based on fond recollections of the 1960s Trix model of the type.

But the Trix model wasn’t really a full unit; the intermediate  coaches were just reliveried versions of their standard Mk1s, and that sort of thinking doesn’t cut it these days.   A significant consideration in tooling up for a unit like this is that a full six-car class 124 set includes three different coach types.  There’s a motor composite at each end, a non-driving motor brake second next to each of those, and then the trailer second and trailer buffet in the middle.  Add in the class 123s (as many are wont to do), and you add at least another four to the mix (I’m including the buffets here, which were withdrawn quite early, but being generous by deeming the TSLs to be similar to the 124 TSLs apart from the bogies).    The early days of the Bee Pee debate on the forums were marked by a gulf in understanding of this very nature – there were those who knew the makeup of the sets, and others who apparently thought you could ‘do a Triang’ and just bung in additional generic ‘centre cars’ (sic) to taste…

There’s also a debating point around the theory that longer DMUs and EMUs are not good sellers, and that two- and three-car sets are more or less the sensible limit.  I wouldn’t like to call that one either way – the Bachmann 4CEP evidently did well enough, and obviously their Bee Pee is a six-car set – but then again it’s an inescapable reality that a six-car set is in very general terms likely to cost double what a three-car does.  And the Bee Pee, like the prototype Deltic, is undeniably a model with a ‘wow’ factor and that transcends normal considerations.   So for now at least, the Pennine is the province of the hardcore conversionists like Sean Hughes and Paul James, and even if further DMUs do appear RTR, I honestly don’t see either class 123 or 124 being very high on the list.  Though I’d love to be wrong!

Anyway, in the midst of the frothing season, that seems an appropriate note on which to close.  Once again after another year, my thanks and the compliments of the season to all who follow, pass comment or just drop by and browse.


Filed under DMUs, Heritage diesels

Too many books…

Despite the sentiment of the title, a situation that I think is true of most modellers, over the festive season I’ve managed to acquire three books that I convinced myself I couldn’t be without.  And yes, I know it’s March already…

First up is an obvious ‘reference purchase’ for someone with my background, the latest in David Larkin’s series for Kestrel Books. As the title suggests, Civil Engineers Wagons Volume 1 – British Railways: 1948-1967  deals (in more depth than anything has previously), with the departmental wagon fleet.  It follows the usual pattern set by previous books and those he did for Santona, in having several illustrations of each type combined with information on number series, and allocations from a time when the fleet was rather more fragmented and parochial.  A particularly nice touch is the headings giving the biological derivations of the ‘Fishkind’ names.  Also included is an insight into some of the ex-traffic wagons transferred into use by the engineers, although given the variety of types involved, this obviously can’t be as comprehensive as the purpose-built types.

Next, Ian Allan’s First Generation Diesel Railbuses.  I was initially sceptical when I saw this announced, partly because I doubted there was actually enough material on 22 vehicles with a ten-year life to fill a book, and partly because the author’s writings in Hornby Magazine are not usually associated with unimpeachable authenticity.  It has to be said though that Evan has brought together some intersting and not commonly known information – it’s a sobering thought that some of the early withdrawals could have been bought for the price of a 4mm scale loco!  I do wonder therefore if the old bogey of working to deadlines is what differentiates the magazine writings from this work.

As well as the expected chapters grouped by manufacturer, there are also separate summations of operation by Region, together with one on decline and withdrawal.  If I have a criticism (apart from the high cover price), it’s that many of the photos are not the clearest, although as is often the case, the interest factor does tend to outweigh this.  Particular faves are the Park Royal having hit a landslide, passengers on the ballast and generally wondering ‘what’s to be done’, and the WR halt which is scarcely bigger than the pram occupying it.

Also now available in the same series is a volume on the early Derby Lightweight DMUs, which I’ve not yet obtained but may well at some future point.  The choice of subject for these two may well have been to tie in with current RTR releases.

Lastly is something that was a bit of a surprise when I saw it lying on the counter of my local model shop, Bellcode’s Steam Age Diesels across Yorkshire.  I was familiar with this publisher, already having their volume on the railways around Selby and Goole, and as is often the case with such outfits, it combines an original approach with production values second to none.

The title sums up what it’s about – those elusive few years where diesels were following much the same working patterns as the steam locos they’d replaced – and the compilers have done exceptionally well in pulling together so many scenes of departed locations, traction and traffics.  Of obvious local interest to me were some unpublished shots of D95xx type 1s and the Beverley – York line, but there are many other gems including Metrovicks in Leeds and various early shunters.  In fact other than in size, I’d actually say that this is a Yorkshire equivalent to George O’Hara’s Scottish volume reviewed in an earlier post, and I really can’t recommend it enough.

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Filed under Departmental, DMUs, Heritage diesels, Scottish railways, Yorkshire railways