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.