I suppose I ought to start this post by reminding readers that this blog is home to my personal thoughts and doesn't represent those of any magazine I write for or edit.
Last week started with a couple of days in the north for the Rapido trains launch of their first model for the UK market - the iconic APT-E train currently residing at the NRM Shildon outpost.
I cadged a lift with RMweb's Andy York and after a stop at the York museum for a stroll around, we pitched up at Shildon. There was no sign of the Rapido guys so we made ourselves comfortable in the prototype APT-E. At least I got to sit in the drivers seat, marvel at the tiny windscreen and be amazed at how many of the buttons were flashing on an off before were were politely ushered back out by the team who look after the train so they could carry on working on it.
Moving to the middle of the set, we tried out the seats in the executive lounge. These are from the Blue Pullman but fitted with APT antimacassars. Chatting to another volunteer, we gained and idea of how much work had gone in to bringing the train up to the standard it was from the moss-covered condition I remember from its York days.
Once Rapido's Jason and Bill arrived and we had explained to the staff that we weren't punters and therefore allowed to stay in after the museum closed, setting up started. At this point the identity of the prototype to be scanned was a mystery to most people. The big reveal was set up and we headed off to our hotels and then for dinner in a nice Italian restaurant.
If you've seen any of the videos featuring Rapido Jason, you might think he and his company are very different from the other model railway manufacturers. You would be right. I can't imaging the Hornby management own a "I'd rather be on British Rail" T-shirt. Nor are they quite so nerdy (in a good way) and enthusiastic about the models they produce. It's clear that this isn't just a business but a passion. Of course being a very small firm helps - if you are a publicly quoted Plc the city want suits not shorts.
You might expect conversation to revolve around trains but no - we chatted sci-fi too although I'm not sure that makes us seem any more normal. Jason is a big Dr Who fan and was as pleased to see the Special Weapons Dalek as I was in a recent episode. Better still, one of the team looking after the APT-E is none other than Kit Spackman, Mr Tilt, who designed the system that provides the characteristic lean that gets enthusiasts excited and give model manufacturers headaches. He's a bit of a fan of Matt Irvine and his TV models from the 70s and 80s too.
Anyway, the next day we arrived to watch the announcement to the world followed by some 3D scanning. All very nice. I caught up with Anthony Coulls, the man in charge of wheeled vehicles, who I first met as a 14 year old at the Leamington model railway club. Nice to meet old friends and they even gave us couple of sandwiches for lunch.
you can read all the details on this PDF. Price is, to my mind, very reasonable. I'd heard £250 so £225 was a pleasant surprise. Mind you, the full-fat DCC versions with bells, whistles and photo torpedoes at £325 is selling best.
I'm really looking froward to this model. To quote Jason, the train looked like a space ship on wheels. Although too young to have seen it run, it's a prototype that means a lot to me. When you saw a picture of the thing it was the future.
Since then, I have developed a bit of an APT fixation with plenty of memorabilia and models in my collection. As such, I've occasionally pondered on ways of producing the APT-E but the smooth shape and complicated nose have always defeated my imagination. Now, I can just lay down some cash and in 18 months time, I'll have a nice, shiny model to go with the Hornby APT-Ps.
So far, as I understand it, sales of the model are looking good. Rapido specialise in very high quality models and aren't afraid to take on unusual subjects. Their Turbo Train is a gem and the book to accompany the model will probably make an appearance on my shelf one day because it looks like a fascinating read. This is model manufacturer by people with passion rather than accountants. That's not to say it won't make money - for both Locomotion and Rapido. It will and that's a good thing. The profits go to help the NRM which is a good thing to my mind.
To order an APT-E, head over to Locomotion. Unlike most models, you have to lay down £50 as a deposit to secure a set. If the project doesn't go ahead (very, very unlikely) then I believe you will get the money back. Otherwise towards the end of 2015 you'll pay the rest and receive a model.
Only models ordered will be produced so if you want one, you have to order. This is controversial in some quarters as we haven't seen the finished product. It's a business model that is common in the US and at least we have seen the manufacturers previous efforts which are streets ahead of many UK models in detail. With a financial head on, I can understand why you can't produce to meet the demand for anyone who just says, "I fancy one of those" as when it comes to collecting the cash, suddenly quite a lot of them won't and you could be left with a lot of unsold stock.
At least we can see the early shots before deciding. The first of these will be at Warley later this year and orders can wait until the end of April so you have time to save the pennies.
Is this a vision of the future?
Well, the APT nearly was. Three APT-P sets were produced and they did enter service. Sadly once the project stopped being the province of engineers and management and marketing got involved, someone thought it would be a good idea to launch the service in the winter when trains are at their least reliable. Add to this the genius decision to pack an early service with journalists who have been making good use of a free bar and it's hardly surprising that the coverage was appalling. After some panicking, the project was killed off.
We do have tilting trains of course and the Pendolinos make use of many developments from APT research. Still, it's not like Great Britian was known as a serious engineering powerhouse ever was it?
Maybe the model is the future though. Short runs that must be pre-ordered are likely to become ever more popular for the finescale end of the market. If you have the manufacturing contacts, literally anything can be made. All you have to do is find a way to fund it. Perhaps Kickstarter projects where groups of enthusiasts come together to create a specific prototype might be the way ahead.
Anyway, roll on the end of 2015!