There has been an interesting exchange of opinions on one of the model railway listservs recently about HO scale models and accuracy to the prototype.
The focus of the discussion was the NSWGR S truck. However, the debate is relevant to all models of Australian prototype. But I want to concentrate on HO scale models for the time being, given the size of this market in Australia and the focus of the manufacturers to produce models to this scale.
I believe that HO scale model manufacturers in our hobby are committed to making their models as accurate as possible to the prototype. However, there are likely to be commercial and production considerations that make concessions to prototype accuracy necessary. These considerations might include the cost of production, the ease of construction during the production process, generic prototype fundamentals over individual prototype specifics, and whether detail items may actually be too fragile for the expected model railway use.
On the demand side of the equation, we hear that modellers want their HO scale models to be accurate to the prototype. We sometimes hear major debates about whether the sill detail is a scale 1 inch too wide on the model, or whether all the detail rivets in the undercarriage have been reproduced to "scale" thickness. On the other hand, models that have a number of omissions or errors are quite rightly criticised. But these are all value judgements.
The Australian manufacturers sourcing product from the factories in China, as well as a bevy of local "cottage industry" producers, all face the same scale-prototype dillemma - how much accuracy should be provided?
Austrains tries to make some differentiation between the level of detail accuracy with their basic (Basix) range and their more detailed "standard" models. This strategy is probably a good one. I do wonder, however, whether a significant portion of the buying public really care, and just purchase models based on the availability of their favourite or needed models.
Interestingly, I suspect that all scale model hobbies face the same issue: a commitment to produce accurate models with reasoned concessions to accuracy when applicable. For example, a few railway modellers I know have a penchant for model tanks. There are highly detailed plastic kits of model tanks in 1:35 and 1:72 scale, as well as a range of supplementary super detail items including turret assemblies and tracks.
The issue therefore becomes to what level of detail and prototype accuracy is required by the market (and the market is segmented to include collectors, rivet counters, "average" modellers, etc.) and what does this mean for the manufacturers who produce for this market? Should model railway manufacturers keep striving for even greater scale accuracy if the retail cost rises considerably, or the model becomes too fragile to handle? Is there an acceptable standard for prototype accuracy that could be enhanced with super-detail parts supplied by third party manufacturers?
I'd be interested in hearing from modellers and manufacturers what they consider to be acceptable tolerances for HO scale railway models based on the prototype, keeping in mind the differences in individual modeller's wants and the market realities in which the manufacturers operate within.