Saturday 17 March 2012

Australian HO broad gauge

At the Sandown Model Railway Exhibition last weekend in Melbourne, Bendigo Rail Models (distributed by Auscision) released the Victorian Railways flat top T class diesel locomotive in HO scale. The model is available in a range of prototype numbers and versions according to three different time periods - see info here.

The flat top T class had also been previously announced by Austrains. I imagine Austrains will release a statement to the market advising what their intentions are for their model; not necessarily in response to the new model from Bendigo, but because of some speculation already circling in news groups. Austrains had previously released models of the later versions of the T class (as had Powerline). The Victorian Railways T class is therefore a popular class of locomotive.

The T class, however, was predominantly a locomotive used on the broad gauge (5' 3") of the Victorian Railways. This list of VR T class diesels indicates that nearly all the T class diesels, certainly in the early years to the 1970s, were broad gauge locos.

Whilst my Australian model railway interests are largely NSW, I also have an interest in Victorian Railways and also the Commonwealth/South Australian railways. As such, the issue of track gauge always stands out. In Victoria, the broad gauge dominated for most of its history while in South Australia, all three conventional track gauges (3' 6", 4' 8 1/2" and 5' 3") were used. In NSW, the standard gauge (4' 8 1/2") was the norm. In HO scale, the 16.5mm gauge reflects the standard gauge track of the prototype.

But herein is a dilemma for Victorian modellers. As much of their railway was (and to a lesser extent remains today) on the broad gauge, what is to be done about the HO scale track gauge? The standard gauge track in HO scale (16.5mm) will be too narrow for modellers of the broad gauge prototype. The answer, to date, has been the production of broad gauge models with wheel spacings to sit on HO scale standard gauge track. This is the so-called scale track dilemma most notorious in British model railway circles where the OO scale (4mm) models are running around on HO scale (3.5mm to the foot) track.

In Britain, the compromise is readily excepted. A shift to HO scale from OO scale remains unlikely; certainly from the main model railway manufacturers servicing that market. From time to time the issue receives some emotional comment and correspondence in the British model railway press. There are many who are happy to stay with the 4mm scale motive power and rolling stock on HO scale track.

In Australia, the debate about broad gauge track has received less publicity which may also reflect less interest. On the other hand, Australian prototype modellers modelling narrow gauge (3' 6") in HO scale are quite aware of the scale-gauge issue and work accordingly using 12mm track (HOn3.5). Some modellers prefer to model the Australian narrow gauge railways in S scale (3/16" to the foot) using 16.5mm track (for example in Western Australia and in Queensland). Modellers of Australian broad gauge railways (mainly Victorian Railways) seem quite happy to ignore the scale-track gauge issue (and here I willingly admit to being one of them).

I therefore really have two questions to ask:

Firstly, is it necessary (desired?) to model the Victorian Railways broad gauge in HO scale using the wider scale track (18.37mm) instead of 16.5mm?

And, should manufacturers of model railway equipment for broad gauge prototypes like Victorian Railways ensure that a supply of accurately gauged locos and rolling stock are available for sale? Or, alternatively, produce models that at least can be be readily converted to the broader gauge than the usual 16.5mm gauge (using spacers is what I understand happens in the UK).

I am interested in what people think about this issue so please feel free to comment.