Make way for the APT…

…that is for the Hornby OO scale “Advanced Passenger Train”!

Hornby is a United Kingdom based manufacturer of OO scale model trains. Very recently the company released a model of the British Rail  “Advanced Passenger Train”, generally referred to as the APT. I won’t go into much technical detail regarding the prototype. Suffice it to say that in the mid-1970’s British Rail was looking for a high speed EMU train to operate on the West Coast Main Line in the UK. That rail line is quite curvy in places, especially in the northern part. Thus it was deemed expedient to have a train with tilting capability, which would allow it to take the curves faster than a standard train. It would also then not be necessary to go through a time consuming and expensive realignment of the legacy track. The train would also be powered electrically via overhead cateitnary. Four prototypes were built. However the trains had some major problems which were never solved satisfactorily. By the mid-1980’s support for the project had, for a multitude of reasons, evaporated and it was cancelled.

For a much more detailed history click here, as well as here and here.

But back to the Hornby model. I received mine directly from Hornby in Margate a few days ago. As mentioned before the Hornby APT is in OO scale, which is 1:76. This scale is particular to the UK and virtually unknown in the rest of the world, were the HO scale (1:87) dominates. Fortunately both OO and HO model train rolling stock use the same track gauge of 16.5 millimeters and thus it can be run on what is considered standard HO track. There is of course a slight size difference between the scales, but I really can not tell the difference and also do not care about that particular aspect.

The model train comes as a set of five cars and also as a set of seven cars. Additional coaches are available to expand these sets.

The Hornby 7 car British Rail APT set. Photo by Hornby UK

The pantographs are plastic and non-functional. This one was already slightly damaged out of the box.

The first impression upon opening the box is…well, it’s just ‘OK.’ The set just looks “toyish”. Everything is plastic, even the two pantographs. Which, by the way, will not stay in the upright position since they have no springs in it. So I will not be able to run it under my catenary. Perhaps I will change the pantos out for Sommerfeldt units. That will probably give the rivet counters apoplexy. But who cares?

Since all the cars are made out of plastic they are way too light. (Other than the car which has the motor in it) The cab cars come in at a bit over 5 ounces. Here in the US, according to the NMRA guidelines, the recommended weight for the size of the cab cars is roughly 8 ounces. Perhaps the UK has different guidelines for model trains.

The train comes with interior lighting installed. And they are very bright! Some car interiors are illuminated with somewhat orange lighting, while others are lit with bright white lights. I am not sure why that is. I tend to surmise that it might have something to do with the lighting in the prototype.

The head and tail lights are also very bright.

All the cars, save the cab cars, have standard two axle trucks. The two cab cars have a standard two axle truck in the front, but are connected to a coach car via a “Jacobs” style truck.

The paint job is OK. There are some smudges here and there, nothing too serious though.

The train set is Digital Command Control (DCC) ready and will take an 8 pin decoder. If one’s layout is running with DCC,  three decoders are necessary: one for the power car and one each for the cab cars. The decoders are installed in a small bay on the underside of the cars. It’s a tight space. One has to be sure to get a decoder which will fit. I use Digitrax DZ 146 decoders.

8 pin decoders are a somewhat outdated thing. Most other model train manufacturers are using 16 or 21 pin decoders now. Even with decoders, this set allows only minimal functions: speed control, head and tail lights. The train set does not allow for the interior lighting to be turned on/off. There is no sound functionality.

Other than the cab cars, the other cars are connected with a clip type coupling system. They are a nightmare! I have a devil of a time coupling this train together. There are much better ways to do this!

Also, the spacing between the vehicles is far too large. It looks bad.Again, it can be done better. Compare the spacing of the cars on the Hornby set above, to the Fleischmann ICE set or the Trix TEE set.

Spacing between coaches on a Fleischmann ICE-T set

Spacing between coaches on a Trix TEE set

The Hornby set runs well enough. It does however need reasonably well laid track. Otherwise derailments happen occasionally since the coaches are so lightweight.

The Hornby APT is, of course, unique. It most likely will eventually be a collector’s item. However, in terms of quality and technology, Hornby has a ways to go. Roco, Fleischmann, as well as Piko are light-years ahead. Even Bachmann’s newer models are superior in quality and functionality. Just look at their new HO “Charger”:

The Hornby APT retails for an MSRP of 587 UK pounds. That is about US $795 as of today. On top of that three decoders need to be purchased. At that price this set is expensive for what it is. While it may eventually be valuable as a collectors’ item, it is not in and of itself value for money.   If you absolutely must have one, do shop around!I

A short video of the APT:



All photos by Ralf Meier, unless otherwise indicated. (Sony A7C, iPhone 12 Plus)

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