11 August 2021
The long-awaited missing link in the LNER express passenger locomotive history is finally available in ready-to-run format for OO gauge. Howard Smith casts a critical eye...
History has looked unfavourably upon the efforts of Edward Thompson and his development of LNER ‘Pacifics’. Having experimented on Gresley’s P2 2-8-2 locomotives, converting them to A2/2s with a ‘Pacific’ axle configuration, but losing tractive effort in the process, he moved on to further develop the concept. The A2/3s were something of an evolution in design of the A2/2s, utilising the same frame and motion configuration. Innovative features to the Class included a rocking ashpan, larger smoke deflectors for better driver visibility, steam locomotive brakes and electric lighting. Interestingly, the inner-most cylinder drove the first axle, the outer cylinders being connected to the middle axle as per normal convention. Boiler pressure was raised from 225PSI on the A2/2s to 250PSI, while cylinder diameter was reduced by an inch to 19in.
Comparatively-speaking, when placed alongside one of its rival contemporaries of the time – Stanier’s 'Coronation' Class, the outer cylinders look uneasy on the eye, being set behind the bogie. This was because of the equidistant connecting rods and Walshaerts valve gear employed, Stanier opting for rocking shafts on the inside motion of his design.
The A2/3 class wasn’t large in number, just 15 examples being manufactured, all but No. 500 entering service under the supervision of Thompson’s successor, Arthur Peppercorn in 1946 and ’47. No. 500 would emerge from the shops at Doncaster in May, 1946. Throughout their release to traffic, small improvements to Thompson’s original design are rumoured to have been made by the staff at Doncaster, some, while he was still in the last few months of office as Chief Mechanical Engineer.
From the development of its recently-released A2/2 Class locomotives, Hornby has sought to maximise the development potential of its underpinnings, by re-utilising the chassis under these new A2/3 models. Through diligent research and consulting respected experts, the manufacturer has been able to reproduce the variants within this small class, from diagram 117 or 118 boilers, to cab, handrail and chimney styles.
Having read some customers' comments about damaged or omitted components, I was keen to see if our sample was similarly affected. Apart from a small handrail knob missing and whistle slightly bent aside, all was fine. The whistle was easily straightened and the handrail knob is simply replaced, being on the end of a handrail run on the smoke deflector. Should customers find faults with their models, Hornby – or its stockists – have been efficient at replacements where appropriate, or shipping replacement parts to customers.
Supplied in the box is an accessory pack containing front steps, cylinder drain cocks and brake rigging. The brake rigging is simple to fit, the lugs fitting into the moulded holes on the bottom of brake hangers, as per standard practice. A wash of solvent adhesive, or drop of superglue, sees them secured in place.
The chassis represents a hefty lump of die-cast metal, mated to a large motor. The frames of the prototypes were known to flex between the bogie and first ‘driver’ because of the large gap – the bogie exerting forces at the front end of the locomotive as it guided the locomotive through track curvatures. The result created problems on cast parts such as the steam chests that couldn’t flex. Looking at the beefy-ness of Hornby’s model, there’s certainly no danger of chassis flex! It’s its weight that allowed our sample to haul prototype-length trains on Tony Wright’s ‘Little Bytham’ with ease, meanwhile operation is exceptionally smooth.
Bogie articulation is very satisfactory without signs of fouling. The flangeless trailing truck sits closer to rail height than many other model ‘Pacifics’ I’ve seen, too. An advantage of the outer cylinder location on the Thompson design is that cylinder drain cocks can be fitted to the model without fouling the bogie, I suspect even on trainset curves. The injection-moulded plastic ones supplied are accurate, as is every other critical detail on these fine locomotives.
The slide bar, connecting rods and coupling rods appear much better than we’re used to, offering greater visual ‘heft’, while maintaining clearances required for these locomotives to negotiate second radius curves.
The bodyshell is very accurate across the class, rivet detail, boiler washout plugs and sliding cab roof hatches being particular favourites. I don’t feel the boiler seam running the length of the top of locomotive on our sample is a strong point, however. This will be difficult to rectify without repainting the model, or applying heavy weathering.
Cab detail is exceptional, with individually painted backhead detail of pipes, valves and gauges. An etched articulated fall plate is fitted, useful for disguising the tender/locomotive gap when these are coupled closer together using the link provided.
Livery application is some of the best we’ve seen yet, the sample provided is faultless in every respect. The hue of other liveries appears correct, too, bearing in mind that these locomotives would weather quickly in service being exposed to the harsh environments of express-passenger workings.
DCC users can add sound of their choice, if desired, the tender providing sufficient space for a speaker, though there are no holes for the speaker. An eight-pin DCC socket is provided.
The long-awaited missing link in the LNER express passenger locomotive history is finally available in ready-to-run format. That Hornby has created such intricate models from diligent research is to be applauded. However, final fit and finish of models is sporadic, an issue which the manufacturer is showing willingness to correct. Small assembly niggles aside, from the options available in this first batch of locomotives, this new release certainly represents value for money and I can recommend it.