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Choosing and buying a Hornby train set – Part 2: DCC sets

In this post I’ll be considering Hornby’s DCC (Digital Command Control) sets – see Part 1 for details of their DC (analogue) train sets, and also some general advice on choosing a train set.

I’ll cover a detailed analysis of the pros and cons of DC versus DCC in a later post, but in brief:

DCC works by supplying a constant 15V AC voltage to all of the track, with digital commands superimposed on that. Each locomotive has an individual ‘address’ and only responds to commands sent to that address.

  • DCC gives you greater flexibility – you can ‘park’ locos anywhere on your layout, and control more than one at the same time;
  • DCC lets you control other functions as well – the main ones being lighting and sound: steam whistles, diesel horns, brake squeals, etc.
  • DCC wiring is (in some ways) simpler: no need for switches to isolate sections of track.

On the downside, DCC controllers and locos are more expensive, because you’re paying for the cost of the DCC chips.

So let’s have a look at the Hornby DCC train sets currently available (roughly in order of ascending price):

Hornby “Western Master” Digital Train Set


[Hornby Item Code R1173]

This set includes a GWR Class 2721 0-6-0 tanl locomotive, three wagons (a ‘Lowmac’ low loader wagon, with a load, an open wagon and a brake van), an oval of track, Track Extension Pack A (which includes a point, some extra track and a buffer stop, so that you can add a siding), plus the ‘ELink’ control unit and ‘Railmaster’ software, which lets you control the layout from a connected Windows PC or laptop.

The GWR livery of the loco set this in ‘Era 3’, the ‘Grouping’ period, so this set would be suitable for a layout set in the period 1923 – 1947, anywhere in GWR territory.

The “Western Master” train set is (at the time of writing) available direct from Hornby for £174.99.

Hornby “Somerset Belle” Digital Train Set


[Hornby Item Code R1125]

This set includes an 0-6-0 tank locomotive, three wagons (an open wagon, a tank wagon and a brake van), an oval of track, Track Extension Pack A (which includes a point, some extra track and a buffer stop, so that you can add a siding), and the Hornby ‘Select’ DCC controller.

The loco is the 0-6-0 3F ‘Jinty’ tank, in the attractive blue ‘S&DJR’ livery.

S&DJR was the ‘Somerset & Dorset Joint Railway’ which existed from 1875 to 1930 (when its coaching stock was was transferred to the LMS and SR), although the lines continued to be operated by LMS and SR, and then BR, until 1966).

The ‘Jinty’ tank (S&JDR No.24) was one of a batch built by W G Bagnall Ltd to a standard LMS design, and delivered in 1928/29, so this set would be suitable for a layout set in about 1929, located somewhere in Somerset or Dorset.

(The S&DJR is popular with modellers because, although it was mostly single track and so had some of the characteristics of a branch line, it also carried main line trains.)

The Somerset Belle train set is (at the time of writing) available direct from Hornby for £199.99,

Hornby Mixed Freight DCC Train Set


[Hornby Item Code R1126]

This set includes two goods locomotives: an 0-6-0 steam tank loco, and an 0-6-0 diesel shunter, plus a mixed freight train of four wagons: a red tank wagon, a ‘private owner’ wooden-sided open wagon in the livery of “Breedon & Cloud Hill Lime Works”, a metal-sided ‘iron ore tippler’ open wagon and a closed ventilated van in BR bauxite livery. It also includes an oval of track, with a siding, and the Hornby ‘Select’ DCC controller.

The steam loco is a BR (ex-LNER) Class J83 (No. 68478) in BR Black livery with the early BR crest, and the diesel is a Class 8 shunter (No. D4174) in BR green livery with ‘wasp’ (black and yellow) stripes on the ends and the later BR crest. D4174 was introduced into service in 1962, so that would place this set in ‘Era 5‘ in the period 1962 – 1966, and probably somewhere in north-east England.

The ‘Hornby ‘Mixed Freight‘ train set is available direct from Hornby for £249.99. (This might seem steep, but you are getting two DCC locos, and the Select controller which is capable of controlling up to 60 locos (up to 10 at any one time), and can also operate up to 40 accessories such as points, so it is a good foundation for a start in DCC.

Hornby “The Majestic” DCC Train Set


[Hornby Item No. R1172]

This train set is the top of the range, the biggest and best of Hornby’s train sets. It includes two complete trains, and a twin oval of track plus sidings and a buffer stop. The first train consists of the ‘Pacific’ type (4-6-2) ‘Peppercorn’ Class A1  passenger express steam locomotive “Bon Accord” in the BR ‘Express Blue’ livery used on express locos from 1949 to 1952; plus three BR (ex-LNER) Gresley ‘teak’ coaches (two composite coaches and a brake coach). The second train set consists of a Class 47 Co-Co diesel, in BR livery and four assorted wagons (an Esso tank wagon, an open wagon, an SWB (Short Wheel Base) wagon, and an LWB (Long Wheel Base) closed van. This set also includes the ‘ELink’ control unit and ‘Railmaster’ software, which lets you control the layout from a connected Windows PC or laptop.

Bon Accord” (BR No. 60154) was built in 1949 at Doncaster, to the design of Arthur Peppercorn, the last Chief Mechanical Engineer of LNER (The London & North Eastern Railway). The ‘Express Blue’ livery places this in ‘Era 4’ (early BR), but the diesel’s livery places it in Era 8 (BR Sectorisation, 1982 – 1994). Of course, you could set your layout in the 1980s or early 1990s and run the other train as a ‘preserved steam’ special! (Although sadly, in real life Bon Accord did not survive into preservation, she was withdrawn from service in 1965.)

The “Majestic” train set is (at the time of writing) not currently available direct from Hornby.

These are all of the current Hornby DCC train sets, although you may find other older ones still on sale in some retailers, or of course some may be available second-hand on the internet.

I hope you found this useful! Don’t forget, if you’re interested in DC (analogue) train sets rather than DCC, have a look at Part 1 instead; and as always, please feel free to add a comment below!


No full Hornby Catalogue for 2016?


In previous years Hornby have produced a full size, detailed catalogue containing pictures and details of all of their currently available products, including all the rolling stock, track, accessories, controllers and also the ‘Skaledale’ range of buildings. However they have confirmed that for 2016 (and, presumably, future years too) they will NOT be producing a full catalogue. Instead they have produced the ‘Hornby Handbook 2016’ [Hornby Item No. R8153].

This is a ‘bookazine’, roughly the same size as the monthly Hornby magazine, and a ‘softback’ rather than a hardback book. It runs to 140 pages, and does contain some details of all the new releases for 2016, but not all the items which were introduced in previous years but are still available.

It does also contain various articles, including some on subjects like building baseboards, laying track and ballasting which would be useful for beginners, so it may be a worthwhile purchase in itself; but it has caused a storm of protests (not least on the forum on Hornby’s own website!) because many people consider that it’s a poor substitute for a full catalogue.

To add insult to injury, at the Model Rail Scotland exhibition in Glasgow in February, Bachmann were giving away free copies of their full 2016 catalogue (normally selling for about £8) but Hornby were still charging for their Yearbook! (I don’t know whether the same applied at more recent exhibitions.)

Many modellers have built up a collection of Hornby catalogues spanning many years, so they are disappointed that there won’t be one for 2016. Old Hornby catalogues in mint condition can fetch a good price on eBay (even more so for original Triang, Hornby-Dublo or Triang-Hornby catalogues)!

Hornby have now produced a much smaller ‘catalogue’, in an “easy reference pamphlet style” [Hornby Item No. R8151]: A5 landscape (approx. 21cm x 15cm), 114 pages.
This only shows details of the new models released in 2016. This was originally intended to only be available to dealers, but they do seem to have listened to the complaints and it is now available to the general public: it can be ordered from Amazon here or various other dealers, although apparently some dealers are giving them away free.

So it remains to be seen whether Hornby will relent and produce a full catalogue for 2017, or just a ‘Hornby Handbook 2017’ and a ‘mini-catalogue’ of new 2017 releases…

Model Rail Scales and Gauges

Newcomers to the hobby of railway modelling are often confused by the variety of scales and gauges in use. This is not helped by the fact that most British railway models are a slightly different scale to those used by most other countries! In this post we’ll cover the main scales and gauges in use in the UK.

First of all, let’s cover the difference: ‘Scale’ and ‘Gauge’ both tend to be used to describe a model (e.g. ‘O Scale’ or ‘O gauge’) but they are not the same thing! ‘Scale’ means the ratio between the model and the real thing, so 1:87 scale means that 1mm on the model represents 87mm (8.7cm) on the full-size original; whereas ‘gauge’ means the width of the track, i.e. the distance between the rails.

To understand the scales and gauges in use in model railways, we need to delve into history a bit, starting with the introduction of ‘O’ gauge:

O: Scale 1:43.5, track gauge 32mm

O gauge was originally introduced by the German manufacturer Märklin in about 1900, followed by other German manufacturers such as Bing. Hornby Railways (at that time part of Meccano Ltd) started their O gauge ‘tinplate’ models in 1920, originally in clockwork, later (in the 1930s) with a 20V AC electric system.

The 32 mm track gauge gives an almost exactly correct scale width for standard gauge track (4ft 8½in, or 1,435.1 mm).

(Incidentally, this was originally intended to be called ‘0’ (number zero), as being a step down from the larger scales numbered 1 – 6 (starting with ‘Gauge 1’: 1:32, 45 mm track gauge), but rapidly became known as ‘O’ (letter O). For a while the two were interchangeable but these days it is known as ‘O’ Gauge (letter ‘O’).

HO: Scale 1:87, track gauge 16.5mm

HO was introduced in the 1920s. (The name comes from ‘Half O’ (or ‘Halb O’ in German) because the scale is exactly half that of ‘O’). This is the most popular scale for models of European prototypes, with rolling stock available from numerous manufacturers such as Fleischmann, but very few ‘British outline’ models have ever been produced in HO.

(Hornby does not produce any HO models itself, but it does now own several European HO brands: Jouef (France), Lima (Italy), Electrotren (Spain) and Rivarossi (Italy) but so far it hasn’t show any inclination to rebrand these as Hornby; the only ‘co-branding’ is on the Hornby track packs which now carry the logos for Jouef, Lima, Electrotren and Rivarossi as well as Hornby.
OO: Scale 1:76, track gauge 16.5mm

Because the British loading gauge is smaller than the continental one and so British locomotives are smaller than their European counterparts, the electric motors available at the time were too large to fit into HO-scale-sized bodies, so a compromise was decided: the track gauge of 16.5 mm was retained, but the scale was increased slightly and named ‘OO’; hence the famous brand name ‘Hornby Dublo’ (‘Double O’).

This means that strictly speaking OO models are slightly ‘narrow gauge’ (the correct exact width for standard gauge in OO scale would be almost exactly 18mm), but this is not really obvious unless the model is viewed ‘head on’.

All Hornby train sets are ‘OO’. (The only exception is the ‘Arnold Starter Train Set’, which is based on a German prototype and is to ‘European N’ scale (see below). This is made by Arnold (a German manufacturer but now owned by Hornby) but sold and distributed in the UK by Hornby, and is listed on Hornby’s website. )
OO is the most popular scale in the UK, with models available from Bachmann, Heljan and numerous other smaller manufacturers as well as Hornby, and with the widest range of accessories (buildings, figures, cars etc.). Hornby produce the ‘Skaledale’ range of OO scale cast resin model buildings.

Note: Because the scales are quite close, some HO models can be used on OO layouts, with some careful placement. HO models of cars, people etc. are noticeably smaller if they are put right next to a similar OO model, but if they are situated on their own the difference is not so obvious. Many items where the exact dimensions are not so important, such as lineside accessories like fencing, are often described as “OO/HO”.

European N: Scale 1:160, track gauge 9mm

This was originally introduced by the German manufacturer Arnold, but many other manufacturers now make N scale models, including Fleischmann, Roco (now owned by Hornby) and Märklin.
There is also a wide range of accessories available in this scale.

British N (Scale 1:148, track gauge 9mm)

As with HO, when N gauge was first introduced the mechanisms available were too large to fit into N-scale-sized bodies of British prototypes, so a compromise of 1:148 scale on 9 mm track was introduced.

This is now almost as popular as OO. British N Gauge used to be dominated by Graham Farish (now part of Bachmann) and PECO, but a wide range of other manufacturers now produce models in this scale.

Hornby have dipped their toe in the water in this scale, with the introduction of the ‘Brighton Belle’ train, produced by Arnold, but so far this is their only item of British N Gauge rolling stock.

(Please note that this is a ‘Train Packnot a ‘Train Set’, i.e. it is sold as a complete 5-car train but without any track or a controller.)

Hornby also produce the ‘Lyddle End’ range of N scale cast resin model buildings, many of which are models of the same buildings as their ‘Skaledale’ OO equivalent.


Finally, it might be worth mentioning the ‘millimetres per foot’ ratios. At first glance this might seem a strange mixture of metric and imperial measurements, but it is actually quite useful, for example when trying to work out the dimensions of buildings. So in O Gauge, 7mm is (near enough) a scale foot (12 inches); in HO, 3.5mm; in 00, 4mm; and in N, 2mm; and these are often used as informal descriptions for the scale as well, i.e. O Gauge is called “7mm scale” and OO is called “4mm scale”.

(For details of other model rail scales not covered here, including those used in Europe, America and Japan, see the Wikipedia article ‘List of rail transport modelling scale standards’.)

BR Early Crest

British Railway Eras

Many newcomers to the hobby of railway modelling are confused by the huge variety of models available, representing prototypes from different periods of time, ranging from Victorian times up to the present day.

To help to clear up the confusion, some model manufacturers have adopted the concept of ‘eras’ to define the time period that a model is supposed to represent.

(In this article we’ll cover the Era system used by Hornby, but several other manufacturers, such as Bachmann, use the same or very similar classifications.)

Under this system, time periods are divided into 11 ‘eras’ according to when major changes occurred, as follows:

Era 1: 1804 – 1869 Pioneering
Era 2: 1870 – 1922 Pre-Grouping
Era 3: 1923 – 1947 Grouping: “The Big Four” – LMS, GWR, LNER and SR
Era 4: 1948 – 1956 Early British Railways (Early Crest)
Era 5: 1956 – 1968 Late British Railways (Late Crest)
Era 6: 1968 – 1971 British Rail Pre TOPS
Era7: 1971 – 1986 British Rail TOPS
Era 8: 1982 – 1997 British Rail Sectorisation
Era 9: 1996 – 2008 Privatisation
Era 10: 2006 – 2017 Network Franchising
Era 11: 2014 on Present Day

Now let’s look at these in a bit more detail:

Era 1 1804 – 1869  Pioneering
This covers the very early days, from the first ever public passenger railway (The Stockton & Darlington, opened in 1825) through the ‘railway mania’ times when railway lines were being opened all over the country.

Era 2  1870 – 1922  Pre-Grouping
This covers the period when railways were becoming more established, and there were numerous railway companies, ranging from small branch lines to large companies like GWR.

Era 3  1923 – 1947  Grouping
In 1923 many of the smaller companies were amalgamated or ‘grouped’ into one of the ‘Big Four’ regional railway companies: LMS (London Midland & Scottish), LNER (London & North Eastern Railway), GWR (Great Western Railway) and SR (Southern Railway).

Era 4  1948 – 1956  Early British Railways (“Early Crest”):
The railways in Britain made a crucial contribution to the war effort during the Second World War, but after the war they were in a poor state, following the hammering they took from all the extra train movements and damage from bombing, and years of underinvestment, and the decision was taken to nationalise the network in 1948. The “Early Crest” refers to the early British Railways emblem, popularly known as the “unicycling lion”:

BR Early Crest







Era 5  1956 – 1968  Late British Railways (“Late Crest”)
During this period the infamous ‘Beeching Report’ was issued (in 1965) which resulted in many lines being closed and the withdrawal of steam locomotives and their replacement by diesel locomotives. BR also officially changed its trading name from ‘British Railways’ to just ‘British Rail’ in 1965. The crest used in this period was nicknamed the ‘Ferret & Dartboard’:

BR late crest






Era 6  1957 – 1971  British Rail  Pre-TOPS
This was the beginning of the ‘corporate blue’ period, when BR changed its livery to an overall blue and also adopted the ‘double arrow’ logo:
BR-double-arrow-logo (Source: British Rail from

Era 7  1971 – 1986  BR TOPS:
‘TOPS’ was the ‘Train Operating Processing System’, a computer system introduced by BR which resulted in locomotives being renumbered; diesel locos lost the ‘D’ prefix and were allocated a leading ‘Class’ number instead.
(We’ll cover class numbers in a later post.)

Era 8  1982 – 1997  BR Sectorisation
During this time BR, although still nationalised, was ‘Sectorised’ into separate business ‘Sectors’: for passenger traffic these were InterCity (express services), Network SouthEast (London commuter services) and Regional Railways (regional services); and for freight traffic, Trainload Freight, Railfreight Distribution (for non-trainload freight) , Freightliner (for intermodal (container) freight) and Rail Express Systems (for parcels traffic).
Each of these had their own livery, and there were also some sub-sectors such as petroleum, coal, etc. with their own livery variations.

Era 9  1996 – 2008  Privatisation
Under the Railways Bill (which was passed in 1993 and came into force in 1994) BR was broken up and sold off to private companies, leading to the present day arrangements of several competing freight companies (Freightliner, DRS, etc.) and several Train Operating Companies (‘TOCs’) running passenger services under regional franchises.

Era 10  2006 – 2017  Network Franchising 
The BR network was divided up and franchises for either regional areas or certain routes (e.g. the West Coast Main Line). Companies such as Stagecoach, Virgin and First bid for these franchises and were awarded rights to operate trains on those routes.

Era 11  2014 on  Present Day
This bring us to the current situation where we have the franchise operators, several goods operators, and also some new TOCs such as Hull Trains and Grand Central: these are “open access operators” who run their own trains on specific ‘paths’ which the franchise holders do not operate.

(These last 3 Eras can make a very colourful modelling scene, with numerous different liveries running alongside each other- some of which (e.g. GNER) are now already history!)

[Note: This article has been updated to align with the revised Era system now used by Hornby, as shown in their 2019 catalogue and on their website – the website also has a useful timeline graphic which shows how some of these Eras overlap.]