REVIEW - Graham Farish Class 90
Announced in August 2022, the all new tool N Gauge Graham Farish Class 90 is now arriving with retailers, and is the first N Gauge locomotive to be released since Bachmann switched to their quarterly announcement cycle. An updated model of the type has been a much requested model in N Gauge for some time, so have Bachmann delivered? Read on to find out...
The Class 90 can trace it's origins back to the cancellation of the Advanced Passenger Train project during the early 1980s, along with the decision to electrify the East Coast Mainline which would result in a shortage of electric motive power when combined with the need to replace the now ageing Classes 81 - 85 which had entered service as early as the 1950s.
After the APT was scrapped, BR began to examine other options for traction including an electric version of the HST, the mixed-traffic Class 89 and what would eventually become the Intercity 225 project. When the Class 89 yielded disappointing results, with little improvement over the existing Class 87, and the original multi-purpose vision for what would become the Class 91 of the Intercity 225 project being narrowed down to high speed passenger operations on the ECML only, BR were left still looking for an answer to the replacement of older electric locomotive classes and motive power for the West Coast Mainline.
With the Class 87 having proven itself to be a capable and reliable type, BR's interest turned to a follow on order for the type, and British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL) proposed an updated and refined Class 87/2 variant. Eventually an order for fifty was placed, and construction began in 1987.
Specified to 5000hp and a 110mph maximum speed, the 87/2 design featured many improvements over the original locomotives, including Thyristor Control, rheostatic brakes and Time-Division Multiplexer (TDM) equipment to allow multiple working or control via driving trailer. A new, more aerodynamic bodyshell was also designed which had some similarities to the Class 91 being built alongside.
The prototype was initially numbered 87201 but shortly after roll out the decision was made to use the TOPS class of 90 due to the shear number of differences over the Class 87, and the first locomotive was renumbered to 90001. Testing at Old Dalby showed promise with 125mph being attained and reliability generally good, but some issues did emerge and entry into service was delayed around 3 months. During the testing phase, 90008 travelled to Hamburg in company with 89001, 91003 and 150263 for display at the 1988 International Traffic and Transport Exhibition. Initial problems led to the class receiving the nickname 'Skodas'
All 50 locomotives were in service by 1990 hauling express passenger trains, mail and freight along the length of the West Coast Mainline. In the run up to privatisation, the class was split between the newly formed sectors, with 15 allocated to Intercity, five to express parcels, five to Railfreight Distribution and the remaining 25 dedicated to freight operations. These 25 had their train heating systems isolated and their top speed reduced to 75mph. The changes resulted in the /1 subclass being formed, which comprised locomotives 90126-90150. On privatisation, twenty five fell under the ownership of EWS, ten Freightliner and the remaining fifteen Virgin Trains. The freightliner locos were eventually returned to their 110mph max speed, whilst a handful of EWS machines were also reverted for use on overnight sleeper trains.
As deliveries of the Class 390 Pendolino began, Virgin Trains removed it's Class 90 fleet from service, choosing to keep the more numerous Class 87's operational until the fleet replacement project was complete. This allowed the transfer of 90001-90015 to the Great Eastern Mainline as replacements for the ageing Class 86's still in use. Subsequently replaced on that line by Stadler FLIRT units, 13 of those locomotives have joined the Freightliner pool, again replacing the Class 86 in service there. 39 Class 90s currently remain in active service, with 11 stored in various states of disrepair. 90050 was badly damaged by fire in 2004 and is now used as a spares donor for the rest of the Freightliner fleet.
The type has seen extensive service across the network and despite some minor faults is considered a reliable and useful type which is likely to remain in service for some years to come. This long service life has seen the class wear many different liveries over the years, including those of the Belgian, French and German state operators. 90001 & 90002 have now passed into the ownership of Locomotive Services Ltd and following repaint in to Intercity Swallow livery, can now been see hauling charter trains across the 25kv system.
Graham Farish first introduced a Class 90 to it's range in 1995 and it received praise at the time for being one of the few RTR N Gauge electric locomotives available, along with good levels of underframe detail. The model received a chassis upgrade in 2005 following the Bachmann take over of Farish, but by now the body tooling was showing its age compared to some of the newer models being released. This would be the last time the 90 appeared in the Farish catalogue until August 2022 when a new model was announced as the first all new N Gauge locomotive produced under Bachmann's quarterly announcements regime.
On removal from box, it's clear this model is light years ahead of the old Poole tooling in every possible respect. Bachmann have done a superb job of capturing the overall shape and appearance of the Class 90 and we can only assume this new N Gauge model has benefited from the research done for the 2019 OO Gauge version.
In terms of shape, the model appears to be spot on in all areas, with the distinctive aerodynamic cabs accurately reproduced and the domed cab roof, which is a more complex shape than a quick glance would suggest, looks correct to this reviewers eye. In terms of overall shape, the model screams Class 90 from every angle.
The rather sparse bodyside details of the prototype have all been finely reproduced on the model, with some very nice side grill mouldings being the main features. Door outlines are commendably fine, not suffering from the trenching that sometimes affects N Gauge models. Lifting point covers, sandbox filler recesses & caps and the smaller vents are also neatly represented. Door grab rails are moulded, which is probably the best solution for this particular style and gives them a scale appearance. The three cantrail level roof panels are present, again with the fine engraving not being overbearing. Looking down on the model, the cabsides correctly flare out from the nose to just after the rear edge of the window, which is also correctly recessed toward the rear.
The cab front features the two distinctive cut outs above and below the grill, along with a representation of the panel used to access the wiper mechanisms. This is one of the few models where there aren't, correctly, any wipers included with these being hidden behind a fairing just below the windows on the prototype. The grill covering the horns is represented by some more fine moulding.
The high quality of the body moulding and finesse of the detail really helps contribute to the feeling of a model that could easily be in a larger scale than N Gauge.
One area that is a vast improvement over the older model are the lights. Rather than being simply printed on, these are now full operational with a very convincing separately fitted cover giving an excellent representation of the prototype arrangement and this really makes a significant contribution to the look of the model being 'right'. The tail lights, headlight and marker lights are all operational with no light bleed from around the covers.
In addition to the head/tail lights, DCC users can switch on and off the cab lighting, with the function available to independently control which cab is illuminated. The lighting is perhaps a touch on the bright side and the LED sits quite low in the cab, so those with the ability to do so may want to adjust the brightness via the CV values to bring it down a lumen or two!
The second area which is a signifiant improvement is the front valance. On the old model, this and the buffer beam were mounted to the bogies, resulting in a large gap and the really quite strange appearance of it swinging out to the left and right as it negotiated smaller radius curves. The valance and buffer beam moulding is now attached to the chassis (it can be removed via two screws) resulting in no gap and a much more convincing appearance overall. The various TDM and ETH connectors and sockets are all present on the buffer beam, with the mu cables being represented by separately fitted wire parts. These are perhaps a little on the clunky side in comparison to the fine wire connectors of the prototype.
A small bag containing buffer beam pipework and both a coupling hook or dellner coupling are included for the user to fit, although interestingly the comprehensive instruction sheet also references a hook with screwlink coupling but this was not included in the bags on any of the three examples reviewed here.
The models representing the locomotives in use on passenger services correctly have the larger buffers and rubbing plates fitted. There has been some compromise here, as the model represents the loco with the buffers in the extended position and inline with the rubbing plate, which would usually be retracted. When coupled to coaching stock, the buffers are retracted and rotated through 90 degrees whilst the rubbing plate is extended. The Freightliner locomotive correctly as no rubbing plate and rectangular buffers as fitted to those locos dedicated to freight operations.
What little roof equipment is present on the prototype is neatly represented on the model, with the two large brake resistor banks represented, along with the various other panels and equipment covers.
The pantograph is a nicely detailed model of the Brecknell Willis High Speed design fitted to the prototype, and is posable in the raised position. There is a clip holding it in the down position and it does take some careful force to release it from this. The collector head is an etched nickel silver part which features correctly shaped horns at each side. A minor niggle is the representation of the contact strips are a little on the deep side.
The pantograph itself, and the associated power feed cabling and insulator pots are moulded in a tough, flexible plastic for durability, but Bachmann seem to have struck a good balance between scale appearance and strength for what is the most vulnerable part of the model. Overall it is a very nice representation of the real thing with some fine detail included and certainly one of the best BW High Speed pantographs we've seen in N Gauge to date.
The various air reservoirs, compressors and equipment boxes of the underframe are represented with some really quite fine detailing which captures the open framed appearance in this area perfectly.
The bogies also feature some excellent moulding, with plenty of depth to the detail giving them the heavy appearance of the real things. The distinctive three flexcoil springs and dampers are moulded as part of the bogie which does result in a gap between springs and body, however the gap is not overly intrusive. Brake shoes are present and in line with the wheels and steps are separately fitted parts.
The new model is equipped with a kinematic close coupling mechanism and standard NEM coupling pocket which protrudes through an opening in the valance. It's probably the neatest solution possible in order to facilitate the valance not being attached to the bogies and works well on testing. For those who wish to run the model without the coupling, blanking plates are provided. The coupling pocket must be removed first via a small screw, which is then used to hold the blanking plate in position. It was a little fiddly getting the blanking plate in to the right position, there is a small pin on the mount that fits between the two pegs on the blanking plate, but the difference in appearance is worth the effort.
The finish on all three models used in this review is excellent, as we would expect from any recent Graham Farish product. The base colours are smooth and evenly applied with good density and no sign of any blemishes or marking. Livery elements on all versions are sharply applied and the white stripes of the Virgin Trains example have excellent density over the striking red grey base colours. On all three examples the lining is pin sharp to the naked eye.
The finer printed details are also sharply reproduced, with all but the very smallest text legible on all three liveries seen in this review. OHLE warning flashes, TOPS panels and logos are all present and sharp.
Logos and fonts are all accurate for the livery represented with some very nice, sharp application of the Freightliner logos and Intercity swallow logos & text in particular. The printed name plates are also sharp and legible.
My only minor niggle with any aspect of the finish on this model is that the insulator pots and power line on the roof detail are not painted. This is due to the type of plastic used to ensure robustness of these these parts having a waxy finish, which Bachmann say makes it difficult to apply factory finish over. A few minutes careful work with brush and some appropriately coloured paint will resolve the niggle.
It's increasingly difficult to find words other than the usual superlatives to describe the running qualities of modern Graham Farish N Gauge locomotives. Out of the box the model was quiet and smooth running with no sign of stuttering of hesitation at all. Quite simply, the performance is excellent.
Weighing in at 67g, it has a reasonable weight to it which should give prototypical pulling capabilities, especially if double heading long Freightliner trains. There are no traction tyres fitted, although we doubt they will be needed.
For those looking to fit a DCC chip to their model, this is a slightly more complicated process than some other recent models. The first step is to remove the bogies from the chassis. This required quite a bit of force on the model disassembled here, but they will eventually unclip.
Four small screws must then be removed, and crucially the MU cabling needs to be gently prised out from the buffer beam. If you try to remove the body without doing this, you are likely to bend the wire out of shape. Once that is done, the body will slide off the chassis, revealing the Next18 decoder socket. This does feel a little on the 'faffy' side compared to other recent Farish models such as the Class 319 and its removable panel.
The pre-fitted speaker and cab lighting rely on sprung contact strips and pads for connectivity so there are no wires between body and chassis. For DC users who wish to turn off the tail lights when running the model as part of a train, there are two switches on the circuit board to facilitate this.
The centrally mounted coreless twin shaft motor has a brass flywheel at each end and is connected to the bogie gear towers via cardan shaft and brass worm gear. Drive is via all four axles. Wiper pickups collect current from all wheels.
On all three examples in this review, performance around a test circuit of Kato unitrack was faultless.
As is now customary, Bachmann are also offering DCC sound fitted models of all versions released. The Freightliner example in the review is so equipped, the only noticeable external difference being the DCC Sound logo printed on the underside of one bogie.
The quality of the sound is excellent, with a startup sequence and multiple different sound effects available to DCC users and the distinctive 'hum' of the prototype has been well captured by Bachmann in this custom sound project.
We're preparing a video to showcase the sound fitted versions which will be posted early in the new year.
A new class 90 has been a highly requested model for some time, and Bachmann have delivered what we think might just be the best RTR N Gauge electric locomotive released to date. Exceptionally smooth performance combined with high levels of detail, accurate body shape and excellent livery application makes this a must have for any 'Skoda' fan. It's also nice to see a newly tooled N Gauge locomotive released for the first time since Bachmann changed to quarterly announcements.
With a long service life and plenty of liveries worn over that time, the Class 90 should be a staple in the Farish range for years to come, and we look forward to seeing more models released in the future.
We have no hesitation at all in highly recommending the Class 90! (We just need some coaching stock to run behind it please Bachmann!)
Five liveries have been released in the first batch of new models and they are available via Bachmann retailers now:
371-780 / 371-780SF
CLASS 90/0 90005 'FINANCIAL TIMES' BR INTERCITY (SWALLOW)
371-781 / 371-781SF
CLASS 90/0 90037 BR RAILFREIGHT DISTRIBUTION SECTOR
371-782 / 371-782SF
90019 'PENNY BLACK' RAIL EXPRESS SYSTEMS
371-783 / 371-783SF
CLASS 90/0 90004 'CITY OF GLASGOW' VIRGIN TRAINS (ORIGINAL)
90047 FREIGHTLINER G&W
RRP is £194.95 for DCC ready versions and £294.95 for the DCC sound fitted models.
The models in this review were purchased by the review for £165.70 (DCC Ready) & £250.70 (DCC sound) from Alton Model Centre