REVIEW - Graham Farish updated N Gauge Class 03 shunter
First introduced in 2011, the diminutive Graham Farish Class 03 diesel shunter represented an impressively small feat of engineering. The model has now been updated by Bachmann to feature a DCC socket for a micro 6 pin decoder, making digital conversion significantly quicker and easier than the original versions.
Constructed between 1957 - 1961, 230 Class 03 shunters were produced, primarily for light shunting duties in the various locomotive and carriage depots where larger locos were not required or not suitable. Their short wheelbase and light weight made them suitable for operation on lines such as those to Ipswich Docks where bridge limits prevented the larger Class 08 from use. Some Class 03s even saw limited use on passenger services, such as the Channel Island Boat Trains which were hauled along the Weymouth Quay Tramway.
Fitted with a Gardner 8-cylinder, 4-stroke 8L3 of 204 hp (152 kW) connected to a Wilson-Drewry CA5 R7, 5-speed epicyclic gearbox with RF11 spiral bevel reverse and final-drive unit with drive provided through a jackshaft mounted beneath the cab, driving the wheels through coupling rods. During their later life, some locomotives were fitted with dual (air and vacuum) brakes.
With declining demand for shunters, the type was gradually withdrawn from service from 1968 onward, with some examples being sold into industrial use. Two modified examples survived in BR use on the Isle of Wight until 1993, even receiving the distinctive Network Southeast red white and blue livery and a cut down cab roof to allow passage through the tunnels at Ryde. One ex IOW example was later put back into use by West Anglia Great Northern at their Hornsey depot and survived until 2008 and was sold into preservation.
Around 55 Class 03s survive in preservation at various locations around the UK.
At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking nothing had changed between the original and latest releases of the Class 03. The body moulding is largely unchanged on the new version except for detail variations as per the prototype.
The body features a die cast running plate and bonnet for much needed additional weight in such a small, short wheelbase locomotive. The bonnet features some very nice, sharp fine detail including hinges, rivets, grills and lights. Separately fitted handrails are featured throughout.
Below the running plate, vacuum tanks, brake pipes, brake shoes, guard irons and separately fitted steps with fine etched guard grills are also present providing an impressive level of detail on such a small model.
Vacuum pipes, coupling hook and buffers complete the buffer beam details, with additional detailing provided for the user to fit.
The separately fitted funnel on the example reviewed here was a little wonky out of the box, but this was easily pushed more securely in to place and upright, albeit after the photos were taken! Completing the details is a fine pair of horns fitted to the cab front.
The finish of the model is up to Farish's usual very high standard, with crisp, clear printing across the board. Bachmann's representation of BR blue is excellent and the finish smooth with no obvious blemishes. The wasp stripes are impressively sharp, especially considering the light details they cross on the cab face.
NEM coupling pockets are fitted at both ends for standard Rapido N Gauge couplings.
Under the hood is where the big changes have been made in this release of the Class 03 with a redesigned chassis now making provision for DCC compatibility. A new circuit board sits on top of the mechanism with enough room for a 6 pin micro decoder. Bachmann are producing their own branded decoder suitable for this (36-571) but a Zimo MX615 should also fit in the available space. Those feeling adventurous may be able to squeeze some stay alive capacity into the cab space if desired.
The can motor of the previous model has also been replaced with the now standard Farish coreless motor which on test running provided smooth and almost silent running qualities across the speed range with no sign of any stalling despite the short wheelbase. Haulage is also impressive, with the model easily pulling a rake of 8 Graham Farish Mk.1 coaches around a test circuit of Kato Unitrack with no sign of slippage or struggle.
The continued updating of Farish models to the latest mechanical standards is to be welcomed, and the inclusion of DCC provision in the Class 03 is an impressive achievement in a model of this size and with limited space. Whilst it may not have the headline grabbing DCC sound fitment of the forthcoming Class 08 upgrade, this is nonetheless an excellent improvement for the Class 03.
It is of course difficult not to review any N Gauge shunter without making comparisons to the recently released N Gauge Society Hunslet Shunter, and that model has one plus point over the 03 with its onboard stay alive capacity. That advantage is perhaps offset by the need to be a member of the NGS in order to obtain one, but it would be nice to see this feature appear as standard on more N Gauge models from the mainstream manufacturers as it is now doing in OO Gauge RTR.
The following versions of the Class 03 are now available from Bachmann stockists:
371-061A Class 03 D2028 BR Green (Wasp Stripes) RRP £129.95
371-062A Class 03 03026 BR Blue RRP £129.95
The following version is due to be delivered during May/June
371-065 Class 03 Ex-D2054 British Industrial Sand White RRP £139.95
Kernow Model Rail Centre have also commissioned a limited edition version of the Class 03 in Network Southeast livery as worn whilst in service on the Isle of Wight
371-064Z Graham Farish Class 03 Diesel Shunter 03 179 NSE RRP £129.95
The model reviewed here was purchased by the reviewer for £110.46 from Cheltenham Model Centre.