REVIEW - Kato N Gauge Hitachi Class 800 IET
N Gauge News takes a look at the first UK outline N Gauge model from famed Japanese manufacturer Kato.
Over the past few years several companies have entered the UK N Gauge market. Perhaps the best known of these is Japanese manufacturer Kato.
With a reputation for quality Kato are one of the most widely known model railway brands across the world, catering primarily to the extensive Japanese N Gauge market, but also producing US and European outline models. To date however, their only UK based products have been the Continental N Gauge Scale (1:160) Class 373 'Eurostar e300' and a collaborative effort with CJM models and Graham Farish to produce the 'Le Shuttle' Channel Tunnel stock.
KATO finally made the welcome leap into UK N gauge in 2018 with the launch of the KATO British Railways branding and the announcement that they intended to produce a model the Hitachi Class 800 'Intercity Express Train'. This announcement was significant in that the Class 800 would be produced to 1:148th scale rather than their usual 1:160th scale, despite UK sales likely to be significantly smaller than those in their home market.
The Class 800 was born of the UK Government's 'Intercity Express Programme' (IEP) started in 2005 to find a replacement for the ageing HST and Class 91/MK.4 rolling stock in use on the East Coast and Great Western Mainlines.
In 2009, a consortium lead by Hitachi under the name of Agility Trains was announced, to some controversy, as the preferred bidder. Following political delays and wrangling over electrification of the GWML, the final decision on the order was eventually made in 2012 with a £4.5 billion order for 596 bi-mode carriages being placed. An additional order for another 30 nine car all electric Class 801 units for use on the ECML was placed in 2013.
The IET entered service with Great Western Railway on the 16th October 2017, and on the East Coast Mainline on 15th May 2019. The East Coast Trains sets are branded as 'Azuma', the English translation of the Japanese word for East.
Additional variations of the class have now been produced for other operators, with GWR, Hull Trains and Trans Pennine Express now operating the Class 802 bi-mode and open access operator East Coast Trains due to receive the all electric Class 803 in this year. A shorter bi-mode version with revised nose design, the Class 810, is also under construction for East Midlands Trains.
The Class recently hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons after cracks were found around the lifting points resulting in the whole class being removed from service for inspection and causing significant disruption to time tables for several days.
Two versions of the Kato Class 800 are being produced:
10-1671 Hitachi Class 800/0 GWR
10-1674 Hitachi Class 800/2 LNER 'Azuma'
The model reviewed here is the GWR example which arrived in shops during May. The LNER 'Azuma' version is due to arrive in the UK during June.
The first thing that strikes you about the Class 800 is the presentation of the model in it's packaging. Supplied in a high quality book style box with outer sleeve, the coaches are secured in foam padding to ensure minimal transit damage. A comprehensive instruction manual is included which details everything from installing the DCC decoders (supplied separately) to removing the detachable nose cones for multiple running.
Also included are several lengths of Kato's Unitrack to display the model on, including a buffer stop, and a small bag containing couplings (long and short) to allow two units to be connected. A small plastic screwdriver is also supplied to help the removal of the nose cones and to allow the underside switch controlling the tail lights to be used.
Kato have captured the shape of the prototype perfectly, no doubt having benefited from access to the prototype CAD provided by Hitachi. The body moulding exhibits some excellent details, particularly on the roof panels where the various grills, fans and other equipment are very nicely reproduced.
Each driving car, designated as Driving Pantograph Trailer Standard (DPTS), and Driving Pantograph First (DPTF) features a finely moulded positionable pantograph. The pan head is perhaps a little on the chunky side, but it is an otherwise accurate representation of the Brecknell Wills type fitted to the prototype.
The various insulators and conductors are nicely represented, however in perhaps the weakest area of the model, the large electrical equipment boxes which line the coach ends are represented only by a very shallow version. They should also be painted black as per the prototype.
The bogies are nicely represented, with good detail and levels of depth which are sometimes missing from N Gauge models. The wheelsets are exceptional free rolling, and there is no sign of any wobble in any of the coaches. Pickups are fitted to all bogies, allowing the installation of the light bars Kato are also producing for these models and which are available as an aftermarket part.
The glazing is pleasingly flush and slightly tinted, although the tinting is perhaps a little too subtle compared to the prototype's. The interior seating is visible and nicely moulded, however it appears that the Motor Composite interior has been designed incorrectly, with the first class seating at the standard end and vice versa. The orientation of the seating unit cannot be changed due to asymmetric design of the clips to hold it in place, however it was simple enough to remove the body shell and turn 180 degrees so the seating was correct. This does mean that the underfloor details are then at the wrong ends of the coach however. Given the interior is not easily seen without getting up close it may be preferable to leave it as is.
The under frame detail is nicely replicated, including the multitude of laches as found on the prototype. The skirt components are not painted, but the grey plastic they are moulded in does not make them look obviously plastic. Kato have not picked out the latches in yellow as per the prototype, so this would have to be done by the modeller if desired and with a great deal of patience!
Couplings & multiple working
Connection between units is made with standard Kato couplers attached to a sprung close coupling mechanism. The couplers themselves are a combination of a scharfenberg style section for alignment, with a miniature rapido type couple underneath to lock them together. It's a nice effective solution and certainly more refined than the large bulky rapido type coupling UK N gauge modellers are accustomed too. Coupling between coaches is commendably close whilst still allowing the model to negotiate curves.
Multiple working is possible thanks to the removable nose cones. two inter-unit couplings are provided, one long and one short to allow for the negotiation of various radius curves. These couplings are a simple push fit onto a peg inside the nose. The short version of the coupling is show in the photos below.
The tail lights can be turned off when working in multiple by using the switch on the underside of each driving coach
Kato recommend a radius of no more than 282mm for the Class 800. This is slightly greater than a Peco 2nd Radius curve but less than a 3rd Radius. Those with 1st Radius trackwork may encounter issues. They also recommend that any S bends have a small straight section placed between them. Due to the length of the coaches, there is greater overhang on corners, so modellers with tight curves on double track sections may need to check this does not interfere with passing models.
Fitting DCC relies upon a propriety Kato system and requires 3 decoders. One for the power unit, and one in each driving vehicle to control the lighting functions. Kato will be making these available as a complete set, however at the time of writing they were yet to arrive with stockists.
In addition to the DCC decoder pack, Kato will be releasing a lighting kit for interior lights, along with an extensive catalogue of spare parts.
The model is powered from one of the standard class centre cars, and is driven on all 4 axles from a centrally mounted can motor via cardon shafts to the bogie gear towers. The mechanism is commendably low profile and is not immediately obvious to the naked eye.
Initial testing shows the mechanism to be smooth and more than capable of moving all 5 coaches of the set at a prototypically high speed, but also has commendable low speed running qualities. The motor was a little noisy straight out of the box in comparison to some of the coreless motor fitted models from Graham Farish, but this will hopefully quieten down over time.
The bogie gears are exposed which makes applying lubrication easy, however this also means dust and other small particles could easily make their way into the mechanism.
The finish of the models is excellent. The green used by Kato is a good match for the GWR green used on the vinyls applied to the prototypes, which doesn't quite have the same rich deep finish as those which have been painted, however it can look a little washed out under certain lighting conditions. The Matt diagonal stripe which forms part of the GWR scheme has been nicely replicated, with the remainder of the model painted in a semi gloss look.
Kato have accurately replicated the white sections around the doors, roof and ends where the vinyl is not applied on the prototype. Lettering and numbers are crisply applied, and there are various warning panels depicted, however some of these are only represented by blocks of solid colour and do not quite feature the level of detail seen in some UK manufacturers printing.
If I had to really nitpick, the shade of yellow on the removable nose section is a very slightly different shade to that on the main body and the cantrail stripe is perhaps slightly on the thick side, the white outline to the central headlight denoting the First Class end particularly so, but these are the only obvious issues we could find.
Any new manufacturer entering the UK N Gauge market is a welcome development, and Kato have made an impressive debut with a model of a class which is likely to be with us for some time.
There are one or two minor niggles, like the shallow and unpainted unit end details and the seating in the MC coach the wrong way around, but overall the Class 800 is an excellent model and lives up to Kato's reputation for high quality.
I hope that sales of the Class 800 are encouraging enough to convince Kato to produce more UK outline models in the future.
The price of the Class 800 has been the source of some discussion around the internet and drawn inevitable comparisons with the cost of models from some UK based manufacturers.
The RRP for the Class 800 is £209.95. This represents outstanding value for a modern 5 car multiple unit and it's very tempting to draw direct comparisons with models like Graham Farish's Class 220 Voyager which has an RRP of £399.95 for a 4 car unit.
Whilst it's easy to look at those prices and conclude that Farish prices seem disproportionately high, it's important to understand the difference between the market each manufacturer serves. N Gauge attracts a significantly greater number of railway modellers in Japan than it does in the UK, a standard Kato production run being around 10,000 units. Compare this to the UK where N Gauge is only around 15-20% of the OO market, and production runs are not likely to exceed 2500 units and in many cases can be significantly less.
I understand that only around 20-25% of the class 800 production run is destined for UK stockists, which gives some indication of how the much greater scale of production allows Kato to offer these models at such a low price point.
The review model was purchased by the reviewer from Alton Model Centre for £178
UPDATE 22/05/2021 - Motor Composite seating
As mentioned in the review above, the seating unit for the Motor Composite coach has been moulded the wrong way around, with the First Class seating at the Standard Class end. Due to the nature of the moulding, it is not possible to flip the seating unit to the correct orientation.
Kato have now confirmed that this error only affects the GWR models in this first batch, and the LNER models feature a revised seating unit. This will also be made available free of charge to owners of the GWR version via stockists in the near future.
Kato are to be commended for acknowledging and rectifying this error with such speed!