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  • Writer's pictureTom Everitt

REVIEW - Sonic Models J50 0-6-0 Tank Locomotive

Sonic Models second N Gauge locomotive, the LNER J50 0-6-0 tank engine, has now arrived in stock with exclusive retailer Rails of Sheffield. Following on from the GWR 56XX, this is the first time the J50 has been available in RTR form in N Gauge, and NGN takes an in-depth look at this brand new Eastern region model in the following review.

sonic models j50

The Prototype

Designed by Nigel Gresley for the Great Northern Railway in 1913, the J23 was intended for use on coal traffic in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Whilst the previous classes of locomotive employed on this route were 0-6-0 tender locomotives, the requirement for the new type to be suitable for shunting resulted in a 0-6-0 tank engine design featuring side tanks. The tanks added additional weight and helped increase rail adhesion, something of particular use on the steep gradients in around their intended area of operation. The distinctive, long and slope fronted side tanks earned them the nickname 'Submarines' Thirty J23's were built between 1913 and 1919 using redundant 4ft 2in diameter boilers from the Ivatt designed Class R1 0-8-2T locomotives which were being rebuilt by Gresley at the time. A second batch of ten locos was produced in 1922 and again these used second hand boilers, this time 4ft 5in in diameter.

On grouping, the newly formed LNER divided the J23's into two new classes based on the boiler size, with the 4ft 2in locomotives becoming J51s, and those with the 4ft 5in boilers becoming J50s. There were several variations within the classes, with the first 10 J51s having a shorter coal bunker, however this was lengthened after they exhibited poor weight distribution, a problem resolved by blanking off a section of tanks at the front, extending the coal bunker and adding another water tank below the coal space. Some later J50s also had coal capacity increased via the addition of a 'hopper' space above the existing bunker.

LNER J50 Tank Engine
J50/3 No. 68973 0-6-0T at Doncaster Locomotive Depot. © Ben Brooksbank. Used under Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike license 2.0

The J50 was designated by the LNER as a group standard design, and a further 52 were built between 1926 and 1939 whilst the thirty J51's were rebuilt to J50 standard between 1929 and 1935. This included fitting them with the larger 4ft 5in boiler of the J50 and resulted in the entire class now falling under the J50 designation. All of the class were built at Doncaster with the exception of the final batch of 14 which were constructed at Gorton.

J51 / J50 subclass divisions

  • J51/1 10 built 1913–14, 4 ft 2 in boiler, vacuum brake, right-hand drive, short bunker

  • J51/2 20 built 1914–19, as J51/1 but long bunker

  • J50/1 10 rebuilt 1929–35 from J51/1 with 4 ft 5 in boiler

  • J50/2 20 built 1922–24, as J51/2 but 4 ft 5 in boiler. 20 rebuilt 1929–34 from J51/1 with 4 ft 5 in boiler

  • J50/3 38 built 1926–30, 4 ft 5 in boiler, steam brake, left-hand drive, long bunker

  • J50/4 14 built 1938–39, 4 ft 5 in boiler, vacuum brake, left-hand drive, long bunker with hopper

Further numbers were planned, but the financial difficulties faced by the LNER resulted in their ultimate cancellation and left the company with a shortfall of medium sized shunting locomotives. This situation was eventually resolved with the arrival of the J94 after the end of WWII.

In service the class was used on local coal and good services in the Bradford area, and could also be found working in the larger West Riding marshalling yards in addition to the occasional passenger workings or banking duties. They eventually spread further afield to Immingham and by 1935 they were allocated to Ardsley, Bradford, Copley Hill, Immingham, Frodingham, Stratford, Woodford, and Eastfield. The last two batches were thinly spread between Norwich, Cambridge, Stratford, Doncaster, Copley Hill, Sheffield, Hitchin, Hornsey, Annesley, and Colwick sheds.

The entire class survived into the British Railways era, where in 1952 thirty were transferred to Hornsey shed in North London for transfer workings to the Southern Region and empty stock workings to Kings Cross.

Withdrawals started in 1958 and by 1963 only seven of the class remained in departmental service. With the scrapping of 68961 (by then Departmental No.14) in September 1965, the class became extinct, with non surviving into preservation.

The Model

Eastern Region modellers have not been the best served when it comes to smaller GNR & LNER designed locomotives, but Sonic Models have now gone some way to righting that wrong with the J50 0-6-0 tank engine.

Initial impressions on removing the model from the standard Sonic packaging are certainly favourable, with the locomotive exhibiting a high level of detail and an excellent standard of finish. At first glance you would be forgiven for thinking it had arrived in a black and yellow box, but that shouldn't be surprising given Sonic's owner has a previous association with Bachmann/Graham Farish.

Sonic's designers have captured the somewhat bulky look of the J50 extremely well, including the distinctive, sloped tank fronts and side cutouts that reveal the front splashers and on the left hand side the reversing lever. The welded construction of the J50 means rivet detail is fairly sparse, but those present are finely moulded and don't appear overscale.

sonic models j50

The tank top detail is also relatively sparse, but features some nicely moulded fine panel detail and separately fitted pipework, water filler caps and tool restraining stanchions. What little is visible of the boiler features neatly defined boiler banding.

Separately fitted handrails are are all present and correct and considering these appear to be plastic mouldings rather than metal, they are commendably fine. The two small horizontal handrails on the smokebox are separately fitted etched parts with a much finer appearance than the original ones seen on the early samples, however the left hand one on the model reviewed here had a slight kink in the middle. As these are etched it should be possible to straighten this out relatively easily.

sonic models j50

The top section of the chimney is a separately fitted part, with the join placed along the line of a step in the casting of the prototype. The fit of the chimney is good, and the gap is somewhat exaggerated in the review photos. The steam dome appears to be a good match for the shape of the large versions fitted to the J50/3 & /4 variants that have tooled for. Two fine Ross Pop valves are fitted on the boiler top, and Sonic have tooled for both the lower and the raised valves.

sonic models j50

The cab is a separate moulding from the tank top level up captures the large radius of the roof on the prototype perfectly. The join line is in the same position as a join in the sheeting of the real locomotive and the fit is good enough that it doesn't draw the eye. A very nice whistle moulding is fitted to the front of the cab, with the roof vent also being a separately fitted piece.

There is some nice internal detailing on the boiler backhead, including dials and pipework picked out in appropriate colours and a separately fitted regulator, all of which is visible through the large cabside openings. The accessory bag includes handbrake mouldings for the user to fit, however depending on the size of decoder used these could prevent the body fitting correctly if they interfere with the chip.

sonic models j50

At the rear, the flush fitting porthole windows include guard rail detailing and the coal rails are another separately fitted part and sonic have tooled both the original open versions, and the later plated style. Not present on this version, Sonic have also tooled a version with the additional horizontal bunker side handrails and shunters step found on the locomotives that served in the marshalling yards on the former North British Railway region of the LNER network.

Bunker lamp irons are moulded as part of the body whilst the five front lamp irons are included as part of the running board moulding which also includes steps, injector detailing and sandboxes. The buffers are separately fitted and Sonic have tooled both GNR versions and the later LNER style.

sonic models j50

The uneven wheelbase of the prototype has been accurately reproduced with a good representation of the 4ft 8in wheels fitted to the prototype. Fine connecting rods are fitted and Sonic have produced versions with fluted or plain rods.

The cast chassis also features some detailing elements, including cut outs in the frame through which the lower part of the firebox is visible. Brake shoes, brake rodding and suspension springs are moulded as part of the keeper plate, as are standard NEM coupling pockets.

sonic models j50


The standard of finish is extremely good, with the base black colour being well applied and with no blemishes evident anywhere on the model reviewed here. The black is a very nice satin finish, edging toward the matter side. The red lining and boiler banding of the early LNER livery is neatly applied and has good density over the black without being too bright. There was a very slight misalignment of the lining on the right hand side of the cab on the model reviewed which means it doesn't quite line up with that on the body moulding. The red lining also extends to the wheel edges and centres.

sonic models j50

Numbers and lettering are neatly applied and even features the red/brown shadowing of the original LNER typeface, which is particularly evident on the tank side numbers. The yellow has good density and doesn’t appear translucent as light colours over black can sometimes look. Builders plates are picked out in brass and all but the smallest lettering is legible.

sonic models j50

Buffer beams are painted red and the front beam is outlined in white with he buffer beam numbering however is excellently applied. In areas around the buffer mounting plates this was a little uneven on the model reviewed and perhaps the weakest area of the finish however the overall standard of finish is extremely high indeed.


The J50 follows on from the 56xx by featuring a plastic body over a diecast chassis block. Thanks to the sizeable tanks giving plenty of room, Sonic have been able to give the J50 a creditable weight of 39 grammes which should assist with it's haulage capabilities. There are no traction tyres fitted, which is no bad thing as far as this reviewer is concerned! Testing around the NGN test circuit showed the J50 could easily haul eight Farish Mk.1s on level track without any sign of slippage or struggle.

sonic models j50

To access the 6pin decoder socket, four screws need to be removed from each corner of the running plate. On this sample, they were very tightly installed so care was need to avoid stripping the heads. A small PCB sits in the cab floor area and is designed to take a DCC chip with a 90 degree connector such as the Bachmann 36-556RA. Alternatively, a small chip such as the Zimo MX615 would also be an option.

Fitting a sound decoder and speaker would be a challenge without intruding on the cab space but we're sure it won't be long before someone achieves this! The Zimo MS500 is certainly small enough to fit in the available space and the bunker weight is removable which would create more room for a speaker, however removing weight is likely to affect the haulage capabilities.

sonic models j50

Motive power is provided by a small coreless motor driving the centre axle and straight out of the box the model ran excellently, with no sign of stutter or wheel quartering issues. There is the faintest hint of lateral wobble when moving forward but this is only really noticeable when running the model at speeds the prototype was highly unlikely to reach!

Initially there was a little noise from the mechanism but after running in this has reduced considerably. Electrical pick up is via axle bushes as per the 56xx. In terms of overall running quality, the J50 is certainly up there with the best of the 0-6-0 tanks from Graham Farish.

sonic models j50


Sonic set themselves a high bar with their first N Gauge locomotive, the 56xx, and in the J50 they have surpassed that with a model that feels a little more refined in all areas. With its excellent finish and impressive performance & running qualities straight out of the box, we have no hesitation in recommending the J50 to those modellers looking for an Eastern Region tank locomotive, or just a high quality and attractive 0-6-0!

sonic models j50


The Sonic Models J50 is now available exclusively from Rails of Sheffield in eight different livery versions, may of which feature subtle detail variations between them:


610 in LNER black with red lining. This model features GNR buffers, open coal rail, flush Ross pop valves and fluted coupling rods.


621 in LNER unlined black. With GNR buffers, open coal rail, flush Ross pop valves and plain coupling rods. Also featuring NBR shunter’s step.


1045 in LNER unlined black. With GNR buffers, open coal rail, flush Ross pop valves and plain coupling rods.


8962 in LNER unlined black. With LNER buffers, plated coal rail, raised Ross pop valves and plain coupling rods.


68958 in BR unlined black and BRITISH RAILWAYS lettering. With GNR buffers, plated coal rail, raised Ross pop valves and plain coupling rods. Also featuring NBR shunter’s step.


68973 in BR unlined black and early emblem. With LNER buffers, plated coal rail, raised Ross pop valves and fluted coupling rods.


68965 in BR unlined black and late crest. With GNR buffers, plated coal rail, raised Ross pop valves and plain coupling rods.


68961 in BR unlined black and late crest. With GNR buffers, plated coal rail, raised Ross pop valves and plain coupling rods.

All versions are priced at £109.95

The model featured in this review was purchased from Rails of Sheffield for £109.95 by the reviewer.




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