Privatisation signals rise in stock for Hornby

Changing trains: Toy makers go full steam ahead to make fortune out of rail privatisation
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The Independent Online

The Government's railway reshuffle might be causing headaches in the industry and concern among passengers, but it is being welcomed by those running the country's "other" rail network. For Hornby Hobbies - the maker of model railways since the 1920s - it means big business.

Hornby's commitment to miniaturising accurately the national rail system means it faces the daunting task of repainting logos, liveries and even uniforms worn by model stationmasters to keep in step with new designs.

Most of its scaled-down rolling stock is decorated with British Rail insignia which - model railway buffs will be quick to point out - will soon be out of date if the Government's plans go ahead and the lines are sold off.

Hornby's marketing manager, Simon Kohler, believes privatisation will mean more sales for the company as enthusiasts rush to buy the repainted versions of existing locos and carriages. "The more the merrier. I think about this every morning when I listen to the news and all I can see is bonuses for Hornby," he said.

"When these locos were introduced they tended to be in one colour. The class 58 for example, for hauling coal trains, was a drab grey. Then they painted them a gorgeous blue with silver and people said, 'Wow, I want another one'."

The repainting of these freight locos signalled the start of Hornby's privatisation process. Now privatisation of passenger services looks certain, the company is watching and waiting for the first new livery designs.

It will take about five months to copy a new livery and get the repainted range into the shops. So, if Stagecoach, the bus company that won the franchise for South-west Trains last week, begins running services on schedule in April 1996, then scaled-down versions of its trains should be on sale in time for next Christmas.

David Jinks, editor of Model Railway Enthusiast magazine, will be at the front of the queue. "I'll be there," he said. "I used to hate the rail blue, as they called it, that the trains were all painted in. I just couldn't stand it, so this is a good opportunity to get some new stock with some better designs. It's also exciting because this is the first time a change of this scale has occurred since the old big four rail companies were nationalised."

Mr Kohler hopes Hornby's good relationship with the rail authorities will mean it can get sneak previews of new liveries to speed up the programme of change. "After all it's advertising for the companies too," he said. "Through us, the Stagecoach liveries in the South, for example, will also be seen in Scotland."

Hornby's current prices (between pounds 14 and pounds 45 for diesel locos and pounds 60 for steam) are unlikely to change after privatisation, despite the risk that it might have to pay the passenger services a registration fee for the use of their new logos. It has already had to pay some private freight companies for the privilege.

Rail privatisation will also almost certainly signal the widespread phasing out of the British Rail uniform and the donning of new private outfits. Miniature station masters and guards will have to follow suit.

By this time next year model railways could look as different as their full-size counterparts.