In many ways, there has never been a better time to be a model traction modeller, with several of the most interesting recent developments from that old stalwart Bachmann.
As I wrote about in this November post, the company known among trolley modellers for its inexpensive love-’em-or-hate-’em PCCs and Brill trolleys has been stepping up its game of late. The two old standby models were improved with upgraded mechanisms and new paint schemes. Then came its Baltimore prototype Peter Witt car, and most recently, new single-truck Birney safety cars.
Of course, these models were all of North American prototypes. Imagine my delight, given my interest in British and Commonwealth tramways, to learn of Bachmann China’s new OO models of Hong Kong trams. Given their descent from British designs, the prototypes which still ply the rails on teeming Hong Kong Island are a natural favourite with Anglo tram enthusiasts. Here are the models, as seen on Bachmann’s UK website.
I first learned about these stunning new models just over a week ago, when I stumbled on this April 21 post in the Trams & Tramway Modelling section of the popular British model railway board RMweb. The title seemed interesting, but didn’t give me much hope: “In case it hasn’t been spotted, On30 Hong Kong Tramcars.” What on earth would I do with such an animal, given that I am working on a OO British tram layout? Not much.
Ah, but happily the title turned out to be a bit of a gaffe, as other readers soon pointed out. Again, a bit of confusion: The thread at present says the cars are HO scale, while other sources I’ve seen say they are 1:76 (OO) scale. The latter would make more sense, especially if aimed at UK and British ex-pat modellers in Hong Kong. Either way, these would fit in quite nicely among British trams on my new layout.
I must confess, readers, to having been a very bad boy indeed. I saw the updated thread about an hour ago and begin doing a little research. As directed in a subsequent post, I visited the Bachmann UK website (as seen above). As per usual, the delivery dates (February/March) seems to have been a bit optimistic, with RMweb posters suggesting late May/early June availability in Britain — a timetable that seems plausible based on a quick search of UK dealers. As for the United States? Not finding the cars on Bachmann’s US website I turned immediately to eBay. Long story short, the US $99 price offered by a dealer in Hong Kong seemed reasonable and I expect to let you know how I like the thing (the green version seen above) in about two weeks.
Why the rush to buy? Production numbers for these vehicles appear to be limited indeed, according to some sources. Orientalmodelbuses.co.uk suggests production of these cars was just 500 each. With numbers that low, one expects these cars will sell out fast — and I wouldn’t count on seeing them on the shelves of local hobby shops here in America.
To close, a few notes on Hong Kong Tramways (香港電車 in Chinese, as per the post title). The system opened in 1904 in what was then a British colony, and early cars were imported from Britain. Today’s fleet is comprised of aluminum-bodied four-wheel cars descended from British designs, but mostly embodying a distinctly local body style that evolved between the 1930s and 1980s. Relics of the island’s colonial past, the trams nevertheless complement the slick modern cityscape with dazzling all-over advertising schemes. In a delightful turn of events, the system in 1992 built two new trams for operation on the Birkenhead heritage line in the mother country.
Unlike so many surviving first-generation tramway systems in the English-speaking world, Hong Kong Tramways is a busy urban streetcar line. The system operates six routes between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan, and according to its website calls for “a tramcar depart in every 1.5 minutes during peak hours on average.” The system is comprised of 161 passenger cars operating from two depots, carring an average of 230,000 passengers per day, the website says.
Hong Kong may have returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, but in an ironic twist of fate the tram network has come to be owned by Paris-based Veolia Transport.
For more information:
- Hong Kong Tramways official webpage (includes history and photos)
- Hong Kong Tramways on Wikipedia
- ‘Ding Ding’ Hong Kong Tram Guide
- CNN International: “Hong Kong trams go totally French.”
- Asia Times Online: “Hong Kong Trams Change Driver.”