There have been two major innovations to occur in the hobby over recent years the wide introduction of Digital Command Control (DCC) and the major advances in model quality.
DCC continues to grow in the UK with more and more models available with ‘chips’ on board and more and more modellers taking up the challenge of digital control. Whilst there is still some way to go to reach the level of quality and standardisation now common on the other side of the Atlantic the number of ‘chip fitted’ locos available increases monthly. The quality of output from the factories continues to improve with only 1 in a 1000 chipped locos being returned because of a defect. ‘System’ interoperability is still something of an issue with various systems claiming ‘compatibility’, ‘conformance’ or ‘compliance’ with the NMRA standard, which is the baseline for all US adopted systems; however these issues are minimised if you go with a leading brand.
No sooner than modellers have got to grips with DCC than sound arrives in the market. Whilst the reliability of the sound chips can be erratic at times this continues to improve and we may see a recall of some models in 2012 to bring their sound up to a reliable standard.
For those of us old enough to remember Triang and Lima the accuracy and detail of modern models is astounding. The introduction of the Merchant Navy Class by Hornby was a watershed in detail and quality and has subsequently pushed Bachman to revise the chassis and running gear of a number of their models.
In my opinion the model of the year has to be the Hornby Gresley Suburban Coach, the level of detail especially on the underside is outstanding.
Coming a creditable second place is the Bachman 3F locomotive.
With regard to aspects other than locos and stock we continue to see a strong demand for code100 rail; with the move to code75 not being as strong as predicted. This is probably down to many modellers wanting to run ’old stock’ on their new layouts and the concern that the flanges of these will have issues with code75.
I continue to be taken with the quality of the Metcalfe card buildings and in particular their robustness. I recently took in some second hand examples that were as good as the day they were made and certainly as strong as some of the plastic kits.