- Diesel depot layouts. Almost always post-privatisation, seldom modelled on a real location. Fifteen brightly coloured RTR diesels with DCC sound, farting and fizzing away like sitting on a train next to someone wearing headphones. Cold bluish white LEDs glittering bright enough to give you a headache. Depot layouts have now been done to death, just like GWR branch termini were in the 1970s. No more, please.
- Kato Unitrack. For: robust and well made, reliable, ultra easy to use, ready-ballasted, huge range. Against: looks about as realistic as Triang Series 2. That had a moulded ballast base as well. Now stop being so lazy, everyone. It isn’t as if you have to dismantle the layout every day so Mum can put your tea on the table.
- Detail packs. These are the bits that come in a bag with your new loco. The reason they are supplied separately is that they are too fiddly even for Chinese assembly line workers to cope with. You won’t see them when they are fitted: but you will see the splodges of Superglue that you used to stop them falling off.
- “Optimised for DCC”. Meaning ultra high efficiency motors that have a starting voltage of about 0.8 volts. So all that good work by the manufacturers fitting extra pickups, high spec coreless motors etc is completely undone because if you are on DC control, you won’t get reliable slow running with less than one volt at the rails, unless you clean the wheels and track every five minutes.
- Union Mills. Writing this feels a bit like kicking a faithful old Labrador. Without Union Mills we wouldn’t have any RTR pre-Grouping goods 0-6-0s at all. They are inexpensive, robust and run beautifully. But their designer really needs to buy some better measuring equipment. Even the ruler from a school geometry set would do. A tolerance of +/- 2mm on key body dimensions and wheel diameters is not “close enough for N”. And the ones that aren’t black look as though they have been painted by dipping the bodies in Dulux. Must try harder.
- Shoddy design. Exhibit A: Farish J39. I liked the look of this so much that I bought three. None of them ran well. Tender drive with the motor driving one end axle, and power to the other two by a long chain of wobbly, badly moulded plastic gears. The Germans could have got something like that to work, but Farish – no chance. I sold one, and the other two now have torque-monster Mashima motors to overcome all the binding and friction in the geartrain. That works, but it shouldn’t be necessary on a model costing nearly a hundred quid.
- Exhibitors who won’t talk to you. Model railway exhibitions are about showcasing the hobby, not just a chance to run trains all day without the wife pestering you to cut the grass. Typical conversation with a layout operator:
Me: That ballasting looks really good, what material did you use?
Me: Nice loco, never seen a model of a GNWSJR Class Y before. Did you build it yourself?
Me: Err... well, nice to talk to you. Enjoy the rest of the show. (Wanders off wondering why model railway enthusiasts are so bloody weird.)
- NEM coupler pockets in N gauge. The hobby had that one big chance to move N gauge forward by developing a decent universal coupler pocket to take alternatives to the clunky old Arnold coupler. But the job was given to a pan-European committee, and they screwed it up. That thin flat shank makes it difficult to design an alternative coupler. The pivoting spring-centred pocket relies on very accurate manufacturing to maintain correct coupler heights, and most manufacturers use tolerances that would have embarrassed British Leyland in the Allegro/Marina era. Arnold NEM couplers no longer self-couple reliably, and NEM pockets won’t take Micro-Trains knuckles (the nicest of the commercial coupler designs) at all. The Dapol Easi-Shunts, which promised so much, only really work properly (at least in delayed uncoupling mode) in Dapol pockets. On something like a Farish 2MT, where the pockets don’t swivel at all, you can use magnets so strong that they pull the loco off the rails, and the delayed-action facility still won’t work. And now we’re stuck with rubbish couplers for another forty years. Grrr.
- Rivet-counters. Go away. You’re just showing off your store of completely useless knowledge and we’re not interested. And half the time your “facts” are wrong anyway.
- Over-reliance on Rule One (“It’s my railway and I will run what I want.”) We are in danger of becoming a hobby of model loco collectors, building layouts which bear absolutely no resemblance to any real railway, anywhere, ever, but just serve as a convenient place to stick all those new loco purchases. That’s why just about every single layout you see has a large motive power depot. A layout without a loco shed? Unthinkable. Oh, and that much-relied-on “town in the Midlands where the GWR, SR, LMS and LNER all meet”. It exists, it’s called Banbury (stretching the “Southern” a bit, but SR locos did run through there), and none of your models look anything like it.