As many of you probably suspected, today’s blog entry was a hoax and Rapido Trains Inc. never announced any intention to produce a HO scale MLW M420. The only “truth” is that Jason Shron once told me that M420 could be an interesting prototype, stating no direct intention to produce it and talking about the industry in general, not his company. From what I can understand, many have interest in the prototype, but so far, nobody feels it is actually feasible.
In a newsletter, Jason once wrote about the strange discrepancies he observed between perceived demand and real orders. We often think some great prototype will sell like hot cake, but in fact, when pre-orders open, nothing really happens. Would M420 be a popular product? Would the American market find it interesting enough? Does it has its place among others offering? Many questions are left unanswered. From my limited standpoint, I perceive RS18 are far more popular among Canadian railways modellers. The prototype was used by both CN and CP (and many regional carriers), nationwide and for a far longer period than M420. Many are still in service, they’ve been part of North American landscape for 60 years! Kitbashing a RS18 is quite common and relatively affordable. However, except the limited edition issued by Life-Like Canada many years ago, all other attempts to produce this model for wide distribution failed so far.
In contrast, M420’s service life was short (about 2 decades), originally owned by CN and P&W. Some found their way on the second hand market, but most met the torch. Also, the contemporary GP40 and GP38 had a better fare and are still working around and look quite similar with their wide cab. These prototypes were released with commercial success in recent years. On the other hand, M420 is only available in brass or hard to build resin kit. They cost a lot and only a few tackle this costly and exacting process. If RS18 failed miserably, does M420 even stand a chance? Anyway, most people really wanting a M420 probably own a Kaslo resin or a brass version. Thus, the real market could be already saturated.
With Canadian economy going down the drain, such limited scale and risky projects won’t probably take shape in the near future. Manufacturers aren’t stupid, they give people what they want to stay economically viable. You wonder why there’s hundreds of F-unit versions available, why loooong passenger cars that no average Joe’s layout can handle sell so well and why articulated steam locomotives (a rarity) are the most popular steamers? Don’t look too far, each of them embody some kind of nostalgic dream. When come the time to buy, most people follow their guts, not their mind. If I were a businessman, I’d tap into that natural flaw to stay afloat. Never underestimate escapism, model railroading isn’t immune to this sweet disease!
On the other hand, what makes the bulk of a train is fully neglected. It’s only in recent years more prototypical freight cars are widely available (and that comes with a cost). But think about it, about 90% to 95% of a consist is made of freight cars, locomotives are akind to a Christmas tree’s star ornament; only the tip. As stated in many other previous blog entries, I’m always amazed how woodchip cars are badly represented on Canadian layouts. They are everywhere and in large quantity, yet no decent product is available while most people have a paper mill scene! Talk about consistency!
When you think about a typical Canadian layout set between the transition era and early 1990s, probably the most popular era, you should find about almost 50% of MLW products… Many would think a M420 (or RS18) would be a novelty item when it fact it should be a staple item along a few C424, M630 and various switchers. But such locomotives won’t make you dream as much as your Big Boy, your Zephyr or a Turbo Train!!!