Dear Rapido Customer,
It's been a while since we've been in touch. I hope that you've had a good summer so far and that you've been escaping the ridiculous heat by spending some more time inside with your model trains!
In this issue of Rapido News:
I'm writing this newsletter from on board yet another Cathay Pacific flight between Hong Kong and Toronto. I've just spent a week at the factory going over production details and new and existing tooling projects. As I get older, these trips to China take more and more out of me. It is utterly exhausting to have your internal body clock shifted a full 12 hours and then to be working 16-hour days for a week. But it's worth it to see such beautiful models coming together in person, and I love visiting China. It's like a second home. Here's a note from me in my barely-passable Chinese to our Chinese-speaking customers:
我喜欢说中文。 但是如果我说中文，中国人说 “嘿，傻瓜！你是大250”。
On Sunday we took a day trip on China's high-speed rail line from Guangzhou to Changsha. Now that is the way to travel. In the photo above, Dennis (our factory boss) and I are about to board a CRH (China Railway High-Speed) Shinkansen CRH2 train in Guangzhou (near Hong Kong) for our trip to Hunan province, over 700 km away. The trip takes about 2.5 hours. The CRH2 is, in my opinion, one of the most comfortable and smoothest trains I have ever taken. It is certainly much nicer than the newer CRH3, based on Germany's ICE design. The CRH3 is one of the only trains to give me motion sickness....
Wouldn't it be nice to ride a Shinkansen in North America, departing from gorgeous, modern, enormous stations in every major city? Probably won't happen in our lifetime, unfortunately.
The two photos above show just a few of the shells that don't make it into customers' hands. I was frankly quite amazed at the reject rate in our production of The Canadian and FP9A locomotives. If a shell gets a glue blob or a paint blemish is discovered in Quality Control, that's it - it is pulled from production and thrown into a bin. The cost of this is enormous. The wastage on the FP9A locomotive shells is more than 15%, and the wastage on the "no-warp" etched metal grills is more than 50%. Considering that each of the shells in that box represents an hour or more of work, it shows the dedication - in time and money - to bring a quality product to market. (Actually, we are slightly redesigning our "no-warp" grills to reduce the wastage for future releases, but they will still feature our unique no-warp technology.)
Occasionally a model gets through QC with a problem, but as you can see from these photos, our QC team at the factory is active and they are brutal. It pained me to see so many VIA models in the bin, but that is a cost of making model trains to our exacting standards.
In the photo above you can see that Quality Control process in progress. These young women are going over the FP9A models from set 2 of The Canadian. Most of the factory's assembly workers are women between the ages of 18 and 30 as they have the fine motor skills necessary to assemble the detailed models. Most men are just too clumsy, me included... I love building kits but my hands would be a jittery mess if I was doing it for eight hours a day! The little white dots visible in the photo are all things that need fixing, and this is done before the models get packaged. I once heard of a model arriving in a customer's hands with a little white and red QC sticker still on it! Oh well, you can't be perfect!
Whenever I see a model of a VIA FP9A I can't help but get excited. The model in my hands is VIA 6537, one of only two locomotives to carry a unique variation of the VIA paint scheme that I just had to have. I just hope mine doesn't end up broken in two like the real one did! More on that in a future newsletter...
Continuing the VIA theme (it is my home road, after all!), I am pleased to let you know that VIA FP9A locomotives have arrived and have been shipped to customers. Dan handled the shipment entirely on his own. Even our warehouse staff was on holiday so he really did everything himself. The man is a saint. We are of course sold out of VIA FP9A locomotives so if you didn't preorder yours, you will have to call around to see if any dealers have extra stock.
Set 2 of The Canadian, #210002 (CP Block) left the factory in a container on Monday and will be arriving at our warehouse at the end of August. Production of The Canadian has taken a lot longer than we anticipated. It is an absolutely enormous project. The factory has hired more workers and is expanding so that all of The Canadian models will (hopefully) be here by the end of this year. But it does mean that our other projects are still waiting for a production slot. I apologize to all of you who are patiently waiting for delivery of promised Rapido models that aren't The Canadian and the FP9A. The good news is that all of our other projects combined equal the production time of just two Canadians. So once all The Canadian and FP9A models are delivered it will not take very long to deliver everything else we have formally announced. Because of these production delays, we have not yet officially announced the new locomotives we are working on. We will be taking orders for those projects after the new year and deliver them starting in late 2013.
We have no choice but to do The Canadian first - it's our oldest project (bar one) and we have taken deposits on it so we need to get it out as quickly as we can. We're a small company (only three full-time employees) with a small factory so please bear with us. We had originally interspersed Canadian and FP9A shipments but we found that this slowed down production because of changing over from one to the other and back again. The schedule as of now is to get all of The Canadians finished by the end of November and then finish the CN and other FP9A models in the two months following.
Packaging Update and NEW VIDEOS!
After we shipped The Canadian in May, we received several reports of damaged FP9A locomotives. With 4000 parts in The Canadian and the knowledge of how courier companies treat their packages, it is expected that a few parts will come loose.
However, locomotive stirrup steps being sheared off and couplers being smashed are not acceptable, even if the package is kicked around by the courier companies. So we have redesigned our FP9A packaging - both for the locomotives that are shipped separately and the ones that come as part of The Canadian This time we went nuts with the testing process, throwing the models down stairs and off balconies. I am pleased to report that the locomotives survived intact. You can see it for yourself in our two short YouTube videos. Click on the images below to watch them.
If your locomotive had a stirrup damaged, let us know. The factory is making new stirrups which can be easily glued in to replace the broken ones. There is no charge for these.
Colin, Dan and Dennis
If you are a long-time subscriber to Rapido News (and its previous incarnations, the Rapido Telegraph and Rapido Timetable), you probably know Bill and me pretty well. But there are three other key players on the Rapido team that deserve mention... in alphabetical order, of course!
Colin Zuo started out as my agent in China back in 2005 when we were looking for a factory together to get this newfangled young company off the ground. A couple of years later he joined the Rapido team as our Manager, China Operations. Without Colin, we wouldn't be able to get around at all in China and I would have a heck of a time getting anyone to understand me.
Often, when I say something in Chinese to a waitress, cashier or other person, their response is "Shenme?" That is Chinese "What the farg are you talking about you strange foreign person? Why don't you talk normally?" Colin will then step in and say the same thing I did but with the correct tones, and the person will understand. Tones are important in the Chinese language. BAba means Daddy; baBA means doing a #2. Very. Important. Distinction. Especially when meeting the father of an important supplier...
Colin then translates their responses because while I can speak Chinese I have absolutely no idea what people are saying when they speak it back to me.
Colin's other great talent is he is a peacemaker. When I'm ready to hoist up a 300LB mould that STILL hasn't been fixed and throw it at the mould supplier, Colin steps in and calms everyone down. Colin and I speak on email and/or Skype between 10 and 20 times each day. He is a kindred spirit and fellow person of faith. He is a confidant and best friend. He is the glue that ties Rapido to its suppliers in China and without him we would have a very hard time getting anything done.
If Colin is the glue bonding Rapido to China, then Dan is the glue that holds Rapido together. Full stop. Without Dan, Rapido would be a very good idea but not much else. He is in the office every day and he keeps the company running: he takes care of our customers; he repairs everyone's trains; he builds stuff that needs building; he does our shows; he helps measure and photograph equipment; he does our shipments, sometimes single-handedly. He does just about everything, really. He even designs the labels on the ends of our packaging boxes.
I rely on Dan every single day, as I often work from my home office. He is knowledgeable about practically everything and if he doesn't know something you'll never figure it out. It was Dan who taught me that 74.6% of all statistics are made up on the spot.
Dan's most amazing quality is his ability to calm people down. Like Colin, he is a peacemaker. When customers call us screaming about this or that, my first impulse is to scream back. Thankfully Dan answers the phone more often than I do and he is able to make everyone feel (quite rightly) that their concerns are being addressed and that he will be able to help solve whatever issues they have. Of course, he then follows through and solves them.
We regularly get emails praising Dan's customer service abilities. In fact, we're looking at the possibility of having him cloned. If you ever have an issue, please don't hesitate to call Dan at the office - 1-877-738-6445.
Dennis and I met in May 2005. He wanted to start a model train factory and he was looking for a client. I wanted to make model trains and I was looking for a factory. We've been working together ever since.
Our Budd car models have been praised on the online forums and in emails to us as the most detailed passenger car models ever made. On the CanModelTrains forum just the other day, group member Tim Hayman wrote:
"The stainless-steel finish is absolutely perfect, as is the tinting of the windows, the gratuitous underbody and interior detail, and the lighting (the lighting inside the vestibule is one of the best effects yet!). I have spent many hours inside and outside of VIA's Park cars, and the most amazing thing about this model is that it looks, for lack of a better explanation, exactly like the prototype. Looking into the model in the dark with the interior lights on is perfectly reminiscent of looking into the real thing from a dark platform during a fuelling stop in Charny."
While Bill, Dan and I can take the credit for designing all of the train's features (Bill spent a whole week just doing the etched glass partitions for The Canadian), it is Dennis who actually made it. Our success or failure comes down to him, and I think that with these cars he has hit a home run.
I must give credit where it is due. Every time we have come to Dennis with some crazy idea to make our models even more absurdly detailed, his first response is usually "can do." It is that kind of attitude that makes our products a success. So thanks, Dennis. (You won't believe what Dennis is adding to the Turbo for its planned re-release in CN and VIA - if he pulls it off it will completely change what is possible in our hobby.) Dennis: every model railroader who has enjoyed the crazy detail level and technical innovations on Rapido's model trains (and telephone poles!) owes you a big debt of gratitude. You are awesome.
Remember the LRC?
While the factory has been so busy with production of The Canadian and the FP9A, our mould shop has been busy dusting off old moulds from various projects. One of those projects is the LRC Locomotive. We started this project in 2007, and we finished the tooling for this back in 2009. However, we put production of the LRC Locomotive on hold a couple of years ago due to lack of interest. Seeing as I need an entire fleet of these locomotives for my layout and I've even owned one of the prototypes (6919, with my name also on the purchase of 6917), not having one has been absolutely killing me. It's time to bring the LRC Locomotive project back online.
In the next issue of Rapido News, we will be announcing two new paint schemes for the LRC Locomotive, as well as additional numbers and options for the existing schemes. We are also taking advantage of advances in model railroading technology since 2007 to make some modifications to the LRC moulds and bring you a more detailed model.
Those of you who, like me, have been waiting impatiently for the LRC Locomotive for all this time do not have much longer to wait. We will reopen the order desk for the LRC this fall and we will finally be producing it in 2013. Stay tuned to our web site and this newsletter for more info. You can read all about the Amtrak and VIA LRC trains here.
Operating Fred Headon's Central of Assiniboia
In June I had the honour and pleasure of logging three more hours operating Fred Headon's Central of Assiniboia HO scale layout. Fred has been a fixture of Winnipeg's model railroad scene for over thirty years, and he can often be found behind the counter of one of Winnipeg's many model railroad stores. There are more model railroad stores and layouts in Winnipeg per capita than in almost any other city in North America. Winnipeg is easily the Model Railroad Capital of Canada, possible of all of North America.
Fred's layout is one of the most complete I have ever operated on, and it is also one of the most enjoyable to operate. Everything works smoothly, the switching jobs are challenging enough to be enjoyable but not too challenging to be a headache, and everyone has a good time.
There are opposite extremes to operating a layout. On one end, the throttle is treated like an on/off switch, manual switches are lined three feet before your train even gets there, and operators think nothing of moving a 15000-ton train half a mile because it is easier than switching that one car the proper way. On the other end, you spend more time doing paperwork than running trains, you have to wait half an hour for your pretend brakeman to walk the length of your train, and you aren't allowed to move until you've done a pretend brake test.
I believe that taking a middle-of-the-road approach is the best way to operate a layout. Switch lists or car cards are certainly a necessity, but truly prototypical paperwork (which the real railroaders usually hated doing) is taking things a bit too far. Do your switching at prototypical speeds and stop before lining manual switches, but don't feel the need to spend half the evening twittling your thumbs while your imaginary brakemen walk back and forth inspecting your train.
There are doubtless those on both sides of the argument who think I am being blasphemous. However, these are my personal approaches to operating. Realism without extremism is, in my opinion, the way to get the most out of your model railroad. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this. Please feel free to share them on the CanModelTrains forum, located here.
Moving Production to North America?
I often read on model railroad forums a desire to bring production of ready-to-run model trains back to North America, especially given the rising costs and delays over the last few years in China. Let's look at the reality of that possibility, in the medium term at least.
When I was in the factory, Dennis and I went over some numbers. To make one
model of our HO scale Budd "Park" Series dome-observation car takes about 7.5 hours of work, from start to finish. This is the most complex passenger car model we've done to date. The factory pay is roughly 11 RMB (Chinese currency) per hour including labour-associated costs. That means that to make that Park Car cost, in labour, about 82 RMB. This equals $12.90 CAD (Canadian dollars). That does not include tooling costs, material costs, or overhead costs. That is just for labour.
Now let's take that 7.5 hours of labour and bring it over to North America. Here in Ontario, an assembly worker who has the skills to paint, print and
assemble a model of this complexity would cost a minimum of $17 per hour. That HO scale Park Car has just cost $127.50 for assembly and decorating.
Now we have to add in: overhead, engineering, all the production machinery,
everyone else's salaries, tooling, advertising, travel, and don't forget profit. Also, we would have to finance the infrastructure to actually build/convert a factory in North America and fill it with the necessary machinery to produce model trains. We're talking several million dollars for that alone. If we were making a million Park Cars, that kind of investment would be worthwhile. But seeing as there are fewer than half a million model railroaders in North America (all scales combined), it is not likely that anyone could sell a million HO scale dome observation cars.
Given the economics of the situation and the size of the market, you are probably looking at a retail price of between $400 and $500 for that Canadian-made, plastic HO scale Park Car, which of course would mean we'd only sell 12 of them.
So, if we want to bring production to North America, our options are as follows:
Before you jump in with, "but (Manufacturer X) makes their stuff in North America!" you need to look at how many different ready-to-run models Manufacturer X has produced in the last few years and compare that to the output of the companies that make their models overseas - compare both the complexity and the diversity. Rapido is a tiny company in comparison to most model railroad manufacturers, many of whom have been around for over 50 years. However, in the seven years since I met Dennis this tiny company has managed to bring out: 15 different passenger car styles in two scales; two complete trains including several different locomotives; a revolutionary caboose model; and don't forget those awesome telephone poles! In the works are new passenger cars, freight cars and locomotives.
- Make a barely-detailed model that can be produced in about an hour. The
trouble is, then who will pay $99.95 for it? You'd need to charge that much to make your costs back.
- Make a kit. I don't know of any injection-moulded kit that is as complex or has as many parts as our "Park" Series cars. And, unfortunately, the vast majority of model railroaders don't have the time to build an entire fleet of kits, especially when there are ready-to-run alternatives. That means we would never sell enough kits to even cover our tooling costs.
I would love to bring production back to North America, and if 3D printing continues to advance to the point where it better resembles a replicator on Star Trek: The Next Generation, then we can certainly bring production back here. It will happen - I am sure of it - just probably not for a long time.
For now, it is simply too expensive to produce a ready-to-run model of Rapido
complexity and quality in North America, much as we would want to.
And that's another newsletter done. I have a week to catch up and respond to all of your emails, and then I am heading out east on VIA's The Ocean to get some fresh sea air and meet Anne of Green Gables. Maybe.
I'll be in touch again, hopefully sooner than last time. Please remember to visit our blog (updated about once a month) and our Facebook page, updated weekly except when I am in countries that don't permit access to Facebook... Enjoy the rest of the summer, and remember - it's cooler in the basement!
All the best,
Rapido Trains Inc.
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