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BIG INTERVIEW - Hiroshi Kato

Stuart Jordan

STUART JORDAN talks to Hiroshi Kato, President of Kato Precision Railroad Models.

Hiroshi Kato

Hiroshi Kato.

Stuart Jordan: What changes to the model railway industry have you observed since you have been working in it?

Hiroshi Kato: Since our company was established in 1957 and released our first C50 N gauge Japanese steam locomotive model in 1965, we have been producing N and HO gauge locomotives, cars, trains and UNITRACK at our own factories in Japan. I established KATO USA, INC. in 1986 in a suburb of Chicago. The change of supply and demand and the moving of factory plants to lower wage countries in '90s by many manufacturers; the rise of DCC technology increasing the price of models but reducing the production quantities; the lack of rapid population growth in the model railroad market; and the lack of rapid growth of passenger and freight services in American railroads despite decent activities of European and Japanese railroad manufacturers are my observations of the industry.

SJ: What processes lead to the decision for Kato to produce a new product?

HK: We set a Master Plan with all of our employees every year to recognize our annual sales goal and the capacity of our production. We also hold meetings regularly to discuss new products with selected members representing the Sales Department, Mold-Making Department and Production Department. They discuss the vision, concept and details of each model's proposal.

SJ: The UNITRACK range is very popular in HO and N Gauge, are there any plans to produce UNITRACK in any other Gauges?

Unitrack

HK: We are contining the focus on HO and N Gauge UNITRACK to improve the variation of products. On the other hand, we have been supplying UNI-JOINERs (the small clips that hold UNITRACK together - Ed) to other brands in different Gauges. Because of the very unique features UNI-JOINER offer, Tillig TT Gauge of Germany and Blackstone HOn3 Gauge of USA (a division of SoundTraxx) have selected UNI-JOINER for their Snap-Together Track system.

SJ: The N Scale Eurostar is currently the only British Outline item you produce, are there plans to expand this range with other British releases?

Eurostar

Yes, this is N Scale!

HK: I wish to expand our selection of British models, especially in N Gauge. I personally like the new Azuma train so I would like to study about the Virgin Azuma for submittal as a new model proposal to the meeting mentioned earlier. The Japanese firm HITACHI builds this nice looking train, I would expect strong support from Japanese N Gauge modellers in addition to UK modellers.

SJ: How important is the UK market to Kato?

HK:I do respect the UK so I should improve my opportunities learn more about the UK and the marketís interests. I recognize that the UK is the birthplace of almost all cultural things in the world including the railroad hobby.

About 10 years ago, I had an opportunity to stay in Porthmadog to visit Ffestiniog Railway and Boston Lodge engine shed. I was impressed with the facility and the workers who maintained the 2í Gauge (597mm) Locomotives and Cars, as well as to extend the track for new destination by themselves. It was quite an experience for me to drive a steam locomotive at that time.

On the other hand, tourism is an aim for Japanese railroad companies to increase their revenue, by serving nice food and beverages while the passengers observe scenery from inside the car. Cruise-Trains also become very famous with offering very nice accommodation inside the car.

Considering Model Railroading as the "King of Hobby", and I would like to offer Japanese modellers the opportunity to expand their own experiences. Likewise I hope to expand our services to UK modellers. Therefore, I would like to visit the Warley Show in November to expand my horizons.

SJ: Which of your products are you most proud of?

Kato C50 Steam Locomotive

HK: The N Gauge C50 Steam Locomotive (KATO 50th Anniversary) is the model I am most proud of. This is our third generation C50 model with the best smooth running locomotive we have ever made. This small 2-6-0 model with a coreless motor, electricity pickup of leading-wheels makes the decent running performance you would like. This product includes a DVD of model archives of our N gauge history. You can also see the first generation of C50 model running in the video.

In addition to that, Gaugemaster offers a complimentary book "50th Anniversary of KATO N-gauge Models" for the customers who purchase N Gauge C50 Steam Locomotive (KATO 50th Anniversary). The English translation of the captions for photographs and illustrations are currently being worked on and will be available.

SJ: What new products do you currently have in development?

Shiki-Shima

HK: The Series E001 Train Suite Shiki-Shima 10 Car Special Set (K10-1447) might be an interesting model for you as a Japanese Cruise Train. We started the design in June 2017 and schedule to release the model in December 2017 in Japan. Gaugemaster should be able to release the model towards January 2018.

What does 2018 hold for Kato?

Kato Sound Box

The Kato Sound Box.

HK: The Sound Box CE Adaptor (Electricity Noise Canceller) is in production and it will be available within three months. It is designed for models equipped with a condenser/capacitor to be synchronized with the Back EMF on the SoundBox. A Glacier Express Sound Card is scheduled to release in the second quarter of 2018 - we have completed the prototype's sound recoding. Also a Bluetooth adapter is in development to enhance SoundBox operation with a Smart Phone. We hope to expand the synchronized sounds for analogue models.

SJ: Thank you for your time Hiroshi.

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