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Stuart Jordan

STUART JORDAN talks to Jason Shron, founder of Rapido Trains, Canada's largest Model Railway manufacturer and a recent addition to the Gaugemaster stable of ranges.

Rapido Trains

The Canadian Pacific FP9A, an upcoming release from Rapido.

Stuart Jordan: Rapido are a relatively new company to the British market, tell me a bit about the company history and the driving force behind Rapido.

Jason Shron: I was actually doing a PhD in History of Art at the University of Birmingham (West Midlands, not Alabama) and I wasn't particularly happy in the academic world, so I started a model train business while procrastinating from writing my thesis! I incorporated the company in 2004 and delivered my first ready-to-run passenger car in 2006. At that point I sent my thesis supervisor a sleeping car and said, "Here's my thesis!"

I have been obsessed with trains since I was two years old, so I was a railway modeller long before I was a model railway manufacturer. We'd make a lot more money if we left most of the detail off of our models, but because I love trains I insist that we include just about everything that we can.

Rapido is now Canada's largest model train manufacturer and probably in or near the top ten in North America. We have produced about 25 different passenger car models, half a dozen different locomotives, freight cars, accessories, and more. But the vast majority of the work is done by just five of us: three in Canada, one in the States and one in China.

SJ: North American manufacturers work differently to their British counterparts, taking orders for items and then producing runs based on those pre-orders. Do you think that this give you an advantage of knowing how popular an idea is before you get down to the main design stage?

JS: We were one of the first manufacturers to move to a pre-order system and I think we are the only manufacturer to only make according to pre-orders.

Most manufacturers make models for the stock, and we used to do this. But when the recession hit, I looked in the warehouse and saw 3000 passenger car models that nobody wanted. So I said, "That's it - in the future if we get orders for 2001 pieces we make 2002."

In most cases, we announce a product after we have already cut the steel moulds - we make what our collective guts tell us will sell and we are usually right. It is only occasionally that we will announce a model before the moulds are made. In the case of our entry into the UK market, we wanted to announce our first model early so that we could take our future customers along with us through the design and tooling process. But our next UK release will probably be announced after we have already cut the steel moulds.

I am not interested in announcing models just to check the demand. If we did that we would get the reputation as a "vapourware" manufacturer. By the time we announce a new model, we are committed to making it.

Occasionally we have to cancel a project due to low demand but those are generally oddball liveries on existing models rather than all-new tooling.

Jason Shron

Jason in familiar surroundings!

SJ: What processes lead to the decision to produce a model, is it your own personal preference or feedback from customers?

JS: It's a bit of everything. In some cases we get so many requests for a model that it makes sense to make it. In other cases it's because I absolutely love a particular train, but I have to balance that with my understanding of the market and what will sell. I really want to make a Hawker-Siddely "Tempo" train built for Canadian National in the 1960s but I know that I won't sell enough to cover even half of my costs.

Lately our sales have generally fallen within 5% of predictions, but occasionally we're WAY off!

SJ: The news that you were producing a model of the APT-E for Locomotion was met with a mainly positive response from the British modelling public, what made you choose the APT-E over other British Outline subjects?

JS: First of all, I'm a child of the 1970s and 1980s, and to a kid growing up in North America, the APT-E was the face of modern British railroading. It was in kids' books, coffee-table books, magazines, you name it. I thought that if I went to the UK, I could ride the APT-E all over the country! So in terms of UK railroading, the APT-E is my nostalgia. With more and more railway modellers born in the 1950s to 1970s, I figured that if I loved this train, others must as well. And I was right.

It made sense for our first British outline model to be something that nobody else has produced in ready-to-run form. In a peeing contest, there are no winners and everyone gets wet. I don't see the point of bringing out a model that another company is producing at the same time. Now bringing out a better model of something that was produced ten or more years ago - that is fair game in my opinion. But splitting a niche market by bringing out the same thing the other guy is making is just a recipe for rubbish sales, no matter how manly it may make some people feel!

Rapido APT-E

CAD image of Rapido's first foray into British Outline, the APT-E. Source: Rapido Facebook page

SJ: What made you decide to branch out into British Outline after 10 years of North American releases?

JS: I am a Grade A, 100% nerd. I grew up watching Doctor Who long before everyone thought it was cool. I also grew up on Monty Python and the Beatles. So basically I thought the UK comprised London, Liverpool, and a bunch of little villages getting invaded by seaweed creatures. I had lots of railway-related coffee-table books, and as they are all written in the UK I had a basic understanding of British trains.

I then moved to the UK, living first in Barnes and then in Edgbaston, Birmingham - right across from the cricket ground. And I fell in love with British trains, especially the HST. I took them everywhere. I started reading all I could. I started buying British-outline models. And so my nerdiness was complete - not only a Doctor Who fan, I was now an official UK trainspotter as well.

SJ: Do you think that the APT-E model will pave the way for more Rapido British Outline releases in the future, and would you focus on the more niche or quirky British subjects like the APT-E or go for something more mainstream?

JS: We already have two other UK outline products planned, one of which is an oddball and one of which is mainstream. We hope to start off with one UK prototype a year and increase that to two or three. At this point our biggest hurdle is R&D. It's not so easy for us to hop over to the local preserved railway or works and measure up a train, as it involves a seven-hour flight! But we've made a number of contacts in the UK who have offered to help us on the R&D side of things and we're always open to more offers of help.

SJ: And finally, what does the future hold for Rapido?

JS: We're aiming for more of the same - absurdly-detailed models that recreate the whole train travel experience in miniature. We'll keep trying to be as accurate as possible to the prototype while incorporating innovations in design and detail.

Ideally, UK modellers will see their Rapido models as some of the nicest models in their fleets. We are not setting out to fill those fleets - we just want to give them some shining stars to liven up the layout.

SJ: Thank you for your time Jason.

Rapido Trains

If there is any doubt of Jason's obsession with trains, then look no further than his basement - He's constructed a 20ft slice of a VIA train coach down there! CLICK HERE to view the current Rapido range on our website.

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