Is the hobby dying? US vs. rest of the world

In the ongoing discussions about the overall state of our hobby, the issue has been raised (most recently by Mark Newton in the "1:240 scale
figures" thread) about the state of the hobby in the US as compared to the rest of the world. Mark claims, and I have no reason to disupute him, that even though it's clear that model railroading is in decline in the US (or at least undergoing a massive transformation into a mostly ready-to-run affair), this is not necessarily true in other parts of the world.
So I'd like to know just how the hobby is faring in other places. Anecdotal evidence, please; how do you see the hobby holding up where you live? Can you still get the stuff you want? Are young people still getting interested in model trains? or are the heads in the clubs getting grayer all the time? Do you still have hobby shops where you live, or are they drying up and blowing away?
Let's take an international look at this situation, shall we?
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I visit Japan generally yearly, and from what I see there, the model railway hoby is pretty strong in that country. N scale modellers seem to have a very great variety of models available, firms such as MicroAce bring out new models each month, other firms make very costly nominal HO scale (usually 1:80) brass models which must sell or they wouldn't build them, in the big bookshops there are usually quite a few people looking at the railway and model railway books. Perhaps the reason for this interest is that the Japanese still look on railways as playing an important part in their world. Here in Australia, with the availability now of a good variety of models of Australian locos and rolling stock, interest still holds up, but it is hard to say if the younger people are taking up the hobby. Regards, Bill.

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Notice that in Japan and Europe railroads are still a big thing. Passenger service is outstanding, trains leave and arrive on the minute. Do any of you think this might be part of the difference?
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Jon Miller skriver:

I guess that you havn't been in Denmark......
Klaus
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On 9/24/2007 9:17 AM Jon Miller spake thus:

Well, only to the extent that you hit the nail right on the head. I was thinking that I should have included this in my original post: the proposition that the state of the model railroading hobby is clearly tied to the state of railroads in the country. Here in the US, at least so far as passenger rail goes (all types, including intra-city light rail and intercity service), it's in steep decline; nobody can argue against that.
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David Nebenzahl wrote:

DN:
I'll try to. I will use this:
http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdoc.cfm?indexE71&type=0&sequence=3
I would say "stagnation" or "steady-state", depending on what opinion one desires to convey. Going by passenger route-miles, the 1950s through the 1960s saw the greatest decline. Frankly, that's the time when I'd expect rail interest to have ebbed lowest was the late 50s-early 60s. The jet was the future, the car and interstate were promising finned freedom. It didn't seem to hurt model railroading, and in fact interest was increasing.
And now perhaps the hobby is less huge. Dying? I try to steer clear of such predictions. Mankind has been predicting the End of something or other since a Neanderthal saw his first comet. Our success rate has been dismal. Dying implies imminent death. It is perhaps safer to say "decline". It could vanish, or it could level off, or it could go BOOM.
In a way, perhaps, any retrenchment today owes a lot to the previous boom. Model railroading had been a geeky hobby, supplied by geeky manufacturers. Suddenly, for whatever reason, it became more mainstream, and people took note. So did manufacturers. They filled the low end of model products with junk, sold cheaply at department stores. Not every basic product was bad (old AHM is usable) but it was hard for a neophyte to pick out the good stuff. Tyco Power-Torque drives, BachLike sidewinders, and snap-in plastic trainset trucks with one-piece wheelsets and Talgo horn-hooks did a lot more damage to the hobby than Penn Central.
The disease continues at a lower level at train shows, and whenever train sets are sold that still have that sort of rubbish. I admit I used some of it, and still do, but compare the Mantua basic train sets of the 1950s (a very popular beginner's HO item) to the Tyco and Bachmann sets of the 1980s, and one will quickly see just how to turn off a beginner in the hobby. The Shifter that the Mantua set probably came with wasn't perfect, sure, but it was something a learner could hold on to. The Chattanooga Choo-Choo or Bachmann sidewinder F7 is a waste of plastic.
At least IHC was able to reengineer the Choo-Choo a decent loco. I think we should all sit down and fire off a letter to IHC, congratulating them on their ability to make a sow's ear into a purse that, if not silk, is at least a good grade of rayon. They have a nice website, too.
Some other companies have made these improvements, too. I don't know if all are gone, but most sidewinders are gone from trainsets, as well as the horrible couplers and brass track. The plastic roadbed is another beginner-friendly innovation.
At last we have something to offer beginners -- so why don't we do that? That's the real problem, and the cause for any decline. We still see a few train sets at department stores over Christmas, but what about the rest of the year? When I go to model shops, I see a lot of expensive stuff aimed at veteran modelers, a few detail parts and freight cars, and a Bachmann set and a few cheap Bachmann engines for the newbies. Rarely do I see an operating layout. I have even been in stores where the storekeeper stayed in the back Ebaying merchandise or playing Quake or whatever. Okay, so you make more money on the Ebay store. Does it bring in the new customers?
We need to treat new modelers as potential good customers, not turn them away with junk and shabby treatment.
We also need to do more to motivate armchair modelers in our hobby magazines. Yes, we have 'beginner's projects' often enough, but how often do we have a "start with a train set" layout as is often seen, especially in the December issue, in older MR magazines? We need to look at how Joe Sixpack builds his model railroad, as well as showcasing the work of Joe Supermodeler. How about a new Railroad that Grows?
Cordially yours: Gerard P. President, a legless table.
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[Big Snip]

And we need to, as a group, be far less critical of Joe Sixpack's efforts. None of us started out with our refined interests & advanced skill levels. There should be a law that says we ALL have to keep our first effort at a kitbash or a lettering project. Our modeling skills are on a continuum from very beginner up to and including expert. While we should look up to those above us (if we want to improve our skills), we should never look down upon those below us. A word of encouragement goes a lot farther than a word of criticism. This is a hobby! If Joe Superdetailer bashes my efforts because they aren't as good as his, he has done nothing to promote my skills, nothing to promote the hobby but done a lot to chase interested people away.
dlm
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Dying, I don't think so. It may be ill, but I think that with a concerted effort by us to try and get out to the public and show off a little, we might get some kids in. The boy scouts have a railroading merit badge, how many of us have considered volunteering our expertise to help a scout get that? We should petition the Girl scouts to include some 'man' stuff in their guides. How about approaching the local elementary or middle school to present an exhibit of modules? Or a hospital or almost any venue that has an open area. I know that I shouldn't talk since I don't do any of the above any more, but I did run an after school club for a year.
I don't know about the rest of the world, or even my own little corner of it. I just bought the 08 Walther's catalog and after going through it cover to cover, I was impressed by the number of new items from old manufacturers and the number of new manufacturers or listings in there.
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Frank Rosenbaum
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Dan Merkel wrote:

DM:
Agreed, though in my experience many modelers are very supportive of a novice's efforts, when a novice actually gets up the courage to do something and show it off. I think a great part of the problem you bring up isn't actual bashing, but a change in the way our work is presented in the hobby press.
Take a look at a 50s-60s Trackside Photos or Boomer Trail, and you will see evidence of a wide skill range. Models photographed on a table aren't rare at all, and even photos with the operator in them, or showing basement pipes. Some, on the other hand, are ultra-realistic - even today, I don't often see a photo with that natural air of John Allen's enginehouse photo with overhanging tree branches in the foreground. The railroads, too, show a wide range of skill and completion, from Plywood Pacifics to polished masterpieces. Some models are museum pieces, some are clearly early efforts.
Gradually, this evolved to something different, with good and bad results. We now see beautifully polished layouts, perfectly photographed, but we don't see everybody else's work. The pictures are lovely, and very inspiring, but they can also be intimidating.
One great thing about Linn Westcott was his ability to reach "Joe Sixpack". You see this in the Railroad that Grows. It's not the kind of railroad that is in fashion today, and in fact Linn Westcott was a genius modeler who was capable of much greater things. However, the book shows how to take a very typical 4x8 loop with some plastic houses (still a common type today) to something much more elaborate and with great operational possibilities, all the while avoiding any major bogging down.
Another favorite book that makes the hobby very accessible is HOW TO RUN A RAILROAD, by Harvey Weiss. I caution anybody who reads it to keep an open mind - a lot of the things he does will seem strange. He likes unpainted cardboard buildings with cutout holes for windows, for instance, and favors heavy use of the Mental Graphics Adaptor over strict scale fidelity. It's the attitude and the lack of our usual modeler's hangups that made it so refreshing, and I was able to adapt a lot of his methods to a more conventional style.
I still have the second cardboard building I built, based on what I learned from that book, and from Raymond F. Yates' HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR MODEL RAILROAD, though not my first. It's a little crude, but it's never going to be thrown away if I can help it.
Cordially yours: Gerard P. President, a box of track and a 2-legged table.
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David Nebenzahl wrote:

From what I've read of the situation it hit the bottom in the 1970s and has climbed back a little(?)
Regards, Greg.P. NZ
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Actually, yes, I can argue against that. Check out this editorial from Railway Age magazine:
http://www.railwayage.com/A/xfromtheeditor.html
The applicable quote:
"Indeed, Amtrak is on a roll, if its June 2007 ridership figures are any indication. June ridership of 2.29 million was 5% over last year and 2% over budget. Continued strong Acela Express demand helped bring ticket revenues up 7% to $138.7 million, 1% over budget. Acela Express ridership was 10.7% higher. In regional corridors outside the Northeast, there was a general improvement of 7% in ridership and revenues. Amtrak's overall customer satisfaction was at 77%, up two points."
That's a "steep decline"?
As for non-Amtrak numbers, just take a look around the USA and see all the new commuter rail lines that didn't exist 15 years ago. The MBTA in Boston has added three new lines (Plymouth, Middleboro, & Greenbush) and extended the Framingham line to Worcester, while also completing work on the Blue Line to increase it's trainlengths to 6 cars and is improving the Fairmount Line. Then you have new LRV lines cropping up all over the place, California's commuter lines, Texas has commuter rail, and so on. They are even going to connect the Long Island RR trains to GCT in the not-so-distant future.
That's a "steep decline"?
Now, if you want to compare all this to the halcyon days of yore (ie, the 1920's-1940's), then yes, the US passenger train market is a mere shadow of it's past glory. However, if you compare today to the late 1960's or late 1970's, passenger trains are back in a big way.
Paul A. Cutler III ************* Weather Or No Go New Haven *************
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Pac Man wrote:

PM:
A big way, only to get bigger, I think. I accidentally sent the crystal ball to the pro shop, who drilled finger holes in it, so that's out, but I do believe that many parts of the country have the dense population, congested traffic, long commutes, that is going to work with increasing fuel prices to make a real world-class mass transit system seem like a very good idea. Like you, I see a lot of cities trying to restore what they lost -the shame is that the people with the experience of running such systems have all gone to the front office in the sky (or elsewhere, depending who you ask). Sometimes, too, there is a little too much city image-building involved, but when you stop and think of it, wasn't that a big part of what gave us our transportation systems, way way back?
We'll see what effect this has on model railroading in a few years, I guess.
I really do think, though, that the main thing that controls this hobby's popularity is its accessibility. Right now it just seems very 'closed', somehow.
Cordially yours: Gerard P. President, a box of track and a legless table.
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Jon Miller wrote:

Absolutely. See my reply to Bill Pearce's post.
Cheers,
Mark.
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Obviously you haven't visited The Netherlands lately... ;-)
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Ron wrote:

No not lately. I was last there in 2001, and the service was utterly reliable. What was your experience?
Mark.
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William Pearce wrote:

G'day, Bill.
It's interesting that you mention the situation in Japan. These days I model a Japanese private railway in that nominal HO scale - HOj - so I too take an interest in what goes on there. I recently discussed the Japanese situation on another forum, what I wrote is as follows:
"I reckon the major reason for there being so many people buying models in Japan is that for a large part of the population, trains and railways are an integral part of their normal daily lives. The combined Tokyo rail network carries passengers in numbers that other railways could only dream of.
But it's not just Tokyo that has an abundance of railways, subways, metros, tramways and monorails to travel on. Most major towns and cities have some form of commuter rail service, or trams or metros. Even many small rural towns and villages have some rail service, even if it is only a third-sector railway carting schoolkids around in an ageing diesel railcar or museum-piece interurban. And linking all of Japan is the famous Shinkansen network.
So unlike the US, awareness and knowledge of railways is widespread, and the railways themselves are generally well-regarded by the people. In addition to the rail system, JR operates buses & ferries, as do the private railways. Many of the private railways are diversified businesses with interests in shopping malls, travel agencies, theme parks, and even baseball teams. So the railway plays a much more visible role in Japanese society than it does in many other countries.
There are only a small number of preserved or tourist railways in Japan, but the number of locomotives, cars, interurbans and trams plinthed and on public display is huge. So tangible reminders of the railway's past are never far away.
There is a lot of railway-related material in the mainstream media, and some of Japan's best-known literature and anime have railway themes. When steam was being phased out in the mid-1970s, it was common to see giant posters in the street lamenting the passing of the "SL", and even get shopping bags with images of famous locos printed on them. I still have my C62 "Tsubame" carry bags...
And that's the other big difference to the US. Generally speaking, the stigma attached to being a railfan or a modeller in the west is not evident in Japan.
Given that for many Japanese space in the home is at a premium, large home layouts such as are common in the US are not often seen. The tendency instead is to own large numbers of specific trains, as well as individual locos and stock, and to run them either on temporary track on the floor at home, or at club meetings, again using temporary track. Mini-layouts and dioramas are also popular, as these require little space.
There is a bewildering number and variety of Japanese trains that have been modelled, and the short production runs favoured by the main manufacturers mean that any new models sell out very quickly."
Like you , I believe that the hobby in Japan is in very good health.
All the best,
Mark.
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David Nebenzahl skriver:

I can talk a little about the danish situation:
Today we have several danish manufactures of danish rolling stock. From my point of wiew, this has boosted the model railroad marked, going from many people using german models to danish models.
Previously most of the danish models was german models with "danish livery", today it is real danish models.
I can see the number of mrr-clubs increasing, either building large setups or module bulid setups, where everyone has their own modul, they can work on at home and bring them to the club or even at gatherings. FREMO is the keyword.
Klaus
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