Locomotive Roster: Hobbytrain H2966 SNCB HLE 18

About time Belgium got some love, huh?  Now I just need some passenger cars to go with it   Yes, the video shows the Class 18 pulling a load of freight wagons, which I know are un-prototypical for this class, but until Fleischmann produces its just announced SNCB coaches, I'm stuck with this locomotive pulling freights for a while!  One more crime against prototypical correctness from Quinntopia.  What's new?  Wait! That's no way to start a review!  Let's do this right!
In all seriousness, this Hobbytrain interpretation of an HLE 18 class locomotive of the SNCB was on my want list for a while! It was also a Christmas surprise! Hobbytrain by Lemke, which also has a partnership of some nature with Kato, as well as Mehano and probably others.  According to a comment posted on YouTube with this video, there is a manufacturer in Korea that might be behind Hobbytrain's Vectron locomotives, which includes this one.

In terms of a proper review, most of this is covered in the video, however I'll pull out a few key things here on the blog:

Overall Impressions:
Striking, sleak, and modern looking.  Like the prototype, these Siemens Electric locomotives look contemporary.  What I like about this Vectron-style locomotive is the smooth angles that Siemens used to give a more pleasing, sleaker look.   Hobbytrain's model mimics this well, but there is a glaring and obvious shortcut that Hobbytrain used: printed vents and window hatches on the body.  The below photo shows the printed - rather than molded - vents on the cab.
The below photo, well, most of them, show the forward cab window hatch which is also printed.  As far as I know this may be the only difference that these HLE 18's have from the Siemens Vectron loco's that they are derived from, but I won't be surprised if there are more shortcuts like this.

Paint is well applied however, with no evidence of any bleeding or softness to any edges.  Printing is sharp and legible at a level that I will never be able to read without significant magnification! 
Conversion to DCC and Operating:
Conversion to DCC was one of the easiest I've ever done.  A standard NEM 651 decoder goes into a very accessible socket underneath the body shell.  Removing the body shell was a simple no-nonsense and easy separation of the shell slides with just a slight amount of tension until the engine chassis slides free.
I've spent a little time operating this locomotive, and there are really only two things that come to mind.  The fist is that for whatever reason, this locomotive moves very nice as slow speeds, but then moves up at jack rabbit speeds very quickly (and unrealistically.  You can see a bit of this in the video during the 'Trains in Motion" segment).   I believe this is due to some needed adjustments to the decoder speed tables to resolve.  But as I used a brand new Digitrax decoder I am a little surprised as I've seldom had to make any speed table changes.  If I find a problem here I'll let you know, but for now, I'm assuming its a simple speed table solution.

The second thing is that its a bit noisy. More similar (in terms of noise) to my recent Piko locomotives that the very quiet modern Minitrix models.  Its not bad, just loud.  The motor does give off a sort of high frequency sound that makes it sound like its working really hard.  This may be normal and just more noticeable due to the louder motor, so perhaps not an issue.

Otherwise, the locomotive pulls pretty well.  In the video you will see the locomotive go under a roadway where it climbs a steep 2.5% grade to return over itself.  With the six or seven cars I had behind it, the HLE showed no signs of struggle at all with this grade.  I have other locos that definitely struggle up this little rise, so it seems like this locomotive will be a good puller.
So...why Belgium? Well, why not?!  Seriously, Belgium is yet another European country with a fascinating and colorful rail history.  It has also been pretty well un-served in terms of N scale for most of this hobby's history.    That its unusual to see Belgian N scale trains is a part of the attraction for me!  If you are interested in this, I recommend a site from Belgium which is a part early 20th Century diorama project as well as a pretty exhaustive list of N scale material available for Belgian (most of it is artisan produced).  In the original Dutch here, or a good version of the site in English courtesy of Google Translate here.


  1. Re printed details - likewise the Hobbytrain Vectron BR193 which retails for approx 140 Euros and is quite expensive for the brand. A lot of their locos sell in the EU somewhere between 60 to 80 Euros which is 50 percent the price of equivalent Fleischmann models.

    You’ve got me thinking though, I’d better have a closer look at my Hobbytrain locos maybe they're not quite the bargain I thought they were. I just hope they haven’t got printed wheels.

    Good review.

    Ross S
    North Berwick
    Scotland UK

  2. Thanks Ross! LOL...printed wheels! Yeah, quite shocking when you think that the industry had moved on from this sort of practice!

    On the other hand, I suppose Hobbytrain could have made the choice not to print anything where the SNCB has its unique vents. I don't know what would be 'worse'. A blank front or the fake printed vent details?

  3. I can't find the thread for the life of me, byt IIRC I remember reading on some European forum that the Hobbytrain SNCB HLE 18 is a compromise that isn't quite accurate compared to the original. It's based on the Vectron (which isn't quite the same loco) and some details are indeed printed in order to stretch the sales of a single mould a little more by having it pretend it is two different locos. That said, I am very happy with my Hobbytrain purchases (several Tauruses, E10s, a 360, some container cars and a Re474). The brand really is a brand of the German importer Lemke who in the past had mainly Kato build N scale models for the brand. AFAIK, all the newer models are Kato as well (the Vossloh G2000 mould apparently made its way from defunct Mehano to Kato recently). You can often get some of the Hobbytrain locos for between 49 and 80 EUR a piece which is really outstanding for a Kato loco with five pole motor, double flywheel and NEM decoder socket. Visually, most of their models are either superior to the more expensive German competition (e.g. the E10/110/112 "pants crease" which is spot on compared to the abysmal Minitrix mould) or without meaningful competition, filling a gap not served by other manufacturers (e.g. the present HLE 18).

  4. I have some info about the naming scheme used by the SNCB/NMBS..

    H is a designation used in the olden days when sending telegrams: it meant 'rolling stock'

    L stands for locomotive

    E for Electric,
    D for Diesel (but also Z, depending on the type)
    V for Steam (Vapeur/Vapor),

    So HLE is an Electric Locomotive

    HK stands for a complete train.

    HKV for Passenger trains (Voyageurs)
    HKM for a Cargo train (Marchandise)

    Stations have also letters designated to them, depending on the operator/owner in the past (there were multiple railway operators in the early days)

    Morse code isn't used anymore ;-), but the abbreviations remain in use.

    Good review!

  5. Thanks MK and Filipe for the really useful information!

    It is quite funny how in this internet, satellite, and wireless age, old technology like morse code still informs things! Thanks again for the info!

  6. Hello Jerry,
    got a question for you.
    I've been following your blog for several months and love your work.
    my question is what do you do about couplers, do you use the rapido style couplers or change them out for a different type of coupler?

  7. Hi Robert! Thanks for your kind words! As for couplers, I don't do anything. The Rapido style couplers really don't bother me. I may get tired of looking at them in the future and decide to switch to something better (not sure there is such a thing...a lot of European guys seem to use American style knuckle couplers for a replacement) but for now its just something that does not distract me a lot. In fact, In a way I kind of think of Rapido couplers as somewhat iconic of N Scale anyway, and these giant couplers are just a 'reminder' that these are magnificent toys after all!