Your predictions for the model railroading hobby in the new decade?

Metro Red Line Jan 6, 2010

  1. TwinDad

    TwinDad TrainBoard Member

    I'll add that I think the internet will actually help the hobby grow. I'm just getting back into the hobby from my childhood, and just being around this board and others the last few months, I see a lot of administrative comments about how rapidly site membership is growing, lots of "I'm new here, my first layout" posts, and such. Many of those, like with other hobbies, will be "one and done" folks, but I think the more folks are able to connect nationwide and worldwide, in the comfort of their own homes, the more will stick with it.

    If I were doing this all on my own, or with only the limited community around me (and I think I have it pretty good relative to some, with two clubs and at least two LHSs to choose from), I'd get frustrated pretty quickly. Coming here and communing with folks from all over the world, seeing layouts, getting tips and ideas, watching the progress of some major projects (like OC Engineer JD's), is encouraging.

    Model railroading will change, it will morph, but I don't think it will wither. I think it has always been a hobby for preteen children and the midlife-crisis-to-retired set, because it requires folks with the (a) time, (b) money, (c) patience, or a good mix of all three - but actually, the computerization started by DCC and its predecessors might actually work in our favor there. There's a lot of young folks who like to tinker, who were raised in the computer world. They'll be more interested in RTR rolling stock, and more likely to kitbash their own DCC Booster or rewire a Decoder than scratchbuild a feed mill, but they'll also be the ones animating scenery, automating trains, and creating super-realistic lighting and sound effects.

    MOPMAN TrainBoard Member

    Twindad: That's where radio control comes in. You just put batteries in the transmitter, charge the battery pack in the locomotive, assemble the track, turn on the transmitter, turn on the loco and run trains. No wiring. If you don't believe it, come over when I have an open house (usually during the Plano show) and I'll demonstrate how easy it is.

    I run a 27 mhz setup right now and plan on a 2.4 ghz install in the future. As mentioned earlier in this thread, this is where I think the true future of model railroading lies. Oh and did I mention NO WIRING.
  3. NYW&B

    NYW&B Guest

    It's unfortunate that some of the last few posters are both so naive and flippant regarding the situation. The fact is that anyone honestly taking the time to examine just how the hobby has evolved in recent years will find that the obvious trends point to such outcomes as those I offered.

    I'll gladly substantiate my predictions with just a couple of for-instances:

    Age: Here is what published hobby surveys say about model railroaders' ages through the years - 1944-74, steady at ~33 - 1979, 37 - 1984, 40 - 1989, 44 - 1993, 47 - 2005, 55.

    Locomtive prices: typical price for top of the line steam in 1995, $100-$150. Similar top of the line locomotives today, $350-$600.

    Limited production: We have gone from seeing runs of somewhat generic locomotives in the tens of thousands, to more specific ones of just a couple of thousand units (several hundred units per paint scheme). Some recent runs were sold out completely before the models ever reached our shores. The only next step is to go to custom runs based on pre-paid pre-orders. This is exactly how brass evolved from the 1960's to today.

    MR hobby shops: In 1995 they numbered in the thousands. Today more than 3/4 are gone.

    Magazines: 1995 a wide range of model railroading/specialty magazines were in circulation; MR had a circulation of 225,000 readers. Today, at least half the magazines are gone, most of the rest are on the brink and MR's circulation has fallen steadily to under 150,000 while its page-count has more than halved.

    Curiously, it would appear that Pollyanna-ism is a key feature in the make-up of most of model railroaders, an aspect not nearly so broadly exhibited by practitioners of other hobbies.

    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 9, 2010
  4. pilotdude

    pilotdude TrainBoard Member

    NYW&B, what do you see as the cause of this decline? Do you think its a trend that can be stabilized or reversed or do you think it's social/cultural/technology changes, etc that drive the changes?
  5. NYW&B

    NYW&B Guest

    The fact that most hobbyist are either unaware of, or simply wish to overlook because of its implications, are the hows and whys of this hobby's popularity...and how that affects current and future tends.

    Prior to WWII, model railroaders in general were a very small group; MR claimed hobbyists to number only 15,000. The scale hobby absolutely exploded immediately following the war's end for a number of reasons, and hobbyists numbered an estimated 100,000 by 1950...20% of them teens!

    This was the age of Lionel/Flyer, where tinplate trains were seen in the windows of every department store at Christmas and real trains were a part of everyday life. Families with Lionel/Flyer trains numbered in the tens of millions! This experience for era teens and pre-teen generated a life-long interest and nostalgia. About 1960 slot cars appeared and they increasingly took the place of trains in the hearts of kids. That fad only lasted ten years, but broad juvenile interest in trains never re-surfaced.

    Thus, the scale hobby became driven by the huge numbers of those who experienced toy trains growing up between the late 40's and early 60's - the early Baby Boomers. The hobby's demographics through the years clearly illustrate this fact in the advancing mean age of hobbyists after 1975.

    Even a high percentage of those from that era who did not maintain a continued interest in model trains into adulthood came back on the far side of middle-age in the 80's and 1990's and the hobby saw a dramatic growth spurt. But now, as the hobby's older stalwarts from the early Boomer era have begun passing from the scene, and the well of newcomers is drying up, hobbyist numbers are steadily declining and the mean age rising. Those currently under the age of 45 who have entered the hobby have come in only a faction of the numbers of the earlier Boomers. Likewise, there is nothing in today's society to draw younger adults and juveniles to model trains. Their world and interests are totally different from those of individuals in the 1950's, so very few will be drawn to the hobby in adulthood. Thus, in the future, the scale hobby can only slowly shrink, perhaps eventually back to its pre-war level.

    I can not see any reason, or possibility, for what is occurring in the way of demographics to change, or stabilize. Likewise, while in the 1950's and 60's the drive of the workforce was for more leisure time away from the office to spend with the family, today dad is probably working 60 hours and may even hold a second part-time job, while mom is in the workforce, too, just to make ends meet! The pricing of quality scale model trains themselves is in the process of out-distancing the average family's income and since a layout is an expensive and longterm, time-consuming, project, the time and money simply isn't available to spend on such pursuits. The very nature of our society has changed and is no longer really supportive of hobbies in general (virtually all are now shrinking, not just model railroading).

    And as a result, manufacturers are altering their approach as well. To make a profit in a shrinking market one must get more return per unit. This means higher detail/technology to sell at higher prices, together with increasingly small runs and spurring a gotta-buy-it-now-or-loose mentality in the marketplace for a quick return on their investment. As I suggested in my earlier post, the ultimate situation will be custom, pre-paid, very small runs at brass prices.

    Take all these factors into consideration and it will be difficult to draw any rosy conclusions about the hobby's future.

    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 9, 2010
  6. Fishplate

    Fishplate TrainBoard Supporter

    NYW&B's reasoning makes sense, but I'm still a bit more optimistic about the future of model railroading. I agree that the overall number of model railroaders will most likely continue to decline, and the average age will continue to rise. We've already seen a decline in model train retailers and manufacturers. However, it seems to me that prices have stabilized and in some cases have gone down since the recession started.

    I'll go out on a limb with these predictions:
    • As our overall numbers go down, our average skill and talent level will increase.
    • As the hobby declines in America and Europe, it will start to grow in Asia (outside Japan), the Middle East, and Africa.
    • New hobby businesses will by necessity have more solid financial backing, better marketing, and better management.
    • Actual physical models and role-playing video games will merge into new combinations. (You can already see this happening.) Web-based apps will allow you to participate in operating sessions anywhere in the world.
  7. Metro Red Line

    Metro Red Line TrainBoard Member

    Soooo...your point is, we should all burn our layouts and dump our trains in the trash because it's gonna die soon anyway?
  8. Stourbridge Lion

    Stourbridge Lion TrainBoard Supporter

    If the ever growing popularity of TrainBoard is any indication, the hobby is still going strong and the age of the membership also shows that youth is joining the ranks everyday which will keep the hobby going. Like any hobby, things will change and those from days gone by may say it’s going downhill while the youth may say its getting better with newer technology. Who knows, the hobby may go more “virtual” as youth might move it more and more into computer animation/automation. I was at my LHS the other day picking up my latest D&H order and the place was packed with Moms & Dads with their kids of all ages picking up Starter Kits and/or Supplies. So, is this hobby going away, not a chance !!!!!!!
    :tb-biggrin: :tb-biggrin: :tb-biggrin: :tb-biggrin: ​
  9. NYW&B

    NYW&B Guest

    Not in the least! I'm having great fun in the hobby and so are most of the hobbyists I know, but we don't deceive ourselves about what is happening around us either. My point was to simply make clear what the actual situation was, why it is so, and how this is likely to affect the hobby's future, as compared to some of the baseless Pollyanna outlooks on the hobby's future held by others.

    It's not gloom and doom to acknowledge that unfavorable realities can exist in a given situation. Doing so better guides your expectations of things to come. On the otherhand, it becomes foolish when one simply denies, or refuses to face and accept those realities.

    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 9, 2010
  10. KaiserWilhelm

    KaiserWilhelm TrainBoard Member

    ‘Naïve and flippant?’ Your list of ‘predictions’ borders so closely on the insane that I thought you were being sarcastic by the end of it. Let’s take this one as an example:

    You can get a pretty standard Kato 2-8-2 over at BLW for $100 bucks… today… right now… in the present. Here it is: Mikado.htm … (what is Kato if not a ‘top of the line’ brand?)

    And you’re predicting… a tenfold increase in that price… in nine years? That’s an increase of about $100 a year. Will I be spending $20 for a loaf of bred by that era, oh sagely one? $35 for a gallon of milk? Is the world also going to end? Because that’s the kind of inflationary pattern you’re talking about here.

    Then there’s this one:

    So… will we also be removing all the internal components of our locomotives, seeing as they’ll now be useless? I mean, clearly we’re not going to want to burden our shelves with all that extra weight… or perhaps that won’t be an issue, as my shelving units will, by that point, be supported by magnets, and I’ll use my hover lift – bought after visiting the store using my flying car – to place those burdensome trains-gone-paperweights in their proper place? Of course, I’m likely not to have too much free time to do even that, as I’ll be so overloaded with tasks to complete during my 60-hour work week.

    I like this one too:

    Gee, that isn’t the same trend we’ve been seeing in all print media, is it? It’s not like newspapers are going out of business left and right or anything, right?

    People haven’t stopped seeking news just because the newspapers are gone, and the same thing is true of model railroading… they’re getting their information elsewhere such as *gasp* this forum!

    Yes, I may be optimistic, but – again – what exactly is the alternative? Close up shop? Abandon the hobby because it’s becoming too pricey? Put my head between my legs and await the inevitable bread lines and pencil shortages that will accompany the fast-approaching 1000% inflation?

    If your advice to those of us suffering from ‘Pollyannaism’ is to 'get real,' I suggest you recycle that tidbit of wisdom for personal use.
  11. pilotdude

    pilotdude TrainBoard Member

    Well, whatever happens I'm doing my part to keep the hobby alive and well. Both my boys have a strong interest in trains and as parent I am glad. There is so much educational value in both real trains and modeling them. And they have started developing their own interests and likes in the hobby and real trains-its moved beyond being something they like because Dad likes it.

    I hope the hobby can evolve and continue to attract young people to the ranks. We need a generation that sees the benefits of rail in this country both for passenger and freight as I believe we are woefully behind in this regard.
  12. TwinDad

    TwinDad TrainBoard Member

    I've just gotta make a few observations here...

    The average age of *everybody* is increasing. We're in the midst of a combination of "baby boom" and an increase in overall increase in life expectancy that is raising the average age in all walks of life. The fastest growing population segment is those over 85. You'll have to factor that general trend out for your stats above to have any meaning.

    Top of the line is not a particularly good place to make comparisons, especially in areas where technology or craftsmanship comes into play. The costs of ever increasing levels of detail and scale accuracy can't help but go up much faster than inflation. Not to mention the costs of adding DCC, which faces the double whammy of low volume electronics in their technological infancy. A better measure would be the mean or median price of locomotives, or perhaps the price of an "entry level" diesel loco from a mass manufacturer like, say, Atlas (or, dare I say it, Bachmann). Such comparisons must also be adjusted for inflation (the CPI is up about 150% from 1995 to 2009).

    What does a top-of-the-line fly rod go for these days? or a Maserati? Compared to a Chevy?

    My point is that you can't compare "top of the line" because the very definition of "top of the line" has increased exponentially over the last few decades.

    I can see where this might be bad for the entry level person, but on the other hand, the average entry-level person isn't going to get too upset if he can't get a particular year model of a GP38b in some one-off UP color scheme. He wants an engine, any engine, and the next one will do. And there's also eBay...

    Don't get me wrong. I'm fairly sure this trend is bad for the hobby, but I think it's driven as much or more from the "collector" market than it is from a lack of demand from the "modeler" market. Or perhaps both.

    Does that number include the internet-based shops?

    As someone else mentioned, the entire print media industry is headed for the toilet. Largely because of the internet. That's not (necessarily) a bad thing, nor is it a good measure of the health of any particular interest market. I myself am balking at the $72/year cover price of MR Magazine. Why should I pay that when I can get essentially the same information from the web, updated almost constantly, for much less (free, even, if I'm cheap enough not to contribute).

    I think you may be mistaking enthusiasm and hope for pollyanna-ism. They're not the same.
  13. 6206_S1a

    6206_S1a TrainBoard Member

    I think that YouTube is a great place to show off one's layouts/model railroads because people from all walks of life can see what we have in our basements, rec rooms, etc., as well as the clubs that we belong to and see what model railroading is all about. And with that, maybe we can see an upswing in the hobby as the newer generations can get into it once they see it on YouTube or model RR club sites.
  14. Pete Nolan

    Pete Nolan TrainBoard Supporter

    This has been a spirited discussion. Let's keep it on civil terms. Predictions about the future are notoriously inaccurate: wasn't it Bill Gates who once remarked that he couldn't see any use for over 640K of memory? Or Thomas Watson, head of IBM, who thought the world would need only three or four computers? Or Popular Mechanics in the late 1950s predicting that we would all be flying our personal helicopters by now?

    I see a lot of thought being put into this discussion. Let's not get snarky with each other.
  15. jagged ben

    jagged ben TrainBoard Member


    I'm pretty much in agreement with you, based on what I see happening in the whole world, as well as in the hobby. If things are as good in ten years as they are now I will be very happy.
  16. Pete Nolan

    Pete Nolan TrainBoard Supporter

    My prediction is that the hobby will change. I've been in strategic planning for 40 years, in much larger industries such as computers and defense. Wow, things have changed!

    I always look for comparable industries. For model railroading, I look at something like flying model airplanes. That hobby nearly died a few decades ago, until the industry came up with foam construction, electric propulsion, and cheap R/C. You can buy an R/C aircraft that would have cost $1000 20 years ago for $100 today. You can buy a ducted fan SU-37 for $400. Yes, it takes skill to fly, but that was impossible 20 years ago.

    I predict the same thing will happen to keep model railroading alive. Battery-powered (actually capacitor-powered) trains controlled by R/C--and not very detailed. The high end will still exist, but will be a specialty market. We pay $250 or more for specialty plastic engines today, and much more for brass. In ten years $250 might be $500 due to inflation alone, and could be $1000 with some other factors, such as a weakening dollar or a strengthening Chinese economy.

    Nothing I've seen in this thread is unbelievable. I might not be in the hobby next year, let alone in ten years. I do believe that the companies in the hobby today are smart, and are looking at every technology to keep their businesses alive, and that will lead to some innovations.
  17. Mark Watson

    Mark Watson TrainBoard Member

  18. NYW&B

    NYW&B Guest

    If I may, Twindad, let me offer a few points in rebuttal to what you posted and why I think the situation is different.

    First, with regard to the "aging" of the hobby, and its implications. While there is no question that the Baby Boomers generation currently has undue influence in every aspect of modern life, their unique association with model trains, not simply their numbers, is what makes them so significant to the hobby. The generations following the Boomers have exhibited only scant interest in scale model trains and even less in tinplate. Remove the Boomers totally from the equation, as will increasing become the case over the next twenty years, and the hobby necessarily shrinks to only a small fraction its current that I think will be too small to support a market anything like what we see currently.

    Regarding the pricing situation, one certainly doesn't need to compare simply top-end products to see the dramatic increase prices have taken in the last twenty years. Virtually any comparable, reasonable quality, locomotive is today three and often four times as expensive as it was 15 years ago...even the straight DC examples. Look at even very basic items like track and see how its price has gone up since 2000. Will you really be willing to pay $10, or more, a 3' stick for Atlas flex track in ten years (maybe in just 5 years!)? Put simply, no matter how much the quality may improve, if you become priced out of the market, what difference does the product's quality advancements make?

    Hobby shops. A big impact that the disappearance of brick and mortar model railroad hobby shops will have is in their roll of the hobby's public exposure. I think most folks overlook this. When they are gone, just where will the public get its introduction to the hobby? Interest in trains doesn't spring automatically from your mind, nor does it come from a single visit to some train show as a youth. Many of us were plastic auto, aircraft, or space tech model builders as kids, and it was those visits to the LHS and seeing the trains on display and running that influenced our hobby interest to shift. The Internet doesn't supply that influence, as there is no exposure unless you come into the Internet already looking for model train-related material. Likewise, pretty much unless you are in the hobby already, you wouldn't easily find your way to most sites...or seller's sites, for that matter.

    Much the same is true regarding hardcopy magazines vs. the Internet...but with a very important twist! A rack full of colorful model railroading magazines in the LHS is a big come on to the novice. At the same time, appreciate that those hardcopy magazines are typically under the editorship of a highly experienced staff. The copy is repeatedly peer reviewed by them before publication, so you know you are being shown the correct approach to any project.

    No such guarantee exists for material on the Internet. The Internet has dozens, if not hundreds, of model railroading forums where folks come looking for advice. None of the sites, to my knowledge, has any peer review of its subject matter being discussed. Likewise, the skill level and knowledge of the responding posters is generally an unknown. Is the reply to your question from a hobbyist of long experience, or simply an absolute novice, who may get it all wrong? Just last week I saw a thread on another site from a modeler with a simple decaling problem. It was followed by eight totally incorrect posts of advice, several that suggested going out an buying a different type of printer...and one lone post that gave the actual simple solution to the problem! But hows the person asking the question to know this was the only right solution to his problem? Just how certain can you be when getting your modeling advice off the Internet? Yes, there are good tutorials to be found on the Internet, but most hobbyists seem to be looking for really quick advice they don't have to search for. That aspect of the Internet troubles me.

    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 12, 2010
  19. cmstpmark

    cmstpmark TrainBoard Supporter

    Got a hold of some of that quality Sens..did ya?


    And no...phhhhhhhhh....iamnotbeingsnarky..wheeeeewwwww..cough cough.....
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 10, 2010
  20. Benny

    Benny TrainBoard Member

    It really doesn't matter who does get into this hobby in the future, as long as I have what I have now I'll be able to practice this hobby until I'm dead. If the hobby ends with me and all my stuff goes off to the scrapper and the dump when I die, then that is perfectly fine with me!

    Spoken at 28.

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