Malaysian hobbyist catches the (toy) trains of his childhood

  • Living
  • Wednesday, 12 Jun 2019

Usually, after 10pm, Rosfaizan will get started on his hobby if he is not exhausted after returning home. He will spend three to four hours just to repaint his model trains.

Choo, choo train chuggin’ down the track ... So goes the first line of Neil Sedaka’s captivating song One Way Ticket To The Blues. For Rosfaizan Abdul Rahman. 39, the music playing in his mind is a different tune. He has not bought a one-way ticket to the blues.

Public relations man Rosfaizan is humming a happy tune. Like geeky Sheldon Cooper, the physicist in television’s The Big Bang Theory, both are ga-ga over trains!

Gemas-born Rosfaizan has been fascinated with trains ever since he was a small boy. His late father, Abdul Rahman Harun, was a track maintenance supervisor with Malayan Railways Limited (Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad or KTM), the main rail operator in Peninsular Malaysia. He worked in Gemas in the 1960s and retired in 1998. He passed away in 2015. Rosfaizan’s uncle too worked with the railway company.

Rosfaizan’s father would take him to the train station to watch trains go by or go on rides together. Childhood memories “During the school holidays, my father would buy tickets for a train ride from Gemas, Negri Sembilan to Pasir Mas in Kelantan, which took 15 hours,” he said.

“Along the journey, I saw locomotives, carriages and other metal objects along the track.”

Sometimes, the young Rosfaizan just wants to sit and draw sketches of trains.

By day, Rosfaizan works with KTM; by night, he spends time on his hobby - whether it is repainting model trains or simply watching the trains chugging on the track.

Now, as a father, he enjoys taking his children – a son aged two and a daughter aged eight – to the railway station to see trains.

Well, he likes giving his children some exposure to the real McCoy rather than merely have them play with Thomas the tank engine. In fact, Rosfaizan’s apartment in Batu Caves, Selangor, where he has lived for 11 years, overlooks a railway track.

In 2016, Rosfaizan landed a job with KTM as its corporate communications’ multimedia manager. Previously, he was the conceptual designer with Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) Malaysia.

Part of Rosfaizan's collection of model trains.

Rosfaizan fiddles with his model trains at home, but his skills have enabled him to refurbish a model display in the main lobby of KTM’s headquarters.

The display has trains on a track, buildings and panels of landscape scenery which are detachable and moveable.

Collecting train sets

He started collecting his train sets as a hobby in 2013. He is proud of his collection which is made up of 25 locomotives and more than 200 carriages and accessories such as trucks and buildings.

He buys his train sets from local hobby shops or orders them online. For online purchases, he would order five to seven units of toy train models to save on shipping charges. Sometimes, he and a few friends would place an online bulk order for a better deal. He also buys secondhand toy models from friends.

A section of the train set, on industrial land with model kits of cement and coal refineries, containers and buildings.

He has a limited Marklin model railroad set which he bought in September last year. It is still kept in its box.

“This train set cannot run because it has no track and controller. I only bought the limited edition set first,” he explained, adding that he would get the other items later on.

This hobby is a very expensive one. “It is interesting to new hobbyists but the hefty prices of the train sets are really challenging,” he said, adding this his spouse, Hamidah Ismail, a teacher, would chide him for wasting his time. “However, she supports me whenever I ask for a loan to buy my model trains,” he said.

A locomotive passes through a tunnel built by Rosfaizan as part of his railway landscaping work.

A toy train carriage or a model truck can cost RM150 each while a wagon can set him back by RM1,000. A costlier toy locomotive can command a price of up to RM2,000 while the cheaper models cost between RM1,000 and RM1,500.

Before starting his toy train hobby, he was collecting Transformers action figures since 2005 and has amassed 300 of them.

“I started collecting Transformers toy figures when the movie Transformers was screened which started a worldwide craze for the action figures. I collected these toys not just for creativity but to admire their engineering work,” he said.

However, after five years, he grew out of this hobby and shifted his focus to train sets.

It is interesting to watch the locomotive models as they give out the same sounds of real ones when they are started up.

Trains in the apartment

Rosfaizan allocates a room in his apartment for his model trains. He does not just assemble the trains and put them on the tracks. He also watches YouTube tutorials on repainting model trains and also hooks up with other hobbyists on Facebook.

Rosfaizan also has a sketchbook with sketches of trains he had seen.Usually, after 10pm, he will get started on his hobby if he is not exhausted from work. Repainting the train models can take three to four hours. “I take an hour to repaint a locomotive and 30 minutes for a carriage,” he said.

Rosfaizan also has a sketchbook with drawings of trains he has seen before.

Some days, he just wants to chill and do nothing except watch his trains go by on the track.

“It helps me to destress,” he said, operating the remote control that can start up the locomotive or bring it to a halt. It makes exactly the same sound as a real train! However, there are no puffs of smoke coming out of it, as he has yet to upgrade it.

“You can get smoke coming out of the locomotive by putting a special fluid inside it,” Rosfaizan explained, as he did a few demonstration runs.

Nevertheless, he has built a single railway track with an industrial land scenery. He has also completed it with model kits of cement and coal refineries, trucks, containers, buildings, a tunnel and even included trees, grasses and a river in the landscaping.

He has plans to build a 15m double track but due to the curve, it is not possible to construct it in the confines of his small room.

The ambience of watching a moving train feels surreal, like being at a train station.

For Rosfaizan, experiences like this seem to spirit him back to the days of his childhood when he was at the railway station.

“There is something magical about the trains, for ‘the little boy' in me,” he said.

Rosfaizan has allocated a room in his apartment for his model trains. The railway track courses through the entire room.

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