Roco, based in Bergheim, near Salzburg, Austria, is a manufacturer of model railway
equipment. Products include locomotives, rolling stock, track, signals, roadbed, buildings, vehicles and lights.
The company was founded in 1960 by Ing. Heinz Rössler and started out making plastic sand buckets and miniature
military vehicles. The first models consisted of a plastic 'minitank'
series. Only a few years later, the 'minitanks' were followed by Roco freight wagon models of American prototypes,
in HO and 'O' scale.
In 1963 Roco began manufacturing model railroad cars for Trix.
In 1965/66 the first N gauge models were produced. In 1967 Roco manufactured N scale
freight cars for Atlas Tool Co. The first locomotives were produced in 1976.
Roco made HO gauge Diesel locomotives for Atlas that included a GP9, GP30, EMD GP-38 Low Nose, EMD GP-38 High Nose,
EMD GP-40 Low Nose, EMD SD-24 High Nose,
EMD SD-35 Low Nose, EMD FP-7A, Alco S-2/S-4, and F9A. Alco FA1 and EMD E7A locomotives made by Roco for Atlas were
introduced in the late 1970's. Roco's production from those days is easily identified by "Made in Austria"
embossed on the bottom of the trains. Roco also manufactured FM H-10-44 engines in HO gauge for Walthers,
Alco C424 diesels in HO for AHM, and Baldwin Shark Nose A+B Units, Alco FA-1+FB-1's, EMD E7A and
EMD E9A's in HO for Model Power.
Roco began a line of their own European prototype railroad equipment under its own
name in 1967 with the first HO models. It started with an assortment of nicely detailed 4 wheel
freight cars, plus some more elaborately detailed equipment built with dies obtained from the collapse of model railway manufacturer Röwa in 1975.
This move helped Roco to make a definitive breakthrough on the European model railway market. The success was also due to the fact that the finest
detailed earlier Röwa models cost only 60 percent of the former Röwa price and were thus even cheaper than the less well executed models of the
competition. In 1977, the Röwa models, which were mainly TEE cars, express trains, silver trains and express tractors, were supplemented by Roco's
own designs, including the Eurofima cars and Corail cars of the SNCF, which were procured throughout Europe.
The first Roco locomotives based on DB originals (BR 110, BR 140) were released in the mid-1970's.
Roco's first locomotive for the German market included a model of the DB 215 diesel series, which was launched on the market in 1973.
This was followed by 1975 models of DB conversion cars. The DB 215 protoype and its 210, 216, 217, 218 and 219 family were the backbone
of train support on the non-electrified railway tracks in Germany. Until Roco released its version of the DB 215 series diesel locomotive, the
company was not very widely recognized in Europe as a manufacturer of model railways. In addition to DB models, models from ÖBB became a major focus at Roco.
The model rail product line expanded over time and covered many European countries,
including Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands, as well as the USA. The German market proved
to be a great success, surprising the competition both with the first class quality and the economical price.
TT scale was also subsequently added to the Roco product line. At the beginning of the 1970's, Roco was also
active in 'O' gauge. In 'OM' scale ('O' scale narrow gauge), Roco issued an
Alpinline series that consisted of Swiss type Metropolitan electric and diesal locos as well as passenger coaches. However, these activities
were short lived due to lack of economic success and subsequently the 'O' gauge product line was discontinued. Roco utilized the
Röwa molds to re-introduce 1:100 scale long coaches in HO. During this period the other German manufacturers Fleischmann,
Märklin and Trix only produced shorter coaches that were not to scale. Companies such as
Liliput and Rivarossi had attempted to sell large-scale wagons in 1971 and 1967, respectively,
but they did not sell very well. Because of the narrow radii of HO track curves and points commonly sold and used in model railway lines at that time,
there were problems experienced with the cornering behavior of these long cars. Roco replicated the SBB type coaches in the length 1:93.5, which
later became the standard for Fleischmann (1991) and Märklin since 2006. The first cars in the correct scale 1:87 made by Roco were released in 1983
as replicas of Eurofima cars. Roco gradually expanded the product line for the long-scale wagons, including the DB-type express train wagons, to test
the market. From 1988 onwards almost all types of Roco coaches were produced using the correct scale. The shorter passenger cars were only offered in
beginner range starter sets.
The first Roco HO tender steam locomotive, the BR 58 of the DB, was issued in 1977. Over the years, as its range of products expanded, Roco became known in
Europe for extremely accurate and detailed scale models, which have won a number of awards. Roco established
factories in Austria (in Salzburg and Vienna) and across the border in Slovakia. Mr. Rossler died in 1978.
His widow Elfriede Rossler continued the business until she sold the company in 2002. 1979 saw the development of the e-loco Rh 1044 in HO.
In 1989 the first Roco track with track bed was developed. Other improvements that followed the release of full-scale length coaches,
included close couplings, and true-to-life track systems. In 1994 Roco launched its universal coupling with pre-uncoupling capability, and
in 1995 made their entry into digital technology. By 1999 Roco had developed the high-end 310.23 steam loco.
Like other model railroad manufacturers, Roco was hit by economic difficulties. On July 15, 2005 Roco Modellspielwaren GmbH was declared bankrupt. From July 25 the
company continued as Modelleisenbahn GmbH, which also announced its purchase of
Fleischmann in early 2008. The two companies operated as separate brands under Modelleisenbahn GmbH.
However, the development and production of Roco N (1:160) gauge trains was abandoned after the acquisition of Fleischmann by the joint parent
company Modelleisenbahn holding. After the reorganization and modernization of Roco in 2005, Roman
and Company became their exclusive importer for the USA.
Roco, which was started as a family company, by Mr. and Mrs. Rössler, continued to grow
into a multinational company with close to 600 employees. By 2006, the sales figures crossed €30 million. The company was declared to be fully
recovered by 2007 with sales of €34.6 million.
On October 1, 2007, distribution of the 'Minitank' product series was assigned to the German model car
manufacturer, Herpa. By 2008, with a €55 million annual turnover, Roco became the third-largest supplier in the
European model railroad sector in Europe after competitors Märklin with €128 million and
Hornby with €70.6 million. Roco was now operating plants in Gloggnitz (Lower Austria), Banska Bystrica (Slovakia) and
Arad (Romania), as well as maintaining its headquarters in Bergheim near Salzburg under the direction of Managing Director Leopold Heher.
Roco continued manufacturing 2-rail DC powered HO gauge trains, TT scale trains,
and HOe narrow gauge trains, offered separately or in ready to run sets. They also offered a full
line of track, parts and accessories. Trains are made of injected plastic via molds, or from metal die-cast molds.
In HOe (or OO9 format) Roco covered the 'main line' type of stock, as used on the
OBB in Austria, as well as the narrow gauge lines of the DR, down to the Feldbahn, or field railways, as used in industry
all over the world. The stock can be used on other manufacturer's tracks, and the couplings are a standard loop and hook type,
found on other HOe types. Roco eventually began to offer their locomotive models in three configurations. These were a 2-rail
conventional model, and both 2-rail and 3-rail variants that were fitted with digital sound decoders, controlling a range of
operating sounds as well as LED headlights. In 2010 Roco product sales took a dip, down to €47 million from 2009's €50.7 million.
The company made a committment to digitization and modernization efforts, and to developing new markets in the far east.
In 2012 Roco created the Z21 model railway control system that facilitated game play and
operating trains via the SmartRail application running on a smartphone or Tablet PC. The software provided the user with a photorealistic driver’s cab
perspective of the original locomotive. A camera mounted in the locomotive fed the view of the ride through the train layout live onto the Tablet PC
driver’s virtual cab screen. All digital locomotive and layout components such as speed, sound, signal functions of the locos as well as turnout routes,
motion and sound on the layout were controllable via the touch-screen.
From 2007 to 2017 sales volume in the model train industry declined by a third. This had a huge impact on Roco and
parent company Modelleisenbahn GmbH. Announced combined sales of both Roco and Fleischmann products were €51 million in 2013 and €47.5 million in
2015. Sales rose slightly to €49 million in 2016. In January 2017, Gerhard Joiser, CEO of Modelleisenbahn GmbH announced that in an effort to reduce
costs some of its production was moved to Vietnam. 80 employees in Vietnam assembled 200,000 wagons, representing five percent of total production. However,
the know-how, the technology and the construction would remain in Europe. Only the simpler models would be produced in Vietnam. The production sites
in Romania and Slovakia would remain intact. Roco and Fleischmann now had a combined total of 750 employees, 100 of which worked in Bergheim.
In August 2017 it was announced that Modelleisenbahn GmbH, the holding company for both Roco and Fleischmann was seeking a new owner.
Link to Roco web site.