review is from Model Railroad News, Vol. 5, Issue 11, November 1999. Reprinted
with permission of Lamplight Publishing.
Atlas O's Amtrak AEM-7
by David Otte
With their first O gauge locomotive, the EMD SW8/9,
successfully under their belt, the O gauge community anxiously awaited word of Atlas
Os next locomotive release. When Atlas O finally announced that the new locomotive
would be an AEM-7 electric locomotive, I must admit I was a bit surprised, and as a
Midwesterner, a little disappointed. Sure, Amtrak uses these locomotives on their high
speed passenger trains in the Northeast, but why would any modeler outside of this region
be interested in this passenger/commuter train engine? After receiving our review sample,
I soon found out why
Seeking a replacement for their aging fleet of GG-1s and the
problematic E60s built by General Electric, Amtrak began looking to European locomotive
manufactures for help. Amtrak started testing French and Swedish designed locomotives on
the Northeast corridor between Washington DC, and New York in 1976. Favoring the Rc-4
built by Allmanna Svenska Elektriska Aktiebolaget (ASEA) of Sweden, they decided to base
their new locomotive on thisdesign.
EMD was chosen to assemble this new engine based on ASEA mechanical
components and bodies built by the Budd Company. (Later, body production was supplied by
an Austrian firm.) The first AEM-7 (A standing for ASEA, EM for Electromotive Division of
General Motors, and 7 for 7,000 horsepower) left the EMD plant in November, 1979.
What rolled out onto the test track that late fall had the
appearance of an electric toaster! The silver car body had virtually vertical sides and
slightly rounded cabs at either end. Its uniqueness was further bolstered by the a weight
of 101 tons, the AEM-7 packed inside a whooping 7,000 Horsepower----compared to the
heavier and similar length EMD F-unit diesel-electric which products 1,500 horsepower. The
new electric were equipment with a wheel slip control system, both clasp and disc brakes
on all wheels, dynamic braking, and head-end power (HEP).
Between 1979 and 1988, Amtrak received a total of 54 AEM-7s numbered
900-953 and presently still roster 52 (two units were involved in accidents and scraped).
They regularly pull the Metroliner trains on the Northeast Corridor at speeds of 125 mph.
Since Amtraks purchase of these locomotives, other Northeastern commuter railroad
companies have purchased the AEM-7 and its brother the ALP-44 including: Maryland Rail
Commuter (MARC), Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), and New
Atlas Os Toaster
Upon doing some preliminary research on the AEM-7, it
struck me how fascinating this odd looking locomotive really is. And after removing the
Atlas Os model from its electric blue colored box, I was even more impressed with
the design. Atlas Os rendition truly captures the shapes and color of the Amtrak
prototype in exacting detail!
Checking the dimensions of the model against scale drawings, the O
gauge model compares very well at 12.5" long over the anti-climbers, 6.5" wheel
base over truck centers, 3.125" high to the roof, and 2.5" wide. A plastic
injection molded body surrounds a die cast chassis, which in turn sets on accurate die
cast truck side frames and pilots. Molded on details are excellent, and represent: the car
body vents, door latches, sanding hatches, and the horizontal ribs running between the
cabs on each side of the body. Separately applied body details included : metal hand grabs
and wipers, side view mirrors, radio antenna, air hoses, and coupler bars.
Moving to the roof top, Atlas O has done an exceptional job in
replicating all the parts integal to this electric locomotive. These parts included:
operating metal pantographs ( which can be wired for actual use), a see-through dynamic
brake housing, metal horns, warning lights and signage, air conditioners, voltage
transformer, insulators, main circuit breaker, and conduit. Atlas O goes the extra mile by
providing interior cab detail as well, Not only have they included a control panel and
seats, but they have two crew members in the front cab with individual realistic poses.
Both figures are nicely painted in different colors.
Since they were first produced, the AEM-7s have gone through a few
changes in their appearance. Atlas Os model seems to be a version of the engine as
it could be seen in the mid 1980s. During this period, the cabs were equipped with roof
top air conditioners. In addition, filters were placed over the central air vents on the
top sides of the car body, and additional air ducts were installed on either side of the
dynamic brake housing. All of these identifying marks can be found on the O gauge model.
There are a couple of very minor different between the model and the
photos I viewed of the prototype, though. First, the white roof top air conditioners on
our sample are facing the opposite direction (needed to be rotated 180 degrees) according
to Amtrak practices. Hand grabs located atop each numberboard on the AEM-7 were omitted on
the model. Finally, the air ducts around the dynamic brake are not quite tall enough, and
lacked any vent detail.
The fit and finish of our review sample is immaculate! The paint
thickness is consistent over the entire model with no signs of paint build up around any
of the delicate body detail. The colors are opaque and the parting lines between colors
flawless all of the lettering is crisp and readable---- even the incredibly small red text
on the top warning signs.
Our sample is accurately decorated for engine #911 (two roadnumbers
are available or both 3-rail and 2-rail versions), and seems to follow Amtrak painting and
lettering practices exactly----even down to the small f on the frame below the cab
designating the front of the locomotive. Atlas O will also offer this model decorated for
several commuter lines: MARC, SEPTA, and in the form of the ALP44, NJ Transit.
A Toaster on the Test Track
Having already reviewed Atlas Os great running SW8/9, I had
very high expectations when it came time to put the new model on the test track. I was not
disappointed in the least and was actually surprised at the additional features Atlas O
added to the model.
The biggest benefit added to the AEM-7 model is loco matic control.
This is Atlas O s new controller which allows the operator to have complete access
to all the great operating features on the model. The ten button control box operates: the
bell, headlight, marker lights, strobe lights, front and rear coupler, horn, and speed. An
alternate button allows secondary functions to the nine other buttons. The controller
includes a 9-volt, DC, plug in power supply. Of course you still run this locomotive with
an ordinary AC transformer, but the operator will not be able to open couplers remotely.
The Loco Matic controller may be hooked up between the track and a
transformer to allow continued speed control though the transformer, or it can be
connected to a constant 18 volt source and the train operated though the controller
entirely. Better yet, if you are using the Lionel Train Master control system, you can
hook up the Loco Matic controller to your Power Master base and control the AEM-7
separately from other Lionel command equipped locomotives. Atlas O provides complete,
well-written instructions for wiring and operating the Loco Matic Control in all of these
The locomotive was tested in conventional form first for
compatibility with a Lionel Postwar KW transformer, the MRC Dualpower O27, and the Lionel
Train Master. The O gauge model ran well with all three-power supplies without any
We also hooked up the Loco Matic controller to all three
transformers and had very positive results. I found it very easy to access the various
features of the AEM-7 with the push button controller, and the locomotive always responded
in the proper manner. While the controller was hooked up to the Train Master system, a
Command equipped Lionel locomotive was run on the same track as the AEM-7. There was no
noticeable interference between the two systems and the Atlas O controller, as well as the
engine worked as described. There is one downfall to the Loco Matic control system though.
If your layout is divided into electric blocks for multiple train operation, a Loco Matic
controller is needed for each electrical track circuit in order to maintain complete
control of the locomotive.
This O gauge locomotive is really a smooth operator! The AEM-7 comes
equipped with a high quality Pittman can motor with brass flywheels. The model has eight
wheels drive, as well as two third rail roller pickups per truck.
Pulling power is also exceptional, not only due to its weight (about
five pounds), but the two traction tires located on the inside wheel sets of each truck
help out too. The AEM-7 had no trouble pulling a set of the new Atlas O, scale length
Horizon passenger cars (to be reviewed in an upcoming issue) around the layout, with
another half dozen Atlas O freight cars trailing behind.
All of our testing was performed on a layout utilizing Atlas O O54
diameter curves --- the minimum requirement for the AEM-7 model. No derailments occurred
while traveling through curves or switches, nor did it shall at any point while moving
though the O54 switches. Both slow and high speed operation was exceptional and fit into
the general scale speed ranges of the prototype.
The model includes two remote control, die cast, Lionel compatible
couples. The factory installed couples worked flawlessly throughout our test session.
Overall, the AEM-7 received top marks for on track performance!
For those of you out there who criticized the sound system in Atlas
Os SW8/9, the sound emitting from the AEM-7 is quite audible. All of the sounds
could be heard easily above the movement of the train. Sounds include: the cooling
blowers, which are on all the time; random air compressor sounds; a horn; and a bell.
Furthermore, brake release sounds can be heard whenever the locomotive changes from a
neutral position and began moving. All of the sound features operate well and sound
realistic. A volume control, adjustable with a small blade screw driver, is located under
the removable dynamic brake housing. Six micro switches are also located here for manually
turning on or off other operating and lighting features.
Speaking of lighting features, the AEM-7 has a number of them.
First, it has directional lighting so that when headlight is on in the front, the red
marker lights come on in the rear and vice-versa. The locomotive is also equipped with
roof top strobe lights (only front strobes operate) which flash when activating the horn
or bell, and continue to flash a short time after they have sounded. Finally, the cab
interior is illuminated so all the great details inside can be viewed. All the lighting
features on our sample work without a hitch and are clearly visible in a well lit room.
Setting New Standards
The AEM-7 really turned out to be a pretty neat locomotive to this
Midwesterner! A new admiration for the Toaster is due both to its unique design, and to
the incredible scale model realism, excellent decoration, great sounds, and outstanding
performance. Also, the new Loco Matic control system is an added bonus, which really
enhances the operating characteristics of this model. Yet again, Atlas O has raised the
standards for O gauge locomotives to new heights