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This 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 O’s 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….

……of Swedish Origin

Seeking a replacement for their aging fleet of GG-1’s 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 Amtrak’s 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 Jersey Transit.

Atlas O’s 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 O’s model from its electric blue colored box, I was even more impressed with the design. Atlas O’s 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 O’s 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 O’s 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 scenarios.

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 discernible glitches.

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 O’s 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

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