Ive been a fan of Amtraks AEM7 electric
locomotives ever since they were introduced on the Northeast Corridor. When they were
brand new, Chris DAmato and I spent the better part of a couple of days trying for a
three-quarters pan shot of one. We wanted to use the photo in a PERSPECTIVE feature and
went through a lot of film photographing every train that came along. A couple were good
enough to print, not a bad yield when it comes to pan shots. A few years later we used the
need to illustrate Eric Neubauers AEM7 drawings (August, 1985, RMC) as an excuse to
return to trackside with our cameras. It has been a while since our last adventure of this
typeand the AEM7 is now nearly two decades old. I think we owe ourselves a day with
these powerful little speedsters.
Likewise, one of my first experiences with Amtraks Horizon cars involved a set of
drawings. Julian Cavalier had some basic diagrams, but he needed good photos (telephoto,
broadsides, preferably, and as many detail views as I could get) to do anything with them.
Im not one to willingly leave a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call at a hotel to go photograph a
trainIm not that dedicatedbut thats what it took to intercept the
southbound at the station in Sacramento, California, and get the pictures he needed. I had
to start my day anyway, so why not do it with a train before breakfast? (This was
pre-Starbucks Sacramento, done without the benefit of scones and extra-shot lattes.
Thanks to the Espresso Revolution such sacrifices need not be suffered with an empty cup
holder in the rental car these days.) The drawings and article appeared in the November,
Since then I have collected enough miles on both the Amtrak and commuter versions to
confidently say that I like the Horizon cars. They look good, like traditional passenger
cars, which appeals to the backwards-looking modeler in me, and they ride well if the
track under them is decent. The Amtrak version has drop-equalizer trucks and plush seats,
making it a bit more comfortable, and commuter districts also have them in the form of cab
cars, adding a bit of extra interest to their fleets. For more prototype information,
refer to the articles mentioned above; and for ideas on what can be done to superdetail a
model, see Frank Ciceros piece in the October, 1998, RMC.
Atlas O has been giving the modeling community surprises for years now, but the
introduction of the AEM7 and the Horizon cars is one of the best yet. These come in both
two-rail and three-rail versions, and like all the Atlas O equipment, they are correctly
scaled, very nicely-done 1:48 replicas, not toy adaptations. Atlas O has again used the
prospect of sales to two rather different markets to bring the benefits of
injection-molded models to both. This takes vision and a willingness to take a risk, and
this Amtrak electric and the Horizon passenger cars are consequently a good choice. They
may be sold for a stand-alone train set (whether scale or three-rail), as well a providing
a supply of modern passenger cars for general use. These are cars that the public can see
and relate to, an important component of model and prototype railroad interest.
The locomotive is an extremely accurate replica of the ASEA-built original. A few
minutes with a scale rule and a set of drawings shows that. Major dimensions, such as
truck centers and wheelbase, overall length, width and height, height from rail to car
side, etc. are exact or nearly so measuring window and door sizes, as well as various body
and detail parts, demonstrates that Atlas O worked carefully on the model.
Equally important is how a model looks in relation to the original. This goes beyond
correct measurements, since making good tooling decisions involves more than that. Tool
making is also an art. The Atlas O AEM7 does very well here. It can be posed next to
prototype photos and inspected, yet hold its high HQ (Happiness Quotient, something that
too often drops in direct proportion to how long a model is compared to its prototype.)
The handling of the fluting, window gaskets, simulated screening, cab interior, and add-on
detail parts is very good. There is nothing clumsy, bulky or poorly formed on this
The AEM7 features a large number of individually-applied parts, including the most
important electrical equipment on the roof, along with free-standing conduits and piping.
(Some minor wiring is molded onto the roof by the resistor bank, a practical
accommodation.) Separate wire grabs and handrails are also applied, and just about every
one on the Amtrak locomotive is there. The engine is truly ready-to-run, though one might
choose to go back and paint the grabs to match the color panels they are in rather than
stay with the bright metal finish.
The detailing on the ends is worth special mention: it is complete and the distinctive
face of the AEM7 is captured well. On the two-rail model, an Atlas working magnetic
knuckle coupler is fitted in a draft gear box; it is compatible with the Kadee brand. The
oversize opening in the pilot (which allows coupler swing for the three-rail model) may be
filled with styrene and the paint touched up. Amtrak put snowplows on the pilots, shortly
after delivery and this detail, too, can be fabricated and added without much work.
The roof has a pair of the correct single-arm pantographs. They are held in place by a
safety lock and wire lock downs. Sufficient upwards pressure to hold them against the
catenary is supplied by a cam-spring arrangement that effectively copies the prototype,
although I did not test whether or not they could be made to carry current.
The painting and lettering are notable for their smooth application and accuracy. Most
of the small warning lettering is there, too. Our sample has the attractive and
long-lasting as-delivered paint scheme, and the model is offered in NJT, MARC, SEPTA as
well as Amtrak Northeast Direct and unpainted. The NJT unit has ALP44 details to
distinguish it from the AEM7.
The locomotive weighs four and three-quarters pounds and features a combination metal
and plastic detail part chassis, a large can motor, dual flywheels, and universal shafts
attached to gear towers on the trucks. The running characteristics are excellent and the
locomotive began moving slowly and steadily at a low voltage. Good control and operation
was evident throughout the entire speed range. Power pick-up is on all wheels, and the
model has reversing headlights and a red warning light, plus strobes.
The AEM7 operated around a 40-inch radius coupled to the Horizon cars, though the cars
looked a little out of place on such a curve. Running tests were done with an MRC Tech II
Model 2400 power pack, normally intended for a couple of HO locomotives and up to light.
On 3 use, but the breaker did not trip. A single unit seems quite capable of handling up
to half-dozen Horizon cars (Each of which weighs about two and a half pounds and is two
feet long), likely at speeds faster than most layouts (and our test track) could
accommodate. Like its prototype, the Atlas O AEM7 is "born to run."
The Horizon passenger cars are equally impressive. They, too, match the prototype
dimensions closely and the details are well done. The cars are illuminated and have a
switch on the bottom to turn off the red tail lights, so the cars may be used in any
position on a train. The smooth-side cars are neatly painted and lettered, and have
painted seats and the correct bulkheads in the interiors.
Cast-metal trucks with power pick-ups provide reliable tracking and power for the
lights, and the darkened metal wheels checked out as acceptable with and NMRA gauge. The
floors are a combination of metal and plastic and the outer faces of the basic underbody
detail are represented, as are the air tanks and the brake valve cluster (which is on a
vertical mounting plate on Horizon cars.) While it would be easy to add pieces of styrene
to fill out the underbody equipment cases, I suspect that few modelers will do it. They
will just run the cars and be happy. This is a modeling opportunity for those who wish to
pursue it, though. The cars have Atlas working knuckle couplers installed; the sill plates
and additional end details could be added by following the Cavalier drawings and referring
to the photos. Atlas O has already done a nice control cab car, too, which offers
The cars come decorated for the same commuter districts as the AEM7, as well as in the
Amtrak scheme introduced in the early 1980s. A coach-dinette which has the same
window arrangement as the full diner, is also available. The only real accession to
modelings realities on the cars is the anchor for the anti-sway damper. It is
attached to the truck sideframe rather than the carbody, a practical matter when one
considers the radii we expect to use our models on. (For the same reason, the step to the
cab is mounted on the sideframe of the AEM7, not on the carbody.) Otherwise, these cars
will photograph almost like the prototype; they, too, have individual metal grabs and an
overall "right look."
These are excellent models of important prototypes, and looking at them makes me want
to take a train ride, a very fast one on very smooth track. It is definitely time for
Chris and me to head down to the Northeast Corridor for a long-overdue day with these
handsome Amtrak locomotives and cars.