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This review is from Railroad Model Craftsman, Vol. 68, Issue 9, February 2000. Reprinted with permission of Carstens Publications Inc.

AEM7 locomotive and Horizon passenger cars: O scale

by Bill Schaumburg

I’ve been a fan of Amtrak’s AEM7 electric locomotives ever since they were introduced on the Northeast Corridor. When they were brand new, Chris D’Amato 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 Neubauer’s 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 type—and 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 Amtrak’s 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. I’m not one to willingly leave a 5:00 a.m. wake-up call at a hotel to go photograph a train—I’m not that dedicated—but that’s 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 latte’s. 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, 1992, RMC.

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 Cicero’s 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 locomotive.

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 detailing possibilities.

The cars come decorated for the same commuter districts as the AEM7, as well as in the Amtrak scheme introduced in the early 1980’s. A coach-dinette which has the same window arrangement as the full diner, is also available. The only real accession to modeling’s 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.

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