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This review is from Model Railroad News, Vol. 5, Issue 12, December 1999. Reprinted with permission of Lamplight Publishing.

Atlas O Amtrak Horizon Cars

Review by David Otte

Trailing behind their release of the AEM-7 electric locomotive are Atlas O’s new scale length, O gauge Amtrak Horizon passenger cars. Two different styles of cars are available: coach and dinette. Both cars are available in 3-rail and 2-rail versions.

Atlas O is offering a set of Horizon cars which include two unique numbered coaches and a dinette. Both coaches and dinette are being sold separately as well, and each is available in two different road numbers.

Horizon History

Under the flurry of the news media and public officials, Amtrak unveiled the first of its new Horizon fleet equipment at Washington Union Station on April 11, 1989. The squarish looking passenger car featured smooth, brushed aluminum sides. The new cars stood out from the special consist of round and fluted Budd built Amfleet cars that had been assembled for the occasion. The Horizon coach, numbered 54000, would be the first of a 104 car order that Amtrak would place in an effort to relieve their passenger car equipment shortage.

The history of the Horizon car design can be traced back to a Pullman Standard design known as the Comet. These cars were first produced in the early 1960s for the Erie Lackawanna for commuter service. In the mid 1980s, these cars went through a redesign phase and the result was the Comet II. Montreal based Bombardier Corporation, who had purchased the manufacturing rights to these cars early on, began production of the Comet II for many of the commuter lines including NJ TRANSIT, SEPTA, and Metro Boston Transit.

When Amtrak found themselves in need of both extra cars as well as replacements for their aging Heritage fleet, they turned to Bombardier’s Comet II coach for a starting point. Several modifications had to be made to the commuter car design to facilitate long distance travel. The most noticeable change externally are the better ring General Steel Industries coil sprung trucks used on the Superliner II cars. Internally, the cars could seat 77-82 passengers and were equipped with: automatic end doors for easy passenger movement between cars, two restrooms at one end of every car, and overhead luggage racks. The cars measured 85’-3" in length, 10’-6" wide and weighed more than 800,000 pounds. Of the 104 car order that Amtrak placed with Bombardier, 86 were coaches and 18 food-service cars. Today, the Horizon cars can be seen in use on many intermediate distance trains throughout the Midwest and Western United States.

The Atlas O Horizon Cars

Right out of the box, my first impressions of the Atlas O models focused on just how long these cars appeared! At 21.25" long, they are to full scale length. I don’t believe any other O gauge manufacturer to date has produced a prototypically correct scale length 85’ passenger car in plastic. Most of the cars presently being manufactured in O gauge are, at most, 18" in length or a scale 72’. The other dimensions of the cars also compared well with the real car coming in at 3.25" tall and 2.625" wide.

Atlas O passenger cars consist of a durable injection molded body with a metal underframe. All the major features of the Horizon car can be identified on the model including; the fluted roof, the different window placements for both the dinette car and the coach, end and side doors, and roof top vents. Correct plastic underbody details are also present, with unique equipment appropriate only for the dinette added to that car. Black rubber diaphragms are also installed on either end of the cars.

Some of the more notable details on the Atlas O models include: separately applied metal hand grabs, the representation of black window gaskets around all the windows, and full car interiors. Both styles of cars have the suitable coach style seats or tables and chairs, and are molded in blue plastic. The die cast four wheel trucks are very good copies of the Superliner II trucks and come equipped with metal wheels and axles. The only details I could find lacking are the door latches or handles located on the side entry doors. Unlike the Comet II commuter car, which utilizes automated side doors, the Horizon car side doors are operated manually.

The assemble and decoration of the Horizon cars is as to be expected on an Atlas O model—superb! The horizon cars were delivered in the Amtrak phase 3 paint scheme of equal width red, white, and blue bands on a silver mist body. Atlas O has given their version of these cars a top quality paint job with an ultra smooth paint application and clean parting lines between the patriotic bands of color. All colors appear top be opaque including the lettering, which is extremely crisp and completely legible down to the small watch your step on the vestibule steps. Amtrak has numbered their Horizon coaches 54000-54071 and the dinette cars 53500-53509. All of the Atlas O road numbers being offered correctly fall into these ranges.

Coupling them up to the Atlas O AEM-7, we sent our 3-rail review sample set around the test track to see how they performed. The most important thing to remember about these cars is that they are l-o-n-g! Make sure you have enough clearance on either side of the right-away near curves and around switches. Although the minimum operating radius is O54, there is still quite a bit of overhang. While no problems, were encountered on our O54 radius test track, the cars looked much better on O72 curves or greater.

The cars rolled smoothly right out of the box, but the manufacturer does recommend lubricating the axles where they meet the bearings at the side frames, as well as the roller pickups, with a light oil. The manually operated, truck mounted, metal couplers worked well too, with no unintended uncoupling accidents to report.

A nice feature of the Atlas O Horizon fleet is the interior illumination. Atlas O has designed this system with overhead lighting to give a more realistic look to the cars. The results look great, with the interiors glowing nicely, and are visible even in a well lit room. There is a third rail roller pickup mounted to each die cast truck which aids in keeping the lighting constant while moving over track joints and through switches.

Located on one end of each car are operating end-of-car lights (the opposite ends have lenses, but they do not function.) The bright, red lights may be turned on or off depending on the position of the passenger car in your consist by means of a slide switch on the underside of the car.

The new O scale Horizon cars are another great example of Atlas O’s dedication to bringing the O gauge modelers the highest quality and most accurate models possible, while maintaining 3-rail track operations. I think anyone who likes passenger trains will really appreciate these fine renditions of modern Amtrak equipment. These cars are not only good with the Atlas O AEM-7, but make fine additions to any other O scale Amtrak motive power currently offered.

As a footnote, Atlas O will also be offering the commuter car counterpart to the Horizon coach—the Comet II. The Comet II commuter offerings will include two car configurations: coach and cab control car for push-pull trains. The cab car will have the additional features of operating horn, bell and strobe lights. The Comet II cars will be available both individually, or in a three pack, and come decorated for: SEPTA, MARC, NJ TRANSIT, MBTA and Metro North.

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