review is from Model Railroad News, Vol. 5, Issue 12, December 1999. Reprinted
with permission of Lamplight Publishing.
O Amtrak Horizon Cars
Review by David Otte
Trailing behind their release of the AEM-7 electric
locomotive are Atlas Os 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.
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 Bombardiers
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
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 dont 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
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 modelsuperb! 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
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 Os 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 coachthe 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.