ATLAS O Home Page

 

This review is from O Gauge Railroading, January 2000. Reprinted with permission of Myron J. Biggar Group.

Atlas O Comet II and Horizon
Passenger Cars

Review by Barry Lewis

In typical Atlas fashion, as with its first passenger cars, the company marched to the beat of a slightly different drummer. Produced as a companion to the AEM-7 locomotive (reviewed elsewhere in this issue), these are the first plastic ready-to-run passenger cars made to full scale length. At 85 scale feet (21.5"), they really convey the massiveness of O gauge and the slim beauty of prototype passenger cars. Atlas has gone the distance to make these true scale models, even duplicating the black rubber gaskets around each window. Before we look at the models in detail, a word about the prototype.

Prototype Commuter Cars

The Comet II commuter cars and Horizon Fleet Amtrak cars modeled by Atlas O are descended from an old Pullman Standard design called the Comet. In the 1960’s, when few railroads were ordering passenger cars, the Bombardier company purchased the Comet design from Pullman to manufacture commuter cars for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad.

Beginning in 1980, Bombardier manufactured the prototype Atlas O has modeled an upgraded Comet II car that proved popular with commuter railroads around Boston’s MBTA, New York City’s Metro North, Philadelphia’s SEPTA and Montreal’s Societe de Transport de la Communaute Urbain De Montreal, as well as with the Connecticut Department of Transpiration, NJ TRANSIT and others.

I ride these cars into Boston every day and their spacious, comfortable for a commuter car, and dependable. Unlike commuter cars of old, the Comets have heating and air conditioning that really works! A distinguishing characteristic of these cars is windows that are relatively small in height. From inside, however, they provide a good view without making one feel claustrophobic. Comet II seating on most commuter railroads is three-two, with a fairly narrow aisle, accommodating 130 passengers.

Bombardier also makes a cab version of the Comet for push-pull commuter operations such as those in Connecticut, Montreal and New Jersey. In push-pull service, the locomotive pulls the train in only one direction. In the other direction, the locomotive pushes the train backward controlled remotely from a cab in the last coach. The can car has a duplicate set of controls in one vestibule, as well as headlights, bell and horn. Boston also has push-pull operation, but the cab cars are not Comets.

In SEPTA and NJ TRANSIT commuter service, Comet II cars are hauled by the AEM7/ALP44 locomotives Atlas O has modeled. In Maryland, MARC AEM7s head up trains of Japanese-built cars that are ver similar to the Comets, except the MARC cars have fluted sides. The paint scheme on Atlas MARC cars is quite accurate.

Atlas has also modeled Comet cars that do not have matching AEM7s, as a suitable complement to commuter diesels made by other manufacturers. The Boston MBTA cars would look particularly good behind MTH’s recent F40PH in MBTA colors. Although we did not test them, we understand the Atlas O MBTA cars will have their car numbers on the roof and stripes that wrap around the ends, like the prototype.

Amtrak Prototypes

Between 1988 and 1990, nearly a decade after its original Amfleet cars were delivered, Amtrak purchased 104 Comet-style cars for service in the west and Mid-West. Dubbed the Horizon Fleet, Amtrak'’ cars share the same body style as the Comet commuter cars, with modifications to make them more comfortable for immediate and long-distance runs. Horizon coaches feature two-two seating with wider aisles and more legroom than Comet cars; a Horizon coach seats between 77 and 82 passengers.

For smoother riding, Amtrak’s cars use Superliner II trucks, similar to those used under the Superliners and some Amtrak baggage cars. The outside frame, roller bearing trucks have a familiar passenger-car appearance. Comet commuter cars, on the other hand, use an inboard-bearing truck similar to those used under Amfleet cars, with fully visible wheels that have almost a toy train look.

The Amtrak Horizon Fleet also includes full diners and dinette coaches. Both diner versions share the same exterior, with a windowless area in the center of the car where the kitchen/serving counter is located.

Horizon cars are most familiar to travelers in the Milwaukee, Chicago, Twin Cities, Los Angeles and Oakland areas. A Chicago-area photo in a recent Trains magazine showed a Genesis engine pulling a mixed consist of Amfleet and Horizon cars, and Horizon cars can even be found mixed with double-deck Superliners. Compared to the Amfleet cars with their tubular airplane-style profile, Horizon fleet cars have a hefty, squared-off, slightly old-fashioned look.

Appearance

My son Nicholas and I gave these cars a true acid test: we took them to our local commuter station and held them up next to the real thing. They passed with flying colors—virtually all the details are there, and the models match prototype dimensions.

The most striking detail of these cars, and the place where many other passenger cars fall short, is the window treatment. Atlas O has managed to model the black rubber gaskets around each window and paint them perfectly. This goes a long way toward making these cars look like the real thing. The window glass is also slightly tinted, in prototypical fashion.

End detail on these cars is very well done, with rows of rivets in all the right places, and marker lights modeled with red LEDs. There are rubber diaphragms in two different styles: accordion-type for Amtrak cars and tubular rubber for commuter cars. End hand grabs are modeled with metal wire, as are the side door handrails. On the cab end of the commuter cab cars, there are finely detailed windshield wipers are well as headlights, rooftop strobe lights and horns.

Underbody details on the prototype varies somewhat from railroad to railroad; Atlas O has modeled a configuration that is accurate for most of the commuter operations, and very close for the Amtrak version. Some of the electrical cabinets under the car are thin panels found under the prototype. The Amtrak dinette model includes the extra underbody gear used on real food service cars.

The Comet II cars feature the correct inboard-bearing trucks, with a separate casting for the "outrigger" details that are part of the truck’s suspension. This casting is made of rugged "engineering plastic" for durability, as Atlas O found that many operators pick their cars up by the trucks. The downside of this is that engineering plastic is slippery and can’t be painted, so that the parts have a slightly shiny plastic look compared to the metal truck body and wheels.

In similar fashion, the Amtrak cars have correct die-cast metal Superliner outside frame trucks, with an engineering plastic detail piece. However, in keeping with the Atlas O penchant for super-detailing, I would like to have seen these trucks have see-through side frames with separate springs, like Atlas O freight trucks, rather than the one-piece sideframe casting they do not have.

Interior details on the coaches consist of blue plastic insert with full seating in the coaches and tables and chairs in the dinette. The serving counter in the center of the food car is also modeled, but you’d be hard pressed to see it, as that part of the car is windowless. The addition of some plastic seated figures from Circus Craft, or the beautiful new plastic passengers from Arttista designed especially for car interiors, would be the finishing touch in making these cars look like the real thing—especially when rolling by at night with their fully lit interiors.

On the MARC and Amtrak samples we tested, paint work was excellent: cleanly applied with no flaws. Stripes on both versions were very neatly done with sharp borders between the colors. As mentioned earlier, the black coloring of the window gaskets was a painting tour de force. Lettering also was quite sharp, including the tiny "watch your step" notice on each stairway.

The Amtrak paint scheme matches prototype pictures exactly, and the colors look to be quite accurate. From the photos I’ve seen, the Horizon cars, like the Atlas O models, appear to be painted in Amtrak’s platinum mist color. The MBTA cars I ride daily have a brushed stainless steel finish in the non-striped areas that looks virtually like gray paint, especially when it’s a bit dirty (which is always). Thus a painted model is quite realistic for the Comet or Horizon cars, more so than, for example, an Amfleet car that has a very reflective stainless steel finish that’s hard to duplicate on a plastic model.

Performance

Without sacrificing much detail, Atlas O has managed to enable these very long cars to negotiate O54 curves. However, they hang out quite a bit over the track on this radius, and look considerably more graceful on wider curves like O72. From an appearance standpoint, the Horizons look good mixed in trains with MTH Amfleet car, but the difference in length is certainly noticeable. At 18:, the shorter-than scale MTH cars are a good 3" shorter than the Atlas O cars.

The Atlas cars track smoothly, but weight in on the heavy side at 2 pounds, 7.5 ounces per car. The NMRA recommended weight for a car of this length is about 1 pound, 11 ounces, but that’s easier said than done in a car with interior detail and lighting, plus a metal channel floor for the stiffness needed in a car of this length. Six of these cars would make a very impressive commuter or Amtrak consist nearly 11’ long, and would be any easy load for the Atlas O AEM7 or any of the appropriate two-motored Genesis or commuter engines currently available.

The die-cast Atlas O couplers are mounted to the trucks in the same manner as most current passenger truck models, with the coupler swiveling on the truck to allow for tighter curves, and a flat metal activation plate in the center of the truck for magnetic uncoupling.

Lighting and Sounds

These cars are an impressive sight on a darkened layout. Interior lighting appears to be constant-intensity as it varies little with track voltage. The lights reach virtually full intensity at about 8 volts, although they do brighten just a bit more if the voltage is run up to a full 18 volts. The Atlas O cars are thus a good match for engines running under either conventional control or command control (Lionel TMCC or Atlas Locomatic command with a constant 18 volts on the rails: see the AEM7 review in this issue). Six overhead bulbs in the coaches and four in the diner provide even illumination; the windowless center of the diner is unlit.

Each car also features working red LED marker lights on one end. The lights at the other end are similarly modeled with red LEDs that are not wired up. An on-off switch on the bottom of the car allows the markers to be turned off on all cars except the last in the train.

Commuter cab control cars are available in two styles of lighting. The deluxe version, sold as a separate item, has the same lighting and sound features as the Atlas AEM7 locomotive; headlight when running with the cab car forward, red markers in reverse, bell and horn, and strobe lights that flash when the bell or horn is sounded. unless shut off manually, the bell and horn work simultaneously with the locomotive bell and horn.

The standard version cab car, included with the three-car sets, does not include sound or strobe lights. A switch under the car determines whether the headlights or marker lights are illuminated in the cab end of the car.

In sum, I think these are the nicest plastic passenger cars I’ve seen yet, in terms of fidelity to the prototype, quality of paint work and lightning features. The goal of Atlas O is clearly to produce full scale models that happen to run well on 3-rail as well as 2-rail track, with all the detail that’s possible in a mass-produced piece at a reasonable price that will take some handling. The only drawback to these cars is that full-length passenger equipment is long and requires big curves to look right. Other than that, the Atlas O cars are a perfect match for their own AEM7 and a host of Amtrak commuter engines from other manufacturers.

Some prototype information for this review came from Jim Weaver of Atlas O and from an article on Amtrak’s Horizon Fleet by Bob Birkholz in the November 1992 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman.

Now Shipping || Locate Dealer || Online Catalog
Contact Atlas O || Forum || Layouts || Product Reviews
Order Catalog
|| Become A Dealer || Atlas O Home Page

All information 1998 Atlas O, LLC