review is from O Gauge Railroading, January 2000. Reprinted with permission of
Myron J. Biggar Group.
O Comet II and Horizon
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 1960s, 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 Bostons
MBTA, New York Citys Metro North, Philadelphias SEPTA and Montreals
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 MTHs 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.
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, Amtraks 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
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
colorsvirtually all the details are there, and the models match prototype
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
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 trucks 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 cant 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 youd 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 thingespecially
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 Ive seen, the Horizon cars, like the Atlas O models,
appear to be painted in Amtraks 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 its 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 thats hard to duplicate on a
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 thats 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
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
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 Ive 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 thats 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 Amtraks Horizon Fleet by Bob Birkholz in the November 1992 issue of
Railroad Model Craftsman.