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This review is from Model Railroad News, March 2002. Reprinted with permission of Lamplight Publishing.

THE ATLAS O DASH 8-40B LOCOMOTIVE

by David Otte

With each new locomotive release, Atlas O has introduced some new features that only further enhances their beautiful O scale models. Their last release, the SD-35, included TrainMaster Command Control and RailSounds, is a great leap forward in moving the 3-rail industry to a standard control system. Atlas O’s newest release, the General Electric Dash 8-40B, is equipped not only with TMCC and RS 4.0, but a new operating diesel exhaust unit.

Moving us O gaugers ever closer to realism, the Dash 8 model is available in both 3-rail and 2-rail versions (less TMCC and RS 4.0). Road names include:  Burlington Northern Santa Fe, CSX, Cotton Belt, LMX, Norfolk Southern, Santa Fe, Union Pacific and an undecorated version. Two road numbers are available per road name.

GE’s Dash 8

The ultimate in four-axle (B-B) locomotive design, the success of the Dash 8-40B is in no small part due to the persistence of General Electric in creating a line of high horsepower four-axle locomotives. While EMD was limited to a 3000 hp prime mover for powering their B-B design, the GP40 series, GE had developed a 3300 hp four-axle locomotive within their Universal Locomotive series in 1967, the U33B. Two years later, GE was able to squeeze another 200 hp out of their prime mover design with the release of the U36B. But sales remained slow for both manufacturers with regards to four axle diesels. By the 1970s, six-axle (C-C) locomotives were dominating the rails, as an emerging need for hauling high tonnage commodities such as coal became the norm.

With the end of the decade, though, another type of traffic was being seen on railroads in ever increasing quantities in the form of piggyback loads. Intermodal traffic would triple between 1960 and 1980. Railroads began looking at high horsepower B-B truck locomotives for high- speed piggyback service. Why four-axle over six-axle unites you ask? Piggyback trains are rather lightweight compared to regular freight trains. Great tractive effort, as a six-axle unit delivered, was not at issue, but speed was important to such a time sensitive commodity. After all, the railroads were directly competing with the trucking industry. What was more important was horsepower, because the higher the horsepower, the faster the train.

This rekindled interest in the B-B design put EMD into a position of looking for a new series of four-axle power. The result was the 3500 hp GP50. GE, already in the game with their U36B, countered with an improved 3600 hp version, the B36-7. The Dash 7 series saw many improvements including greater reliability and better fuel consumption over its EMD counterpart. The GP50, on the other hand, was plagued with maintenance problems. EMD began to see GE cut into their locomotive sales. As Intermodal traffic continued to grow in the mid 1980s, both manufacturers continued to develop B-B power. In turn, EMD released the 3800 hp GP60 while GE continued to make improvements to their existing line culminating in the Dash 8 series. By 1988, GE had squeezed 4000 hp out of their Dash 8 series prime mover leaving EMD a lap behind in this high horsepower race.

Much of the success of the Dash 8-40B can be attributed to the new microprocessor controls that maximize tractive effort and fuel consumption by constantly evaluating and adjusting auxiliary systems such as cooling fans, traction motor blowers, and air compressors. By the spring of 1989 151 Dash 8-40Bs would be built. Railroads purchasing the GE units included Conrail, Santa Fe, New York Susquehanna & Western, and Cotton Belt. A variation of the Dash 8-40B was also put into production in 1990 featuring the North American Safety Cab and designated the Dash 8-40BW.

The Atlas O Dash 8

Atlas O has been pretty consistent with past locomotive releases in bringing us O gaugers accurate scale models with a level of detail other companies are still striving to meet. The Dash 8 is no different. The usual high quality construction includes die cast metal chassis, sill, fuel tank, pilots, trucks, and couplers; metal handrails and stanchions; and a highly detailed injection molded plastic body.

Measuring 16 inches long over the end platforms, the model dimensions out to within about a scale 1 foot of the prototype’s overall dimensions. As we have come to expect, all the proper access doors, handles, latches, rivets, hinges, air intakes, panel line, and grab irons are accounted for on the body shell. I was especially impressed with how Atlas O modeled the screen and vent openings, and all the molded on details. For example, the radiator wings on the roof of the locomotive have grid-like vent openings in them with what appears to be screen mesh beneath the frames, but it is all molded as one piece. Furthermore, if you hold the engine up in a well-lit area you can see the profile of the radiator cooling fan shroud behind the radiator air intake grill just under the radiator wings. Again this is a molded-on detail! That is why Atlas O has become one of the leaders in the O gauge market; they take that extra little step to make sure the detail is all there.

Separately applied detail parts include:  MU cables, snow plow, horn, antenna, wind-shield wipers, fourteen different hand grabs, uncoupling bars, brake wheel, non-functioning rotary beacon, air hoses, air reservoir tanks, and cab sunshades. Painted crew figures are seated in the cab. The pilot steps have see through perforated holes and the walk ways feature realistic looking molded on tread plate. Perhaps most impressive of all are the truck side frames. Not only are they fantastic replicas of the GE FB types trucks, but also they feature separately applied brake cylinders, air lines, struts, speed recorder, and sanding lines to each wheel. On the lead truck they have even included the manual brake hardware and chain.

Our review sample looks quite business-like in its blue and yellow Santa Fe Warbonnet freight scheme. The Santa Fe purchased forty Dash 8-40Bs between 1988 and 1989. Originally numbered 7410-7449, most of the units are still in service today on the Burlington Northern Santa Fe. Although the Santa Fe Dash 8s were delivered with nose-mounted headlights and rooftop-mounted air conditioners – something the model does not take into account – the Santa Fe Atlas O version is splendid in appearance.

The paint application is excellent as always. The yellow, a difficult color to paint with, is completely opaque and not applied too thick as to diminish the details of the model. The parting lines between the blue and yellow are sharp and there is no over spray. All lettering, including the Santa Fe Cigar Band on the nose, is extremely crisp and smoothly applied. Just as they are no the Santa Fe prototypes, the Atlas O model has “Danger 600 Volts” signage posted on the appropriate access doors as well as other signs denoting fuel fills, brake cylinder cut off cocks, lube oil cooler drain, and so on. Proudly displayed on either side of the front of the Dash 8 are true replicas of the GE builder’s plates.

Operation

The minimum radius the Atlas O Dash 8 will operate on is O36. During our testing session, we ran the locomotive over Lionel tubular rail O42 and the Atlas O’s O54 curve/switches and encountered no derailments or clearance problems. Generally, the Dash 8 performs as expected, running just as smoothly as its Atlas O predecessor locomotives A consistent low speed of about a scale 15 mph as achieved without load and a high-end speed of well over a scale 100 mph was experienced. The drive system consists of twin can motors with flywheels and metal gearing. One set of wheels on each truck utilizes traction tires and this, along with the fact that the Dash 8 weighs 6 pounds, means you can pull dozens of freight cars without tasking this engine a bit. In conventional mode, we tested the Atlas O model with a MTH Z4000 transformer. To my surprise the Dash 8 ran and sounded relatively well under the MTH power supply. The only anomaly was that the functions of the bell button and whistle button were reversed. In the past we have found the mix of MTH and TMCC/RailSound equipped locomotive  to be less than favorable.

When operating under Command Control, we were able to experience the full features of the Dash 8:  multi-horn sounds, mechanical bell, Crewtalk, TowerCom, four diesel-roar levels, and ElectroCouplers. Everything worked as advertised except for the squealing brake feature. When I depressed the brake button on the CAB-1 remote, the train slowed down, but no sounds could be heard. I tried on several occasions and even reprogrammed the Atlas O engine to factory presets as described in the instruction manual, but without success. Through my previous experience with the RailSounds system, my guess is that this problem is probably just a glitch in our sample and not a common problem. But on a more positive note, Atlas has made the RailSounds back up battery much more accessible than it was on their SD-35 model (see the March 2001 issue of Model Railroad News). The top of the radiator pulls up and a 9-volt alkaline battery easily slips right into the compartment.

The lighting effects of the Atlas O Dash 8 include constant directional lighting (in Command mode), operating headlights, marker lights, and ditch lights. The ditch lights are a bit oversized compared to prototype practice, but they definitely add to the lighting effect and look good while the engine is in operation. All of the lighting features work as they are supposed to and are plenty bright enough to be seen in a well-lit room.

The newest feature to come the way of Atlas O is their diesel exhaust unit. Smoke units have started to become pretty much a standard on O gauge diesel locomotive models so it was only a matter of time before it would show up on an Atlas O model. The smoke unit is fan driven and it blows out plenty of smoke. A switch located on the underside of the cab will allow the operator to turn the unit off if no smoke is desired. However, smoke fluid does not come with the Dash 8. Any Lionel or MTH compatible smoke fluid will do.

Conclusions

Bottom line, there is nothing negative to say about Atlas O’s latest release. They have totally lived up to their reputation and have even gone a step further with the Dash 8. Atlas O’s ability to create a highly detailed, accurate model crossed with RailSounds, TMCC, and now a smoke unit, add up to a winning combination. Check out the Dash 8 at your local Atlas O dealer today and see this new model in person. You won’t be disappointed!

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