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


Review by David Otte

Modeling contemporary railroading can be difficult especially in a larger scale like O. Full 1/48 scale modern freight cars such as intermodal flats and stack trains can require super wide radius curves to operate on smoothly. This has left many O gaugers with small layouts unable to recreate freight consists like those visible to them on the rails today. Atlas O, who has been providing both 3-railer and 2-railers with present-day scale equipment, has come up with a small intermodal prototype that is useable on almost any O gauge layout:  the Front Runner.

Prototype Information

When piggyback service began by the railroads back in the 1950s, truck trailers were short enough that they could be hauled on standard size flat cars. As trailer lengths began to increase, so did flat cars. Eight-five, 86 and 89 foot flats became the norm, but as trailers approached 45 and 48 foot lengths, the railroads began to see a problem. No  longer could two trailers fit on a flat. Trailers would need to be hauled on single flats, which were less cost effective. So the railroads called on the car builders to come up with new innovative rail cars for piggyback service that would combat these increased operating expenses at a time of expanding rivalry. After all, the railroads were in direct competition with over-the-road trucking.

Trailer Train, known today simply as TTX, answered the request for trailer-on-flatcar (TOFC) equipment. The company, who provides intermodal car pool service to the railroads, contracted with various car builders to construct several thousand skeletonized freight cars called Front Runners. These four wheeled trailer-on-flatcars were constructed with a backbone like center sill which supports the single-axle rail trucks, the end platforms, the tire-carrying platforms, and a non-retractable trailer hitch. Front Runners can carry trailers 40 to 48 feet in length with or without front mounted refrigeration units. Load capacity is 65,000 pounds per unit. These lightweight cars, which average only 26,000 pounds, have a length over the end sills of 50 feet 6 inches.

The Front Runners went into production in 1983 with several manufacturers supplying cars based on this single design including:  Pacific Car & Foundry, Portec, Thrall Car Co., Trinity Industries, and Bethlehem Steel. Trailer Train originally designated these cars as TTUX, but sometime in the early 1990s TTX changed the markings to read TTOX. Front Runners can be found almost anywhere other Intermodal equipment is used. Some railroads run them together in groups, or they may be found indiscriminately scattered throughout a train’s consist.

While some Front Runners still remain in use, it appears that they are going to be retired soon from intermodal service. Today, containers without trailers hauled in Stack unit trains have become a much more cost-effective method of transport. Unlike TOFC flats and the articulated four-runner piggyback trains that can carry either trailers or containers, Front runners are designed only to haul trailers due to their rigid hitch stand. In fact, the Museum of Transport in St. Louis, MO recently received a Front runner (TTOX #130059) for their collection donated to them by the TTX Corporation.

The Atlas O Front Runner is a fine replica of the prototype. Measuring 12-5/8 inches along over the end platforms and 2-1/4 inches wide over the tire platforms, they have captured the size of this car exactly. The full size version’s 28 inch diameter wheels and 36 foot 6 inch wheelbase have been adhered to a well. The end platforms, tire platforms, and center sill are integrated into a single metal casting. See-through perforated deck plating has been added to the tops of the end platforms as well as a brake stand. Separately applied parts also include: hand grabs, stirrup steps, ladders, trailer hitch, and brake gear with piping.

The single-axle trucks and couplers are also made of die-cast metal. Atlas O has chosen to model the UIC (International Union of Railways) type truck, which is based on a European design. This was the most common arrangement found on Front Runners and is identified by the large leaf springs above each wheel set. The other truck arrangement, called a Uni-Truck II, differs in appearance most noticeably by the coil springs located on either side of the roller bearings (the Museum of Transport’s Front Runner has this style of truck). Rounding out the truck details are the plastic air hoses extending out alongside the magnetically operated knuckle couplers and brake shoes mounted behind the wheels.

All the die-cast metal used on this model has given this skeleton constructed car a nice heft to it. As a result there is no problem running this car empty, even on the minimum radius O36 carves. To help properly track the model on curves, Atlas O has added a centering spring to each truck to keep it from derailing. Although scale equipment usually looks out of place on small radius track, the opportunity is here for O scalers with small layouts to operate this unique freight car design.

A bonus received with the Atlas O Front Runner is a model of a 45 foot Pines Trailer. This prototype is typical of truck trailers currently used in the industry. The 11-1/4 inch long trailer is a faithful replica boasting full rivet detail, optional support legs (extended or retracted), a moveable wheel unit, and operating rear doors. This last detail is really something as Atlas O has provided for actual working hinges, latches, and moveable locking bars.

The quality of assembly and decoration of both pieces is perfect, something that I have come to expect from Atlas O.  The Front Runner’s paint scheme follows TTX practices and the car is appropriately numbered for TTUX 145290, which was a car constructed by Trinity in January 1985. While the review sample came with a trailer decorated for XTRA Lease, other trailers available include: Burlington Motor Carriers, CSX, Vermont Railway, and undecorated. Four car and trailer numbers are available for each trailer décor.

Atlas O has been producing a great mix of freight cars and the Front Runner will be a notable standout for any O gauge collection. Couple up a string of these behind Atlas O’s recent Dash 8-40B release and you have a late 1980s era pig train to operate. The Front Runner is also available in 2-rail so every O scaler can sample this well crafted model.

Front Runner with 45 Pine Trailer

MSRP:  3-rail $69.95; 2-rail $72.95







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