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This review is from Model Railroader, January 2000. Reprinted with permission of Kalmbach Publishing Company.

More new O scale: a fine performing AEM7 and Horizon passenger cars

Conducted by Jeff Wilson

Atlas O has released an Amtrak AEM7 electric locomotive and companion Horizon passenger cars for two-rail O scale and three-rail. I reviewed the two-rail versions of the models. The locomotive runs beautifully and is very well detailed, even including cab detail and crew. The locomotive is available painted for all owners of prototype AEM7s and is also available in an ALP44 version of NJ TRANSIT.

The AEM& is a 7,000-hp monster capable of hauling passenger trains at speeds of 125 mph, yet it’s the size of a 50-foot boxcar. An Americanized version of a locomotive from the Swedish company ASEA, the AEM7 was built under license by General Motor’s ElectroMotive Division from 1979 to 1988. The electrical components came from ASEA while EMD provided the mechanical gear and final assembly. Budd built the carbodies for the first two Amtrak orders but then went out of the railroad business, so subsequent engines received bodies built by Simmering-Graz-Parker of Vienna, Austria. The ALP44 is the same locomotive but assembled entirely in Sweden. The main spotting feature of the ALP44 is slightly larger vents along the upper edge of the carbody.

There were some minor changes in the AEM7 over the years as well. Most AEM7s and ALP44s have four gills mounted alongside the boxy housing of the resister grids and above the carbody grills. Atlas O’s model lacks these grills, although they’d be fairly easy to add.

There have also been at least two styles of insulators supporting the pantographs. The model features a design that looks like a large coil spring. The other design looks like a mushroom. Prototype AEM7s appeared with both black and red ones, though Atlas O plans to offer red versions as an aftermarket item.

While the AEM7 may not be the sleekest design ever produced (railfans early on dubbed them "toasters"), they maintain the ugly charm that has endeared many railfans and modelers to boxcab electrics, The detail on the model is accurate and well rendered. All major dimensions are within an inch of those shown in drawings published in the June1993 MODEL RAILROADER. The glazing in the windows is clear and flush-mounted. Both cabs have interior detail, and one contains a crew. Headlights and red marker lights are directional but not constant.

The pilots have m.u. hoses and uncoupling levers. There’s a large opening below the Atlas O magnetic knuckle coupler that should be filled—there doesn’t seem to be any reason that it isn’t.

Grab irons are separate steel-wire pieces, and the roof detail is thorough, with the bare copper wire a particularly nice touch. If there’s any disappointment it’s the resistor-grid housing, which represents the grids with perforations on the side sheets. Even this is adequate for all but close inspection.

The white air-conditioning units really stand out against the solid black of the rest of the roof. A Little weathering and adding color to some of the other components would emphasize the detail and increase realism.

The pantographs are held down by small plastic clips which must be spread by hand to release. The model is wired for two-rail operation, but conversion to overhead operation is provided for. To do so, remove the shell by taking out the screws holding the pilots in place and the four screws located in deep holes below the outer wheelsets on each end. Two large black wires come up from each truck to the circuit board mounted to the roof. These are marked RPK1, RPK2 and LPK1 and LPK2. Following National Model Railroad Association’s standard S-5, cut the RPK leads and solder the ends from the circuit board to the soldering lugs on the pantograph mounting pins.

The drive system is similar to HO diesels. A large Pittman can motor with dual flywheels drives a gear tower on each truck. The trucks have die-cast metal sideframes. The cab steps, which are body mounted on the prototype, are separate castings that pin onto the side frames. The steps are painted blue and thus stand out nicely against the black trucks. The effect is quite good at a glance, but modelers with board curves may wish to body-mount the steps.

The wheels on the engine are specially made and have the bolt detail cast around the rim. All the wheelsets on our sample were slightly narrow in gauge. This was easily corrected by removing the four screws on the gearbox cover plate, pulling out the wheelset, and twisting and pulling the wheels to the correct gauge. I’d suggest a drop of CA (cyanoacrylate adhesive) on the insulated hub to hold the wheel in the new position. I did contact Atlas O about the narrow wheelsets and they were going to notify the factory.

Prototype electric locomotives are incredibly powerful for their size and Atlas O’s AEM7 imitates this well. The engine ways 4 pounds and exerts just over a pound of drawbar pull. I tested the companion Horizon cars and they required about 1 ounce of pull in order to get them moving and to of that to keep them going, so on level track the engine should handle a 16-car train with ease—that’s 30 feet of train.

The engine could creep T less than .25 mph. At 12 V it hit 100 mph, well below the prototype’s top end. However, it should be noted that O scalers routinely run higher voltages and the Pittman motor is rated at 24V. (Although we routinely think of 12V as the standard, the NMRA specifies that full throttle, at railhead "shall not be less that 12V.") At 15 V the engine hit 120.5 mph, and at that speed the engine will travel over 100 feet in 30 seconds—a capability few layouts could handle.

Horizon cars

The AEM7 runs in Amtrak’s electrified Northeast Corridor an on a few other Eastern commuter lines. The Horizon cars are a variation on an earlier commuter design known as the Comet (which Atlas O also plans to produce). The most obvious spotting difference is that Comets have inside bearing trucks and the Horizons travel an outside bearing trucks like those used on the Viewliners and the new Superliners. The change in trucks was because the Horizons were designed for service on long-haul runs as well as commuter service in the Northeast.

If you accept the dictum that beauty results when form follows function then the Horizon cars are beautiful. Beautiful or not, the Atlas O model admirably captures the utilitarian qualities of the prototype. The models include an illuminated interior that includes seats and vestibule walls in the coach, with tables, chairs, and kitchen vestibule walls in the dinette car.

The illumination is well done with six lamps in the coach. Each car also has illuminated red marker lamps at one end (non-lighted lamps at the other end) which can be turned off with a switch on the underbody. The marker lights lit at about 2.5 V and the interior lights at about.4V. All this light is not without cost, as each coach draws .2A to .4A. That may not seem like much but the AEM7 draws only .2A at 3V and only .7A at 12V.

Car detailing is well done with separate grab irons and well-sculpted fluting on the roof. Dimensions matched those in drawings published in Railroad Model Craftsman in November 1992.

Missing are any latches on the side doors, although they are thereon the end doors. This may be a result of basing some details on the Comet cars, which had electric side doors for easy commuter use and manual end doors to discourage between-car travel, while the long-distance Horizon cars were the reverse.

Underbody detail is represented by castings for the various cabinets along each side. Some of these are open on the back and most seem too shallow, though the effect from trackside is not too bad. The cast-metal truck sideframes have good relief and sharp detail. The suspension hangers are plastic castings that are press-fit onto the sideframes.

All wheelsets on our cars were wide in gauge, some just barely but most by about .010". To disassemble the trucks requires disassembling the car, not a simple task. I did so, but when I pressed the wheels to the correct back-to-back dimension they bound against the sheet metal frame that supports the electrical pickup. The only real solution would be to alter or discard this piece (the axles actually run in the sideframes).

The actual discrepancy is not great. I ran an unmodified car through an old Atlas turnout without trouble and suspect that most modelers will likewise find no performance problems. Given the difficulty of disassembly, I’d recommend testing cars on your layout and if performance is fine, don’t worry. I did call Atlas O and explained the situation. Atlas’ Jim Weaver said that they will follow up at the factory and said that they if modelers had a problem, they should contact Atlas directly.

Some people have wondered about the choice of prototype for a mass-produced model because of its regional appeal. It’s worth noting that the AEM7 won our informal poll for most-wanted electric locomotive several years ago and that no one has ever questioned the logic of producing a Pennsy K-4 even though it was certainly as regional. Overall both the AEM7 and the Horizon coaches are very well detailed models of modern prototypes. The engine deserves particular credit for good engineering and superb performance.

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