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Review by Dave Otte

GE Dash 8-32BHW Comes in Amtrak Colors
Dash 8-32BHW Locomotive
MSRP 3-rail:  $399.95; 2-rail $349.95

Atlas O, LLC
378 Florence Ave.
Hillside, NJ  07205
FAX 908-687-6282

Following up their release of the standard cab Dash 8-40B in early 2002, Atlas O announced the wide cab version of this General Electric B-B locomotive in two different versions as built for the Santa Fe and Amtrak. Unfortunately, these new releases were delayed due to a defect involving the motor mount (causing wheel binding at slower speeds) and all the units had to be returned to the factory. Luckily, Atlas O is one of those companies that we O gauge consumers can count on to take full responsibility for such situations and the wide cab Dash 8s are now available at dealers across the country.

 Atlas O is offering the Santa Fe version, designated a Dash 8-40BW in red and silver warbonnet paint, in the Burlington Northern Santa Fe warbonnet scheme, and in the BNSF’s Heritage colors of green and orange. The Dash 8-32BHW wears the colors of Amtrak in both the red, white, and blue “Pepsi can” scheme as well as the more recent Phase IV scheme. Each model is available in two different road numbers with an additional Amtrak Dash 8 decorated in blue, silver, yellow and orange for Amtrak California. As in the past, Atlas O will also offer these wide cab units for both 3-rail AC operation and 2-rail DC operation.

 Amtrak’s Dash 8-032BHW

In the prototype discussion of our March 2002 review of the Atlas O Dash 8-40B , we left off with GE being approached by the Santa Fe in 1990 to build a safety cab version of their high horsepower 4-axle diesel. It was also about this time when Amtrak began looking for a locomotive builder to take their motive power needs into the next century. General Electric won the bid with their radical design of what would become known as the Genesis locomotive or AMD-103. However, Amtrak was in immediate need to supplement their aging fleet of F40PHs. Part of the deal with GE was that the locomotive manufacture would deliver 20 interim locomotives by the middle of 1991. The Erie, Pennsylvania based company returned to their Dash 8-40B series. Redesigning a freight locomotive for passenger use was not new to the industry, but GE had to meet Amtrak’s weight and operations criteria. First, the 4,000 horsepower 16-cylinder power plant was replaced with a lighter weight 12-cylinder prime mover capable of producing 3200 horsepower. A second alternator rated at 800 kW was added for head end power and a safety cab similar to those used on Santa Fe’s Dash 8s was utilized. The fuel tank was also adjusted in size and placed further back on the underframe to keep the locomotive balanced. With a gear ratio of 74:29, the Dash 8-32BHW or P32BH, as Amtrak would call the new passenger engine, could reach speeds over 100 mph. Crews shortened their designation to “P32.”

 Carrying the 500 series roadnumbers, the P32s entered service in the fall of 1991. Originally the units were assigned to the Southwest and based out of Los Angeles pulling the San Diegans and the Southwest Chief. After a couple of years though, the fleet of 20 P32s could be seen pulling the Desert Wind, Sunset Limited, California Zephyr  and Coast Starlight. Two of the P32s were financed by the state of California and used by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). With the delivery of the Genesis (P40) locomotives, the P32s were regulated to other duties and currently can be found pulling a variety of locals and long distance trains, as well as being used for standby power and switching duties throughout the US.

 Atlas O’s Amtrak Dash 8

As you might expect, the new wide cab Dash 8s are very similar in the level of detail and accuracy as their earlier released brethren. The injected molded shells are rich in cast on details as are the die cast metal underframe, trucks, and pilots. As I mentioned in our previous review, one of the neatest details that shows off Atlas O’s tooling abilities is that you can see the profile of the radiator cooling fan shroud molded behind the radiator air intake grill just under the radiator “wings.” Our Amtrak P32 review sample had all those separately applied goodies as earlier reported, like metal hand grabs, metal railing, a snowplow, MU hoses, painted crew figures in the cab, window glazing, windshield wipers, coupler lift bars, and last but not least, expertly rendered GE floating bolster trucks. Dimensionally speaking, the wide cab model follows the proportions of the standard cab version except for it having a slightly greater height due to the safety cab. Again, the new model measures out in most areas to be within one scale inch of the prototype’s recorded specifications.

 While the two models have much in common, Atlas O has also made the appropriate deviations to stay true to the respective prototype. For our Amtrak Dash 8, this means that besides the obvious wide cab there are additional ride dampeners on the trucks, forward facing five-chime air horn, a blanked out section on the radiator exhaust grille, painted-on rear number boards, no grab irons on the end of the rear hood, smaller fuel tank with battery box and air reservoir tanks mounted in front of it, rear hood mounted brake wheel, end of train marker light between the cab number boards. The locomotive also features the dynamic brake exhaust located on the car side behind the cab (rather than on the roof as on the standard cab version) and a windowless cab nose door (the Santa Fe’s Dash 8-40BWs have windows in the doors). In other words, Atlas O didn’t just put a new cab on their existing model – they went all out with new tooling for the car body.

 The only discrepancies I noticed were the presence of some extra rooftop mounted hand grabs that do not appear on the prototype, as well as an extra antenna on the cab roof and cab sunshades, which I could find no evidence of Amtrak ever using on their Dash 8s. Also, the Amtrak P32s had a wheelbase about 6 inches shorter than the Dash 8-40Bs, but the Atlas O model’s wheelbase measures out to be the same as the standard cab unit’s at a scale 40 feet. The actual .125 inch error is hardly noticeable to the naked eye, though.

 Our P32 sample was just as well decorated as our Dash 8 sample. In fact, the more sophisticated Amtrak “Pepsi can” scheme, as it has become known as, is just beautiful, and I have no complaints with its execution. It is a shame to say that sometime in 2000, Amtrak began repainting these units into the Phase IV or Northeast Corridor scheme, so this model represents a P32 up until that time. Our model is numbered for #509, which as of the end of 2003 was working out in Oakland, California operating on Train 11. In fact, the last time I checked, all of Amtrak’s Dash 8s are still in service.

 As with the previous releases, the Atlas O Amtrak locomotive is equipped with two can motors with flywheels, is all wheel drive and comes equipped with TrainMaster Command Control and RailSounds 4.0. Our review model operated without flaw on our test layout with O36 diameter curves – the minimum radius suggested by Atlas O. Just as we experienced with the standard cab model back in March 2002, slow speed operation without a load was a little fast at scale 15 mph, but it managed a train of six Atlas O Horizon scale length coaches quite well. Most importantly, it appears to this reviewer that Atlas O has definitely solved their motor mount problem, as no wheel binding occurred during our test sessions.

 As always, the RailSound system provided for a great audio presence on the layout with a rich sounding diesel roar and realistic horn and bell. The model also features ElectroCouplers and a great operating exhaust unit, which provided plenty smoke when the locomotive was in motion and automatically decreased output when it was at idle.

 Finally, we come to the lighting effects on this model. They operate a little bit different from other TainMaster locomotives I have experienced in the past. When I first operated the locomotive, the headlights did not come on – that is when I decided to actually read the instructions for a change! Special note included with the usual operator’s manual filled me in on the problem I had encountered; after selecting the ID number, the “AUX 2” button needed to be pressed. This not only addresses the locomotive, but also starts up the prime mover and turns on the front headlight as well as the ditch lights.

 The ditch lights, which are bright white LEDs , are really cool looking and when the horn is blown, they flash momentarily. In addition to this, the Atlas O engine also has working classification lights. When these are turned on, they appear green on the front of the Dash 8 and red on the rear. Then when the direction of the locomotive is reversed, the cab class lights turn red along with the end of train light between the numberboards and the rear lights green. Again, this is a neat feature which is only available on the Amtrak version, as it is not prototypical on the Santa Fe wide cabs.

 Final Thoughts

In a nutshell, if you liked the first Dash 8 release, you are going to love these wide cab versions. While I did not get a chance to see the Santa Fe version up close, I will assume, based on Atlas O’s reputation, that they are as nice as the Amtrak P32 we sampled. However, this new model represents more than just another feather in Atlas O’s cap. Because the wide cab models suffered from a defective part, Atlas O took responsibility for it as soon as the problem was analyzed, and they dealt with it in a professional manner. This says a lot to me about this company. The O gauge consumer can certainly feel at ease that when they purchase a $400 locomotive from Atlas O, it is a quality made product truly backed up 100 percent by the manufacturer.



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