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This review appeared in Model Railroad News, January, 1999. Reprinted with permission of Lamplight Publishing Company.


Having had the experience of reviewing Atlas O’s impressive new track system and rolling stock, I highly anticipated the arrival of the young company’s first entry into the O gauge motive power market-the EMD SW8/SW9 locomotive. Atlas O is offering the ready-to-run switcher in both 2-rail and 3-rail versions.

Roadnames are being offered with two different roadnames and include: (SW8 models) Atlantic Coast Line, Chicago and Northwestern, Erie Lackawana, Great Northern, New York Central, Texas and Pacific, Canadian Pacific; (SW9 models) Boston and Maine, Central of New Jersey, Chesapeake and Ohio, Pennsylvannia, Union Pacific, and Western Pacific. Undecorated models are available as well.


When EMD introduced their 567 series engine in 1938, they began a long line of successful selling switcher locomotives that would be produced well into the 1960s. The SW8 and SW9 models were both based on the 567B variant engine and shared the same fram and car body. Externally they can be distinguished by the SW8’s lack of a rear exhaust stack. Internally though, the SW8 had an 800 horesepower eight cylinder engine, and the SW9, a 1200 horsepower twelve cylinder engine.

The SW8 was manufactured from September, 1950, through January, 1954. The SW9 was manufactured from November, 1950, through December, 1953. Both models were replaced by EMD with the SW600/900/1200 group switchers – the last of the 567 series. A total of 371 SW8s, and 815 SW9s were produced. These locomotives were used throughout the United States and Canada by almost all the major railroads and can still be found in service today.

SW8/9 in O gauge

The new Atlas O model is an extremely accurate reproduction of these EMD switchers. Comparing the O gauge model to prototype drawings and photos, I found all the important details to be present. The correct number of service doors, louver rows, and lifting eyes were on the hood. All the hand grabs were accounted for. The proper style bell and bracket were used. The often over-looked pulley cover housing the traction motor blowere offset, which is located on the right side of the hood in front of the cab, was replicated as well.

The switchers dimensions were dead-on at a scale: 40’-6" in frame length, and 10’ in width. Even the switcher’s nicely detailed AAR type A truck’s wheel base measured correctly at 8’. The only item I could find missing (and this is being really picky) are the welded on crescent shaped poling pockets that would have been located on each corner of the frame.

This O gauge locomotive is very well constructed and the assembly of our sample was flawless. Some of the impressive details include: separately applied handgrabs, railings, windshield wipers, cut levers, and bell; die cast chassis, hood, couplers, and truck side frames; see through steps, footboards, and metal grills; fully painted crew figures (that are actually painted different from one another); and an illuminated control panel. The unit also has voltage regulated directional headlights (constant lighting would have been preferred though). While this is a ready-to-run model, the corner and endrails along with the horn are packaged separately for safe keeping during shipping. They assemble easily by press fitting into the appropriate hole on the model/

Our 3-rail sample came decorated as Chicago and Northwestern SW8 #129. The C&NW owned four of these switchers through their subsidiary the Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, and Omaha. Purchased in September of 1951, the units were given in Septemeber of 1951, the units were given the road numbers 126-129 and remained on the roster until the mid 1970s.

Atlas O has done a superb job decorateing this model. The C&NW paint scheme was accurately executed down to the "Omaha Road" sub-lettering and the correct location of the EMD emblem on the C&NW units – on the frame above the front truck. The impressive striping on the rear of the cab and radiator is crisp and opaque, as are the lettering and herald. I found the paint to be of good consistency except for a few areas around the louvers on the hood side where the yellow paint had been applied a little too thick.

The switcher performed very well on the test track. It negotiated O31 diameter curves and switches without a problem. The die cast couplers worked well, never uncoupling prematurely. The SW8, which is equipped with a single can motor and duel flywheels, ran smoothly and flawlessly. The drive train design is very similar to Atlas’ HO and N locomotives. The motor sits horizontally in the chassis with drive shafts extending out to the gear boxes located in each truck. The combination of eight wheel drive, four traction tires, and all the weight of the die cast components make for a fantastic hauler.

The four pound switcher pulled forty cars of mix vintage rolling stock effortlessly on our test track and still could have handled additional cars. When powering the track with a Lionel 190 watt KW transformer, the model began moving at 6.6 volts and had a low scale speed of 17.0 miles per hour without load. Much better performances was obtained when using Model Rectifier Corporation’s newer 270 watt Duel Power

027 power supply. A respectable low scale speed of 9.4 miles per hour was achieved at only 2.6 volts. At this speed the locomotive is perfect for switch yard duty!

A nice option on the Atlas O model is the Dallee Electronics, Inc. reverse unit, which can be changed from a forward-first operation to a neutral-first operation, as well as having the ability to lock out the reverse unit. These options can be selected by switches conveniently located under the fuel tank. Note: the instructions indicate that only a very brief power interruption is necessary for the reverse unit to sequence properly. They do advise those modelers to use the lever control to sequence the reverse unit rather than the direction button.

We discovered no problems with sequencing the reverse unit with either of our test transformers. This system uses stored power within its onboard microcontroller to keep the electronics functioning during sequencing. While other O gauge manufacturers rely on an onboard battery to do this, the space saving Dallee system seemed to work quite well.

The 3-rail versions of the SW8/9 also include a Dallee Electronics, Inc. sound system. The system includes sounds of the EMD prime mover, horn, bell, air release, and compressor. The volume of the sound unit is adjustable through the exhaust stack by use of a small, straight blade screwdriver. While the horn and bell sounded well, the prime mover was difficult at times to hear even when the volume was at maximum. At very slow speeds the rumble of the engine could be heard without much effort, but was not as audible when traveling at higher speeds. Atlas O does address this in their instruction sheet though. The actual EMD prime mover generatres a very low frequency sound, which they have tried to realistically reporduce. This combined with the space limitations of using a larger speaker may make the prime mover sounds difficult to hear over back ground sounds generated from the track and the rolling wheels of the locomotive and cars.

While some modelers may be dissatisfied with this sound system, Atlas O has really done an outstanding job overall in providing a beautiful and great running model of the SW8/SW9 locomotive. Most 3-railers and 2-railers will easily find a place on their rosters for these widely used EMD switchers.

With their first O gauge locomotive, Atlas O has not only proven themselves as a major competitor in the O gauge market, but has raised the stakes with a new level of accuracy and detail that O gauge modelers will come to appreciate – and expect.


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