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This review appeared in Model Railroader Magazine, May, 1999. Reprinted with permission of Kalmbach Publishing Company.

Atlas 2-Rail SW8/9 Locomotive

As some of the 3-rail publications have extensively reviewed the 3-rail version of the new Atlas SW8/9, this review is directed toward the 2-rail version. This is a significant contribution to the scale 2-rail market, as very few full-scale locos are available in this pricing range.

We put this engine alongside the All Nation/General Models NW2, the predecessor of the two were almost identical. Except for grille and handrail differences, the models, as well as the prototypes are quite similar. Luckily, Atlas chose to design the drive assembly like other 2-rails locos, meaning that the single motor is horizontally mounted in the body, rather than putting two vertical truck-mounted motors, as in most 3-rail units. This works in the 3-rail units because of the tight radius constrictions necessary in 3-rail, but this also fills up the cabs of most diesel engines with a big round "blob" instead of allowing space for cab detail.

Road testing this engine was a delight! Besides having a quiet, smooth mechanism, the dual-flywheel drive provides smooth starts and stops. This is a heavy unit, being die cast and almost entirely made of metal (except the cab, which was done in plastic to allow for thinner walls for window glazing). The weight of our test unit was 3 ½ pounds. Our test unit was the C&NW SW8. The paint job on this engine was beautifully done. Not being an expert on the Northwestern’s paint scheme, it really appears true to color to me according to the photos I’ve seen. Even more remarkable is the EMD builder’s plate…you can actually read the printing!

We ran this engine on the Denver O Scale club layout to see what it would do. Much to our surprise, this engine pulled 29 weighted InterMountain reefers plus caboose on level track, and only pulled 4 amps! Each car was weighted to about 8 ounces. Once the train hit a grade of about 8 ounces. Once the train hit a grade of about 1 ½%, the load had to be cut to 20 cars, but the engine drew only .5 amps at 10 volts. On a 2.5% grade, the engine slipped considerably with the 20-car load, but still was again at .5 amps and ran on 8-10 volts. Considering that the prototype would probably perform similarly, I didn’t feel this was sub-standard performance for the model.

Atlas made the 2- and 3-rail versions similar enough so that most of the super-structure parts could be used for both versions. The only notable difference externally is the end step assemblies. Of course the coupler opening for the 3-rail version is much wider, but the scale version not only has a realistic opening for their won Atlas couplers, but includes such details as MU hoses for the roads that ran multiple units, and even deck plates. The handrails are plastic, and rather flimsy, but I guess this in necessary for scale size and flexibility.

These units are apparently DCC ready although we did not install a decoder and test this aspect of its capabilities. It is important to note that every locomotive released these days should be DCC ready as this is the trend in all scales.

The Atlas couplers, which seem to be the same coupler they released several years ago, are Kadeeā compatible, but are not as durable in that the steel pins are installed loose enough to be turned sideways in the knuckle; this of course tends to hinder the uncoupling and delayed uncoupling aspects of automatic couplers.

All in all, at $249.95 retail, this entry into the O-scale market is hopefully going to make getting into O-scale 2-rail once again affordable. It should also make it easy for novices to get started in this scale without having to have any modeling skills. The SW8s with one exhaust stack come in these road names: ACL, C&NW, EL, GN, NYC, T&P and CP. The SW9s come in B&M, CNJ, C&O, PRR, UP and WP and have two exhaust stacks.

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