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This review is from Model Railroader, July 2003. Reprinted with permission of Kalmbach Publishing Co.


by Jim Hediger

O scalers will be thrilled with this Alco RS-1 road switcher made by Atlas.  It weighs in at four pounds and comes in versions that will operate on two-rail DC or three-rail AC layouts. Models with Lionel TrainMaster command control and RailSounds 4.0 are also offered for AC systems.

This RS-1 model is a replica of the first road switcher, introduced by Alco in March 1941. The first two prototypes were built at the request of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific RR for a dual-purpose locomotive that could serve in light road service during the day and do yard switching at night. Alco combined its popular 1,000-hp switcher with a longer frame and road trucks to create the smooth riding RS-1.

Alco’s road switcher started a revolution in locomotive design that was copied by all diesel-electric locomotive builders. Alco eventually built 623 RS-1s for 38 railroads and dozens of industrial customers during its 19 years of production from 1941 to 1960. Many remained in use for more than 50 years.

The Atlas RS-1 closely matches the prototype drawing published in the Model Railroader Cyclopedia: Volume 2, Diesel Locomotives.

The Atlas model has a well-detailed body and a cab made of molded plastic with separately applied wire grab irons, piping, and lift rings. The all-metal handrails and stanchions are also separately applied parts. Some models include steam generator details for passenger service as appropriate for the road name.

Much of the model’s weight is provided by a heavy die-cast frame that includes the pilots and fuel tank. Inside you’ll find a pair of vertical can motors with flywheels (one for each truck), a smoke unit, and a large printed-circuit (PC) board.

Our two-rail sample is wired with a removable secondary PC board so the model can be converted to Digital Command Control. A pair of plugs is provided to connect a DCC decoder (not supplied) to the locomotive’s PC board. These plugs have wires color coded to match the NMRA Recommended Practice 9.1.1 color coding so they can be connected to a standard decoder. Atlas includes an instruction sheet covering this conversion.

The model rides on well-detailed die-cast Association of America Railroads type B trucks with separately applied brake cylinders, brake chains, and other details. It has properly gauged nickel silver RP25 contour wheels. Each motor drives an outboard axle, and five spur gears transmit the rotation to the second axle on each truck.

Sound Versions

In addition to the DC model, Atlas is making two other versions that include the Lionel TrainMaster command control and RailSound digital sound system. A review of these models is being published in the September 2003 issue of Classic Toy Trains magazine.


Our DC sample RS-1 started and ran smoothly and quietly throughout its speed range. However, its 150 scale mph top speed was well above the prototype’s 60 mph. The 18.8-ounce draw-bar pull is equivalent t to 56 free-rolling cars on straight and level track.

Kadee-compatible die-cast scale magnetic knuckle couplers are mounted at the proper height in insulated coupler boxes at each end.

Our sample came neatly painted for the Long Island RR with the steam-generator stack on the short end (for passenger service). The lettering is clear and sharp. The model also has a painted crew inside the cab.

The RS-1 saw service on railroads all over the country, so I’m sure this model will be popular with lots of O scale modelers of the steam-to-diesel transition period. – Jim Hediger, senior


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