The new kid on the block.
Bachmann Trains USA has just released a HO scale version of the Amtrak ACS-64 electric locomotive. The locomotives come in a variety of liveries and road numbers. MSRP is $359.00 for a model with DCC and sound. As is usual for MSRP suggestions, the actual retail price tends to be considerably lower. In this case it really pays to shop around.
The Amtrak ACS-64 locomotives entered service on the North East Corridor beginning in 2014. Amtrak had been using the Swedish designed AEM-7 since 1978 and was very happy with them, as they were extremely reliable motive power. In 1998 Amtrak ordered a number of HHP-8 electric locomotives with the intent to eventually replace the old AEM-7s. This did not come to pass. The HHP-8s suffered from atrocious reliability problems and after only about ten years or so were retired from Amtrak service. So the AEM-7s soldiered on. In 2010 it became apparent that the “Swedish Meatballs” or “Toasters”, as the AEM-7s were also known, could not go on much longer. Consequently Amtrak ordered 70 ACS-64 electric locomotives from Siemens Mobility for use on the electrified North East Corridor and also for the electrified Keystone Corridor service.
The ACS-64 is based on the successful Siemens “Vectron” line of locomotives. These locomotives are built using a modular concept and can be relatively easily adapted to a customer’s requirements. Siemens offers these locomotives with either diesel or electric traction. Amtrak’s “Charger” locomotives are an example of the diesel powered “Vectron” based version.
Amtrak received the first ACS-64 in 2014, and, by now, all 70 locomotives have been delivered. No major problems have cropped up and the railroad has been happy with them.
Bachmann Trains had announced their intent on producing a HO scale model of the ACS-64 quite a long time ago. The release date for the new model was going to be sometime in 2017. Obviously that was not in the cards for a variety of reasons, with the HO locomotives starting to finally show up in stores in July 2018. I had pre-ordered two of the units with Trainworld in Brooklyn, NY right after Bachmann’s announcement in 2016. Of course I had totally forgotten about the order, so it was quite a surprise to have the package show up at my door step a few days ago.
In the past Bachmann was not known for consistent good quality of their products. Their locomotives were always hit or miss in terms of quality, but that changed some time ago. My Bachmann HO Acela Express, HHP-8s and AEM-7s are all nicely made and are running well. The Bachmann E-Z Track system is another matter all together. It is just basically awful. Read about my experience with E-Z Track here.
Right out of the box the locomotive models make a good impression. Bachmann got the paint color right: it looks like the original. All the lettering seems appropriate and in the right places. The locos are relatively heavy, so I do not believe that there are going to be issues with them pulling a consist of “Amcans”. The pantographs are current conducting. There is a selector switch on the underside of the locos to select either track current or catenary current. Unfortunately on one of my new locomotives one of the pantographs is not working quite right. I believe that I can correct that. But here we go again with Bachmann quality!
The locomotives have TCS decoders and sound. They will run on plain DC, but the functionality will be severely limited if not run in DCC mode. My model railroad is all DCC, so I am fairly familiar with the technology. However even I am having problems with the TCS decoder programming instructions and capabilities. The instruction manual for the decoder runs to 22 pages! I am beginning to wonder if this is not all a bit too much.
The lights are all LEDs and change from white to red depending on the direction travelled. They can be programmed, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to do that yet. As one can see in the below photograph, the red tail lights, as well as the head light are illuminated. I don’t think that is correct.
The printing on the locomotive is sharp. In a few places the paint is uneven, like the red stripe around the chassis, but that is only noticeable upon a very close look. The locomotive roof looks fine to me. The insulators and pantographs look good. I think the horns could have been modeled better though.
The trucks are ok. Not exactly Fleischmann quality, but I can live with them.
The locos run nicely and quietly (with the sound turned off). As I mentioned before there is a large number of sound effects which I have not yet tried. I also have catenary on my railroad, so I will see how that will work out. All this will be the subject of a future blog.
Here are a few more photographs of my new ACS-64s:
All photographs by Ralf Meier, unless otherwise noted.