Finally: High Speed Trains on the Chesapeake & Tenleytown Railroad
KATO Model Trains has finally released their N scale Deutsche Bahn Intercity Express (ICE) 4 set. The Japanese model train manufacturer’s forte seems to be N scale train models, but they do have a small HO assortment available also. (For more on model railroad scales, click here) The just released ICE set joins a handful of other high speed trains which KATO has produced in N scale:In the KATO photo above we can see, from left to right, a French (SNCF) first generation TGV set. Then a Eurostar Class 373 set, a French Lyria Euro Duplex (double deck) TGV, a Taiwan 700T and finally a Japanese N700 Shinkansen set. Missing in that line up and shown in the KATO photo below is my favorite: the E5 “Hayabusa”:
But back to the Deutsche Bahn ICE 4 trains. In the 1970’s and early 80’s the German Railways realized that, in order to compete with the airlines, they needed to come up with comfortable and fast trains. Japan was the first to show the world that a dedicated high speed rail system could be a meaningful alternative to flying short to medium distances. The French Railways (SNCF) began this trend in Europe with the Paris to Lyon TGV line in 1981. Not to be left behind, the German Railways (DB) came up with the concept of the InterCity Express system. These would be comfortable, high speed trains, stopping only in the major cities. DB wanted to get away from locomotive hauled trains, but in the end the first generation of the Intercity Express train was basically a fourteen car set with a locomotive at each end. These sets had a top speed of 280 kilometers per hour or around 175 miles per hour. Total power output could reach 13000 horse power. The first train started revenue service in 1991 and it was an instant success.
A first generation Deutsche Bahn ICE 1. I took this photo with slide film in the early 90’s at Berlin Zoologischer Garten Station and digitized it some years later.
As rail technology improved, the ICE sets lost their power cars at each end and instead had electric motors distributed throughout the entire train set. This made the trains lighter, more responsive and also added more passenger seats without having to add additional coaches and losing much horse power. The 12 carriage ICE 4 set is rated at just above 13000 horse power, with a top speed of 250 kilometers per hour. In 2016 revenue service with the ICE 4 trains started between Hamburg – Würzburg – München.
I received my KATO ICE 4 set a few weeks ago. As usual I had totally forgotten about it, having preordered the models over a year ago when KATO initially announced their intention of producing it. This ICE 4 set comes as a basic 7 car set. An add-on set of five coaches is also available to model a full 12 car train.
Both sets come in the KATO typical “book case” storage units.
KATO provides a handy train consist diagram, so the modeler can prototypically assemble the ICE 4 set. Both, the basic set and the add-on set, have a propulsion car marked with the letter “M” in the above graphic. Also notice that there are 12 coaches. However the car numbers go from 1 to 14, with the numbers 8 and 13 missing. I am still trying to figure out why that is!
Upon opening the storage case the first impression is quite good. The train colors and the typical ICE red stripe seem to be spot on. The only distraction are the shiny, chrome colored wheels. They really catch one’s eyes. Not sure why KATO did this. None of the other KATO trains I own have this issue.
Looking at the photos (and ignoring the shiny wheels) KATO seems to have captured the look and form of the original quite well in its model. Particularly the atypical, “scoopy” front end of the new train:
Siemens, the manufacturer, must have determined that this design is more aerodynamically efficient, compared to the older series of ICE trains.
Front end design over the years. From left to right: a first generation ICE 1 with a power car on each end. An ICE 2 with only one power car at one end. Then a third generation ICE 3, which was the first to dispense with power cars and use distributed power. On the utmost right the latest iteration: an ICE 4.
I mentioned that the first impression one gets of the set is quite good. While holding it at a comfortable viewing distance no issues seem to arise. Looking closer though, some things start to stick out. For example the printing could be better. Or perhaps the paint was not allowed to dry properly. In any case, there are smudges and smears which just should not be there. This is particularly evident on the dining car printing. Take a look at the “B” and the “e” in the Bordrestaurant script and also at the end of the left stripe towards the “B”.
Another thing that drives me nuts are those cheap plastic pantographs. There are no springs in them, so they can not be used on catenary since they only stay in one position and they can not adjust to the different heights of the catenary wire.
KATO did the same thing with their N scale ACS-64 electric locomotive. On the ACS-64 however I did exchange the KATO plastic pantos for functioning, but non-electric, Sommerfeldt pantographs. Not very prototypical, but it is after all my railroad. Looks like I will have to do the same to my new ICE 4.
KATO should take a look at the Hobbytrain-Lemke N scale electric locomotives. Not only do their pantographs follow the catenary wire in an up/down movement, but they are also electrically functional. However that functionality I do not need, since my layout is DCC controlled.
Speaking of DCC (Digital Command Control). The KATO ICE 4 is prewired for DCC decoders which need to be purchased separately. Three decoders are required for the basic set and one for the add-on set.
In addition the ICE 4 is prewired for interior lighting which also needs to be purchased separately. The set also has white LED front lights and red LED tail lights, depending on the direction of travel.
One of the big bugaboos in model railroading, particularly with US models, is the distance between cars. More often than not, the spacing between vehicles is just awful and totally unrealistic. Like these Atlas Model Trains cars:
There KATO’s ICE 4 really shines. The cars just “click” together and there are no gaps at all:
The set runs well, if a bit jerky at low speeds. I would imagine that this problem will go away once the train has “run in” a bit. What I do not like is the sound. At speed the unit sounds like a swarm of angry bees! One can hear it in this short video. Hopefully this issue will also solve itself over time.
Overall I am happy with the train. It looks nice on the layout. It runs fine, even taking some of my not so perfect stretches of track with aplomb. It will make a fine addition to my collection after adding interior lighting and installing some decent pantographs.
The KATO basic ICE 4 set has an MSRP of US$ 290.00, plus tax.
The ICE 4 add-on set has an MSRP of US$ 199.00, plus tax.
The KATO decoder set for this unit comes in at about US$59.00, plus tax.
As usual, prices vary widely on the Internet and the models can be had for a considerably lower price.
All photos by Ralf Meier, unless otherwise attributed.