New Toys!

Just a couple of days ago a few new toys arrived for my HO pike. This is another one of those times where I preordered a long time ago and then totally forgot about having done so. Model train companies tend to announce the intent to manufacture and release a new model with great fanfare, but use the “preorder” gambit to gauge whether or not there is indeed enough interest on the part of the model train hobbyists to actually start producing said model. It is not uncommon to have to wait for a year to see a concept turn into an actual model. It is also not uncommon that plans for a new railroad model are quietly dropped because of insufficient preorders coming in.

Not so this time. Bachmann Trains just released their new HO scale Amtrak Midwest SC-44 “Charger” diesel-electric locomotive models. PIKO finally sent out their HO model of a Class S499 electric locomotive of the CSD, the former Czechoslovak State Railways:


The Bachmann Trains HO model of the Amtrak Midwest SC-44 “Charger”. Photo by Bachmann Trains.


The PIKO HO model of the Class S499 electric of the former CSD. Photo by PIKO.


Let’s start with the Bachmann model. I have always been hesitant to purchase any Bachmann Trains items. The quality of their products varies greatly. My experience with Bachmann’s E-Z Track in HO and N scale has been a disaster. The rolling stock on offer in the past was not much better. The problem was that Bachmann was the only model train manufacturer who eventually offered the new Amtrak ACS-64 electric locomotive in HO. And I really wanted one of those badly.

Bachmann Trains HO scale Amtrak ACS-64. Photo by Ralf Meier

Bachmann Trains HO scale Amtrak ACS-64. Photo by Ralf Meier

So here I am with not just one, but two of these locomotives. Maybe also with just a bit of egg on my face! Having complained about Bachmann Trains quality I must definitely revise my opinion. Both the SC-44 and the ACS-64 are very nice models. They are heavy and pull a prototypical long train easily, they run very well and just plain look nice. Perhaps not quite up to Roco or PIKO standards, but certainly the value for money is there. Bachmann Trains also offered both models in DCC versions ex factory with an extensive sound library programmed in. I tend to get those, since my layout is all DCC.

Both prototypes are built by Siemens Mobility and based on the company’s “Vectron” modular locomotive platform, but adapted to conform to US FRA requirements.

The SC-44 model has extensive light functions. The strobe lights on top of the cab work really nicely. The red strobe will activate if the emergency shut off is activated. Just like the real thing. Rule 17 (revised as 5.9.1+) can also be activated on the DCC controller.

Bachmann also has lit up the engine room, just like the prototype. A nice touch.

The details on the model are nice. The printing is done well. One can actually read the markings. The colors, like the red stripe for example, are nicely separated and not smeared.

The sanding pipes do worry me a bit. Just wondering how long it will be before I accidentally break them off. The truck is ok. Just one piece of molded plastic with the springs, shock absorbers and dampeners part of the mold and not attached as separate pieces:

Close up of the model SC-44 truck

Compare that to the PIKO locomotive:

Close up of the S499 truck

Looks a bit better, but probably is also the reason that European model trains are generally more expensive.

The SC-44 has numerous DCC sound functions. There are indeed so many available sounds that Bachmann has introduced a “page” function to access them, since apparently only 12 function buttons are visible on a DCC controller’s screen at a time. There are 3 “pages” plus a “light page”. The model also has an “Audio Assist” to help with the decoder programming. One thing that really aggravates me is the fact that the locomotive will start up (sound, lights) as soon as the track power is turned on. This is incredibly annoying, particularly if one has six or seven locos parked on the layout. I turn on the track power and am met with this cacophony of various start up noises. I will have to find a way of turning this feature off.

A bit of editorializing. I really like Digital Command Control (DCC). I really do. Powering a layout is much easier. No isolating track sections necessary. Turnouts and signals can be digitally controlled without having to do complicated wiring. Multiple trains can be run on the same track independently. However the whole thing has just gotten too complicated. I really do not need thirty sound functions. Coupler clanking sound? Sanding sound? After running your locomotive for a while this whole sound business gets really irritating anyway and I tend to shut if off. Furthermore I really do not want to have to read a 12 page locomotive decoder manual telling me about this or that Configuration Variable! Bachmann also has inexplicably decided to change the decoder reset function on their locomotives. Everybody uses CV 8 = 8, but Bachmann decided to use CV 8 = 2.

All in all a very nice model. Bachmann Trains shows an MSRP of $459 for the models which include the decoder and sound functions. As usual they can be had for a lot less retail. I got mine from Trainworld in Brooklyn, NY, which I highly recommend. Apparently the “Chargers” are already sold out at the factory however.

Following are a few more detail pictures:

A short video showing the light functions and engine sound:


…and an Amtrak publicity photo:


In the next blog I’ll tackle my new PIKO CSD (Československé státní dráhy / Czechoslovak State Railways) Class S499.

As always I greatly appreciate comments.

All photos by Ralf Meier, unless otherwise attributed. (iPhone 12 Pro and Sony a7c)

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    Mr. Meier,
    Thank you again for another informative posting. It is delightful to see how much enjoyment that you get from this hobby. The close-up photos of the two engines were great illustrations of the points that you were making.

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