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Athearn HO scale Electro-Motive Division SW1500 diesel locomotive

Read this review from Model Railroader
Athearn Trains HO scale SW1500 diesel locomotive
Athearn Trains HO scale SW1500 diesel locomotive
An upgraded mechanism, railroad-specific details, and cab interior are just some of the upgrades on the Electro-Motive Division (EMD) SW1500 by Athearn. The HO scale model, originally released in 1991 as part of Athearn’s blue box line of locomotive and rolling stock kits, is now available as a fully assembled model in the firm’s Ready-to-Roll line.

A popular prototype.
The SW1500 was produced from July 1966 to January 1974. During that time, EMD built 808 of the end-cab switchers. The locomotive uses the same carbody as the 1,000 hp SW1000, but has two exhaust stacks for its 12-645 engine and a larger radiator section. Under the hood, the SW1500 has a 12-cylinder, 1,500 hp 645E engine. The switcher was offered with Association of American Railroads type A switcher trucks or Flexicoil trucks for road switching; more than half were built with the latter.

Southern Pacific was the leading purchaser of SW1500s with 240. Other owners included Alton & Southern, Burlington Northern (BN), Kansas City Southern, Louisville & Nashville, Penn Central, Pittsburgh & Lake Erie, Reading Co., Southern Ry., and St. Louis-San Francisco (Frisco). Though switchers are being phased out by Class 1 railroads, many SW1500s are still earning their keep with leasing companies and short lines, and as industrial switchers.

Burlington Northern had 71 SW1500s on its roster. The railroad’s fleet started with 10 ex-Great Northern units built in September and October 1967. In January 1973, BN ordered 15 more units, including no. 319. The remainder were built for the Frisco between October 1968 and January 1973 and folded into the roster following the 1980 merger between the two railroads.
Our sample SW1500 decorated for Burlington Northern features many railroad-specific details
Our sample SW1500 decorated for Burlington Northern, features many railroad-specific details
The model. The Athearn model has a plastic shell and a die-cast metal frame. The dimensions match prototype drawings in the Model Railroader Cyclopedia: Vol. 2, Diesel Locomotives (Kalmbach Books, out of print). The length over the coupler pulling faces is a scale six inches too long, but this is typical as model couplers are slightly oversized.

The Ready-to-Roll SW1500 features many upgrades from the original blue box version. The formed steel wire railings and stamped stanchions have been replaced with prototype-specific acetal plastic handrails. The model now has factory-installed and painted wire grab irons. In addition, the clear styrene window insert has been replaced with flush-fitting glazing.

Our sample also has many BN-specific features, including a rotary beacon and firecracker antenna on the cab roof, a three-pane all-weather window on the engineer’s side of the cab, an 1,100-gallon fuel tank with filler necks on both sides and a flush-mount gauge on the engineer’s side, and m.u. stands on the front and rear pilots. Oh, and the giant lightbulb in the cab from the blue box days is gone. It has been replaced by a detailed and painted cab interior. Though crew figures aren’t included, they’d be easy to add.
The striping on the radiator has crisp separation between colors
The striping on the radiator has crisp separation between colors.
The model features evenly applied Cascade Green paint. The separation line between the green and black is sharp. All of the white printing is opaque. The radiator screen is lightly weathered, as shown below.

Small lettering is legible, including FIRE EXTINGUISHER INSIDE, DANGER 600 VOLTS, and FUEL CUT-OFF. In addition, the sill has the SW1500 and Northtown stencils, the latter indicating the locomotive was assigned to BN’s terminal in the Twin Cities. The placement of the stencils matches prototype photos of no. 319 at

Though the model is well painted, I was disappointed with the quality control. The etched-metal radiator grill didn’t seat properly on the engineer’s side. Upon closer inspection, I noticed a blob of glue on the shell where the factory tried to reattach the grill. There was also a glue stain with a fingerprint on the road number. Some of the white paint had flaked off the vertical handrails on the cab end, revealing brown plastic.

Athearns SW1500 features a printed-circuit board and nine-pin plug
Athearn’s SW1500 features a printed-circuit board and nine-pin plug. The latter makes it possible to upgrade the model to Digital Command Control.
Under the shell. When I was in high school, I remember using a screwdriver to release the retaining tabs that held the SW1500 shell to the chassis. Thankfully those days are gone. To remove the shell on the upgraded model, I simply unscrewed and removed the draft-gear boxes. The headlight wires are tethered to the printed-circuit (PC) board, so lift the shell off carefully.

The motor is seated over the fuel tank, as before. However, a PC board is now mounted above the motor. The model also has a nine-pin socket for those wishing to convert the model from
direct current (DC) to Digital Command Control (DCC).
HO scale EMD SW1500
Performance. I ran the model on our DC test track using a Model Rectifier Corp. Tech 4 power pack. The model started moving smoothly at a scale 4.9 mph at 1.7 volts. It achieved a top speed of 109 scale mph at 12 volts, well above the prototype’s top speed of 65 mph. Converting the model to DCC would make it possible to fine-tune the locomotive’s speed range.

The SW1500 has directional headlights. The headlight openings are still sized for the clear lenses used with the blue box model, so they’re a bit oversized for the bulbs. Curiously, the rotary beacon only illuminates when the locomotive is moving forward. On the prototype, the beacon stayed illuminated regardless of direction.

In addition to the “standard” SW1500
shown here, Athearn also offers a version detailed to match the Southern Pacific prototype, which has distinct front and rear headlight clusters and cab-mounted number boxes.

Except for the glue and handrail issues, Athearn’s upgraded SW1500 looks good and performs well. Though end-cab switchers aren’t as prominent as they once were, you can still enjoy operating them on your model railroad with this HO scale model.
Price: $119.98

Athearn Trains
2883 E. Spring St., Ste. 100
Long Beach, CA 90806

Road names (three numbers per scheme): Burlington Northern, Alton & Southern, Canadian National with Wisconsin Central reporting marks, and NASA

Era: July 1966 to present

  • Correctly gauged metal wheels
  • Detailed cab interior
  • Nine-pin socket for Digital Command Control decoder
  • McHenry knuckle couplers, mounted at correct height
  • Separately applied wire grab irons
  • Weight: 8.7 ounces

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