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Athearn HO scale AC4400CW diesel locomotive

Read this review from Model Railroader magazine
Athearn HO scale AC4400CW
Athearn HO scale AC4400CW diesel locomotive
Almost as soon as Norfolk Southern’s colorful stable of heritage scheme Electro-Motive SD70ACe and General Electric ES44AC locomotives hit the rails last year, modelers have been looking to add scale-size versions to their own fleets. Athearn updated its SD70ACe to model the EMD half of the units in HO. Athearn doesn’t produce an ES44AC, so it’s painting the schemes of the prototype ES44ACs onto existing Athearn GE AC4400CW models (see the May 1997 Model Railroader for a review). Though not prototypical matches, the Athearn AC4400CWs capture the character of the NS heritage paint schemes.

The prototype.
General Electric built more than 2,500 AC4400CW diesel-electric locomotives between 1993 and 2004. The AC4400CW looks similar to a GE Dash9-44CW, except that it has alternating current (AC) traction motors instead of the direct-current (DC) traction motors found on the Dash 9. AC traction motors offer better adhesion and require less maintenance than DC traction motors.

Because of strict emissions laws that came into effect in the United States beginning in 2005, GE replaced the AC4400CW in its product line with the more environmentally friendly ES44AC. At the same time EMD introduced its new SD70ACe.

In 2012 Norfolk Southern celebrated its 30th anniversary by painting 20 new locomotives, 10 GE ES44ACs and 10 EMD SD70ACes, in updated liveries of its predecessor railroads.
The locomotive features separately applied cab wind deflectors grab irons and handrails
The locomotive features separately applied cab wind deflectors grab irons and handrails.
The model. The dimensions and detail placement on the Athearn model match prototype AC4400CW drawings in the April 1996 Model Railroader. The molded detail is well defined, especially the grills along the hood. There’s a white GPS dome on the cab roof and glazing in all the cab windows. As with the earlier release, there isn’t a cab interior.

Separate detail parts include the three-chime horn, cab sun shades, and brake wheel. The front pilot includes a snow plow. The handrails and grab irons are made of acetal plastic to resist breaking. The trucks feature separately applied brake cylinders. The model didn’t include m.u. hoses or uncoupling levers. For modelers who wish to add those details, parts are available from Cannon & Co., Cal-Scale, and other firms.

Our review sample is decorated with the paint scheme applied to the prototype ES44AC Southern Ry. no. 8099. There’s sharp separation between the Dulux Gold, white, and green paint. All striping and lettering is straight and opaque. Tiny warning stencils are clearly legible under magnification, including the six stencils on the dynamic brake grid covers that read caution remove clamping bolts near grid blowers before removing grids.

The motor and flywheels are mounted on the die-cast metal frame and fuel tank
The motor and flywheels are mounted on the die-cast metal frame and fuel tank. The model is easy to convert to Digital Command Control. The DCC Quick Plug on the printed-circuit board accepts 8- or 9-pin DCC decoders.
Under the hood. After removing the coupler boxes, I could easily lift off the body shell. The model has the typical Athearn Ready to Roll mechanism with a flywheel-equipped motor sitting in the center of a metal frame. Two worm-gear shafts transfer power to the truck-mounted gear boxes. A die-cast metal fuel tank adds more weight and helps give the locomotive enough drawbar pull to haul 42 HO scale freight cars on straight and level track.

A printed-circuit board that controls lighting is attached to the top of the motor. Converting the model to Digital Command Control is a simple matter of installing an 8- or 9-pin DCC decoder into the DCC socket.

The headlights came on and the locomotive started moving at 2.7 volts. Microbulbs provide the headlights with a realistic yellowish glow. The headlights operate automatically according to the model’s direction. The model has ditch lights, but they are non-functioning, painted parts.
HO scale AC4400CW
The locomotive ran smoothly throughout its speed range, but it was a bit noisy until I advanced the throttle to 6 volts. At that voltage the AC4400CW cruised along at 33 scale mph. At 12 volts, the model reached its top speed of 85 scale mph. A prototype AC4400CW has a top speed of 75 mph.

The Athearn locomotive negotiated an 18" radius curve with no problems. However, with its long wheelbase, the AC4400CW looks better on 22" or greater radius curves. The model’s all-wheel pickup helped it roll smoothly through no. 6 turnouts. The headlight shone steadily without flickering.

I appreciate that Athearn was up front about this Ready to Roll model not being the correct prototype for the NS heritage fleet. Even if it isn’t prototypical, the AC4400CW looks great in Southern green and white.

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