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First Look Video: Broadway Limited Imports HO scale Pennsylvania P5a electric

Check out this pre-production sample of the new BLI HO scale PRR P5a electric with Paragon3 DCC and sound
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Broadway Limited Imports Paragon3 HO scale Pennsylvania RR P5a electric left side
Broadway Limited Imports Paragon3 HO scale Pennsylvania RR P5a electric (right side)
Broadway Limited Imports Paragon3 HO scale Pennsylvania RR P5a electric (front view)
Broadway Limited Imports Paragon3 HO scale Pennsylvania RR P5a electric truck detail
Broadway Limited Imports Paragon3 HO scale Pennsylvania RR P5a underside
The air was crackling with electricity as Broadway Limited’s HO scale Pennsylvania RR P5a electric locomotive arrived for a sneak peek. Well, at least the air was crackling in the Pennsy fans’ offices. We recently had the opportunity to review and run a preproduction sample of the BLI Paragon3 P5a.

Previously available only in brass, these boxcab electric models are primarily die-cast metal construction, giving them 1 pound, 6 ounces of heft for hauling long freight or passenger trains.

Note that the model shown is a preproduction sample. Some details are omitted that will be on the actual production models.

The prototype. While known as freight haulers for most of their lives, the P5a was the first successful mainline motive power under Pennsylvania RR catenary. Assigned to pull passenger varnish from New York’s Penn Station to Philadelphia, the locomotives lost their starring roles when the GG1 electric came on the scene.

A single P5a had trouble pulling heavy passenger trains on a fast schedule, dominated by “Clockers,” essentially long-distance commuter trains that eventually connected New York City with Washington, D.C. and all points in between. In addition, the locomotives put heavy lateral stresses on the track network, wearing out rail.

Construction began in 1931 at Juniata Shops in Altoona, Pa., with a pair of prototypes. After rigorous testing, regular production commenced in 1932. Starting on May 1, 1934, the design shifted to a steamlined centercab design similar to the GG1 after a collision with a truck killed the crew in the vulnerable cab of the flat-faced units.

Once the “modifieds” came into service, they were mated with boxcabs as multiple units so that in at least one direction crews would have more protection. By this point, most P5as were working as freight engines, where they were used in multiples of two or three.

While multiple-unit operation made sense for heavy freights, it would’ve been wasteful overpowering for passenger service. Part of the impetus for the more-powerful GG1 was the desire to get away from using multiple locomotives on passenger trains.

But with 3,750hp on tap continuously, and 5,000hp available for short bursts, a P5a was no slouch. In a search for more power, a prototype P5b was built with four traction motors mounted to its pilot trucks, adding 1,500hp, but cooling problems led to this being a one-off experiment.

When production ceased in 1935, 92 P5s had been built in Eddystone, Erie, and Altoona, Pa. Electrical equipment was shared evenly between Westinghouse and General Electric. Generally, GE-equipped P5as were built at General Electric’s plant in Erie and Westinghouse-equipped units were built by Baldwin at Eddystone, but the final 10 locomotives, all modifieds, were built in Altoona of both GE and Westinghouse parts.

In the late 1950s, the PRR was looking for new freight-hauling electrics. General Electric answered the call with the 4,400hp E44. These locomotives arrived starting in 1960 with the last delivered in 1963, spelling the end for P5a service. Only one P5 has been preserved, prototype no. 4700 at the National Museum of Transportation in St. Louis, Mo. The rest were scrapped by the mid-1960s.

The model. Broadway Limited’s model matches dimensions from equipment diagrams posted on Rob’s Pennsy Page at Our pre-production sample was decorated in as-delivered dark green locomotive enamel with a brown roof and gold lettering. Even the smallest sand box and fuel oil door lettering was legible. A builder’s plate indicates the locomotive was built with General Electric equipment in February 1933.

Pop-off valves for the steam generator, the bell, and the early trolley whistle are all painted with gold-colored paint to simulate brass. The window frames are trimmed in red and the end railings are painted silver to simulate the aluminum used on the full-size locomotives.

Windshield wipers and guard bars adorn the cab windows, which are glazed with clear plastic. Other separately applied details include air compressor cooling coils and air tanks, roof-mounted bus bars between the pantographs, manual grounding switches for the pantographs, and rooftop wiring.

The scale-sized 72” diameter drivers have alternating spring cup detail indicative of the quill drive favored by the PRR on it’s older electrics. However, the center drivers were blind (flangeless) on the prototype, unlike the model, which relies on a significant amount of lateral movement to allow negotiation of tight-radius model railroad curves and turnout angles.

The quill was a hollow tube connecting the driving wheels together with a large gear at one end. The pinion gears of the motors engaged the large gear on the quill. On the P5a, the quill transferred power to the wheels through a “spider” at one end that engaged spring cups, which absorbed the motors’ torque to smooth power transfer to the wheels.

Separately applied sanding lines add extra detail to the running gear. The four-wheel pilot trucks include chain details at their ends. Wipers on their axles help improve power pickup.

The pilots have a combination of molded in detail and separately applied plastic and metal parts including coupler cut levers, m.u. hoses and connections, slatted pilot bars ahead of the pilot wheels, and classification lights with colored jewels. On this early prototype, there are also a pair of classification lights on the upper corners of the cab and each end. Metal knuckle couplers are mounted at the correct height.

Taking a test run. The model is equipped with BLI’s Paragon3 sound and operation system featuring Rolling Thunder, which operates in both DC and DCC environments. Users have the choice of the originally equipped trolley whistle used during the first days of passenger service, or the loud, single-tone air horn added when the P5as switched primarily to freight service.

Other unique options include pantograph up and down sounds and an electric arc sound. Broadway Limited also allows users to record a set of instructions the locomotive will then carry out. For a locomotive such as this, it could be programmed to run a set pattern to simulate a commuter train operating between several stations.

We hope you enjoy this first look at the Broadway Limited Imports Paragon3 HO scale Pennsylvania RR P5a. – Eric White, associate editor

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Two great beginner layouts.

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