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Kato N scale Canadian National 'Transcontinental' passenger train set

Read this review from the November 2020 issue of Model Railroader

If you’ve been itching to relive the glory days at the end of Canadian National passenger service, Kato is here to help with its “Transcontinental” seven-car set and matching Electro-Motive Division (EMD) F7A and F7B locomotives.

The prototype. Canadian National’s transcontinental train was the Super Continental. Its competition was Canadian Pacific’s Canadian. Of the two, the Super Continental was considered less luxurious. When the Super Continental debuted 1955, it hauled coaches from Canadian Car & Foundry, and sleepers, diners, parlor cars, and buffet-sleepers from Pullman Standard.

In 1964, CN purchased six used Super Domes and six Skytop lounge-sleepers from the Milwaukee Road. This served to close the luxury gap with CP’s Canadian, which was dome-equipped from its inauguration in 1955.

Despite investments in better equipment, passenger rail travel was declining in Canada due to competition from airlines and better roads such as the Trans-Canada Highway, which opened in 1962 and was completed in 1971. The Super Continental survived into VIA Rail Canada in 1978, where it was the second-tier train to the Canadian.

The Super Domes continued in VIA Rail service, and at least two are still operated in tourist train service, one on the Napa Valley Wine Train and the other behind refurbished ex-Milwaukee Road steam locomotive no. 261. None of the Skytop lounge-sleepers are still in operation.

ex-Milwaukee Road (MILW) Super Dome, ex-UP diner, ex MILW 10-6 sleeper, ex-UP baggage car, ex-MILW Skytop lounge, ex-PRR 10-6 sleeper, and ex-UP coach
Comprising Kato’s “Transcontinental” set is an ex-Milwaukee Road (MILW) Super Dome, ex-UP diner, ex MILW 10-6 sleeper, ex-UP baggage car, ex-MILW Skytop lounge, ex-PRR 10-6 sleeper, and ex-UP coach.
Six ex-Milwaukee Road Super Domes joined Canadian National’s fleet in 1964. This car and the Skytop lounge are accurate models of CN cars of the ‘60s and ’70s.

The models. Kato created its “Transcontinental” from cars already produced for other name trains, such as the Olympian Hiawatha and Broadway Limited. The cars include an ex-Union Pacific baggage car, American Car & Foundry diner, and coach; former Pennsylvania Pullman 10-6 sleeper; and ex-Milwaukee Road Super Dome, Pullman 10-6 sleeper, and Skytop lounge-sleeper.

To pull the set, Kato has re-released its Electro-Motive Division (EMD) F7A and F7B in Canadian National paint, which come as a set, along with a standalone F7A to create an A-B-A set. The locomotives use the same mechanism as the F2 and F3 reviewed in the November 2014 issue of Model Railroader.

The models have one-piece die-cast metal frames with the motor and flywheels nestled inside. To release the body, remove the front coupler from the A units, then spread the shell and slip it off the frame. There’s no need to bother with the truck-mounted coupler on the rear truck of the A unit or the two truck-mounted couplers on the B unit.

A printed-circuit board atop the motor can be removed and replaced with a drop-in Digital Command Control decoder. Many companies make decoders for Kato F units. Kato also offers its locomotives with Digitrax motor-only or Electronic Solutions Ulm LokSound decoders already installed.

The engines were neatly painted in Canadian National’s early black and white zebra-stripe scheme with a red nose. Paint was smoothly applied and opaque with sharp separations between the colors.

Photos of F7s in the 1960s show early ditch lights mounted above the anti-climber, three-chime horns, and roof-mounted bells. These would be easy details to add to these locomotives to strengthen their CN appearance.

The models don’t have steam-generator equipment, which appears to be correct, so a steam-generator car would be a good addition to the set.

The passenger cars have all been released before. The cars from the Olympian Hiawatha – the Super Dome, Pullman 10-6 sleeper, and Skytop lounge-sleeper – were reviewed in the March 2018 Model Railroader. The 10-6 sleeper from the Broadway Limited was reviewed in March 2009, and the Union Pacific baggage and coach in July 2011. The Union Pacific diner is part of Kato’s “Smoothside” set, which we haven’t reviewed before. While the ex-Milwaukee Road cars are ones that CN owned, the others are reasonable stand-ins.

All of the cars are molded in plastic with flush-mounted window inserts in the body shell. A molded interior insert snaps onto the frame, trapping a metal weight and electrical pickups for interior lighting. The Skytop lounge includes a lighted tail sign, marker lights and table lamps in the lounge.

Paint on the cars was smoothly applied and opaque, with sharp separations between the white and black areas. The CN logos and car names or numbers were sharply printed. Where appropriate, the window frames have silver-painted frames.

The cars roll on four- or six-wheel trucks as appropriate. All wheels are metal and capable of picking up current for optional interior lighting. Kato’ automatic couplers are truck-mounted at the correct height and require the user to install the metal glad hands.

On the test track. Our sample locomotives were DC-powered, so I set up the Kato Master Set, which includes an oval of Unitrack and a Kato power pack to get some performance stats.

The directional light-emitting diode headlight came on and the locomotive started to move at 2V, crawling along at less than 1 scale mph. Top voltage was 13.5V, resulting in a 239 scale mph top speed. At 6V, the locomotive ran at 82 scale mph, about as fast as one could expect from an F unit pulling a passenger train across Canada.

The locomotive has a pulling force of .64 ounces, enough to pull 5 passenger cars on straight and level track. A single locomotive had no trouble pulling the free-rolling Kato cars, and three locomotives were more than sufficient.

I set up the train on our Canadian Canyons project layout, where the CN “Transcontinental” looked right at home. The passenger cars caught a particular tunnel portal on a 13" radius curve – watch out for the overhangs on sharper curves.

This is a handsome set packed with Kato’s typical high-quality models. Canadian train enthusiasts wishing to
model the mid-’60s through mid-’70s can get a good start on their N scale passenger train rosters with the CN “Transcontinental.”
Facts & Features

Price: “Transcontinental” 7-Car Set, $250; “Transcontinental” 7-Car Set w/ Interior Lighting Installed, $355; F7A-F7B set (DC, no sound), $175; F7A-F7B set (DCC, no sound), $335; F7A-F7B set (DCC, sound), $575; single F7A, $90 (DC, no sound), single F7A, $170 (DCC, no sound), single F7A, $90 (DCC, sound), $290

Kato USA Inc.
100 Remington Rd.
Schaumburg, IL 60173
Era: 1964-1978
Roadname: Canadian National
• A unit has directional headlight and illuminated number boxes
• All-wheel electrical pickup
• Blackened metal wheels, in gauge
• Drop-in DCC compatible with the Train Control Systems K0D8 series and Digitrax DN163K0B decoders
• Five-pole motor with flywheels
• Kato magnetic knuckle couplers
Passenger cars
• Flush glazing
• Interior of cars can be lighted with 11-211/212 Version 2 Interior Light Kit
• Kato magnetic knuckle couplers
• Metal wheels, in gauge
• Molded interior
• Lighted Skytop lounge with tail sign, marker lights, and table lamps
• Weights (each): Coach, diner, Skytop lounge, 1.2 ounces (.2 ounces light per NMRA RP-20.1); baggage car, 10-6 sleepers, 1.3 ounces (.1 ounces light); Super Dome, 1.5 ounces (.1 ounces heavy); F7A and F7B, 3.1 ounces

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