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Rapido Trains HO Alco FA-2 and FB-2 diesels

Read this review from Model Railroader magazine
Rapido Trains HO Alco FA-2 and FB-2 diesels

Designed from 3-D scans of existing prototypes, HO scale models of Alco FA-2 and FB-2 diesels are back for a second run from Rapido Trains. In addition to accurately capturing the contours of its transition-era prototype, the HO locomotive is available factory-equipped with a powerful dual-mode ESU LokSound 5 decoder.

The prototype. At the end of 1950 Alco introduced an upgraded version of its B-B freight locomotives, the FA-1 cab unit and FB-1 cabless booster. These new locomotives were designated FA-2 and FB-2 and designed to be dual purpose. Alco designers added an extra 2 feet to the FA-2 and FB-2 carbodies to accommodate optional steam-generator equipment for passenger car heating. The steam-generator-equipped locomotives were designated FPA-2 and FPB-2.

When the Alco’s original FA-1 and FB-1 diesels were introduced in 1945, they featured 1,500 hp, 12-cylinder 244 diesel engines. Later production units had their engines uprated to 1,600 hp, and this improvement was continued through FA-2 and FB-2 production.

Between 1950 and 1956 Alco and its subsidiary Montreal Locomotive Works built 334 FA-2, 194 FB-2, 73 FPA-2, and 33 FB-2 locomotives. Most of the FAs were retired by the 1970s. Several examples survive as display and excursion locomotives.

The model. Our review samples are decorated as Erie Lackawanna (EL) FA-2 nos. 7381 and 7391 and FB-2 no. 7393. These units were originally built as Erie RR nos. 738A, 739A, and 739C in late 1950 and early 1951. They were repainted after 1960 when the Erie merged with the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western to form the EL.

In addition to matching prototype drawings and accurately modeling the extra length of the FA-2 and FB-2, the Rapido models capture other spotting features. These include the boxy number boards and the battery boxes along the sill under the cab windows.

Our EL samples accurately depict what railfans refer to as Phase Ia FA-2s, with “chicken-wire” style air intakes and vertical louvers on the battery boxes. Later production models had vertical louver Farr grills on the air intakes and horizontal louvers on the battery boxes.

All grab irons and handrails are separately applied. The side air-intake grills are etched metal. On top, the radiator grill is see-through, with visible fan detail underneath it.

The cab interior is fully detailed and painted. There’s clear glazing in all the cab windows, as well as separately applied windshield wipers and wind deflectors. There are no crew figures.

The underbody features piping and conduit detail. The American Association of Railroads (AAR) Type B trucks are well-rendered with separate, factory-applied brake cylinders.

The paint and lettering is smoothly applied, with sharp separation between the colors. All lettering and striping placement matches prototype photos.

The motor of Rapido’s FA-2 is nestled in a die-cast metal frame. The Electronic Solutions Ulm LokSound 5 decoder is attached to a motherboard above the motor.

The mechanism. After removing the coupler boxes, I used my fingernails to carefully spread the sides of the plastic body shell away from the chassis. It’s a tight fit, so I found it helpful to insert wooden toothpicks on each side to keep the sides spread. Then I slowly wiggled the body shell free.

The motor and flywheels are in the center of the chassis. Gearboxes power all four axles. All eight wheels pick up current.

The ESU LokSound 5 decoder is plugged into a 21-pin socket on the main printed-circuit motherboard, which is attached to the chassis. A flat, cellphone-style speaker provides clear sound without any buzzes or distortion.

DCC operation. On our DCC test track, the FA-2 crawled along at 1 scale mph in speed step 1 and accelerated smoothly to a top speed of 80 scale mph. The top speed of a prototype FA was 65 mph.

The top speed of the DCC-equipped model, as well as every aspect of the decoder’s performance, sound, and lighting, can be adjusted with configuration variables (CVs). I find it easiest to program LokSound decoders using the free ESU LokProgrammer software available at I also used a LokProgrammer computer interface, which is sold separately at a suggested retail price of $179.99.

Pressing function 8 starts up the sound of the Alco 244 diesel engine. Pressing function 9, Drive/Hold, allowed me to manually notch the engine sound without affecting the locomotive speed. Other user-triggered effects include the headlight, dimmer, bell, backup light, and dynamic brake sound sequence.

The default horn is an accurate reproduction of a Wabco E-2 single chime. There are also four other horn options to choose from. Function 5, the so-called Doppler horn, triggers a grade-crossing sequence with a fading tone.

Lighting functions can also be controlled separately. These include the headlight, backup light, and number boxes. The classification lights can be toggled between white, green, and off.

The model features an independent brake controlled by pressing F11. On our sample, this function wasn’t enabled to actually stop the locomotive, so I had to set up that feature using our LokProgrammer.

Since we received a pair of FA-2s and an FB-2, I advance consisted the locomotives to run in an A-B-A configuration. The LokSound 5 decoders support functions 21 and 22, which allowed me to set the consist function controls so that only the lead unit’s headlight, bell, and horn operated under the consist address. All the units ran together smoothly without any additional speed matching required.

Direct-current (DC) operation. Out of the box, our three FA samples ran erratically on our DC test track. The horn kept turning on, there was no direction control, and the models sped up very fast. The fix is simple but requires a Lok-Programmer, DCC system, or analog programmer such as an MRC Tech 6.

Using the analog operation menu in the LokProgrammer software, I turned off the Use Quantum Programmer option (CV50 = 2). This gave me back direction control.

To smooth out the sound and motor performance I increased the analog starting voltage from 40 to 50 (CV125 = 50) and reduced the motor hysteresis setting from 30 to 5 (CV130 = 5).

After I made those changes, the sounds and lights turned on at 6.25V and the model rolled smoothly at 4 scale mph after I applied 7V to the track. It accelerated smoothly to 67 scale mph at 12V.

On a DC layout, sounds are limited to the engine and a squealing brake sound when the throttle is reduced. The headlight operates according to the direction of travel, but the backup light is nonfunctional unless a controller such as an MRC Tech 6 is used.

Rapido Trains has brought the definitive Alco FA-2 and FB-2 to HO scale. Fans of classic transition-era diesel power won’t want to miss them.

Facts & features
Price: FA-2: $325 (DCC sound), $225
(DC no sound)
FB-2: $299.95 (DCC sound), $199.95
(DC no sound)
Rapido Trains
500 Alden Road, Unit 21
Markham, ON L3R 5H5
Era: 1950 to 1970s
Road names: FA-2: Erie Lackawanna; Ann Arbor; Burlington Northern (ex-Spokane, Portland & Seattle); Chicago & North Western; CP Rail (Multimark); Long Island Rail Road; Louisville & Nashville; Missouri Pacific; New York Central; Penn Central (black with red “P” and ex-NYC cigar band versions); Spokane, Portland & Seattle; Wabash (ex-Ann Arbor); and Western Maryland. FPA-2: CP Rail (Multimark), Louisville & Nashville, and Missouri Pacific. FB-2: Erie Lackawanna; Baltimore & Ohio; Canadian Pacific (block or script lettering versions); CP Rail (Multimark); Chicago & North Western; Erie; Great Northern; Lehigh Valley; Louisville & Nashville; New York, New Haven & Hartford (as-delivered and McGinnis schemes); New York Central (cigar band and lightning stripe versions); Penn Central (black); and Pennsylvania RR. FPB-2: Baltimore & Ohio, Canadian Pacific (block and script schemes), CP Rail (Multimark), Great Northern, and Lehigh Valley. Undecorated FA/FPA-2 and FB/FPB-2 versions also available.
21-pin DCC socket (DC version)
All-wheel drive and electrical pickup
Blackened metal wheels in gauge
ESU LokSound 5 dual-mode decoder (DCC version only)
Five-pole skew-wound motor with dual brass flywheels
Metal knuckle couplers at correct height
Weight: 12 ounces (FA-2), 11.7 ounces (FB-2)

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Freight yard design and operation.

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