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Walthers HO WiFlyer Express train set

Read this review from Model Railroader magazine
Oval of track, a sound-equipped Electro-Motive Division GP15-1 locomotive, three freight cars, a caboose, and a Wi-Fi receiver.
The HO scale WiFlyer Express train set comes with an oval of track, a sound-equipped Electro-Motive Division GP15-1 locomotive, three freight cars, a caboose, and a Wi-Fi receiver.
People who buy train sets are looking for simplicity. They want to buy one box, set up its contents easily, and get running trains right away. Walthers is answering that need with new technology, offering three new train sets that operate via a digital throttle using a smartphone, tablet, or similar Wi-Fi device. The HO scale WiFlyer Express train set comes with an oval of track, a sound-equipped Electro-Motive Division GP15-1 locomotive, three freight cars, a caboose, and a Wi-Fi receiver.
Walthers Electro-Motive Division GP15-1 locomotive with plastic body shell removed to show the electronics.
The Walthers Electro-Motive Division GP15-1 locomotive has been updated with new electronics for service in the WiFlyer set.
The locomotive. In the 1970s, Electro-Motive Division noted that railroads were rebuilding their older GP7 and GP9 diesels into low-horsepower, lightweight engines for local switching and yard jobs. The company developed the GP15-1, basically a rebodied MP15DC switcher with a bigger fuel tank, to recapture some of that lost business.

Electro-Motive Division built a total of 310 GP15-1s for Chicago & North Western, Missouri Pacific, St. Louis-San Francisco, and Conrail. CSX no. 1545, the model in our review set, was an ex-Conrail engine that came to CSX in the Conrail breakup of 1998. It was scrapped in 2010.

Cody Grivno reviewed the Walthers GP15-1 in October 2009. The model now features an ESU Essential Sound Unit Digital Command Control (DCC) decoder. The locomotive’s one-piece molded plastic body shell is unchanged. It’s a good representation of the prototype, matching the dimensions shown on a diagram published in the January 1990 MR. It also resembles photos of the prototype I found online. Though the shell lacks grab irons or lift rings, it has drilling starter points for the latter, if a modeler wants to install them. There’s glazing in the cab windows, and the horn is separately installed on the cab roof.

The paint was smooth and evenly applied, and the small lettering under the road number was clear and legible. The cars. The three freight cars, plus caboose, in the set come from the entry-level WalthersTrainline brand. As such, they have injection-molded plastic bodies, and details like ladders and brake gear are simplified or molded in place. All are smoothly painted and resemble prototype plans and photos.

Though all the car types were still around for the time period set by the locomotive, some – the two-bay hopper in particular – would be nearing the end of their service life. Like the locomotive, the Conrail boxcar would have gone to CSX or Norfolk Southern in 1998. But if it went to NS, which inherited the CR mark, it’s possible the car could have kept its old paint scheme for a few years.

All the cars have blackened metal wheels on plastic axles, in gauge; likewise, the Proto-Max magnetic knuckle couplers were all mounted at the correct height. The boxcar was a half-ounce short of the National Model Railroad Association recommended weight under Recommended Practice 20.1, something easily correctable. The open-top freight cars are considerably lighter than they should be, both weighing less than 2.5 ounces; a load could fix that. The caboose, at only 2.2 ounces, is considerably underweight.

The control for the Walthers WiFlyer is a webpage on the included Wi-Fi receiver.
Test run. The train set comes with a 38 x 54-inch oval of Walthers Power-Loc sectional track with nickel-silver rail. The sections lock together by sliding them sideways. This is easier to accomplish with the pieces flat on a table.

Setting up the Wi-Fi control system was faster and easier than assembling the oval of track. After attaching the receiver box to the terminal rerailer track and plugging it in, I connected my iPhone to the Walthers Wi-Fi network. (This network is isolated, not accessible to or from the internet. No home Wi-Fi router is needed, and the Walthers box can’t take the place of one.) You do need to provide your own smartphone or Wi-Fi-enabled tablet to run trains.

There’s no app to download; the controller is a web page that lives on the Wi-Fi receiver box. After typing a numeric address into my phone’s web browser, the throttle control window came up, with four buttons for sound, lights, bell, and horn, as well as a throttle slider. After typing in the locomotive’s number, I took control. The app will control any DCC-equipped locomotive, and the WiFlyer GP15-1 will run on a DCC-equipped layout.

The locomotive had admirable low-speed control, creeping at less than 1 scale mph. The throttle control screen doesn’t have markings to show you how much power you’re sending to the locomotive, so I tried to eyeball its speed curve. At about 25 percent throttle, the engine rolled at 10 scale mph, and 40 scale mph at about half throttle. This low-speed performance makes the GP15-1 well suited for the switching jobs handled by its prototype. Built-in momentum made starts and stops gradual and realistic.

The locomotive also had plenty of pulling power, mustering 3 ounces of drawbar force, enough for a 42-car freight train on straight and level track.

The future of model railroading? Model train manufacturers are always looking for the next big thing. If Wi-Fi control is making its way to entry-level train sets, you can pretty much consider it mainstream. Expect more products featuring increasingly powerful smartphone or tablet control from Walthers in the future.

Facts & features
Price: $299.98
Wm. K. Walthers Inc.
5601 W. Florist Ave.
Milwaukee, WI 53218
Era: CSX set: 1998 to 2010
Roadnames: CSX, Burlington Northern Santa Fe, and Canadian Pacific
Blackened-metal RP-25 wheels, in gauge
Directional light-emitting-diode lights
Drawbar pull: 3 ounces (42 cars)
Five-pole skew-wound motor with flywheels
Flexible plastic handrails, molded in color
Proto-Max knuckle couplers, at correct height
Sound effects: diesel engine, bell, horn, and brake squeal
Weight: 12.1 ounces
Blackened-metal RP-25 wheels, in gauge, on plastic axles
Proto-Max knuckle couplers, at correct height
Track and control system
16 pieces of Power-Loc sectional track with plastic roadbed (forms 38 x 54-inch oval)
Nickel-silver rail
Terminal rerailer
Wi-Fi receiver with power supply

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Freight yard design and operation.

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