Newly released from Bachmann, these HO scale Hi-Rail trucks can add a new dimension of fun to your model railroad. The powered and lighted vehicles are equipped with a DCC decoder and can be used on conventional DC layouts or with any of the popular DCC systems.
The model is available in Conrail, Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and an unlettered white scheme. Bachmann's suggested retail price is $109.00.
Railroads began converting automobiles and trucks into rail-bound vehicles as early as the 1920s. Most of these were converted simply by removing the tires and placing new flanged steel wheels on the axles.
By the 1950s, convertible "Hi-Rail" vehicles that could operate on both road and rail began to replace the classic "speeders" in transporting maintenance crews and supplies to work sites. Just as the speeders had replaced the iconic pump cars, the convenience and versatilitiy of the new technology could not be denied. Unlike the earlier rail-cars, the new Hi-Rails use their road wheels for power. Two small pairs of guide wheels help guide the vehicle and keep it centered on the rails. The steering wheel is also locked into place.
Today, Hi-Rail's come in all shapes and sizes. The smallest are pick-up trucks used for track inspection. Larger work trucks like the prototype for the Bachmann model perform similar functions on the rails that they do for road crews. The large bed and bins carry tools. There is even a small crane to help lift or position heavy objects on site.
Some larger trucks are even equipped with railroad couplers and can move a few rail cars. This is great for work around a project site, but the locomotives have nothing to fear!
A work party might include several different vehicles. Trucks arrive via the nearest access road. A paved road crossing makes the ideal location to come onto the rails (after getting clearance from the dispatcher of course!) The driver simply positions the truck on the rails, lowers the rail wheels and continues on with a very smooth ride.
While the sight of one of these Hi-Railers is usually not a good omen if you're waiting for trains, these inspection and work operations can be a fun change on a model railroad.
Overall, the proportions of this model look good for a large work truck, but perhaps stretched a bit to accomodate the motor and decoder. This is most noticeable around the wheel wells where the "tires" nearly disappear under the hood and equipment boxes. The oversized appearance is due more to the narrow width of the wheels than the size of the carbody.
There are lots of smaller details however. The crane can be manually raised or lowered and rotates 360 degrees. The bed of the truck features tanks, boxes and molded-on hand tools. There is even a small vice on the back deck. The floor of the bed, as well as the interior of the cab, are raised to accomodate the internal mechanisms.
The truck also features working headlights and tail lights.
You could easily hide the raised bed with some additional details. Adding a driver to the cab would be a very nice touch since the truck has large windows. It will mean some significant surgery to a figure however.
There is room for more details as well. Windshield wipers, larger rear-view mirrors, radio antennae and more could all be easily fasioned from wire.
The Conrail model I purchased for this review features nicely applied paint and lettering. The license plate is a nice touch (and one often missed on model vehicles.) The yellow color is appropriate for Conrail trucks from the early 1980s through the early-mid 1990s. Some early vehicles were painted blue. Towards the end, a high-visibility safety yellow was used which had more of a green tint.
One small issue however may be the logo on the driver's side door. On this side the "rails" of the Conrail logo point to the right. Although I've yet to find a photograph of one of Conrail's small blue vehicle logos like this, I won't say for sure it was never done. The opposite side door has the logo in its conventional configuration.
There is room for some additional paint and decals as well. Perhaps the biggest improvement would be to paint the wheel hubs silver or gray. This should help pull them out of the shaddows. Safety and warning placards, a vehicle number and more could also be added with small decals.
This isn't the first time Bachmann has released a line of Hi-Rail vehicles. The company first issued three different body styles in the 1980s. Although the cars featured nice details and proportions, their short wheelbase caused problems on non-powered switch frogs. And the cars' operating qualities and speed control left a lot to be desired for anything other than a toy layout. That being said, they were innovative models for their time.
These new models carry on that tradition of innovation, and unfortunately to a great extent, performance. Out of the box, the truck performed poorly. After a few minutes of running, things started getting better, but still not where I'd like it to be.
The motor and gears are noisy compared to most models and pick up is a problem. On examining the model closely, it appears that the model is only picking up through the rear wheels. Perhaps with some dissambly, cleaning and lubrication both the pickup and noise can be improved. Additional break in time will also help.
On the plus side, once the model did get moving, it seemed to have no problems on No. 6 and No. 8 frogs (the No. 8s were powered) as well as some curved turnouts on my railroad.
In fairness, no 2-axle model will run as smoothly as a larger diesel with swiveling trucks. I think there is hope for improving this truck's performance, but there are limitations which should be expected.
Enhancements and Operation
Now that the initial review is over, I can see a lot of fun ahead in enhancing the model. In addition to some of the operational and cosmetic changes mentioned above, a little light weathering will make some of the existing details stand out and give the truck an appropriate in service look. Perhaps improving this vehicle will be the subject of another article.
Aside from being a fun thing to play with, having a work crew like this could be used to add a new layer of authenticity to your operations. Just like on the prototype, nothing can shake up the normal flow of operations on a railroad like a work crew.
Not only will the track the truck and crew are on be blocked for regular trains, but neighboring tracks may also need to be placed under slow orders or traffic may need to be halted altogether. Even just a passing inspection trip could tie up the railroad for hours. It would also be a good way for a new operator to learn the railroad and controls and meet other operators during an operating session.
Overall, this model has a lot of potential. While it's not complete gem right out of the box, with a little mechanical and detail work, these work trucks could offer a lot of play value for the cost.