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Kato F40PH - The Latest Model of Amtrak's Workhorse

The F40PH Returns

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating



Ditch lights are a small detail but add a lot of character to the front of Kato's F40PH.

©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.
This popular locomotive has been reproduced in many scales and by several different manufacturers. Kato has been producing its version of the F40 for well over a decade. With this latest release however, they have offered the first version in HO scale with an updated front end, complete with working ditch lights. Two roadnumbers are available in this version for Amtrak. Three additional models are available for Chicago's Metra commuter rail carrier. These locomotives have several roadname-specific variations from the Amtrak models. MSRP for either road is $180. Kato also offers the models equipped with DCC and sound direct from the factory. These retail for $280. One of these, No. 396, is the subject of this review.

Prototype Background

The F40PH was not Amtrak's first new passenger locomotive, but it was certainly its first truely successful model.

First introduced in 1975, the F40PH was originally intended only for smaller regional routes. The reliable locomotives, based on EMD's GP40 freight model, quickly took over nearly all of Amtrak's trains outside of the electrified Northeast Corridor.

The boxy and angled lines of the F40PH were radically different than anything else on the rails, especially the aging E8 and E9 locomotives that they finally replaced. While they weren't quickly accepted by the railfan community, the locomotives earned everyone's respect.

By the mid 1980s, the F40PH became the new public face of Amtrak and could be seen in photographs and stylized advertisements nationwide. The break from the "traditional passenger locomotive look" was really a plus for the carrier which had to begin changing perceptions of a traveling public who had come to associate rail travel as outdated and underperforming.

The design became popular with commuter railroads across the United States and Canada as well. Faced with their own aging equipment problems, many found a convenient answer in the F40PH. Chicago maintained the largest commuter fleet, with the locomotives finding homes from Boston to California, Toronto to Florida.

The appearance of the locomotives changed over the years. One of the first of these was the addition of new "ditch lights" to the nose. These extra lights were closer to the eye level of the public at crossings increasing visibility. They also improved visibility from the cab. These lights became standard features on almost all locomotives by the middle of the 1990s, but they came to passenger equipment earlier.

In the second half of the 1990s, many of the locmotives entered rebuild programs or retirement. Some continue to roam the rails today however, hauling everything from railroad executive trains to commuters to freight.

A Well Detailed Model

nose details

Many of the nose details are customized per roadname on the new models.

©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

With the commonality of the locomotive on the railroads in the 1980s and 1990s, it is no wonder that many manufacturers have produced models. Each new rendition of the locomotive has brought with it new advances. Some had a decent appearance but poor mechanical operations. Others were strong runners but sat too low. Even Kato's earlier releases seemed to capture the best of all options.

The model features many separately applied detail parts including grabirons, mu cables, coupler cut levers and railings. There are numerous details on the front of the locomotive that vary with roadname including air conditioning, lights, horns, plows, strobes and more.

This model comes painted in Amtrak's "Phase III" paint scheme, with evenly-sized red, white and blue stipes over the "Platinum Mist" silver body. All of the paint is evenly applied and the lettering and striping are crisp and applied evenly over the many ridges and small body details on the shell.

Sound and Performance

This model came factory equipped with an ESU Locksound decoder, pre-programmed with sounds for an Amtrak F40PH. The sounds are spot on and you can pick out many of the individual sounds. Even at idle there are intermittant pops and hisses from drain valves and the compressor.

The diesel rpm sounds increase with the speed of the locomotive, with the first several "notches" coming just as the train starts to move. The locomotive also has great horn, bell and dynamic brake noises.

I will probably only make one change to the factory settings and that will be to lower the volume overall. At least when running it alone in a room, it's a bit loud. But if you're running in a crowded club or open house - this will be great!

Considering the cost of a sound decoder and speaker alone, the extra cost of having the model sound-equipped at the factory is quite reasonable. My only disappointment with the DCC aspects of the pre-programmed decoder was the lack of an alternating ditch light pattern when the horn is sounded. This is very likely something that can be addressed by changing a few CV's - something I will try in the near future.

I found the locomotive very sensitive to dirty rail - though sound units usually give the first warning about track cleaning time. But beyond that, the performance was smooth and flawless. The model has a little momentum programmed into it - just enough to keep you on your toes.

With the sound turned off the motor was perfectly silent, even at high speeds. Speaking of top speed, the model seems to top out very close to the prototype. On nearly all of its routes, the F40PH was limited by track conditions to 70 mph or less (sometimes a lot less.) The Kato model will have no trouble maintaining that, even with a few cars behind it.



The Kato F40PH captures the look, sound and performance of this distinctive prototype.

©2012 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

While this locomotive is brilliant right out of the box, there are a few things you can do to make it even better.

The first step should be to darken the vents and grills on the long hood. After that, a little light weathering would do a lot to bring out the many details of the trucks and underbody. Amtrak did wash these locomotives regularly, but on a cross-country trek they were bound to pick up a little road dust.

All of these are things I expect to do with any factory-painted model and are no way a detraction from the overall rating of this engine.

Whether it's pulling Superliners across the Rockies or Amfleets along the shores of the Great Lakes, these F40PHs are going to look great on any layout. And for N scalers, Kato also makes a ditch-light equipped model for Amtrak and several commuter agencies.

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