Facebook Page
AEM-7 #929

AEM-7 #929

After the apparent lack of success of Amtrak's new fleet of E60CP/E60MA electric locomotives, ordered as replacements for the ancient Pennsy GG-1s, they began to look at European designs that were already in use and proven to be reliable. One such was a French locomotive, the other was a Swedish Rc4 built by ASEA. One of each came to the United States and received an Amtrak Phase II paint job as well as an experimental designation. The Rc4 was the X995, while the French engine was X996. After much testing, the Swedish design was chosen, and modified to suit American needs.

The result was the AEM-7, designed by ASEA and built by EMD, with 7000 horsepower packed into its small boxy shell. Incidentally, the carbodies for Amtrak's initial order of about 50 AEM-7s were built by passenger-car giant Budd. However, Budd subsequently went out of the railroad equipment business, so all later AEM-7 carbodies were built by another manufacturer. The AEM-7s were an instant success for Amtrak service. They could operate reliably, hauling strings of Amfleet coaches up and down the Northeast Corridor at 125 mph. Now, having been in service for over twenty years, the entire fleet still runs daily, minus two that were wrecked early on. They are being supplemented, but not replaced, by new Acela HHP-8 electrics which develop 8000 horsepower. However, they will surely be a common sight for years to come, since some have been given new life as rebuilt AEM-7ACs.

Though a model of the AEM-7 was offered in brass in the early 1990s, it was a rare sight on model railroads for a long time. I myself began an attempt to scratchbuild one, since I couldn't see modeling the Northeast Corridor without one, but I stopped when I began to hear industry rumors that one would soon be released in plastic. Sure enough, Atlas now offers a very well-detailed, smooth-running model of Amtrak's electric workhorse. Finally I could have a typical Northeast Corridor consist powered by an everyday AEM-7. And with a few simple modifications to the already-excellent model, I'd have a realistic replica of standard Amtrak electric power.

The one major modification was the rebuilding of the pantographs to match the older style that was original equipment on Amtrak's AEM-7s. All of these types are painted black, and the stock Atlas pans closely follow the prototype's double lower arms and extra bracing. However, I could not understand what led the designers to replace the distinctive upper support rods, with their multiple angled bends, with an ugly metal lump that resembles some sort of large clip. That had to go, and the etched-metal upper contact surface didn't look much like the twin bars of the prototype that are bent 45 degrees downward at the ends.

After carefully disassembling the offending parts, I replaced them with pieces of brass wire and sheet carefully bent to the correct shape and installed properly on the original upper arm. The contact surface was made from two lengths of brass wire with 45-degree bends, held together with two small brass strips that have holes drilled in them to mount to the supports. Some careful soldering, adjusting, and a coat of black paint - voila, we have our protoypical pantograph. Notice in these photos only one pan has been rebuilt - the other has simply had its contact surface painted black for the photos, but will soon be reworked as well. Compare the finished one with the stock one to see how much realism it adds. The only other major modification was the treatment of the lower cab steps: since I found they'd be safe on my current 22"-radius curves, I removed them from the truck sideframes, clipped off the mounting pins, and carefully attached them to the body shell itself using solvent cement.

After that, all of the detailing was in the form of touch-up paint and custom decals. There were many items on the model - especially grab irons - that had to be painted with prototypical colors. The wheel faces received a coat of Gunmetal, a dark metallic color, while just the rims were given a once-over with Dirt. Other items, such as details on the pilots, were painted with the appropriate silver, black, blue, red, or white. Also, since I was tired of the number 901 - figuring that many other modelers would have it as well - I found a photo from early 2000 that showed AEM-7 no. 929 with the older black pans, so after carefully painting out the existing side numbers and numberboards with white paint, I made custom decals with my computer and Alps printer. The numberboards were done with the appropriate font, Microgramma Bold Extended or Square 721 BT. Other modelers may have luck with dry transfers, using Helvetica for the side numbers. And while I was at it, I made "Authorized Personnel Only" signs for the cab doors, following the prototype photo, and also made miniscule "Danger - High Voltage" lettering for the warning signs on the roof ends. Atlas had painted these signs white, with red lettering, but all prototypes I've seen have been the opposite. Finally, I used my printer's optional silver ink to make stainless-steel kick plate decals for the steps under the cab. Plain silver trim film would work as well. Note that not all AEM-7s have these plates, and some are painted over with blue.

I chose not to add ditch lights, since I model the era between 1993 and the present, but I plan to model additional AEM-7s that will receive them. For now, my superdetailed AEM-7 is now ready to head up a string of Amfleet cars and set out for destinations along the Corridor. At least I know my passengers will arrive on time! Now, if only I could finish superdetailing a train of Amfleets...

Click photos to enlarge
Freshly decaled AEM-7 no. 929 sits on my desk. Visible are the new numberboards and the reworked pantograph. Behind it are the tools and supplies that I used for decaling, and also a prototype photograph, which is available elsewhere on my site. 7/7/02
A view at a different angle shows the new side number decals, warning signs, and kick plates. 7/7/02
Honestly, I'm almost scared to subject my work to such close scrutiny. No, my printer's resolution isn't as good as it could be, and apparently I missed a spot on the handrail with the Stainless Steel paint, but under normal viewing conditions, that sign is quite legible. 7/8/02
Extreme close-up of the kick plates. The advantage to making them with my printer was that I could print them to exact size, requiring no careful cutting of decal film, and include the bolt detail using black ink. However, that's not to say you couldn't use a laser printer to add bolt heads and cutting guides on ordinary silver trim film. 7/8/02
The numberboards appear far more realistic now that they have the correct font. They required no white ink, instead being black stencils that let the white paint underneath show through. The rooftop warning sign was at one time legible, but the Micro Sol setting solution dissolved some of the white ink. 7/8/02