The new Alco PA's are starting to arrive at the dealers. So far, the D&RGW, Pennsylvania, and Santa Fe units are available, with the rest of the road names due to be shipped by the end of this month.
I was able to see and hold a Pennsylvania PA, and believe me, it's a beauty!! The paint is excellent, with the tuscan red set off well with metallic gold "cat whisker" stripes and lettering. The builder's plate is well done, but I was unable to check and see if the number was correct for a Pennsylvania unit. The only thing missing was the typical train phone antenna along the roof that the Pennsylvania used, which looks like a handrail. I am sure some ambitious modeler will fabricate one and add it to his A-Unit.
The side grills are extremely well done. They appear to be very fragile when compared to the F3 grills, and of course there is a warning on the box about being careful with them when removing the locomotive from its box. There are MU hoses, and a much more believable diaphragm on the rear of the model. This one should couple a lot closer to a "B" Unit than the F3 units do. The radiator fan grill on the roof is very well done, and looks just like the prototype.
There are no dynamic brakes on the roof of this unit. Maybe Pennsylvania did not have them, but the photos of the Santa Fe and D&RGW look like they do. We will have to wait and find out from someone who has one of those units.
The smoke unit seems to put out more smoke than the previous models. I understand that it has been improved. and will automatically shut off when the fluid level gets low.
The diesel has number boards that are correct for an "as delivered" configuration. Many roads changed the number boards to the large angled boards soon after taking delivery from the factory. The roads that these number boards are correct for include Pennsylvania, Delaware & Hudson, Erie, Erie Lackawanna, Gulf Mobile and Ohio, Lehigh Valley, New Haven, New York Central, D&RGW, and Santa Fe. Large angled number boards were prominent on the Nickel Plate, MKT, MOPAC, Southern, Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and Wabash.
There is no coupler installed on the front of the unit. A plate pops off to reveal a post for mounting a coupler, but the slot provided to allow proper coupler swing is huge and very "Lionelish". Some work must be done to reduce the size of this slot so that it looks more prototypical. In the real world, these units came with a coupler cover to make them look more streamlined. This coupler was eventually removed and discarded by the railroads since it got in the way of making up trains and coupling. A Kadee would work well here using a similar mounting system that they came up with for the F3.
The locomotive has the standard USA lighting package, with class lights that change from red to green depending upon the direction of travel. The number boards are lit, along with the cab. The cab light is too bright as usual, and some paint on the bulb to dim it would help make it more realistic. The headlight shows up real well, and on those units with a MARS light housing, it is equally bright. Of course, a Sierra sound system will have to be installed to get the flashing MARS light effect that most modelers want.
As always, the switches controlling lighting and smoke, etc are on the bottom of the unit. The truck partially obscures the switches, so a small screw driver will be needed to set them to your desired configuration.
The trucks are brand new for this loco, and follow the prototype quite well. They are the same articulated style that was used for the SD-40-2, but have been equipped with larger diameter wheels and a longer truck wheelbase. The USA PA's have correct 40" diameter wheels and 94" axel spacing. Of course we have the sliders and traction tires to deal with, but down the road they can be removed, and solid wheels can be installed. There seems to be in improvement in tracking quality of these trucks when compared to the old SD-40-2.
This diesel is one long unit. The real ones were 65' 8" for the A units, and this come scales out pretty close at 27" in length. You can easily see that an A-B-A set would be a fairly long consist. Because of it's length, and the six wheel trucks, I would say that 8 foot diameter curves are a minimum, and preferably 10 foot diameter. I have no information as to how well this diesel will go though wide diameter turnouts and crossovers. I guess when I get my set, I will report on this area of concern. I was surprised that there was not a great deal of heft to this unit when compared to the weight of the Aristo SD-45 that can pull a house if necessary. Perhaps some weight can be safely added if improved traction is required.
In all, USA has come out with a beautiful model that does a good job of representing initial PA-1 production. The model captures the flavor of the big ALCO diesel in all respects, and should look great pulling a consist of streamlined cars. It is a large locomotive, and will not be happy on a small layout. Many of the new diesels being produced are quite large, and layout size along with minimum radius becomes a factor when buying motive power.
This model can be purchased as a single A-Unit or as an A-B set. Road names include D&RGW, B&O, NYC, UP, ATSF, Pennsylvania, Southern, SP, Lehigh Valley, NH, Erie Lackawanna, and MOPAC.