Streamliners!!! The word evokes mental pictures of sleek colorful trains crossing the country at high speed, providing all the comforts that any passenger could want. This has always been a train that model railroaders have sought to reproduce on their miniature empires.
The real railroads ordered their trains on a custom made basis, which made each unique. Even after they received their cars, many roads made changes and modifications to suit their needs. It is here that we meet with a dilemma in our modeling. No manufacturer can reproduce the exact consist for every railroad in the U.S., and make a profit. Thus we wind up with a model train that looks good, but does not display every detail that it's 1:1 cousin has.
That being said, it was exciting news to see that USA had started to release it's new line of passenger cars over the past months. Much has been written about these cars, and I will present as much information to you as I can, so that you can make up your own mind as to whether you want to make a purchase or not. This information is from a great many people with which I correspond. Also, thanks goes to Jim Matthews of SE Trains, who let me closely examine the cars which he had for sale at the recent GATS.
The cars are nice. They are prototypically 80 scale feet (1/29 scale) long which makes them close to 36 inches in length. Typically an eight car consist will scale out to around 24 feet without motive power. These are heavy cars, being extruded from aluminum, which will require substantial motive power to move them over your layout. I understand that each box weighs just under 15 pounds. The cars are prototypically low, so they look good, but will not mate well with the Aristo streamliners or smoothsides. Once Once the Aristo cars are lowered, they should mate well.
USA says the cars will negotiate 8 foot diameter curves, but everyone says they are more at home on 10 foot diameter curves or greater. In fact it is the consensus that they look great on 20 foot diameter curves, but who has that kind of room!! The couplers are body mounted, and they move to allow a better turning radius, but still appear to require broad curves. Because the couplers are body-mounted, they do not like S-Curves, and crossovers using Aristo wide-radius turnouts may cause problems even with straight sections before, after, and between the turnouts. These cars seem better suited for the new Aristo #6 turnouts that have just been released. The trucks are nicely detailed but un-sprung, and I hear are not real forgiving of uneven track. The wheels are shiny and would require some paint to make them look right. Definitely do not try to back these cars through a turnout or into a tight curve.
The couplers themselves are mounted so that the cars close couple and are of a new design. They do not appear to be suited to mate with Aristo couplers, but Kadees would probably work just fine. There are rubber diaphragms between the cars just like the F3 units have. Unfortunately, many prototype streamliners had full car end diaphragms to give a more streamlined effect, and cover the breaks between car ends. Still, this is a nice touch by USA giving the consist a prototype feel.
There is a great deal of underbody detail that is not provided by other manufacturers. This of course is not going to be visible on the average garden railroad, unless the trains are run at eye level, or the car turns over in a derailment. From the sides, the detail looks good on all the cars.
Every car has an interior and some passengers. The window material is clear so the interior can be seen. Lighting is good for night running, and is provided by white LED's which are controlled by a switch on the bottom of the car. Even these cars flicker at times, and to improve this, I would recommend running jumpers between cars so that the whole train shares power pickup. The passengers are rather small for 1/29, and almost look like large O gauge figures. Additional figures are available for purchase from USA if you really want to fill your cars with passengers. The interiors are well done, but the colors are atrocious!! You either have bright yellow or bright blue depending upon the car. Many modelers are talking about removing the interiors and repainting them to the more prototypical colors for their particular railroad.
The dome cars are nicely done, and I suspect they used an ATSF car for their models. There are two Budd dome types which are very nicely done with crisp edges and sloping glass. The ATSF dome I examined had the train antenna along the roof that was common on these cars. Dome seating is double seat coach style, which many modelers plan to change, since the real ones had single seat lounge seating in the dome. Another point of discussion is that every set of cars, regardless of road name, has dome cars. In real life not all railroads had them, especially in the northeast, due to tight clearances. The C&O and B&O ran domes, but when on Pennsy trackage under the wires, the domes were closed to riders for safety concerns. USA has not come out with full length domes which would be correct for the ATSF and the SP, but may in the future. There is also talk about baggage cars and RPO's to go with the sets.
The observation cars are real nice with rear markers and warning lights. As a nice touch, USA has added lighted drumhead signs to the rear just like the prototype. The observation is a "generic" car with no specific prototype modeled. This is due to the unique design each railroad produced for their own name trains. A manufacturer cannot afford to produce molds for every observation type for every railroad in the USA. I nice addition would be a dome observation similar to what the Zephyr or the Canadian Pacific ran.
The fluting on the cars is a disappointment. It is outward bowing which does not match any prototype. The upside is that each railroad was studied and the models match the types of cars run. In other words, the Santa Fe cars have fluted sides and smooth roofs, the NYC cars have smooth sides and smooth roofs, the SP cars have fluted sides and roofs, etc. This is a nice attempt by USA to get the right "look" for each railroad.
Paint jobs are crisp and clean along with the lettering. I am still waiting for the discussion about improper numbering, but that seems to be common on all large scale models. One of the biggest howls came from the Southeast people who love the Atlantic Coast Line. The ACL cars are painted purple instead of silver with a black roof and a purple letterboard. Watch for these to go on sale as a clearance item since no one wants to touch them if they are a serious ACL modeler.
Well, there you have it. Decide for yourself. I would recommend that you get to a GATS and view these cars in person before you buy, since they run about $200 a piece. I am considering a dining car and two sleeping cars for my SP Daylight train. Of course I will have to lower the three SP coaches and the observation I bought from Aristo.
One item of note, Aristo (Lewis) has stated in his forum that he will re-release the Aristo short streamline cars because there is a demand for them for smaller layouts with tighter curves. He will also be re-visiting the smoothsides with plans of reworking them to make them more prototypical. If this happens, look for announcements in GR or on the website.