Introduced: 1996 (first Spectrum version), 2003 (revised Spectrum version) and 2018 (DCC-Sound Dash 8-40CW)
These models are joined at the hip in terms of their evolution and history (not to mention sharing the exact same internals), so to save myself a bit of time I'm going to cover them both here.
The initial 1996 release of these models (pictured above) was Bachmann's second semi-futile attempt (after their 1994 F7 release) at shedding their "we only make junk toys" image. And although an upgrade over most of their previous crapola, these first-run GE diesels were not particularly well received. Consequently, Bachmann wound up releasing completely revised (and muchly improved) versions of these models in 2003. The original "not so good" models came in the old Spectrum "plastic clamshell stuck inside a cardboard sleeve" packaging, whereas the newer (and better) versions will be found in Bachmann's more recent "jewel case with blue and white inserts" packaging. And eBay bidders beware - unscrupulous sellers are not below dumping those old 1996 models on the unsuspecting public without identifying them as such.
The original 1996 mechanism is somewhat reminescent of Bachmann's revised SD40-2 mechanism (also released in 1996), just without most of the horrible flaws -
The chassis is all-metal and split-frame. The motor is an open-sided, skew-wound 5-poler (with dual flywheels). Apart from the brass worms, all of the gearing is plastic. All wheels are geared and provide pickup. Current is transferred from the trucks to the chassis via oval metal contact strips (Bachmann's typical scheme of the 80s and 90s). Directional lighting is provided by an LED lightboard mounted inside the shell (with metal contacts that reach down to the chassis). Couplers are truck-mounted Rapidos (IE, open pilots). The wheels are blackened and low-profile (no problems on Code-55 rails). The truck towers (which house the worm gears) pivot right along with the trucks.
Performance on these models isn't half bad - smooth throttle response, good pickup, decent slow-speed creepability, reasonable top-end speed, good pulling power, etc. Nevertheless, I have gripeage...
Gripe #1 - These things are awfully darned buzzy-noisy. This could, I suppose, be due to those swiveling truck towers. But whatever the case, they're simply not in the same league as the Katos and the Atlases of the world (or even the Life-Likes of the world).
Gripe #2 - I found the Micro-Trains coupler conversion on these models to be a bit problematic. Once converted, the height just isn't quite right. Now, I'm told that one can cobble together parts from different conversion kits in order to get something that will work with these models, but... y'know, that's not really something that your average modeler wants to have to deal with.
Gripe #3 - I really hate the handrails that come with these things. You have to install them yourself, and quite frankly, they're a big pain in the ass. Do-it-yourself sun-shades are also provided for the "40CW's" (but not the 40C's, for whatever reason). Said shades are less of a PITA than the handrails, but honestly, why not just install everything at the danged factory? What part of "ready to run" does Bach-Man not understand?
Then you have the whole truck-mounted couplers / open-pilot situation... and the complete lack of DCC support.... and, well, basically these models were kind of a disappointment (even for 1996). IE, not "state of the art", and definitely over-priced. Ultimately, I guess you could call them "adequate" running models that look OK and that's about it. But given the other (better) options out there, I couldn't see running any of these first-run Dash 8's on an actual model railroad.
In 2003, Bachmann released completely redesigned versions of these models. And although the shells follow the same basic contours of the originals, the paint and detailing are considerably improved. Also, all of the handrails come preinstalled. And although you still have to install the sunshades yourself, it's a pretty simple operation (and this time around, the 40C gets sunshades too) -
In addition to the shell improvements, the mechanism is completely new -
The chassis is all-metal and split-frame. The motor is an open-sided, skew-wound 5-poler (again with dual flywheels). All wheels are geared and provide pickup (no traction tires). All gearing is plastic. The wheels are blackened and low-profile. The couplers are now shell-mounted. And although still Rapidos, converting them to MT's looks to be a simple operation. Bi-directional lights are mounted on either end of the chassis and connected via wires to the lightboard.
Performance can be quite excellent - smooth, quiet, nimble throttle response, nice slow-speed creep, reasonable top-end speed, good pulling power, etc. Unfortunately, the wipers that conduct current from the trucks to the chassis are very poorly designed. Reminescent of the wipers on Life-Like's SD7/9 of the same era, the flimsy / bendy metal strips employed on these models are a problem waiting to happen. Or for that matter, a problem that might have already happened (if you purchased one of the many poorly assembled Dash 8's that, out of the box, won't travel more than a foot without stalling). Sure, these wipers can be tweaked and adjusted. But should you decide to go down that road, it's going to be a life-long commitment - sooner or later they're going to need more tweaking and adjusting.
On the nitpick front, I find the lights used in these models to be a bit odd. They look for all the world like very bright fluorescent lights (and decidedly unlike locomotive lights). Also, why is it that the wheel gauging on these models is always off (generally too narrow)? I have yet to purchase one where I didn't have to pull out my NMRA gauge and tweak the wheels (moan, groan).
These models are billed as being "DCC Ready". And I guess they are, insofar as contacts have been provided on the lightboard for DCC wiring, and room has been provided underneath said lightboard for a decoder. But no, definitely not a simple plug-n-play job.
Anyway, this second-run definitely has its plusses and minuses. Overall, I guess I'd rate them "useable, but not optimal" - IE, a "B".
As noted above, Bachmann released revised DCC-Sound versions of the Dash 8-40CW in 2018 -
Not having either of the previous two versions on hand (hell, who does anymore?), I can't really say with any authority whether or not the shells are new. In any case, the paint and detailing are very nice. And although Bachmann hasn't tried to match scaletrains.com's level of detailing yet, there are indeed quite a few separately applied detail parts here. And the good news is that all of them come preinstalled (including the cab sunshades) -
As for the internals, those are definitely all new -
The chassis is all metal and split-frame. All twelve wheels provide pickup (by way of wheelback wipers). Each truck has two wires that conduct current to the chassis (soldered to the wheel-wipers on one end and to metal rings that screw to the chassis on the other). The decoder is screwed to two metal posts on top of the chassis (from which it receives track current). Wires from the decoder transfer current to the motor and to the speaker (which is mounted inside the fuel tank). Additional wires transfer current to the headlight/numberboard and reverse light LED boards screwed to either end of the chassis.
Given all the bleepin' wires, it's kind of hard to disassemble one of these things in order to get a good look at the guts. But here's at least a peek -
The motor is a round can (and presumably from the same family of coreless motors that Bachmann has been using in their other locomotives of similar vintage). Only one of the motorshafts is equipped with a flywheel. A series of interlocking (and lengthy) plastic driveshafts spin the wormshafts. The brass worms are held in place by bearing blocks that mount inside of notches in the chassis.
The rectangular speaker is actually screwed in place inside the fuel tank (with the sound projecting downward through holes in said fuel tank). So, although you can remove the screws that hold the fuel tank to the chassis, you can't really get at the screws that hold the speaker to the fuel tank without completely disassembling the model (when assembled, the wires from the decoder prevent one from moving the fuel tank more than a few millimeters away from the chassis).
All six axles are geared and all gearing is white plastic. Clips on the truck towers hold the trucks to the chassis (and although the trucks pull off quite readily, the pickup wires won't let you move them very far). The wheels are blackened and low-profile (no problems on Atlas Code-55 rails). There are no traction tires.
The shell is all plastic and consists of three main pieces (cab, body, and sidesill) that all clip together. Additional press-fit details include handrails, cut levers, MU cables, snow plows, windows (w/ wipers), numberboards, radiator fins, cab interior, sunshades, etc. Some of the cab detailing varies by roadname (there being three different versions - CSX/NS, UP, and ATSF/CN). Couplers are shell-mounted E-Z Mates (ala carte Rapido-style couplers are included in the box).
Performance on this latest version is outstanding in every way (and light years ahead of Bachmann's previous DCC-Sound diesel release - their problematic SD45 release of 2015). Out of the box, mine ran virtually flawlessly (I did have some initial problems with the trucks derailing, but a couple of minor adjustments to the wheel gauging took care of that). Once suitably tweaked, I was seriously blown away by just how well it ran (on both DCC and DC). Super smooth, whisper quiet, nimble throttle response, flawless pickup, impressive slow speed creep and a very realistic top-end speed. Pulling power is equally impressive, with mine able to pull thirty assorted 50' freight cars through curves on level track with ease. No problems on sharp (9.75" radius) curves. Great sound from the speaker. Overall, just a very fine looking and great running model.
Developed in the early 1980s, the Dash 8-40C embodied General Electric’s desire to take the lead in modern locomotive design, with the first mass-produced, 4000-horsepower locomotive. The Dash 8-40C employed the day’s state-of-the-art computer and mechanical technology to earn its reputation for fast and reliable service on railroads throughout the United States.
The wide-cab style locomotive was originally offered by General Electric as an option for the Dash 8-40C, later becoming the standard for their series of contemporary freight locomotives.
Features (2003 Spectrum version) -
• DCC ready
• Two piece die-cast main frame
• All-wheel pickup
• 5-pole, skew wound motor
• Dual machined brass flywheels
• White LED lighting
• Finescale detail parts
• N scale NMRA wheel flange profile
Features (DCC-Sound version) -
• Econami™ SoundTraxx® DCC sound decoder
• Factory set for Dash-40CW realism
• Choice of 5 prime movers, 16 airhorns, multiple variations of 7 bell types, 2 air compressors, and 3 couplers
• Function-activated grade-crossing signal
• 16-bit polyphonic sound
• Adjustable auto-notching sensitivity for prototypical operation
• Adjustable master volume and individual sound effect volume levels, advanced consisting, and more
Shell removal -
To remove the shell from a first version model, first unscrew the two screws on the bottom of the fuel tank. Once the fuel tank is removed, you'll see the two screws that hold the chassis to the shell. Remove those and the shell should lift right off.
Removing the shell on the latter two versions is pretty simple - just grab the fuel tank with one hand and the shell with the other. Then, just sort of wiggle the shell up and off.
Grades: B (for both Spectrum releases) and A (for the DCC-Sound version)
First version reviewed: 1/97 Model Railroader ("Bachmann's latest N scale locomotive, the GE Dash 8-40CW, is a wide-nose version of the firm's earlier standard-cab Dash 8-40C. As the most modern diesel to hit the N scale market in quite some time, the model's mid-range price and overall detail should make it a popular choice for those who model modern railroading... The model captures the prototype's rugged looks. All major dimensions of the model are within inches of measurements taken on a prototype locomotive. Each model includes the correct cab and number board arrangement for that prototype. The Santa Fe version features a nicely proportioned "gull wing" style cab and blanked-out rear number boards. The UP and CSX versions have low headlights and number boards, and the Conrail version has a high headlight, low number boards, and doesn't have sun shades... The moldwork on the shell is adequate, although the door grooves are a bit deep and wide. That caused some gaps in the lettering, especially on the large "Santa Fe" on the side. The oversize injection-molded plastic grab irons atop the nose are the most distracting element of the model's appearance... All of the end and side handrails are molded in acetal plastic. The end rails on both our samples were bowed in toward the body, and I didn't have any luck trying to straighten them. The truck sideframes do a fairly good job of capturing the look of the prototype, but there's not a sufficient relief to them and they lack brake cylinders... Disassembly is easier than for most N scale diesels... The Dash 8 is no slouch when it comes to performance. The starting voltage was slightly higher than for other N scale six-axle units... I was especially pleased with the model's speed range. The locomotive crawls better than any other Bachmann engine I've seen... Modelers with a big interest in detail may want to fine-tune the engine's looks, but operators, who make up the majority of the N scale market, really come out on top. Undec, Conrail, CSX, UP, ATSF. Price: $65")