Bachmann Spectrum (China) Acela Express

Introduced: 2006

These models are sold individually or as part of a complete DCC train set. The actual motive power comes from the Cafe car (both "locomotive" units being dummies). Also available are first class cars, business class cars and end-business class cars. The Cafe car and locomotives all come with factory-installed DCC decoders (with the decoders in the locomotives simply providing lighting control). These are "dual-mode" decoders, meaning that this train will run equally well on DCC or analog layouts.

The locomotive pantographs are non-operational (IE, they do not collect current). No surprise there, given the fact that the cab units are dummies and have no electrical connection to the Cafe car. All the cars have interior lighting and very nice interior detail. The locomotive units have bi-color directional LED lighting (switching from white to red when changing directions).

The Cafe Car chassis is all metal, split-frame and nicely hefty. The motor (a closed-sided 3-poler) and drivetrain are rather cleverly concealed inside the base of the chassis, and consequently are not visible through the windows. Six of the eight wheels provide pickup (with one wheel per truck being equipped with a traction tire). Current is collected by axle wipers (two per axle), and transferred from the trucks to the interior lighting PC board by way of long vertical contacts. Said PC board, in turn, transfers current to the decoder. All wheels are geared and all gearing is plastic. The wheels are blackened and low-profile (no problems on Code-55 rails). The coupler system is rather specialized, with one side consisting of a round overhand hook and the other side consisting of a plastic box with a bar inside (to which the hook clips).

These are truly outstanding looking models. The paint is flawless, the bluish interior lighting is impressively realistic, and all that interior and exterior detailing is a wonder to behold. Overall performance on the Cafe Car is impressive, although there are a couple of issues. The good news is that it runs very smoothly and quietly. No pickup problems or anything like that. On the down side, it's completely useless on anything but the broadest of curves. When faced with even 19"-radius curves, mine will slow to a virtual crawl (and then shoot forward once said curve has been cleared). Secondly, it's completely useless on grades. Despite the traction tires, mine can barely pull a moderately sized train (three passenger cars and the two locomotives) up a 2% grade. My other gripe is with the coupler system. Yes, they do provide for some impressively close coupling. However, they're also extremely clumsy to wrangle and it takes a lot of tedious fumbling around to get these things coupled and uncoupled.

I've also read various reports from folks who've run into problems with their Acela cars derailing. According to noted N scale locomotive expert Ron Bearden, this is due to flash on the diaphragms and the coupler pockets. Sanding these surfaces smooth reportedly takes care of these problems. Ron discusses other methods for improving Acela performance in his article in the March/April 2007 issue of N-Scale Magazine (currently available on the N-Scale Magazine Vol 4 CD-ROM).

So, ultimately what we have here is a very nice looking train that's going to be of somewhat limited appeal. Those who have layouts with super broad curves and no grades (or who are willing to tackle Ron's various tweaks) will enjoy these models. As for the rest of us? Not so much...

As of this writing (2009), I've noticed these Acela trainsets being dumped on eBay for ridiculously low prices (less than half their original MSRP). This may be an indication that Bachmann is in the process of abandoning them.

To remove the Cafe Car shell, simply pop the four tabs holding the shell to the chassis and then lift it off. The trucks pull off with a modicum of pressure (note the orientation, there is only one "correct" way to reinstall them).

Grade: B (although pretty much "F" if you have sharp curves or any kind of grades)

Reviewed: 08/06 Model Railroader ("A sharp-looking ready-to-run model of Amtrak's Acela Express is the newest arrival in Bachmann's Spectrum N scale line. The model is equipped with a dual-mode DCC decoder and is usable on DC or DCC layouts... Bachmann's Acela Express is a great-looking model. Die-cast metal frames give the train pleasing heft (the unpowered cars weigh 2 ounces while the power cafe car weighs 5.25 ounces). The tooling is precise with metal frames meeting the plastic upper carbodies in perfect gap-free joints. Painting is similarly first-rate with excellent lettering and striping. The flush-mounted, tinted windows are outlined with black to represent rubber window gaskets. Even the molded underfloor equipment access door latches are neatly highlighted in silver.

"The cars are correct scale 89 feet in length and have interior lighting. The motorless locomotives have a full lighting package. In DC or DCC mode the bluish-white headlights and ditch lights of the forward facing locomotive are illuminated. Changing direction extinguishes the headlights and illuminates a pair of bright red marker lights. Bachmann's N scale Acela Express has a nonstandard hook-and-loop coupling system. The coupler components are small, and so is the space between cars, so coupling takes some patience. The resulting closely coupled train looks realistic but requires a very broad 19" radius curve. A can motor mounted below the windows of the cafe car powers the train. The PC boards for the dual-mode decoder and car interior lighting are located above the car's windows. Electrical feeds from the trucks extend upward to touch contact pads on the PC boards... A pair of traction tires combined with a weight of more than 5 ounces, provides enough pulling power to handle a prototypical two-locomotive, six-car Acela Express consist. On DC, the lowest sustained speed was 5.6 mph. Using DCC, the train crept at 4.4 mph, but the motor growl was quite noticeable at low speed. Bachmann has produced a very detailed, accurate and neatly decorated N scale replica of North America's fastest passenger train. The model's performance is good, and the dual-mode decoder gives it flexibility. $450")

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