Introduced: 2010 (Paragon2 version) and 2020 (Paragon3 version)
Like BLI's previous EMD E units, these passenger Alcos are terrific looking models that run (and sound) great. They are generally sold in A/B pairs (with the B units being dummies). Prior to 2020, the powered units were available either DCC-Ready or with factory-installed Paragon2 DCC-Sound decoders. BLI also sold B unit power chasses ala carte (either DCC-Ready or with Paragon2 Sound). Starting in 2020, the decoders were changed to Paragon3 and the DCC-Ready units were dropped (IE, excluding the dummy B's, they all come with DCC-Sound now).
Paint and detailing are outstanding. I particularly like the separately applied handgrabs and diaphragms, as well as the "see through" etched metal fan and vent screens.
The chassis is a one-piece chunk of metal and quite hefty. The motor is a closed-sided, skew-wound 5-poler with dual flywheels. Ten of the twelve wheels provide pickup (with the rearmost two wheels being equipped with traction tires). Pickup is of the "low-friction" ilk (pointy ended axles inserted into holes in the axle wipers). Wires soldered to the wipers transfer current to the main PC board. The PC board controls directional lighting as well as providing sockets for the decoder and speaker. All wheels are geared and all gearing is plastic. Couplers are Micro-Trains on the Paragon2 units and "BLI" on the Paragon3 units. The pilot coupler on the "A" units is mounted to the chassis, whereas all the rest of the couplers are truck-mounted. All wheels are low-profile. "A" units have a cab interior detail insert and a small LED-equipped PC board for the headlight and Mars light. Sound-equipped locos have a single speaker in a plastic enclosure.
The "dummy" chassis is the same as the powered chassis (metal and all), just sans the guts -
Interally, the earlier DCC-Ready models lack the speaker/enclosure of the DCC-Sound versions. The PC board comes with an 8-pin NMRA-style DCC socket on top (ala the BLI E7).
The DCC-equipped models are supposedly "dual mode" (IE, designed to operate on both DCC and analog layouts). However, they are not compatible with all DC power supplies. For example, my MRC Railpower 1300 will not operate these locos at all (the lights come on, but no sound and no motor). BLI informs me that the only solution to the problem is to either purchase one of their DC Master boxes or switch power supplies. MRC's Tech 3 and Tech 4 throttles reportedly have no problems running these locos.
As noted above, BLI changed the decoders to "Paragon3" with the 2020 release (said decoder providing support for BLI's "Rolling Thunder" external sound system). Apart from the speaker, speaker enclosure, and couplers, everything else looks pretty much the same as before -
Performance-wise, these models run virtually flawlessly out of the box - perfect pickup, excellent slow-speed creep, reasonable top-end speed, smooth, relatively quiet (with the sound turned off) and just plain wonderful. Pulling power is strong, with my A unit having no trouble hauling a dummy B and fifteen 85' passenger cars through curves on level track. I didn't need to resort to any sort of preemptive wheel cleaning on these, so wheel blackening doesn't appear to be an issue. However, like virtually all DCC-Sound locomotives, these do tend to be a bit more finicky about dirt than do non-sound locos. Consequently, one does have to be extremely vigilant about keeping the wheels and track clean or performance will start to go south in a big hurry.
The DCC-Sound feature is quite impressive - nicely beefy, presumably accurate, and with lots and lots of different sound options to choose from (although the "as delivered" volume setting in the Paragon3 units is pretty obnoxious, so you may want to lower the master volume setting in CV 133).
On the nitpick front, I find that these models do make a bit more noise than what we're used to nowadays (nothing horrible, but there is definitely some extraneous gear/wheel buzzing going on as these things roll along). Also, like BLI's earlier EMD diesels, the flywheels on these models just aren't particularly affective (IE, they do tend to stop and start rather abruptly). Another less minor issue relates to the couplers used on the 2020 production run. These new couplers are noticeably shorter (and smaller) than the MTL couplers found on previous releases. In fact, they're so short that the rear coupler on an A unit will not auto-couple with the forward coupler on a B unit (the diaphragms prevent them from getting close enough together) -
From what I've been told, this coupler change was not something that BLI had planned on (IE, they were expecting their Chinese factory to use the same MTL couplers that have been used on all of their previous diesel models). But in any case, the only way to get an A coupled to a B is to give them the "Unimate" treatment (IE, lift up one of the units and then lower its coupler onto the other unit's coupler).
One additional change with the 2020 release relates to the bottom plate of the rear truck on A units. As pictured below, a second coupler mounting hole was added -
This new hole allows the coupler to sit a little farther back, thus giving the truck a bit more free play (and thus providing increased conductivity over turnouts and uneven track). It also allows the coupler to clear the diaphragm, and if the factory had applied this same change to the trucks on the B units, all of the aforementioned coupling issues would've been avoided. But the good news is that BLI tech support will fix your B unit for you by either replacing the trucks or replacing the couplers (or both, if that's what you want).
A note on paint removal - the paint on these models is unlike anything I've ever encountered before (some sort of powder-coat or plating scheme, I'm not sure), and traditional paint removal methods simply will not work (believe me, I tried them all). I checked with BLI and they informed me that it is virtually impossible to strip the paint off their models without damaging the shell in the process. So, if your idea is to custom paint one, you're either going to have to go with an undecorated unit or paint right over the top of a decorated unit.
Prototype history -
"The American Locomotive Company introduced the PA1 locomotive in 1946 to compete with EMD's successful "E" Series passenger diesels. The first PA1 celebrated Alco's 75,000th loco to roll out of the erecting shop. This attractive 2000HP loco was their high-speed passenger diesel. Having more horsepower than their leading competitor, Alco felt that they had a fleet-ready competitive product. PA1's were sleek, stylish, powerful, and were very well suited for America's passenger and fast freight trains. Additionally, their 65'8" bodies became excellent billboard advertising for the railroads that they served with pride."
Model Features -
- Paragon2 or Paragon3 Sound & Control System
- Integral DCC Decoder with Back EMF for Industry Best Slow Speed Operation in DC and DCC
- Precision Drive Mechanism engineered for continuous heavy load towing and smooth slow speed operation
- Motor Type: 5-Pole Can with Skewed Armature & Dual Fly Wheels
- Premium Caliber Painting with Authentic Paint Schemes
- Prototypical Light Operation with Golden White LED Headlight and Cab Light
- Beautifully Detailed, Accurately Modeled Locomotive
- Separately Applied Details such as grab irons, steps, and ladders
- Operating Sprung Diaphragms
- Constant Intensity Directional Lighting
- Traction Tire-Equipped for Maximum Traction
- Locomotive Composition: ABS with Die Cast Chassis
- A-Unit Length: 5.1"
- B-Unit Length: 4.9"
- A-Unit Weight (Powered): 4 oz
- Couplers: Micro Trains #1015 or "BLI"
- Recommended Minimum Radius: 9.75"
DCC/Sound Features -
- Operates in DC & DCC (use DCMaster for DC Sound)
- Record & Play Operation - Records and plays back sounds and movements once or repeatedly for automatic operation
- 16-bit Sample Rate for exceptional high frequency sound clarity
- Playback Whistle for multiple whistle lengths and patterns
- Choice of 3 selectable Whistles / Horns
- Alternate Whistle / Horn where applicable for locomotive with air horn and steam whistle - both the main whistle and alternate can be easily played
- Adjustable bell ringing interval for faster or slower bell
- Numerous user-mappable functions with available keys
- Johnson Bar Sound at Direction Change (Steam Only)
- Passenger Station Ambient Sounds - Controlled with Function Key
- Freight Yard Ambient Sounds - Controlled with Function Key
- Lumber Yard Ambient Sounds - Controlled with Function Key
- Farm Ambient Sounds - Controlled with Function Key
- Crew Radio Communications - Controlled with Function Key
- Maintenance Yard Ambient Sounds - Controlled with Function Key
- Demo Mode for display and demonstrations
- Grade Crossing Automatic Signal
- 8 Diesel Motor Revs (Diesel Only)
- Simple Programming with Integral DCC Decoder
- Automatic Forward / Reverse Signal - When activated, stopping triggers and stop whistle toot. When moving forward from a stopped position, toots twice. When moving in reverse. toots three times.
- Engine sound intensity varies with load
- Individually adjustable sound volumes for each effect
- EZ Reset Button for quick return to factory default settings
Shell Removal -
To remove the shell, simply spread the sides apart and lift. For "A" units, you must first unscrew and remove the pilot coupler.
Grades: A (for the Paragon2 models) and B (for the 2020 Paragon3 models and their annoying couplers)