Introduced: 1993 (E8A & E8B), 2008 (revised E8), 2012 (E5A), 2014 (re-revised E8), 2015 (KOBO E9A & E9B), 2017 (DCC-equipped E5A), and 2020 (DCC-equipped E8A, E7A)
Kato's ground-breaking E8 was N scale's first truly DCC-Ready model (at least as far as North American prototypes are concerned). Yes, Arnold's 1991 S-2 model was available with a factory-installed decoder, but it was technically not DCC-Ready. IE, it either came with a hard-wired decoder or it didn't - and those that didn't come with a decoder weren't designed to accept one. Oddly enough though, the E8 was not specifically designed with DCC in mind. The E8 mechanism was a copy of a design that Kato had been using in their JNR electrics around that time, and it was a complete stroke of luck that it wound up being able to accept a drop-in decoder.
This was also the first N scale locomotive to come with knuckle (as opposed to Rapido-style) couplers. Apparently Kato's philosophy (at the time) was that Freight=Rapido and Passenger=Knuckle. And since these models were released with passenger service in mind, Kato decided to equip them with knuckle couplers. The couplers on the first runs were only semi-operational (they would couple automatically, but not uncouple). Later runs would come with Kato's proprietary automatic (magnetic) couplers.
Note - do not confuse these E8s with the E8s Kato made for Con-Cor back in the 1980s - totally different animals all-together.
These models are absolutely state of the art - DCC-Ready metal chassis, 5-pole motor, dual flywheels, all-wheel drive and pickup, low-friction current collection, directional LED lighting, low-profile / blackened wheels, etc. Except for the lightboard, "A" and "B" units share an identical chassis/mechanism.
Performance is breathtakingly smooth and quiet at all speeds. The hefty chassis makes for superior pulling power. And these models might just have the most amazingly affective flywheels I've ever seen - drop down from full throttle and these will coast damned near two feet before slowly gliding to a stop.
OK a couple of nits to pick - the rear couplers on the "A" units (and both couplers on the "B" units) are truck-mounted rather than shell (or chassis) mounted. Also, the original "semi-automatic" couplers stick out a bit too far - leaving excessive space between units.
The 2008 run of E8's was modified to include lit numberboards -
The chassis itself remained unchanged, however the little plastic insert inside the nose now comes with numberboards that mount inside little holes in the shell. My 2008 E8s do seem to run a tad more quietly than my older ones (which were already whisper quiet), so I suppose it's possible that the motor or some of the plastic gearing was upgraded with this release. Shells are interchangeable between all releases. The 2008 E8s also featured new couplers - Kato's proprietary automatic/magnetic couplers.
I'm told that some of the 2008 E8s have bright white LEDs in the "A" units. However, my 2008 UP units have the same yellowish LEDs as my older ones.
In 2012, Kato released new E5A models in concert with their CB&Q Silver Streak Zephyr passenger cars. These models use the same chassis/mechanism as the E8, although they are available with two different styles of truck (skirted or non-skirted). The headlight is (once again) yellow/orange rather than white.
Here's what Kato has to say about them -
EMD E5A #9909 "Silver Bullet" was built specially for service with the Silver Streak Zephyr and was fitted with skirts on the trucks and a covered cowl to emphasize the sleek, streamlined look of the locomotive and train. The E5A locomotives sold separately from the passenger car set have different printing patterns on the nose to reflect the "general use" versions of the CB&Q E5A locomotive, as well as un-skirted trucks that reflect the locomotive's later appearance (when they would have been used to pull trains such as the California Zephyr) -
The EMD E5 has a distinctive raised angular radiator grill arrangement on the roof that was specific for that locomotive. Another point of interest is that all E5's were custom built with stainless steel corrugated sides so as to match the CB&Q�s stainless cars; a feature that gives these locomotives a noticeable shine and makes the matching Silver Streak Zephyr so elegant. A special feature of the new Kato EMD E5A is that the front coupler cowling can be removed on both the skirted and un-skirted units in order to mount a Kato magnetic knuckle coupler, thus allowing modelers to double head these locomotives when pulling longer trains such as the California Zephyr!
Note - if you're interested in running an E5B with your E5A, check out Bill Denton's cast-resin shells at SkytopModels.com -
In 2014, Kato revised their E8 yet again by adding "shock absorber construction" into the mix. This was accomplished by adding plastic inserts to each end of the chassis (just inboard from the truck clips). Said inserts have tabs that keep the metal contact strips from springing up -
In 2015, Kato released Union Pacific E9A & E9B models under their "KOBO Custom" banner. These limited-edition models are built to order by "some guy in Japan" and represent the three UP E9 units (A/B/A) currently operating in excursion/business train service. The three models are built using the standard Kato E8 chassis/shell, just with custom paint and detailing -
In 2017, Kato started selling their E5's with preinstalled TCS K0D8-E (non-sound) decoders. They also released E5's equipped with ESU LokSound DCC-Sound decoders under their Kobo Customs banner. E8's got a similar treatment in 2020 (specifically, the E8's sold as part of Kato's C&NW "400" passenger train set). Note that "Kobo Guy" had to grind the back end of the chassis to make room for the speaker in the sound-equipped versions, so definitely not a simple "plug and play" type of operation -
In 2020, Kato released their first E7A models. These were available either DCC-Ready, with preinstalled TCS K0D8-E (non-sound) decoders, or with ESU LokSound decoders -
Reviewed: 10/93 Model Railroader: ("Smooth performance and excellent detail are the hallmarks of Kato's new N scale EMD E8/9 passenger diesel. Prototype E8 and E9 carbodies were identical, so Kato's dual designation means the model can represent either locomotive. While Kato manufactured the E8/9 sold by Con-Cor a few years back, this model is all new and is sold only under the Kato name... The Kato E8/9 follows typical N scale locomotive construction, with a detailed plastic shell riding on a metal chassis that fills most of the body cavity. Unlike other N scale engines that use a two-piece chassis to separate the electrical poles, this one has a one-piece metal chassis that isn't used for electrical pickup - it's only for weight. All power is routed to the motor via phosphor-bronze tabs and wipers attached to a plastic motor mount and wiring harness. The LED headlight is attached to the same harness. Kato's E8/9 A unit is available in three prototype variations: single headlight, dual headlight and a passenger pilot, and freight pilot and single headlight. Prototype E8s and E9s were sold with single or dual steam generators. Kato's model is offered with a single steam generator only...
"Paint jobs are excellent... All the printed lettering on the models is sharp and opaque. The excellent performance of the E8/9 is what we've come to expect from Kato. Unlike the prototype, the Kato engine has all the drivers powered to help pull long strings of passenger cars. All wheels pick up power and feature Kato's excellent needlepoint axle support that puts almost all the locomotive's power into pulling a train instead of overcoming friction in the trucks. Large brass flywheels help the model coast an incredible distance, rolling well beyond the length of our 6-foot test track... Our sample started moving at 2.1 volts and ran smoothly at a continuous low speed of 8.62 MPH. Though prototype E8s and E9s could be geared for speeds as high as 117 MPH, the model's top speed of 218 MPH is a bit fast... All the model's dimensions check perfectly with E8 drawings... The only discrepency was the coupling distance between the A and B units. With the factory couplers, the units couple a scale 48" apart. not the correct 36"... Kato's E8/9 is a fine model of a popular prototype that fits into any layout period from the early 1950s to the present. It's smooth operation and pulling power may tempt you to model some of the great streamliners that real Es pulled into history. A units: Undec, Amtrak, NYC, Milwaukee, UP, VIA. B units: Undec, Amtrak, Milwaukee, UP. Price: $80.00")