Kato (Japan) GE ES44AC

Introduced: 2010 (DCC-Ready only), 2017 (DCC-equipped version) and 2023 (DCC-Sound version)

Typical of Kato's line of N scale diesels, their ES44AC is beautiful to behold and a joy to operate. As pictured below, the model shares the same internals as Kato's C44-9W, AC4400CW, SD70M and SD70MAC models.

The mechanism employs all of the time-honored design features one normally associates with "modern" Kato diesels - shell-mounted automatic couplers, split-frame DCC-Ready metal chassis, dual-flywheels, low-friction drive, plastic truck assemblies, plastic gearing, blackened wheels, all-wheel drive, and all-wheel pick-up (no traction tires). The motor is an open-sided 5-poler. Directional lighting (including ditchlights) is provided by a PC board mounted on top of the chassis. The couplers are Kato's proprietary magnetic knuckle couplers. Wheels are low-profile and have no problems on Code-55 track. All detailing (handrails, numberboards, MU cables, etc) come preinstalled.

Performance is virtually perfect - smooth, quiet, flawless pickup and throttle response, exceptional pulling power, etc. On the downside, they are pretty much limited to 11"-radius curves and broader (anything sharper than that and the wheels are derailing).

Kato's ES44AC compares quite favorably with Fox Valley's model (released a year earlier). However, the FVM model definitely wins in the paint department (with its plethora of tiny warning label graphics, painted handrails, etc). However, I do like the fact that all of the fine shell detailing (handgrabs, windshield wipers, etc) comes molded right into the shell on the Kato model (as opposed to the FVM model, where said detailing is supplied as an ala carte "do it yourself" project).

As noted above, DCC-equipped versions of these models came out in 2017. These were released under Kato's "Kobo Customs" banner and featured preinstalled TCS K1D4 decoders. More decoder equipped versions came out in 2023 (non-sound versions with Digitrax DN163K1C decoders and sound versions with ESU LokSound decoders).

Here's what Kato has to say about them:

The ES (Evolution Series) of locomotives are built by GE Transportation Systems and designed to meet the U.S. EPA's Tier 2 locomotive emissions standards that took effect in 2005. These Evolution Series locomotives are equipped with AC traction motors and are powered by a newly designed "GEVO-12" 12 cylinder engine that produces the same power as the 16 cylinder AC4400CW, but with fewer emissions and greater fuel economy. It also carries a redesigned air-to-air dual-fan heat exchanger, which gives it its distinct "oversized" radiator; a common spotting feature for these new locomotives.

Features -

- Multiple body styles to reflect different "as delivered" railroad specifications
- Powerful five-pole KATO motor with dual brass flywheels
- Directional Headlight and illuminated, preprinted numberboards
- Illuminated ditch lights
- Kato magnetic knuckle coupler
- Drop in DCC compatible with the Digitrax DN163K1B or Train Control Systems K1D4.

To remove the shell, simply take hold of the fuel tank with one hand and the shell with the other, then just sort of wiggle the shell up and off.

Grade: A

Reviewed 04/11 Model Railroader - ("The model features operating headlights and ditch lights. The model has the correct dimensions of the later production ES44AC. However, it has molded vent detail on the rear sides of the locomotive that matches the preproduction locomotives. This detail is different from prototype photos. All the molded detail is sharp and well defined. Separately applied detail parts include the air horn, brake wheel, global-positioning-satellite domes, and scale-profile handrails. All the windows have clear glazing, and each windshield has two molded windshield wipers. Handrails, including those on the rear pilot, are separately applied.

"The motor and flywheels are enclosed in the split die-cast metal frame. The locomotive body shell is press-fit to the split die-cast metal frame. The motor and flywheels are encased in the frame, which also provides much of the model's 4 ounce weight. Worm gear shafts transfer power to truck-mounted gearboxes. None of the metal wheels have traction tires. All the axles are powered, giving the ES44AC an impressive drawbar pull. A pair of these GEVOs could haul a long unit coal or intermodal train. The printed-circuit board is mounted on top of the frame. Light-emitting diodes on each end of the board light according to the model's direction of travel, unlike prototype locomotive headlights. Clear plastic tubes direct the light to the headlights and ditch lights.

"The Kato ES44AC ran smoothly throughout its speed range. The model reached 185 scale mph at 12 volts, which is a lot faster than the prototype's 73 mph top speed. Board-replacement decoders are available from Digitrax (part no. DN163K1B) and Train Control Systems (part no. K1D4). The Kato locomotive would make a fine addition to a modern-era N scale fleet. Price: $110"

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