Introduced: 2007 (LL/Walthers version) and 2020 (Atlas version)
These gorgeous looking and fine running diesels were introduced by Life-Like / Walthers in 2007. Atlas purchased the Walthers line of N scale models in 2018 and reissued the RS-2 as part of their "Master" line in 2020. The Atlas models are available either with or without NCE decoders.
The original Walthers mechanism sports all of the features one normally associates with "state of the art" diesel models - IE, split-frame / all-metal / DCC-Ready chassis, 5-pole / skew-wound "scale speed" motor with dual flywheels, low-friction drive, bi-directional LED lighting, all-wheel drive and pickup (no traction tires), blackened / low-profile wheels, shell-mounted Accumate couplers, all-plastic gearing, etc.
The overall looks and performance are certainly worthy of an "A" rating, and on the whole I'd say they compare quite favorably with Kato's RS-2 model. The mechanism is smooth, quiet and responsive at all throttle levels. Slow speed creep is excellent, and the top-end speed is quite reasonable. Pickup is great and pulling power is strong (30+ assorted 40' freight cars on level track). The Life-Like unit is quite a bit louder at full throttle than the Kato, but at normal operating speeds the differences are negligible. Shell detailing on the LL actually seems to exceed that of the Kato model - the screen mesh on the fans is finer, it has actual printed number boards, the windows have wipers, the fan housing is much shorter, and the pilots are painted with warning stripes. As far as how the shell detailing compares to the prototype, I guess I'll have to leave that up to the experts to sort out.
The same Digitrax decoder designed for Kato's RS-2 installs in this one quite readily, as the two share the same basic chassis design (Kato with decoder on top, Life-Like RS-2 on the bottom) -
Unfortunately, unlike the Kato this is not a simple plug-and-play install. The motor brushcaps and contact strips are not isolated from the chassis, so you need to disassemble the entire locomotive in order to apply insulating tape in these areas. The motor contacts on the decoder also touch the chassis, so you'll need to apply tape on the top of the chassis as well. So, no, not the easiest decoder install in the world. Still, given Life-Like's history of DCC-Hostility, I guess we'll take whatever DCC support we can get from them.
As noted above, Atlas acquired the tooling for this model from Walthers in 2018 and released their own version in 2020 -
Pretty much the only external difference is that the fuel tank is stamped "Atlas" now. As pictured below, these new models are available with factory-installed NCE decoders (accompanied by lots and lots of electrical tape). Performance is basically the same as on the LL/Walthers units (IE excellent). The only issue I ran into was with the wheel blackening making for some very iffy running out of the box. A bit of wheel cleaning and roundy-rounding took care of that pretty quickly though.
Shell removal is a bit more difficult than one might expect. The chassis bumps that hold the shell in place are pretty stubborn about letting go (and the electrical tape on the decoder-equipped versions certainly doesn't help either). To get things started, I usually have to use a small screwdriver to pry up on the shell. Starting at the back (non-cab) end seems to be the path of least resistance.
Grade: A (for either version)
Reviewed: 09/07 Model Railroader ("Fans of first-generation diesel power can now have a detailed, solid performing N scale model of an RS-2... The Walthers model is prototypically accurate and has provisions for easy conversion to DCC... Paint coverage is smooth and sharp... All lettering and striping is straight and matches prototype photos... The model's molded-in details are crisply defined, including the safety-tread pattern on top of the walkways. Details also match prototype photos... The trucks also have well-defined molded-in detail, including journal covers, leaf springs, and brake cylinders... The die-cast metal split-frame chassis encases the motor and two brass flywheels. The motor turns two worm gear shafts that transfer power to the gearboxes above each truck. The PC board is mounted on top of the split frame... The RS-2 has an extremely low starting speed of .66 scale mph at 1 volt. The model's top speed of 109 mph at 12 volts is a lot higher than the top speed of the prototype... The RS-2 accelerated smoothly, but its motor was a bit noisy. There was a steady buzzing sound when I ran the locomotive. The model's drawbar pull is of .48 ounces is equivalent to... 12 cars... The RS-2 ran smoothly through turnouts. And the model looked at home pulling a short freight train through 9.75" curves... This RS-2 is a great-looking as well as great-performing model that accurately depicits the Alco prototype. Erie, GM&O, GN, LV, NYNH&H, NYC, SAL, Southern, SL&SF, UP, Undec. $100")
Reviewed: 11/07 Railroad Model Craftsman ("This model is a Life-Like Proto N series release (a new designation in their line-up of N scale models) from Walthers and is made in China... It has all the features we have come to expect in a first-class model: eight wheel pick-up and drive, blackened metal wheels, twin flywheels, a smooth-running five pole, skewed-armature motor, constant-intensity directional lighting, and DCC-Ready. In all respects this is a finely- made, well-engineered model. The tooling is intricate and accurate, with the fan blades even showing under the grille in the long hood. The painting is clear and opaque and the lettering is very crisp and sharp... The model's dimensions, when compared to scale drawings, are very accurate... Accumate couplers compatible with Micro-Trains Line couplers are installed, but Rapido-style couplers are provided should you prefer them... On my test track the sample performed well with a little growling from the motor and gears. It handled 15 cars easily in switching service but was more comfortable with 12 when operated up a slight grade on curving track. Control was best in the 2.5 to 8-volt range. The model weighs 2.15 ounces."