The Micro-Trains SW1500 was that firm's first new locomotive model since their 2002 EMD FT release. Although calling it a "new" model is a bit of a stretch, since the internals were borrowed almost entirely from the Life-Like/Walthers SW9/1200 (first released in 1997) -
The chassis is all-metal and split-frame. The motor is an open-sided / skew-wound 5-poler (with a single flywheel on the rear driveshaft). Like the more recent production runs of the LL/Walthers switchers, the worms are brass (as opposed to plastic). Current collection is of the "low friction" ilk (needle-point axles / dimpled truck wipers). The truck wipers conduct their current to bendy metal contacts attached to the underside of the sidesills. Said sidesill contacts have tabs that sandwich between the shell and the chassis, thus conducting current from the trucks to the chassis (IE, no - the locomotive will not run without its shell).
Unlike the original LL/Walthers mech, chassis current does not flow directly to the motor contacts. Rather, it first flows into the LED-equipped PC board on the front of the chassis. From there, wires plugged into the PC board conduct current to the insulated motor contacts. So yes, this model is fully DCC-Ready (with the Digitrax DN126M2 being the first decoder specifically designed for these models) -
All of the axles are geared (with all of the gearing being plastic). All of the wheels provide pickup (no traction tires). The wheels are blackened and low-profile (no problems on Code-55 rails). The couplers are shell-mounted MT's. Like the LL/Walthers models, there is no lighting on the cab end. The weight inside of the cab is a bit different than the one used by LL/Walthers - basically a thin, form-fitting casting that blocks out all of the windows.
These are very sharp looking models with fine paint and detailing. That said, I'm not real crazy about the airhorn. It's very thin and flimsy, with the net result being an airhorn that looks to be in serious need of some Viagra. I'm also not entirely thrilled by the fact that the chassis protrudes rather visibly below the shell. Were I to actually want to operate one of these on my model railroad, I'd probably get under there with some paint and try to conceal it a little better.
On the nitpick front, I find that the handrails are annoyingly prone to coming "unstuck" (although a little white glue should take care of that particular gripe). Even nit-pickier, MT did wind up making the hood about eight scale inches too wide in order to accommodate the LL/Walthers chassis. But if a discrepency of .05" is going to cause you palpatations, it might just be time to start looking for another hobby.
As one might expect, these models perform pretty much the same as the previous LL/Walthers models. Pickup is solid, so they respond smoothly to throttle changes. Slow speed creep is excellent and the top-end speed is reasonable. They run relatively quietly, although they do have a bit of a buzzy whine to them (again, similar to the LL/Walthers switchers). Pulling power is strong, with mine being able to comfortably haul 15-16 assorted 40' freight cars through curves on level track.
I have to admit to having somewhat mixed feelings about these models. Although the LL/Walthers mechanism remains a solid performer, some of its 1997-esque compromises are a bit disappointing for a 2014 release. The lack of lighting on the cab end and those kludgey sidesill wipers are all holdovers from a (should be) bygone era and definitely not "state of the art". On the other hand, I guess designing a new model from the ground up was not financially feasible. And so, without all of the compromises, we wouldn't have had SW1500's to play with at all (not from Micro-Trains, anyway). Ultimately, I guess what we have here is a very solid (albeit sub-optimal) model of a very popular prototype - and one that most modelers should be quite happy with.
2015 Update - MTL released a Southern Pacific version of their SW1500. It features Flexi-Coil trucks along with SP-specific lights and numberboards -
2017 Update - MTL reported that their SW1500 had been discontinued due to problems with the Chinese factory that manufactures the Walthers mechanism (evidently manufacturing costs had skyrocketed to the point that the increases could no longer be realistically passed on to the consumer). However, at least as of this 2018 writing, MTL is still cranking these things out. So, perhaps some sort of compromise has been achieved between the two parties.
Here's what MT has to say about their model -
The EMD SW1500 was General Motors upgrade of the successful SW1200 and provided its customers with a larger, more powerful switcher for their yard services. Powered by the EMD 645 Diesel Electric engine, the SW1500 found a home on most major class 1 railroads and went on to work on short lines and private industry. A total of 808 units were produced between 1967 and 1968 and operated on lines from Canada to Mexico. Our N scale model comes with separate handrails, bell and horns, window inserts, operating headlight, body mounted Magne-Matic couplers and fine surface detail. Initial releases will be equipped with AAR style trucks (with or without roller bearings, as per the prototype) and decorated in accurate prototypical paint schemes. Flexicoil trucks will be available on future models.
Shell removal is a bit arduous (IE, don't be surprised when you dislodge one or more of the sidesill wipers in the process). Basically what you need to do is free up the four plastic clips that hold the shell to the chassis (next to the wipers). Using a small screwdriver to apply outward pressure on the shell should do the trick. Just, y'know, be careful.
Grade: A (well, maybe A-)