Rapido Trains (China) EMD FL9

Introduced: 2016

These gorgeous looking models are available either DCC-Ready or equipped with an ESU LokSound decoder. According to RT, the original plan was for all of them to come with factory-installed DCC (either "silent" or with sound). However, due to negative feedback from the analog crowd, RT changed their plans after their original announcement and opted instead to release the silent version without a decoder at all (and evidently without changing the MSRP either). A coupon is included in the box for those wanting to receive the decoder that they paid for (just mail it to RT and they will send you a Digitrax DZ126IN decoder for you to install yourself). Kind of an odd way to do business, but there you go.

These are terrific looking models with exceptionally fine paint and detailing (including a simulated twin beam headlight, a full cab interior and an amazingly detailed underbody). An ala-carte plastic diaphragm is included in the box for those wishing to MU a couple of FL9's together in "back to back" fashion. And from the "above and beyond the call of duty" department, a sheet of decals is also included for those wishing to change roadnumbers.

Light conducting plastic mounted inside either end of the shell provides illumination for the headlight and backup light (unfortunately, the numberboards are not lit).

The bulk of the chassis is metal and split-frame. A plastic underframe piece holding the couplers and all of the various bits of underbody detailing clips to the sides of the chassis. Two additional plastic clips across the top of the chassis help to hold things together (yes, the entire mechanism is screwless). The motor (five-pole and skew-wound according to RT) is a round "can-style" job equipped with a couple of small (and somewhat ineffective) flywheels. The multi-piece plastic driveshafts turn brass worms mounted inside of plastic boxes sandwiched between the metal chassis halves.

All wheels provide pickup by way of an odd system of axle wipers (said wipers are thick and stiff and have cutouts that straddle the axles). Extensions off the top of the wipers contact short sprung metal strips mounted inside slots in the chassis (on either side of the worm boxes). Current reaches the PC board by way of wires soldered to flexible metal contacts screwed to the top of the chassis. The trucks clip to the worm boxes and are easily removed (just pull on them and they will pop right out).

Oddly enough, the PC board isn't attached to the chassis in any way. Rather, it's simply held in place with electrical tape (removed above for photographic purposes). A European-style "NEM 651" six-pin DCC interface is provided on top of the PC board. Wires from the PC board run to the motor and the LED boards for the bright white head and backup lights. The lighting is directional on the analog version. On the DCC-Sound version, the headlight is either on or off with F0 (regardless of direction). Similarly, the backup light is either on or off with F12 (again, regardless of direction). It may be possible to modify this behavior by way of CV settings in the decoder, but I wasn't in the mood to tackle the 48-page LokSound manual in order to verify that theory.

The LokSound decoder on the sound version plugs into the NEM 651 socket. Like the main PC board, both the enclosed speaker and the decoder are held in place with electrical tape.

Four of the five axles are geared (the center axle on the rear truck is a free spinner). Apart from the worms, all gearing is plastic. Couplers are chassis-mounted Micro-Trains. The wheels are blackened and low-profile. There are no traction tires.

Performance is outstanding in every way. Mine runs smoothly and quietly at all throttle levels. Slow speed creep is "one tie at a time" and the top-end speed is very reasonable. Pickup is solid (no problems with the sound cutting in and out). Pulling power is strong, with my single unit comfortably able to pull fifteen 85' Kato passenger cars through curves on level track (and probably a whole lot more than that, but who runs trains that long?) It has no problems navigating curves as sharp as 9.75"-radius. The sound is robust and nicely rendered (and for a change, not delivered with the volume turned up to 11).

One thing to watch out for is how the various bits of pilot detailing (MU cables, coupler trip pin, etc) are seated. Said detailing rides very close to the rails, and if not mounted "just so", may actually cause problems by running into the track. Of course, all easily adjusted if problems do arise.

My only minor concern with these models relates to those contact strips inside the chassis (the ones that the truck wipers brush up against). I know at least a couple of people (myself included) have had problems with them getting out of alignment. And once they start moving around in there, it's very difficult to get them to stay put (at which point pickup goes all to hell). I guess my advice would be to avoid ever removing the trucks if at all possible (since this may initiate the problem). But should the problem arise anyway, the solution is a fairly easy one - just send the offending model back to RT and have them fix or replace it. Trust me, if anybody does customer service better than those guys, I haven't met them yet.

RT strongly advises that the DCC-Sound locomotives not be used with MRC 1300-series DC controllers (to the point that they will void your warranty if you do so more than once). According to RT, said controllers are prone to voltage spikes that will damage the circuitry in the decoder. RT also recommends a lengthy break-in period for their locomotives (and hour or two running at various speeds in either direction). This will improve gear mesh and even out any jerkiness in the motor.

For the sound-equipped locomotives, RT recommends taking advantage of LokSound's "Automatic Motor Tuning" feature. Basically what you do is put the locomotive on the track, set CV 54 to 0 (using Ops mode programming) and then get out of the way. The locomotive will take off at full speed and then gradually come to a stop (with the decoder adjusting its Back-EMF settings along the way). This tuning procedure purportedly results in even better slow speed running and smoother operation overall (kind of gilding the lily if you ask me, since they already run great right out of the box).

Prototype -

The EMD FL9 has secured a rightful place in North American railroad history. These dual-power locomotives were designed to operate on both diesel-electric and on pure electric power so that they could haul the New Haven Railroad's passenger trains in and out of New York City's Grand Central Terminal without the need for an engine change. Built between 1955 and 1960, many of the fleet continued in regular revenue service for nearly fifty years on both long haul and commuter trains. While the last revenue commuter run occurred in 2009, two units remain in regular revenue service today on the Maine Eastern between Brunswick and Rockland Maine. Several others have been preserved and are in use on tourist railroads in both the US and Canada.

Features -

- Correct details for both delivery groups
- Separate grab irons
- Road-number and era-specific details applied at the factory
- Correct fuel and water tanks, cooling coils, and other details
- Full underframe details
- Operational headlight and back-up lights
- Full cab interior
- Sound-equipped DCC model with an ESU LokSound sound decoder or DCC-Ready analog model (with decoder coupon)
- Authentic sounds including Hancock air whistle (where appropriate)
- Will operate smoothly on DC and DCC layouts
- Rapido's proven 5-pole, skew-wound motor and silky-smooth drive system
- Micro-Trains couplers mounted at the correct height
- Several numbers available per paint scheme

The shell is held in place solely by friction, so in theory one should be able to simply spread the sides apart and wiggle it up and off (after first unscrewing the pilot coupler, that is). Unfortunately, all of that electrical tape adds quite a bit of extra friction so you may wind up having to use a small screwdriver to help pry the shell upwards (as I did).

Grade: A

Spookshow Home