Minitrix (Germany) Ontario Northland Railways "Northlander"

Introduced: 2002

This four-car set is actually a reproduction of a European prototype passenger train that wound up (in its latter days) running passenger service in Canada. And so, it makes it into this encyclopedia by the skin of its ONR teeth. This was a one-time (and extremely limited) offering from Minitrix, with perhaps just a few hundred sets made. The original list price for the set was somewhere between $300 and $400. They were originally imported into the US by Marklin USA. The Minitrix catalog number is 12253.

Only one of the locomotive units is powered (the other "cab control car" being a dummy). To remove the shell from the powered unit, remove the fuel tank and then insert six toothpicks (three per side) between the shell and the chassis (one in the center of the fuel tank and one in the center of each truck). An illustration diagramming this procedure is included in the instruction pamphlet.

The powered unit's chassis is one big chunk of metal (IE, not split-frame). The motor is an open-sided, skew-wound 5-poler (with dual flywheels). Ten of the twelve wheels provide pickup (with one wheel per truck being equipped with a traction tire). Metal wipers on the swiveling truck towers transfer current to flexible contacts on the PC board (IE, no wiring). Eight of the twelve wheels are geared (the center axles on each truck being idlers). All gearing is plastic. Directional bi-color lighting is controlled by the PC board (with the lights changing from white to red when switching from forward to reverse). The non-powered end-unit is equipped with similar lighting. This engine is fully DCC-Ready, with a flat, six-pin European-style socket provided on the top of the PC board. Power reaches the motor by way of two metal contacts in the center of the board. The wheel flanges are oversized, so this train will not operate on anything like Code-55 track.

The cab control car and two intermediate cars all have interior lighting and full interior detail. Specialized couplers between each of the units (a system of clips and slots) provides for seriously close coupling. Each car is equipped with non-functioning diaphragm details - IE, the ends of each car are painted black and have door moldings.

Apart from the wheel flange issue, performance on this train is exceptional - smooth, dead quiet, nimble throttle response, great pickup, excellent slow-speed creep, and reasonable top-end speed. This may be the first locomotive with that "swiveling truck tower" design that actually runs quietly (and not just a little quietly - a lot quietly). I had no problems operating this train on 2% grades. More amazingly, I had no problems on extremely tight (9.75"-radius) curves. Although all the couplers are chassis-mounted, the coupler assemblies pivot independently on curves. Unfortunately, some compromises were made to the trucks (oh, like having the bottom of the doors pivot right along with them) -

I suppose the door thing is going to be a deal-breaker for the rivet counters. But if you can get past that, this is a truly superb looking and running train. And it kind of makes one wonder "what might have been" had some of these high-end European manufacturers (Minitrix, Fleischmann, et al) remained in the North American rolling stock market...

Prototype information -

This was one of the first generation of Trans-Europe Express trains and was the product of a cooperative effort between the Swiss (SBB) and Dutch (NS) national railroads. Five train sets were delivered in 1957, three to the NS and two to the SBB. Expanding electrification along the TEE routes led to the obsolescence of diesel railcars, and in 1974 these trains were withdrawn from service.

In 1976 they were brought out of retirement by the Ontario Northland Railway and placed in express service between Toronto and Timmins. They operated in their original configuration (which is the basis for this model) until 1980. The configuration was changed with the substitution of EMD FP7's for the original power units and, in this form, continued service until 1992.

In the late 1990s, a number of the surviving passenger cars (the original power units having been scrapped) were obtained by a group in Switzerland for restoration.

This is an example of the kind of decoder you'd need for this train (a Train Control Systems EUN651) -

Grade: A (if you don't mind the truck compromises)

Spookshow Home