MRC HO F7A AT&SF Platinum Series
There have only been two major types of locomotive power in operation on the rails around the world - steam and electricity. Through the 19th century and well into the 20th, steam power ruled the rails. Nevertheless, in the early part of the 20th century, several companies sprung up to prove that there were more economical ways of moving commerce on the rails.
EMD began its serious challenge of steam power with the introduction of the E series of locomotives in the early 1930s. The E used a large, two-stroke diesel engine to drive a direct current (DC) generator that, in turn, powered large electric motors in the trucks. The engineer controlled the power/torque to these electric motors with a throttle in the cab that was similar to the steam engine throttles previously used. Another innovation was moving the cab to the front of the engine to provide the engine crew comfort and a commanding view of the rails ahead. Each E-series engine had a limited amount of horsepower available. In order to compete with the wide range of steam power, each of the E-series was designed as a cab-equipped A-unit or an unmanned booster B-unit. The A and B units are then coupled together and electronically linked to operate in unison by a single operator. One of the more common configurations was the A-B-B-A (not the music group) that had two booster units between two cab-equipped units. The A units would face opposite directions so that no matter which direction the engines were moving, there was a cab facing forward. This alone eliminated the need for turntables to turn engines around at their destinations. The combined units provided over 120,000 lbs of tractive effort, significantly more than the equivalent steam engines in production.
While the E-series were oriented toward the passenger rail market, EMD soon introduced the F-series to compete in the freight marketplace, beginning with the FT. As technology improved, EMD released new versions of its engine family, including the F3, F7 and F9 series. Even as the F9 was being introduced, the integral car body style of the F-series (and the similar designs by other manufacturers) was proving to be a maintenance headache in the field. The car body had to be removed to perform any major maintenance to the diesel engine (prime mover), electric motors, dynamic braking system, etc. Within the EMD ranks, the F-series gave way to the GP and SD series, which employed the lessons learned from the extensive use of the F-series in the field.
The F7 would be the most widely used version of the F-series, with over xxxx built. The F7 was powered by a xxxx hp diesel engine and was equipped with the xxx electric drive motors.
The MRC F7A
If you've ever received a model railroad set as a kid, chances are good that it had an F7A for an engine. It didn't matter whom the manufacturer was, virtually everyone made an F7A. If you're like me, the last thing I was interested in when I returned to the hobby was the vast number of toy-like F7s on the market.
In recent years, several companies have attempted to create an F7A that would catch the eye of the serious model railroader. While they've had mixed results on the market, only one company created the level of detail that distinguished their F-series from everyone else, and they only produced a replacement body. You still needed a powered chassis.
Along comes MRC. With their familiar line of power transformers and electronics, they've introduced a line of locomotives - the Platinum Series. Their first release is the F7A. What distinguishes this F7 from all of the others on the market? Lets start with the chassis.
The unit is powered by a can motor equipped with two brass flywheels. The drive mechanism is precise with very little play. Power routing is via a small circuit card that is set up for installation of a DCC control module. As you can see in the photo, the chassis is a large block of metal, providing firm traction on the rails. One very nice touch here is that the metal frame is pre-painted flat black.
Illumination for the headlight is via a lightbulb that also illuminates the inside of the cab. Another nice touch is a basic cab with engineer and a rear bulkhead that keeps the lighting from shining back from the cab. The cab base and bulkhead are plastic and can be removed for further detailing or replacement with a more detailed interior.
The truck sideframes are nicely detailed and are painted to match the truck colors used by the prototype, in this case, AT&SF red & silver warbonnets had silver truck frames.
The shell of this F7A is the nicest I've seen on a stock engine. My example represents an EMD F7A Phase II. The ventilation grills on the sides are photo-etched metal and reveal some nice details underneath. Even with the chassis installed, you can see out the other side of the shell. None of the handrails are molded on this kit! Each one is a separately applied (and already installed) metal part. The air horns are not pre-installed, but they are very nicely done pre-painted brass horns. The windshields have windshield wipers molded in place, and the portholes on the sides also have clear windows pre-installed.
Another nice touch is with the roof fans. Unlike the 'toy' engines, the molding is accomplished in such a way that you can look down and see the fan blades under the louvers, even though the fans are not separately molded parts. A very nice touch indeed.
The finish on this engine is also very nicely done. This example is the AT&SF red & silver warbonnet, and the paint demarcations are very precise. The only real flaw I could find in the paint was that the yellow didn't quite make it on the left side of the headlight housing.
The main thing that distinguishes this engine from its competitors is attention to detail. I was impressed to see that the area inside the shell around the headlight was pre-painted black to prevent the light from shining through the plastic shell. In addition to the photo-etched grillwork, brass horns, metal handrails, and molded fan detailing, this model also includes pre-numbered number boards and your choice of hook/horn or Kadee-compatible couplers.
How does it run? In a word, smooth. I saw this engine being demonstrated at the RCHTA hobby show last October, and what was striking was how slow it would run. I could hardly tell the engine was moving except that the shell had been removed and you could see the flywheels slowly turning. Wow.
I tested the engine on a conventional MRC power pack and using the MRC Command 2000 DCC system. With the conventional power pack, starting performance was slightly above average and sudden power removal resulted in smooth deceleration thanks to those flywheels. With the MRC Command 2000, this engine would run so slowly that I was clocking an RPM of one smooth revolution every six seconds without binding. Note: This example was not equipped with a DCC decoder, but channel 1 will allow non-DCC engines to have many of the performance capabilities as the DCC-equipped engines.
Noise levels at moderate speed were slightly louder than a Kato or Atlas engine and quieter than a standard Athearn engine. In contrast, this engine is much quieter than the equivalent 'starter set' F7As on the market.
As you can see in these photos, this engine is nicely done. MRC has taken pains to represent the features that were unique to different railroads, including one example that I saw at RCHTA that had the unique HF radio antenna array along the length of the shell.
With an MSRP of $79.00 for a DCC-ready, super-detailed F7A, this engine will look great on your roster. Bargain hunters will no-doubt find better pricing at the discount hobby retailers and out on the internet. As I understand it, MRC will also be releasing a companion F7B in the future. After seeing this engine up-close, I'll be looking forward to any of the future MRC Platinum Series releases.
My sincere thanks to MRC for this review sample!