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MTH RailKing Alaska RR and US Army starter sets

MTH IS OFFERING two starter sets that get away from the typical "seen-it-all-before" consists common in the field: the Alaska F40PH and US Army F40PH sets.

North to Alaska

This set models an Alaska Railroad rig that in reality is a red hot train for nature lovers and cruise ship passengers. In 1999, the railroad purchased the nine-car Florida Fun Train when that operation was liquidated. The cars were refurbished and re-named The Grandview. Since then, the train has transported cruise ship passengers on a scenic tour of Alaskan wilderness between Seward and Anchorage.

The MTH set includes a locomotive, three full-dome passenger cars, an oval of RealTrax, a Z-750 power supply, an infrared (IR) remote and infrared lock-on, as well as a quick start videotape and a CD ROM to facilitate track planning (PC-only, no Macs). The IR control is about as simple as you can get.
We popped the quick start videotape into a VCR and gave it two thumbs up for being a pretty good way to introduce folks to the hobby.

The train is as nicely decorated a passenger consist as you can find. Undoubtedly, an F40PH was selected as the engine because it provides a superb platform for the Alaska Railroad graphics and is at the right manufacturing price for a starter set. The diesel is a good miniaturization of its big brother in the Premier line.

The Alaska set offers attractive design and quality manufacture. As it says on the set box, this is ready-to-run!

Gung ho

From the reality side, I have to smile at the concept of the Army Rapid Reaction train set. As a retired Air Force logistician, I would simply note that a true rapid reaction train would serve the Army well - until the army needed to cross that first ocean.

That having been said, this set is another in a long line of military train sets pioneered by Lionel, Flyer, Marx, and Kusan in the postwar era. The MTH set takes on greater significance in today's world events.

The outfit includes a locomotive, boxcar, operating helicopter car, Corps of Engineers crane, flatcar with tank load (must be an HO target tank!), and a bay-window caboose. It also comes with an oval of MTH's new ScaleTrax (including an operating track section for helicopter launching) for a more realistic look than the RealTrax, although sans built-in roadbed. The set has a 75-watt Z-750 transformer and the software planning CD-ROM. The premium set is available only in a ProtoSound 2.0 version.

The F40PH was undoubtedly selected for the same reason as the Alaska set: The body allows for the easiest and most creative use of graphics. The cars are a real action grab bag, with helicopters for launching, crane for lifting, tank for rolling around the right-of-way, and boxcar for stuffing (soldiers not included)! All the cars are well made, and the sedate Army graphics (there's a reason its called olive drab) are well applied.

Experience with the helicopter car mirrored my previous review of it, and I can say that this will help make this set a blast (pun intended) for a kid of any age! (Now if only there was an Air Force set with an all-missile-car lineup!)

On the test track

Both sets have the same engine with a different paint scheme. The F40PH is to this generation what the Alco was to a past one: a staple of starter sets. In both outfits it proved to be a capable engine.

The F40 in ProtoSound 2.0 cruise-control mode registered a low-end speed of 2.87 scale mph. We're talking capital-Slooow. If toy trains were meant to move this slowly, no one would have bothered with a barricade to keep them from crashing to the floor.

On the fast side, the F40 recorded an average of 89.6 scale mph, which should get either your Alaskan tourists or your Army troops to the right place in a snap.

The 4 pound, 3 ounce F40s drawbar pull is a healthy 2 pounds, 4 ounces, which was more than enough to the set contents - plus about 100 other cars!

The Army set was our first encounter with MTH's ScaleTrax. To meet our testing deadlines we had a limited amount of time to run equipment on the track, but after approximately 12 hours of continuous we found the locomotive and cars tracking well. However, we're not sure if electrical connections between pieces of track not tacked down to a tabletop would remain tight after countless hours of operation. We'll report further on ScaleTrax in an upcoming issue.

We did find one quirk with the Alaska F40PH. After about three hours of operation, there was a subtle change in its performance. It turned out that the rear motor had failed, but the front power truck carried on, making the absence barely noticeable.

I image that the cruise control made up for the difference. As Arte Johnson would have said from behind his palm fronds on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In: "Veerrrry interesting."

The quality of both starter sets is without question. The brightly painted Alaska outfit has an unusual and interesting passenger consist with a passel of infrared and setup goodies for the newbie. The Army set, with ScaleTrax, is priced more for the adult end of the market, although it is the one with all the operating fun.

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