O gauge AEM7 electric locomotive from MTH Electric Trains
Price: $459.95 (no. 20-5688-1) Min Curve: O-42 Cmd Low: 1.8 smph Cnv Low: 4.02 smph High: 68.9 smph Drawbar pull: 1 lb., 3 oz. Features: Two can-style motors, ProtoSound 3.0 command and sound system, coil couplers Current production road names: Amtrak (two livery variations), SEPTA, and NJ Transit
The E60s were eventually sold off. The Metroliners had reliability problems and were less successful in the long run than their carbody design, which was used for the Amfleet cars.
Amtrak began to look around for a replacement, and Europe, with its long history of electric locomotion, seemed to hold the most promise for a design. The AEM7 electric was the product of Sweden and the Electro-Motive Division.
Dubbed the “Toaster” by many railfans, the boxy AEM7 was a compact 7,000-horsepower locomotive featuring two cabs (no need to turn the locomotive around) and two sets of pantographs. With an operational speed of 125 miles per hour, it was capable of handling Amtrak’s most demanding high-speed train schedules.
Two transit agencies, the Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) Train Service and the South East Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), also bought AEM7s. They acquired four and seven units, respectively.
EMD built 65 AEM7s between 1978 and 1988. Beginning in the late 1990s, 29 of the units were rebuilt as AEM7ACs with upgraded AC power systems from Alstom.
By 2016 Amtrak and MARC had replaced their AEM7s with newer power, while SEPTA is scheduled to replace their locomotives by the end of 2019.
Opening the box
The bright aluminum finish applied to the upper two-thirds of the body was the first thing that struck me when I unwrapped the O gauge locomotive. From the bottom of the cab door to the black topside stripe, it really looked good. My memory of my previous review of an MTH AEM7 (February 2000 Classic Toy Trains) was that it looked more like a flat silver. My memory didn’t fail me – the previous version we saw seemed to have a flat silver finish, while this version caught the light and reflected it nicely.
As long as I was looking at the paint, there were other changes. For one, the pantographs are orange and not black. The cab-top HVAC is now white and not black. The horns went from silver to black. Some of the topside electrical components went from white to black, and the wiper arms on the windshield are now silver rather than black. Otherwise, the paint scheme is the same as the earlier edition. So the cab number isn’t the only eternal detail that has changed over time!
The pilot looks great with a snowplow, air brake line, and six colored receptacle cap covers (four red and two yellow). There are no fewer than seven lights on the end of the locomotive (not counting the cab light or number boards). The ditch lights are mounted in the lower body of the cab; two red lenses are above them.
In the middle are two side-by-side headlights. Above them are a single red lens and two add-on wire grab irons going up the rather flat face to two side-by-side headlights. Continue upward and you’ll find a red lens between the illuminated number boards.
The large windshields have wiper arms extending from the bottom of the window frame.
The side windows have rear-view mirrors, and the cab doors (you can press them open) have a window. The doors also have handrails on each side, and cast into the lower part of the door is a simulated opener. Below that, in the blue stripe along the frame, you’ll see two silver kick plates.
The sides above the blue line replicate extruded aluminum, and the lower portion has the white and red of Amtrak’s stripes. The unit number, 917, is touching all three colors.
The roof has plenty of electrical conduit running from the pantographs to the center of the locomotive and presumably down into the electrical gear inside. So it is a very busy-looking area that has a lot more curious shapes and details than you might find on your typical diesel locomotive.
The trucks are die-cast metal, and there are battery boxes between the trucks. An interesting detail to note is that the wheels have what look like rivet heads on the sides of the rim. Look beneath the locomotive, and you’ll find controls for volume, DCS/DCC, and track/pantograph power.
On the test track
As for the sound package, I have often remarked that electric locomotives have the toughest job in model railroading because their sound systems can do little more than replicate the hum of power transformer. When I started up this AEM7, it struck me as a slightly different sound. The more I listened, the more it suggested a stream of water.
I laughed out loud because this was the first time I’d heard sounds on an electric other than to note how nondescript it is. A passerby listened for a moment and agreed. “I see what you mean; flowing water.”
I suspect it is the same sound clip used in all MTH electrics, but the volume and speaker made it distinctive. It took a couple of tries to get the electric loaded and running with the iPhone app, but once that train got rolling it was very responsive to command triggers. Motor operation was smooth and quiet.
The locomotive’s speed range on our test track measured from 1.8 to 68.9 scale miles per hour. Drawbar pull was 1 pound, 3 ounces.
The AEM7 is an unlikely looking hero of the Northeast Corridor, but a hero it is. It stepped into the gap left by the GG1 and soldiered on, serving passngers for four decades. If you run electrics, you may want to add an reliable AEM7 to your O scale commuter roster.