Login, or register today to interact in our online community, comment on articles, receive our newsletter, manage your account online and more!

O gauge F59PHI from Williams by Bachmann

O gauge F59PHI from Williams by Bachmann

Price: $529.95 (no. 23403) Min Curve: O-31 Speed range: 14.9 smph to 62.9 smph Drawbar pull: 2 lb., 3 oz. Features: Two can-style motors, TruBlast sound, smoke, illuminated cab, directional lighting, operating couplers Current-production road names: Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, Amtrak California, Amtrak Cascades For more information: Further reading: “The power of Amtrak,” Trains magazine (August 1972) and “Data Sheet: EMD F59PHI,” Trains, (October 2002).
Amtrak was as significant a transformation in how Americans got from point A to point B as was the creation of the Interstate Highway System or the American air travel network. Ironically, the two later combined to mortally wound commercial rail travel. Amtrak was the response that has managed to keep it on life support.

In 1971, American railroads eagerly dumped their money-losing long-distance trains onto the quasi-government corporation and then sold or leased a fleet of aging passenger diesels to the firm. Most of the 232 diesels that became Amtrak’s motive power were built between 1947 and 1964, and so many would need replacement sooner rather than later.

The operator set its hopes for long-distance service on more than 150 SDP40Fs built by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors. As a passenger locomotive, that diesel proved to be a major failure, leaving Amtrak to expand use of its 500 F40 diesels to longer-distance runs. In the late 1980s, more than 70 F59PH diesels were built. The original F59 was a rather conventional locomotive offered by EMD to commuter agencies from 1988 to 1994. The 3,000-horsepower model had a wide, boxy body and a safety cab on front.

In the mid-1990s the F40 fleet needed augmentation, so Amtrak ordered more than 300 General Electric P40 and P42 diesels, known by many as Genesis locomotives. Between 1994 and 2001, EMD successor Electro-Motive Diesel (owned by Caterpillar) resumed F59 production with the revamped F59PHI.

The PHI combined lighter weight with increased horsepower and an isolated cab. It achieved a top speed of 110 mph. The model was particularly well received in the c
commuter world. Rail agencies operating the PHI include AMT in Montreal, Canada; Amtrak (for Amtrak Cascades, Amtrak California, and Amtrak Piedmont services); Metrolink; North County Transit District (Coaster); Sound Transit (Sounder); Trinity Railway Express; and West Coast Express in Vancouver, Canada.

Opening the box
This is an attractive locomotive; in the O gauge world, it is just about as modern as passenger power gets. This model is based on K-Line’s tooling, and I was surprised not to find it on the long list of products I’ve reviewed for Classic Toy Trains since 1996.

Unwrapping the locomotive, I was struck first by the earth-brown color of the undercarriage and trucks and then by the white body, with the forest green swoosh gently arcing from the ditch lights to the rear of the body. While there might have been some other marketing reason for the design, what popped into my mind was the trail of vapor you might see if the model were sitting in a wind tunnel. I was reminded of the body’s aerodynamic styling!

The nose is the closet thing I recall evoking the imagery of a European or Japanese high-speed train. There are no “boxy” angles as with the F40, and its nose features a much smoother downward arc than the Genesis locomotive. The front is very busy with ditch and headlights and number boards. Lighting is directional. There are three large front windows (and companion wiper arms). The pilot has a snowplow and an operating coupler.

The sides of the cab feature a triangular window and a double-pane window for the engineer and fireman. Rear-view mirrors are mounted ahead of the triangular window. There is a window at the top of each door. Add-on handrails bracket the door. The cab doors open, by the way. The cab has two up/down steps, and the trucks have cast-in steps with white safety striping on the edge.

The cab has interior decoration and a pair of identically dressed figures.

The roof is where the most visible details are, and they are great. Just behind the cab are four lift rings, and there are air intakes on each side. Behind that you’ll see the exhaust stack. The horn is mounted just ahead of that exhaust portal.

Further back is a ⅛-inch recess in the roof. There are a series of four see-through radiator fans in the recess. These are below the roofline, presumably, to reduce drag. There are eight more lift rings installed there. Additional see-through screens of etched brass appear on the edge of the upper body.

The sides have nice seam and support detailing, and there are additional screens on both sides. The section of the shell simulating streamlining at the fuel tank is nicely done with cast-in hatches, and a red-tipped sight gauge and fuel cap.

The rear of the locomotive isn’t just a flat end with a door. It arcs out in roughly one-third segments. The right side has a door with porthole; the center section mounts a backup light, and the blocky overhang is the fresh air intake for the head-end power equipment. The left segment has add-on grab irons.

The rear deck is smooth, and there is a safety chain in the gap between the handrails. Sand filler caps are placed on both rear corners. The rear steps also have a white safety stripe on the edge.

Painting and decoration are superb. Fuzzy paint edges would have stood out against the white body, but the separation is razor sharp, especially the gold striping symbolizing mountains and even the circle-R registered trademark for Amtrak!

On the test track
This Amtrak F59PHI is a conventional locomotive and is controlled by your transformer’s throttle and not an app or a proprietary command system. The model has the standard forward-neutral-reverse sequencing, or you can lock it into either run-forward or run-reverse modes.

The model was quick to fire up, and the TruBlast sound package kicked right in. TruBlast is a basic sound package giving you diesel prime mover sounds. It also has a horn and a bell. The locomotive sounds are pretty good, with the horn/bell being right on target for 1:48 trackside safety.

Motor operation was very smooth, and the mechanical noise produced by the motors and gears (the gears are metal, by the way) was unobtrusive.

The model has operating couplers that require an uncoupler track section to decouple.

Performance was good. Being a conventional locomotive, the Amtrak F59PHI hardly moved at less than 6 volts. Still, our speed range was 14.9 scale MPH to 62.9 scale MPH with a note that the high-end speed was limited by only the length of the straightaways on our test layout.

We ran the locomotive with a mixed bag of freight cars as well as some old, metal Williams Superliner cars. The F59PHI performed flawlessly. Our drawbar pull was a robust 2 pounds, 3 ounces.

This is a beautifully made and well-running model of a contemporary passenger engine. Decoration is flawless, and one can only hope there will be some matching passenger car liveries arriving at a future date! The Williams by Bachmann F59PHI may become the star of your modern-era passenger fleet.


Read and share your comments on this article

Want to leave a comment?

Only registered members of are allowed to leave comments. Registration is FREE and only takes a couple minutes.

Login or Register now.


Your guide to easy railroad wiring.


Get the Classic Toy Trains newsletter delivered to your inbox twice a month

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Classic Toy Trains magazine. Please view our privacy policy