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MTH RailKing Also RS-27

THE MTH RAILKING RS-27 is a model of a few-of-a-kind locomotive that Alco had hoped would carve a niche in the diesel market. Although it was an attractive and operationally solid locomotive, the cards were stacked against its success.

Alco marketed the 2,400-horsepower unit to railroads with high-speed freight operations that needed ultra-reliable locomotive sets.

The firm cataloged the diesel from December 1959 through October 1962, but just 27 of the Schenectady, N.Y.-built locomotives, also known as DL-640s, were sold. Owner roads were the Chicago & North Western, Green Bay & Western, Pennsylvania, Soo Line, and Union Pacific.

In "Alco RS-27" (Diesel Era June/July 1991) author Paul K. Withers summed up the lack of success of the RS-27 as twofold: the locomotive was first offered during a recession, and railroads were leery of Alcos in general due to the past woes with reliability and maintenance of diesel prime movers.

A check of Andrew Toppan's Motive Power Review ( website showed just two RS-27s in operation today. Minnesota Commercial Railway nos. 316 and 318 are both ex-Alco demonstrators, and both were owned by the Chicago & North Western and Green Bay & Western railroads.

The model

In the past there didn't seem to be a lot of consistency to the relative size of RailKing diesels. My early RailKing Dash 8 road engine, for example, is about the same length and height as a RailKing SW-1500 yard switcher. The prototype Dash 8, however, is significantly larger than a yard switcher.

Thankfully, MTH seems to be bringing order to the chaos by classifying some RailKing products as "scale" sized. The RS-27 is one of them.

This model shows how far O gauge locomotives have come in recent years. Much of the tooling for this locomotive was used for the Premier line RS-27 offered in 1997. But as time passed and manufacturers loaded more and more detail on top of their upper-end locomotives, our expectations rose. Accordingly, MTH has re-purposed some of its earlier scale-sized tooling to the RailKing line.

Coupler-to-coupler, the prototype RS-27 measures 57 feet, 21/2 inches long while the RailKing locomotives measures a scale 58 feet long, or 141/2 inches.

Setting the RailKing locomotive next to Lionel's similar Alco C-420, a scale-sized four-axle diesel, shows both models are comparable in size.

The RS-27 cab interior is pretty Spartan; only a can motor and its sheath fill up the space. But there is an engineer figure inside, albeit one that struck me as looking a bit like the crotchety comic strip character "Crankshaft."

In the real world, the RS-27's classic red, white and black Soo paint scheme turned heads, and the MTH model is an excellent rendering. The paint application is clean and crisp, and I couldn't find any imperfections even when using a magnifying lens.

This is one of the first scale RailKing locomotives available as a dummy unit. The RS-27 is also available in Pennsylvania, Union Pacific, and Chicago & North Western road names. The Premier Line version of the RS-27 released in 1997 was available in Alco demonstrator, Green Bay & Western, and Penn Central road names.

On the test track

What struck me most about the RS-27 was the sound from the ProtoSound 2.0 package. On startup you immediately hear rattles and bangs, as if the engine is about to throw a rod. It made me smile and think, "Gee, they must have recorded a real Alco!" The model's uneven idling sound was so good, in fact, that Editor Neil said, "That sounds just like an American Motors Javelin I drove in high school."

The RS-27 features two can-style motors with flywheels, directional lighting, and ProtoSound 2.0 with its cruise control. While there isn't a smoke unit, you can be comforted knowing that this probably shaves $50 off the price.

Performance was excellent to a point, but I'll get to that in a moment. With cruise-control on, our low-speed test average was 5.2 scale mph and the high-end speed average was 91.3 scale mph. Drawbar pull for the locomotive was 2 pounds, 31/2 ounces, which equals roughly 106 free-rolling pieces of rolling stock. Running at 18 volts and at the head of our 25-car mixed make and vintage freight train, the RS-27 was clocked at 65.7 scale mph.

In command mode using MTH's DCS system, all features functioned properly.

The review of the RailKing RS-27 was virtually complete when, as they say in the Western movies, "Meanwhile, back at the ranch. …"

Editor Neil Besougloff was testing the RS-27 on his home layout using DCS. The locomotive ran fine, but on the diesel locomotive's DCS menu were options for chuff rate and Proto-chuff. Not good.

He returned for another operating session, but the RS27 would do nothing beyond emitting a quiet "click" in both command and conventional modes. Ditto for the RS-27 later in the week on our workshop test track. Quoting Star Trek's Dr. McCoy, "It's dead, Jim."

We returned the locomotive to our local dealer. The quick diagnosis was a failed ProtoSound 2.0 board.
Until the board failed, we gave the RS-27 high points. It pulls strongly, is scale-sized, the sound package is excellent, and it is attractively priced. Once repaired, we'll put the RS-27 in our long-term review fleet and let you know how it fares.


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