By Aaron Adams
Supplying high quality cars long requested by Amtrak modelers, Rapido Trains has expanded its HO-scale passenger rolling stock with Bombardier-built “Horizon” models. These interesting cars can be seen in service across the U.S. While HO Horizon cars have previously been offered, Rapido’s replicas surpass those more than 20-year-old models in every way.
ABOVE: Amtrak 287 has seven Horizon cars (six coaches and a dinette in the center) in this San Joaquin train consist stopping at Stockton, Calif., in 1989. The Horizon cars were brand-new when this image was captured on film. Amtrak’s Phase III livery and the square F40PH body make for a uniform appearance for this train. — Tom Savio photo, Kevin EuDaly collection
Amtrak first received Horizon fleet cars in 1989 for use on intercity routes, and to replace its aging “heritage” fleet cars inherited from the Class 1 railroads at the carrier’s start in 1971. The Horizon cars were the first cars to be purchased by Amtrak with private funding and without the use of federal funds. Bombardier adapted its existing “Comet” commuter car design (also coming soon in HO and N from Rapido) to better fit Amtrak’s needs, including the addition of General Steel Industries G70 trucks instead of the Comet’s inside bearing trucks, and a different interior layout with fewer seats. The same trucks would later be used on the Bombardier-built Superliner II fleet. Amtrak continues to operate these cars today, though some Horizons will be displaced by upcoming state-owned Siemens passenger cars that will be used in California and the Midwest. Rapido’s website has a great Horizon car “Master Class,” written by Alex Stroshane, that provides a more thorough look at the history and variations of these interesting coaches (rapidotrains.com/master-class/horizon-coaches/amtrak-horizon-car-master-class).
Our samples represent three modern Horizon cars that can be seen in service with Amtrak today. Coach 54516 and First Dinette 53511 appear in Amtrak’s current Phase VI scheme, which is sometimes called phase IVb by railfans. Phase VI was first introduced in 2002 and features a large blue stripe with smaller white and red striping along the top edge, and the current Amtrak “travelmark” logo in white. Horizon cars like these can primarily be found on regional trains in the Midwest such as Missouri River Runner. They can occasionally be seen on California’s Surfliner, and are also being used on the Amtrak Cascades route following the retirement of Talgo series train sets until new equipment is procured.
The second dinette is painted for Amtrak California as 53510 “Western Horizon.” This run also includes two other Amtrak California roster members, “Golden Horizon” and “Pacific Horizon.” These three Horizon dinettes are leased to the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans), which paid for refurbishment of these cars, and wear a unique paint scheme. The angled orange, turquoise, and blue bars at the ends of the blue window stripe are carried over from CalTrans’ Comet cars, which borrow this accent from their former owner, New Jersey Transit. These three dinettes are used as cafe cars for sets of these single-level Comet cars on the San Joaquin route, and frequently run with the Amtrak California NPCUs (Non-Powered Control Units rebuilt from retired F40PHs), which Rapido previously produced in HO.
Rapido also made three other Amtrak schemes in this production run: as-delivered Phase III with narrow or wide stripes, and Phase IV, which was introduced in 1993. Phase VI and Amtrak California’s unique paint scheme are replicated very well on these models. The primary bare aluminum color of the body is a great match to prototype photos and from what I have seen on Horizon cars in person. The Amtrak Red and Amtrak Blue on the phase VI cars match the color samples in the Amtrak Paint Scheme and Logo Guide. The colors for the Amtrak California scheme also match the color samples provided in the paint scheme and logo guide. All the printed lettering and labels on the cars are crisp and legible and match the prototypes. The grass on the California state flag is printed in brown instead of green, but this was required due to manufacturing limitations.
ABOVE: Bombardier’s Horizon equipment has served Amtrak for more than three decades. Rapido Trains sets a new standard for this contemporary passenger car with its HO-scale debut of Horizon-prototype models. This review presents Amtrak California and Phase VI cars. Watch for a review of Amtrak Phase III releases and Rio Grande Ski Train cars in the near future.
A Rapido “Easy Peasy” magnetic lighting wand and a longer shank knuckle coupler, for increased space between cars, are included in the box with each car. Each car also includes a bag of additional rooftop antenna details and brake pipe details for optional installation by the modeler. These cars are detailed from roof to rails, with factory-installed wire grab irons being just the beginning. The roof of the coach does not have any additional detail, matching prototype photos, but the dinette cars include a pair of antennas already installed. Each car includes factory-installed lighting that is Digital Command Control (DCC) and DC compatible. Interior lighting is provided by LEDs that are nice warm white and are not excessively bright. Power for the LEDs is drawn from the track through pickups in the trucks. The working red LED marker lights on both ends of each car is a great feature and allows any of these models to be the last car on a train. Three reed switches control the lights, one at the center of the car for the interior lights and one toward each vestibule for the marker lights. The included lighting wand takes a little getting used to but is a good way to control lighting without a DCC decoder. Rapido sells similar coach lighting kits separately for both HO and N scale, though these do not include marker lights.