By Ben Alain
Special livery paint schemes are a highlight of contemporary railroading. You can lament the lack of variety in North American railroads compared to years past, and with the news of Canadian Pacific (CP) and Kansas City Southern combining the number of roads appears to continue reducing. You can keep up with news on the proposed Canadian Pacific Kansas City, or CPKC as it is currently being called, by checking out White River Productions’ Railfan & Railroad magazine. While there may no longer be dozens of Class 1 railroads to watch and follow, the proliferation of special paint schemes adds much to a landscape that might otherwise be limited to a handful of liveries.
Canadian Pacific recently added “military tribute” and throwback heritage appearance decorations to its roster using several SD70ACU diesel locomotives as its canvas.
New Call To Duty for 90/43MACs
The goal of 6,000 horses under one hood bit Electro-Motive Division (EMD) and General Electric (GE) in the mid-1990s. Both diesel builders introduced models with this power rating as a feature… or future feature. Check out Justin Sobeck’s review of Broadway Limited’s N-scale AC6000CW in March 2022’s MRN for details on GE’s history with this type of locomotive. EMD’s path was its SD90/43MAC. Purchasing railroads received a 4,300-hp unit with the potential to be upgraded to 6,000 hp in the near future. The concept did not pan out well for either EMD or GE and these models became less desirable roster members, with roads like Union Pacific releasing its examples from service well before they aged out from miles and without receiving the 6,000-hp enhancement. The rebuilding of SD90/43MACs began with a Norfolk Southern order with EMD/Progressive Rail in 2014 to take former Union Pacific units (and some CEFX and a single Indiana Railroad unit) and make contemporary AC traction motor equipped motive power (7229–7338).
In 2018, Canadian Pacific and EMD/Progress Rail struck a deal to take SD90/43MAC locomotives and use their cores to build a new, desirable, six-axle unit with contemporary features. The result was the SD70ACU with 30 units requested by CP, which later was increased to a fleet of 60 examples (7000–7059). CP’s SD90/43MACs were built in 1998 and this SD70ACU wearing Army Arid tribute livery began as an SD90/43MAC carrying road number 9107 and part of the road’s DRF-43 class. The military tribute series paints debuted in late 2019, not long after CP unveiled two SD70ACU models wearing the road’s early diesel maroon and gray scheme (7010 featuring script Canadian Pacific lettering on the hood and 7015 with Railroad Roman-style road name presentation). The military tribute series includes four SD70ACUs: 7020 “Army,” 7021 “Army Arid Region,” 7022 “Navy,” and 7023 “Air Force.” There is also a World War II Veterans roster member 6644. This out-of-sequence from the rest of the 60 SD70ACU road numbers was done to represent June 6, 1944, and the Allied Army’s invasion of Normandy in France.
ABOVE: This model comes with LED lighting (you can see the small yellow square LEDs on each end of the black board in this view) that illuminates the headlights, ditch lights, number boards, and ground lights.
Athearn’s Genesis 2.0 SD70ACU
You often hear it said there is no better time to be a model railroader, and this SD70ACU offering is evidence of this statement. Athearn upped its Genesis game a few years ago with enhanced and improved features that notably included the inclusion of LED lighting, flexible hoses on pilots, and ground lights over lead trucks. This SD70ACU release has all these benefits and comes in two versions: standard DC and with Digital Command Control (DCC) and sound. The standard DC model, which is what you see in this review, includes a dummy plug occupying a 21-pin socket that is ready to accept a decoder of this modern variety that you can add to move to digital operation. The models equipped with DCC incorporate SoundTraxx Tsunami 2 electronics.
During the rebuilding process several attributes where either changed or added and Athearn covers these details well. The model’s lighting includes working front and rear ditch lights and nose-mounted headlight. As you examine this HO diesel locomotive, you’ll spot a Nathan K3 air horn mounted on a post and located on the long hood roof ahead of the radiator fan cluster and rear dynamic brake. There’s a modern PTC antenna array taking up the cab roof surface… and it is really something to see. The antennas reside on a slightly elevated separate platform on the roof and the detail work is extremely fine. Matching the prototype, select wire grab irons and handrails are presented in the dark charcoal black hue, as are select fan tops, walkways, and other surfaces. It should be noted that Athearn includes a raised walkway per CP usage. You can see the different looking and slightly raised sections surrounding the long hood. There are wider openings in the walkway surface to allow for snow and slush to drain through and not so easily accumulate and make for challenging trips down the sides of the unit in inclement weather. The pilot details are tremendous with an accurate CP-style plow on the nose, spare knuckles (nicely colored in a raw metal rusty hue with F- and E-type labeling on the pilot face above them) hanging at the ready on the rear pilot for any trouble along the way, correct red cable dual MU sockets with a short stand-up red-capped MU receptacle present, coupler cut levers (accented with black) front and back, trainline hose, and more.
Ben Alain is an Alberta, Canada, based model railroader and railfan. Ben’s BArailsystem YouTube channel focuses mostly on his HO-scale railroad with updates on his progress, how-to and how-not-to videos, and more. Ben’s current HO empire started construction in 2016 and followed a first model railroad that he built and operated from 2011 through 2016. His first railroad was a 10 by 11 foot pike with 24-inch curve minimums, 2 percent grade, and 40 feet of main line running. His current system is a larger 31 by 40 foot system with wider curves (30-inch radius in staging yards and 36-inch radius on his main line) and a main line run of 125 feet. Ben uses Digitrax’s DB150, DB200LNWI wi-fi control to operate his trains. This is Ben’s first contribution in Model Railroad News.