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This review was taken from the December 2000/ January 2001 issue of Model Railroading Magazine and is reproduced with permission of Highlands Station, Inc., Aurora, CO.

ATLAS EMD SD35 AS MONTANA RAIL LINK 705

Review by Kent Charles

Atlas has released another fine N scale locomotive that will interest anyone modeling the 1960s through today. The SD35, along with the more common GP35, inaugurated the so-called “35-line” of locomotive carbodies that used a high, utilitarian carbody with beveled noses and angular, slant-roof cab. This basic carbody design was used into the 1990s to build SD70s for Illinois Central. The main spotting features of the SD35 are the two large radiator fans with a small fan in-between, three axle trucks, twin fans above the dynamic-brake grids, and a turbocharger exhaust stack. Horsepower is rated at 2,500. EMD produced both high- and low-nose versions. A total of 360 SD35s were built between June 1964 and January 1966.

Washington Corporation’s Montana Rail Link acquired a total of five used SD35s (701-705), four in June 1988 and one in January 1989. Four SD35s acquired by MRL were ex-Norfolk and Western (N&W) units built between October and December 1965. The Atlantic Coast Line (ACL) originally purchased the fifth unit in September 1965. From ACL, ownership transferred to Seaboard Coast Line (SCL), then CSX Corporation, then to re-manufacturer and lease fleet operator National Railway Equipment (NRE), and then to MRL 703 in January 1989. MRL primarily used the SD35s in helper service out of Livingston, Montana, until replaced by more powerful SD45s. MRL 704 was sold in 1993 to NRE. The four remaining MRL SD35s were leased to I&M Rail Link in 1997 (another Washington Corporation railroad of 1,300 miles of former Milwaukee Road lines in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri). The SD35s were returned to MRL in August 1999. As of July 2000, the four remaining units were in storage at Livingston, Montana (and as I write this they are reported back in service). All of these units have had the original high nose converted to a low nose – 704 in late 1989, 701 and 703 in March 1995. The conversion date for 702 and 705 are unknown by me, but it appears the 705 was done in the past year. Excellent black-and-white photographs of 701 before and after the nose job appear on pages 60-61 of Montana Rail Link Locomotive and Rolling Stock 2000 by Robert C. Del Grosso and Richard Yaremko.

Atlas’s model of MRL 705 depicts the high-nose version of the engine complete with the nose-mounted bell as delivered to the N&W. It is painted blue and black with the original MRL white logo. The fan castings are improved over previous Atlas offering with a lot more depth and, something I have not seen before in a plastic model, the fuel tank has a slender vent tube molded on. Painting and printing are excellent, with separations sharp and lettering opaque. The attention to detail on this engine is evident in several places: numbers are applied to the numberboards, the FRA-mandated “F” for front is printed on the side of the short-hood walkway, an EMD builder’s plate is applied below the cab, the front and rear handrails are painted white at the steps, and the front edge of the steps are also painted white.

Under the hood is a split-frame mechanism with a five-pole motor that includes dual flywheels. A PC board transfers power from the contact strips to the motor and LED headlights. All-wheel pick-up provides excellent electrical contact with the track. Atlas even painted the outside top of the wheel wipers black where it meets the contact strip above the truck sideframes, so it does not show. Slow speed is excellent. Pulling power is similar to recently produced Atlas GP engines. The installed circuit board uses standard diodes for directional lighting that illuminate through a plastic lens. The light is adequate, but not bright as an incandescent bulb or a bright white LED. The PC board can be replaced with a Digitrax DN146A for DCC operation. A factory-installed DCC version of the engine includes a Digitrax DN146AX decoder.

Atlas’s new Accumate® coupler is factory installed into the body with a screw. A separate parts bag that has Rapido-style couplers with coupler springs and coupler retainer is included. I think of the Accumate® coupler as a semiautomatic coupler. It mates well with automatic and other non-automatic knuckle couplers, and it can be uncoupled using an under-the-track magnet. I had trouble getting it to consistently perform delayed uncoupling. It seemed to me that the centering spring was a little too strong to work regularly. Atlas suggests that applying a little powdered graphite to the coupler may improve operation. I also found that it was easy to dislodge the coupler trip pin. You should consider touching the trip pin where it enters the coupler body with a very small amount of CA glue. According to Paul Graf, Atlas has recognized this trip-pin problem and is in the process of doing a few minor modifications to the coupler.

I really liked this engine due to its great looks and excellent performance. I commend Atlas for its effort to improve their new offering. Atlas has released SD35s in the following roadnames: (high nose) Montana Rail Link, Norfolk & Western, Southern and undecorated; (low nose) Chessie (B&O), Conrail, Louisville & Nashville, Pennsylvania, Southern Pacific, Western Maryland (Circus) and undecorated. A second run of SD35s has also been announced by Atlas in the following roadnames: (high nose) Norfolk & Western; (low nose) Atlantic Coast Line, Central of New Jersey, CSX and Penn Central. Factory-installed DCC is available for all roadnames except undecorated.

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