Review and Photos by David Otte
After several years in the making, Rapido Trains has finally delivered on its promise of the ultimate HO scale Budd Rail Diesel Car model – its “Absolute RDC Project.” Now available at dealers across North America, both Phase 1 and Phase 2 body styles are being offered in multiple roadnumbers, as appropriate, for Amtrak, Baltimore & Ohio, Boston & Maine, British Columbia Railway, Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Central New Jersey, Chicago & Eastern Illinois, Dominion Atlantic, Long Island, Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA), New Haven, New York Central, Pacific Great Eastern, Penn Central, Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines, Reading, Southern Pacific, and VIA Rail Canada. Modelers may choose between Standard direct current (DC)/Digital Command Control (DCC) ready renderings at a suggested retail price of $225.00 or those factory equipped with LokSound Select DCC/sound decoders with a list price of $325.00 each.
When the Edward G. Budd Company rolled out its Rail Diesel Car demonstrator in September 1949, it represented the culmination of almost 100 years of self-contained railroad car development in the US, which initially was the industry’s answer to efficient transportation on lightly populated branchlines and later served as a hopeful stopgap measure for the growing decline in train travel altogether. Baldwin Locomotive Works began experimenting with steam powered rail cars back in the 1850s that combined the steam engine and boiler of a locomotive with a cabin that could carry a dozen or so passengers. Although it proved economically impractical at the time, the notion would continue to be advanced with the invention of the internal combustion engine by the turn of the 20th century and the introduction of the electric traction motor shortly thereafter – the age of the Doodlebug had arrived.
By the time the country was deep into the Great Depression of the 1930s, however, both the advancement in design and the production of these often expensive custom built rail motor cars had come to a virtual stand still. If it were not for one man in particular, J. W. Ragsdale, Budd’s chief engineer, the idea of a self-contained rail car might have ended here. Ragsdale had been instrumental in the Budd Company’s development of using corrosive-resistance stainless steel in the construction of passenger cars as well as having been involved in the ill conceived Budd-Michelin pneumatic tired rail car and the famous streamlined Zephyr trainset, debuted by the Burlington in 1934.
In particular, Ragsdale’s subsequent involvement in the design of the Denver & Rio Grande Western’s smaller two unit streamliner, the Prospector, delivered in late 1941, would further wet the engineer’s appetite for a new streamlined version of the rail motor car. The stainless steel constructed trainset combined a coach, Pullman sleeper, and diner into one self-contained two section rail car that utilized compact diesel engines housed beneath the carbodies and electric traction motors. While the Prospector was hailed a failure by D&RGW management shortly after entering service due to its inability to master the mountainous terrain of the road, Ragsdale continued to seek out a solution for increasing the power output of the miniature streamliner, which stood in his mind as the basis for a future series of cost effective self-propelled passenger rail vehicles. America’s entry into World War II within weeks of the Prospector’s first test run, though, would put a halt to his efforts.
The preserved RDC SP-10 heads north in a BNSF Railway manifest freight from Barstow to Stockton, Calif., on November 29, 2016. The car is destined for preservation at Woodland, Calif., along the original Northwestern Pacific. Photo by Hunter Lohse
By the time the US was back on a peace time footing in the late 1940s, Ragsdale had passed away leaving his successor at Budd, General G. M. Barnes, to take up the mantle of the rail motor car. The general too believed that Budd could offer an economical solution to postwar America’s now progressively shrinking passenger train ridership by reintroducing a new self-contained rail car of modern design. Based on his experience with the compact diesel engines and torque converter transmissions used in the US Army’s tanks during the war, the general looked to General Motor’s Detroit Diesel and Allison Divisions for a solution to Ragsdale’s power quandary and then tasked his engineers to come up with a standard car design that could take advantage of the cost savings realized by assembly line production
Basically streamlined Doodlebugs of sorts, three different models, each stretching 85 feet in length and weighing approximately 118,000 pounds, would initially be offered: the RDC-1, a 90-seat coach; the RDC-2, a combination 71-seat coach and 17 foot baggage compartment; and the RDC-3, another combination arrangement with a 49 seat coach area, 17 foot baggage-express compartment, and a 15 foot Railway Post Office section. Additional RDC models would later be produced as well: the RDC-4, introduced in 1953, offered a shorter 73 foot 10 inch length car with a 31 foot baggage compartment and a 30 foot RPO section only while the 94 seat RDC-9 model of 1956 provided a cabless single engined trailer car to be operated by other RDC types.
Following Budd’s signature production methods, the RDCs featured stainless steel frames and carbodies skinned with a layer of stainless steel fluted panels. The roomy interiors were well appointed too with plenty of leg room for the passengers and cushioned walkover style seating as well as space for men’s and women’s lavatories, equipment lockers, and vestibules at both ends, which also contained the engineer’s cabs on their right hand sides (facing the direction of travel). Interior heating was supplied through radiators at floor level while a 7-ton capacity Frigidaire electro-mechanical air conditioning unit cooled the passengers during the summer months.
The first production RDCs were delivered to New York Central in 1950. One of the shiny new cars is placed on display in Rochester, N.Y., on April 24, 1952, just prior to the start of a new “Beeliner” service between Syracuse, Rochester, and Buffalo. Photo courtesy Rochester & Genesee Valley Railroad Museum Archive
Each RDC was equipped with two compact 275 horsepower 2-stroke cycle 6-cylinder Detroit diesel engines, which were positioned beneath the car and adjacent to each of the rail car’s two-axle trucks. Each engine’s hydraulic torque converter transmission then connected via a drive shaft to the inside axle only of each truck. The transmission worked as direct drive during running speed, but hydraulic drive was engaged during acceleration/deceleration – similar to that of an automobile’s automatic transmission. Speeds of up to 100 miles per hour could be achieved. In turn, the engines were cooled by two large radiator banks mounted on the roof with car lighting and other electrical accessories powered via two 64-volt generators driven by the diesel engines.
Between April 1950, as the first production units destined for the NYC began rolling out of Budd’s Red Lion Philadelphia plant, and December 1962, when the last dozen RDCs came off the assembly line for the Reading, a total of 398 cars would be built. Of this total, a good two-thirds were of the RDC-1 coach type. Today, a number RDCs continue to operate, a few still in daily revenue service, such as those operated by VIA Rail Canada, as well as a host of retired units now in the hands of private owners and museums around North America.
Rapido’s Absolute RDC Project
With the RDC-1 having been the best selling of the car arrangements Budd offered, it was the obvious starting point for Rapido’s “Absolute RDC Project,” although the company has already committed to producing the RDC-2 and RDC-3 at some future date. Regardless, the 11-3/4 inch long 1:87 rendering now available is pure eye-candy from the moment its removed from its classy packaging. Matching the prototype dimensionally scale inch for inch, the model certainly reflects Rapido’s dedication to accuracy, which transcends the simple measurements taken with a tape measure and encompasses the correct body curvatures and angles of the real deal as only a 3-D scanner and computer imaging can capture – kudos to our Canadian friends for going the extra mile!
As the familiar cliché goes, “the devil is in the details,” nothing could be truer for this HO scale RDC. First of all, there are plenty of details to take in, some obvious, like the assortment of separately applied hand grabs, photo-etched radiator screens, windshield wipers, Rapido’s signature fully-appointed undercarriage, interior seating, and even window shades arranged in an assortment of positions, and some much more subtle, such as the molded-in carbody fluting with its proper profile and the overall realistically aged stainless steel finish of the car. But perhaps even more important is the recognition of the RDC production phase variations Rapido has incorporated into its rendering.
At the outset of regular production, the Budd RDC exhibited fluting that extended out to a point in which it aligned with the inside edge of the vestibule doors; headlights that were recessed into the car ends; large vestibule end windows; inset pilots or no pilots at all; side numberboards; and welded or fabricated trucks. The earliest dozen or so units were equipped with five vestibule steps too, but this feature was quickly changed to four steps on subsequent built units and thus breaks the Phase 1 production group up into sub phases – Phase 1a and Phase 1b. The later units are the more numerous of the Phase 1 family and there would actually be a Phase 1c variant to be added to the group as well when Budd changed the radiator blister grilles and side vent arrangement slightly in the mid 1950s.
Budd’s redesigned RDCs, the Phase 2 units, were introduced in 1956. Hidden internally, the diesel engines were up-rated to 300 horsepower each and the cars received an increased capacity 8-ton Carrier air conditioning system, while the carbody saw a number of more visible changes. The vestibule end windows were made smaller to make room for numberboards above while the side numberboards were removed; the headlight was mounted atop the roof; a continuous square-shaped rain gutter was added above the doors and wrapped around the car ends; a new more substantial pilot was incorporated into the car ends that was flush with the end walls; the fluting on the roof now ended further back from the vestibule doors while the side fluting was continued across the vestibule doors and around to the car ends; a new single grille now covered the entire radiator section; and, finally, cast steel truck frames were now employed.
While to the uninitiated, these differing details may not appear all that noticeable, for the RDC aficionado they are key elements to properly modeling these rail cars and Rapido wouldn’t have it any other way. At great expense no doubt, tooling has been created to represent the Phase 1b, Phase 1c, and Phase 2 body styles as well as numerous road specific details to boot (for a comprehensive illustrated comparison of these attributes, check out www.rapidotrains.com/budd-rdc-master-class). Case in point is Railroad Model Craftsman’s review sample decorated for the Southern Pacific’s lone RDC-1.
Unlike the rest of Budd’s customers for the RDC, the SP was not a willing buyer of this particular piece of equipment. Having petitioned the California Public Utilities Commission to discontinue its steam powered passenger train service between Oakland Pier and Sacramento in 1951 and having been denied, the state actually ordered SP management to upgrade its service via a Budd RDC. After a lengthy court battle that went all the way to the US Supreme Court, the SP was forced to comply and took delivery of a single RDC-1, designated SP-10, in March 1954 at a cost of $162,000. Before going into service, though, the road’s Sacramento Shops added pilots to either end of the car, train number indicators to the cab roofs, and replaced the original single note air horns with Nathan 3-chime units.
Referred to as the “Pocket Streamliner” in SP advertisements, RDC service lasted on the line until finally being OK’d for discontinuance at the end of March 1959. SP-10 would go on to serve on SP subsidiary Northwestern Pacific’s Willits to Eureka, CA Redwood route until the formation of Amtrak in May 1971. A survivor, old SP-10 is currently awaiting restoration at Rocklin, CA where it will become the centerpiece of the town’s new Southern Pacific Railroad History Center.
Rapido has captured the look of the Phase 1b SP-10 on the day it entered service, complete with pilots (panels to enclose the space beneath the couplers are included along with a bag of other assorted detail parts for modeler installation as desired), the train indicator boards, and even the Nathan 3-chime air horns. Like the prototype, it displays a stainless steel finish save the single red painted letterboard band at the top of the car sides along with the SP medallions and red and orange strips on the car ends. SP designated the RDC as a Chair car and this is reflected on the model with the word “Chair” included in the painted band near the vestibule doors.
The impeccably decorated and assembled sample was further enhanced by a precision drive train that Rapido cleverly incorporated into its HO scale model. Tiny 5-pole motors have been installed almost entirely within the two simulated engine housings beneath the model with only a hint of their location surfacing above the floor level and thus allowing a clear view through the interior. Unlike the real RDC, though, the two motors are geared to both axles in their adjacent trucks and all wheels act as electrical pickups.
Railroad Model Craftsman’s DCC-ready sample checked out A-OK in regard to wheel set gauging and Kadee-compatible coupler height in accordance with National Model Railroad Association’s specs. On the test track, the model actually was able to negotiate curves as tight as 18 inches in radius, although it looks much better on 22 inch or larger radius curves, and exhibited a smooth and quiet drive mechanism. Directional LED lighting is included too as is interior and numberboard illumination, and all shown bright enough on this sample to see in a well lit room.
Utilizing a Kato brand 12-volt power pack, throttle response was excellent with speeds ranging from 3.4 to 89.3 scale miles per hour. While the Budd car was never designed to haul a trailer in the real world, the Rapido rendering actually displays a pretty good tractive effort easily equivalent to a consist of 2 or 3 additional scale length streamlined passenger cars. Finally, if one is interested in upgrading the RDC with a motor decoder, the lighting circuit board situated at the top of the car’s interior comes equipped with a 21-pin connector; Rapido recommends an ESU LokPilot V4.0 decoder, number 54615, for best performance.
Rapido’s collaboration with LokSound on the factory installed DCC/sound equipped models, for which SP-10 is also available, should not be overlooked either; the audio emanating from these models so equipped have also won high praise both on web based modeler forums and in the hobby press. Regardless of the modeler’s choice, though, in the final analysis, the new HO scale RDC lives up to the reputation Rapido self-proclaimed at the outset of this endeavor – it most certainly is the absolute RDC model!
Rapido Trains HO Scale
Budd RDC-1 Standard DC
Southern Pacific #SP-10
#16094; MSRP: $225.00
Rapido Trains Inc.
500 Alden Road, Unit 16
Markham, Ontario L3R 5H5