Review by Harry K. Wong/photos by the author
In the late 1980s Amtrak was in desperate need of new equipment to operate new state-sponsored regional corridor trains in the West and Midwest. However, Amtrak’s traditional sources for new passenger cars — namely Budd and Pullman-Standard — had either exited or were in the process of exiting the passenger car manufacturing business. Bombardier Transportation answered the call by taking an existing commuter car design — the Pullman-Standard Comet I/Bombardier Comet II — and adapting it for longer-distance corridor services. The earliest Comet I cars date to 1970-1973 and were built for Erie Lackawanna’s suburban service (paid for by New Jersey Department of Transportation). They quickly became the standard for commuter operations coast to coast in the 1980s and 1990s.
Modifications made for Amtrak included more luxurious and spacious 2-by-2 seating of 82 or 84 seat capacity (versus 113-seat commuter capacity), manually-operated vestibule doors and traps, and additional bathroom and luggage space. A Dinette configuration was also created with room allocated for a small kitchen and serving counter at the middle of the car, along with table seating at one or both ends of the car. Between 1989 and 1990, Amtrak received 104 cars of this new design, first known internally as “Amfleet IIIs,” but now best known as “Horizon” equipment. As built, there were four types of Horizon cars including 86 coaches in two number series, ten all-table cars in the 53500 class, and eight 53000-class coach-dinette cars. As for the food service cars, eleven have been rebuilt as 58000-class club-dinette cars, with three-across business-class seating at one end, and table space at the other. The Horizon cars have since been rebuilt to ADA accommodation standards with corresponding changes in seating capacity of either 72 or 68 seats per coach, for example. Since 2013, three all-table dinette cars have been assigned to operate with refurbished single-level Comet 1B train sets between Oakland and Bakersfield. These cars are painted into Amtrak California’s colors and striping complete with individual car names assigned.
This close-up shot shows the internal detail of Rapido’s new Horizon cars.
Over the years, the Horizon cars have been paired with nearly every kind of HEP-equipped locomotive that Amtrak has ever operated — everything from EMD F40PHs, F59PHIs, GE DASH8-32BWHs, P40s and P42s, to the latest Siemens SC44 Chargers seen today.
Horizon cars were delivered from Bombardier in Amtrak’s Phase III scheme in both narrow- and wide-stripe versions. Beginning in 1993, some cars were repainted into the more somber Phase IV paint with a deep blue window band. The vast majority of the Horizon fleet can now be found in the current Phase VI scheme. The Phase VI scheme (or IVb, as some prefer) features a window band in the traditional Amtrak Blue with additional red pinstriping and finished with the current Amtrak “Travelmark” logo first adopted in 2000.
Rapido Trains has recently released premium-quality super detailed ready-to-run replicas of Amtrak’s Horizon cars for HO scale which are the subject of this review. Each car arrives in a glossy box with the model encased in a sturdy multi-layer plastic clamshell. Once removed from the packaging, each car tips the scales at a healthy 7.8 ounces, 1.1 ounces over NMRA’s Recommended Practice 20.1 for HO scale cars of this length. In our experiences so far, this slight excess in weight has proven to be a positive attribute for reliable operation on these cars. All wheels that we tested on these cars were found to be in compliance with our NMRA Standards Gauge. Included with each car is a long-shank metal coupler, two air and signal hose pairings and a magnetic wand for lighting operation. The dinette cars come with optional cellular antennas that can also be applied by the user for club-dinette cars.
Rapido has developed a sterling reputation for providing an extremely high level of fidelity and detail that began with its passenger cars. These cars serve to build on that reputation by exhibiting a host of finely executed details on the inside as well as the exterior of both the Horizon coach and dinette.
Rapido has gone the extra mile to provide detailed interiors for its new cars.
Each car is priced at $99.95 MSRP each. Multiple road numbers available per scheme.
Rapido Trains, 500 Alden Road, Unit 21, Markham, Ontario