Railroad Model Craftsman Product Review

Rapido Trains’ Rohr Amtrak RTL Turboliner

Arriving on Track One from Rapido Trains: The Rohr Amtrak RTL Turboliner. This unique passenger train operated in New York State from the 1970s until the 1990s. 

Rapido Trains’ Rohr Amtrak RTL Turboliner

HO Scale (1:87)Review by Harry K. Wong/photos by the author

When Amtrak took over the nation’s remaining long-distance passenger services in 1971, they inherited a fleet composed entirely of older hand-me-down equipment jettisoned from railroads eager to get out of the business. Many Amtrak customers soon learned first-hand of the downsides of these aged accommodations. To help reset public perception, Amtrak set out to acquire new rolling stock that it hoped would evoke visions of a brighter future for rail passenger travel instead of reminding riders of its worn-out beginnings.

To achieve this goal, Amtrak reached beyond its shores to France, where it leased two streamlined lightweight five-unit train sets from ANF Frangeco for testing. Propelled by matching gas-turbine power cars front and rear, with two coaches and a cafe car placed in between, these sleek new trains were lower and smaller in profile than typical American stock. Known as “RTG Turboliners,” they entered service in 1973 operating on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor. Impressed with its reliability and comfort, Amtrak purchased the first two and ordered six additional sets from France. Their arrival in 1975 allowed for Turboliner service to expand into the Chicago-Milwaukee and Chicago-Detroit corridors. The new Turboliners proved immensely popular with riders, but due to their European couplers and buffers the French-built RTG train sets were unable to easily accommodate the larger crowds when additional capacity was needed.

The front end of the Truboline and the end of one of the coaches. 

Amtrak again ordered seven additional Turboliner train sets, this time from Rohr Industries of Southern California. Produced under license from RTG, the Rohr-built Turboliners improved upon the original design by utilizing standard automatic couplers and power cars with a new, sleeker design. Known as “RTL Turboliners,” each of these new American-made train sets also had five cars, consisting of the two power cars, two coaches and a cafe car at the center. To improve passenger comfort, each of the new RTL cars was several inches wider in the passenger compartments, while the cab and turbine areas carried over the original 9 ft., 5.5 in. width from the original RTGs.

Entering service beginning in September 1976, the Rohr-built Turboliners served almost exclusively in Amtrak’s Empire Corridor between Grand Central Terminal (moved to New York Penn Station in 1991) and Niagara Falls, as well as Maple Leaf service to Toronto and the Adirondack to Montreal.

After twelve years of service, the RTL Turboliners still boasted an impressive 90 percent availability rating. Two separate efforts were made to upgrade and modernize the RTL Turboliners in the 1990s, but each program was never fully realized beyond the initial prototypes. In 1993, two RTL power cars were also specially painted to tow the nationwide demonstration tour of the Swedish X2000 High Speed Train on non-electrified routes.

The last RTL rebuild took place in 2003, partially funded by New York State. The trains were quickly removed from service after a dispute with NYSDOT, and were placed in storage. Three Turboliner sets remain in storage to this day, unlikely to return to service.

A broadside view of one of the Turboliner coaches.

Rapido Trains has recently released premium-quality superdetailed ready-to-run replicas of Amtrak’s Rohr RTL Turboliners for HO scale in a multitude of paint schemes and versions. Our five-car train set arrived in a large, glossy box with bold graphics. Inside, purchasers will be greeted with a comprehensive, yet occasionally witty, multi-page user’s manual, and a 16×20” poster of the box art, which itself is a reproduction of one of the original Amtrak promotional posters for the then-new RTL Turboliners. Beneath the outer foam layer, each of the five cars is encased individually inside a sturdy multi-layer plastic clamshell surrounded by even more foam. Once removed from the packaging, each intermediate car weighs a healthy 8.2 oz., 1.6 oz. over NMRA’s Recommended Practice 20.1 for HO scale cars of this length. In our experience thus far, this slight excess in weight has proven to be a positive attribute for reliable operation, especially in this case where both ends of the train are powered. The power cars on each end of the set tip the scales at 17.1 oz. apiece, with most of the weight rightfully resting over the driving wheels for maximum traction. All wheels that we tested on these cars were found to be in compliance with our NMRA Standards Gauge…

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This article was posted on: August 28, 2023