New Product Spotlight – LEGACY SD70MAC

18 08 2014

As AC traction motor technology improved in the 1990s, the SD70MAC emerged as ideal power for heavy trains.

Prototype Background

6-81134 Burlington Northern

6-81134 Burlington Northern

Billed as the biggest technological development since the switch from steam to diesel, improvements in AC traction motor technology promised major changes in how railroads ran trains and assigned power.

Diesels with conventional DC traction motors can develop a lot of power at low speed, but only for a short period of time before the motors will overheat. AC traction motors on the other hand can run at full power without overheating for a long time. This gives AC motored locomotives an advantage in hauling heavy drag freights like coal trains. After testing EMD’s SD60MAC prototypes, Burlington Northern determined they could replace five aging SD40-2 and C30-7 locomotives with just three new SD70MACs on their Powder River Basin coal trains. Burlington Northern’s initial order for 350 SD70MACs brought AC traction to the spotlight in a big way.

6-81138 BNSF

6-81138 BNSF

Along with the AC motors, the SD70MAC featured improved anti-slip control which greatly improved the locomotives’ adhesion. In other words, the SD70MAC didn’t pull more because it was more powerful, it pulled more because it made better use of the power it produced. The SD70MACs could dig in and pull when conventional locomotives just spun their wheels. It wasn’t long before other railroads were trying out AC as well.

6-81141 Conrail

6-81141 Conrail

While Burlington Northern and most of the other railroads which purchased the SD70MAC did so for coal and other heavy drag freight trains, the locomotives often wander into other service corridors as well. Unit grain trains and general merchandise are common assignments. Perhaps most unusual are those on the Alaska Railroad which sometimes find themselves pulling passengers.

Lionel’s Model

Our latest release brings the model up to date with today’s LEGACY control and other great features, including:

  • LEGACY Control System – able to run on LEGACY, TMCC or Conventional control layouts
  • Odyssey II Speed Control with On / Off switch
  • LEGACYRailSounds including
    • CrewTalk andTowerCom dialog

      6-81153 CSX

      6-81153 CSX

    • 6 Official railroad speeds
    • 8 Diesel RPM levels
    • Quilling Horn
    • Bell (single hit and continuous)
    • Sequence Control
    • Current speed and fuel dialog
    • Refueling sounds
  • Dual maintenance-free motors
  • Traction Tires
  • Refined Conventional Control mode with lower starting speeds
  • Front and Rear ElectroCouplers
  • Fan-driven smoke with adjustable output
  • ARR

    6-81153 Alaska

    IR Transmitter (works with the new SensorTrack)

  • Directional lighting
  • Marker Lights
  • Lighted cab interior with crew
  • Many separately applied metal detail parts
  • Metal frame, pilots, trucks and fuel tank
  • Minimum Curve – O31

Another notable improvement over previous SD70MAC runs, we’ve lowered the fuel tank to a more realistic appearance.

The SD70MAC is being built to order. They were presented in two road numbers for Alaska, Burlington Northern, BNSF, CSX, and Kansas City Southern (one in the gray and one in the Southern Belle scheme). A Conrail SD70MAC is available as part of the Big Blue Auto Parts Boxcar Set and as a single number for separate sale. Look to see them later this year at your local Lionel dealer with a suggested retail price of $549.99.

New Product Spotlight – American Flyer ES44AC

7 04 2014

6-42581 BNSF 6423 (#6438 also available)

We introduced the new American Flyer ES44AC last year as part of the Norfolk Southern Heritage Series. This year we’re bringing more paint schemes from many of this modern standard’s other operators.

Since its introduction in 2003, General Electric’s ES44AC has become a common sight on railroads all across North America. While AC traction motor-equipped locomotives are generally preferred for slower, heavy freights like coal trains, you will see these locomotives on almost any type of train. And with railroads frequently interchanging the locomotives along with the rest of the train today, it is not at all uncommon to find “foreign power” on your local line.


6-42582 Canadian Pacific 8744 (#8730 also available)

This year’s lineup of American Flyer ES44ACs will include some great names from coast to coast: BNSF, Canadian Pacific, CSX, Kansas City Southern, and Union Pacific. Powered locomotives for each roadname will be offered with two different numbers. For the KCS locomotives, one number will wear the Southern Belle scheme, the other a “what if” version of their gray paint scheme.

The American Flyer ES44AC is packed with features.


6-42584 CSX 924 (#937 also available)

  • LEGACY Control System – able to run on LEGACY, TMCC or Conventional power. The models are also DCC enabled.
  • AF Speed Control with on/off switch for maintaining an even speed through curves and grades
  • LEGACYRailSounds featuring
    • CrewTalk and TowerCom announcements with varying scenarios based on the train’s motion
    • Eight diesel RPM levels
    • LEGACY Quilling Horn
    • Single hit or continuous mechanical bell
    • Independent volume control
  • Two maintenance-free motors
  • Front and RearElectroCouplers


    6-42586 KCS 4692 (#4696 also available in gray paint)

  • Mounting holes and support plate for scale couplers (sold separately)
  • Pivoting Pilot allows for operation on tight curves with better appearance
  • Operating headlight, ditch lights, illuminated number boards and detailed cab interior
  • Traction Tires
  • Metal Frame
  • Fan-driven smoke unit
  • Die-cast metal trucks, pilots and fuel tank
  • Separately applied metal details
  • Cab window glass
  • Engineer and conductor figures

6-42589 Union Pacific 7494 (#7523 also available)

All locomotives will negotiate S-36 curves. All come with American Flyer wheels but can be switched to scale wheels which will be available separately through Lionel Customer Service.

ES44AC locomotives retail for $529.99. If you are looking for colorful modern power for your American Flyer layout, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Freight Car Friday – Railroads Around the Bay

1 03 2013

We’re setting up for our final World’s Greatest Hobby Show of 2013 today in San Mateo, California. The San Francisco bay area has been a transportation hub for California since its earliest days. As both an important port and railroad hub, that tradition continues today.

Since we’ve covered many of California’s historic railroads through our previous stops in the state, let’s take a look at what the railfan might find today in a trip around the Bay.



BNSF stack trains are a common sight around the Bay.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe came to San Francisco in 1995. It’s local tracks are all from the Santa Fe side of its family tree.

The Santa Fe was the Southern Pacific’s biggest competitor in the Bay Area. The railroad had some very interesting operations including tug boats and ferries across the Bay itself.

Today, BNSF trains serve the busy port of Oakland and other large local industries. Double-stack trains are common, as are autoracks, tank cars and other general freight.

From the Bay Area, trains can travel North, South or East. Many of the trains travel southeasterly over the famous route across the Tehachapi mountains. Thanks to shared trackage rights, it is not at all uncommon to see trains of both BNSF and Union Pacific on the same lines.

Union Pacific

The Union Pacific has many historical routes into the region including trackage from the Western Pacific and Southern Pacific. Most of UP’s Bay Area operations can be traced to the Southern Pacific, acquired in 1996.

Tank Train Car

The famous Tank Trains were once a common sight over the nearby Tehachapi Mountains. Tank cars of oil and other commodities are still common.

The Southern Pacific had some of the most extensive trackage in the Bay Area, including electrified operations. The Southern Pacific mainlines led north and south from San Francisco. Union Pacific trains can head north and east to Sacramento and the original transcontinental route, north to points in Oregon and Washington, or southeasterly over Tehachapi to connections to eastern and southern points.

The UP can also has former Western Pacific tracks serving local industries and stretching easterly through the Feather River Canyon and connections with the former Rio Grande.

Like BNSF, intermodal trains dominate the traffic. Not only will you see lots of international containers arriving from the ports, but domestic container and trailer traffic for these busy markets. There is also plenty of general merchandise variety as well.

San Francisco Bay Railroad

CR Autorack

Autoracks are a common sight around the port, with both imported and export vehicles.

This five mile shortline serves local industries and connections with both BNSF and Union Pacific in Richmond and the Port of San Francisco. Like many shortlines, this carrier has a lot of character. Motive power includes a trackmobile and two Alco switchers. And these venerable locomotives haul everything from containers to general freight.

This line is the last remaining active element of one of San Francisco’s first railroads, the State Belt Line. The Belt Line’s first rails were laid in 1889, and served customers around the region. With the Port of Oakland taking on more shipments, service dwindled following World War II. The state sold the railroad to the city in 1969 and it was subsequently sold into private hands for the first time in 1974.

The two Alco S2s running today date to this original line in 1946. The railroad also prides itself on its environmental record. They were the first railroad to convert their entire roster to biofuels. Perhaps even more interesting, they use a herd of goats as opposed to herbicides to keep the weeds at bay.

Mass Transit


Amtrak and others offer regular passenger service around the region.

San Francisco has long been one of the most famous cities in America for its mass transit. From the classic cable cars to trolleys to buses to the modern BART trains, the San Francisco area has a lot to offer mass transit fans. Add to all that the CalTrans and regional and long-distance Amtrak trains and you have lots to see. (You can even watch the CalTrans commuter trains from our Lionel booth at the show!) Whether you’re looking for a historic ride on a cable car or just a fast way to your next railfan location, this region’s mass transit has you covered.

Freight Car Friday – Railroads of San Diego

8 02 2013

As we make our way to San Diego this week, let’s take our first look at some of the great railroads that have called California home. The city’s first railroads arrived in 1866. The first lines were smaller short lines which brought goods arriving by ship inland and carried produce and other products back from the local region to the coast. Among other things, the geography and topography of the surrounding region kept larger projects at bay for many years.

While San Diego had hoped to capitalize on the construction of the Panama Canal and become the country’s premier west-coast port, these natural barriers drove the major shipping lanes further to the north. While it never became the major freight hub it planned, the city remains an important and busy center for both freight and passenger rail traffic.

California Southern

curved map

Santa Fe reefers were a common sight in and around San Diego. The city, and its northern connection to the transcon, can be seen on the famous “map cars.”

The California Southern actually entered the city from the north. The line, backed by the Santa Fe, commenced operations in 1882 between National City and Oceanside. In 1885, the railroad completed its link with the Santa Fe’s transcontinental mainline.

Construction of the surf line along the coast shortened the route between San Diego and Los Angeles and provided a scenic highlight for travelers. Today this route continues to host Amtrak and Coaster commuter trains along with BNSF freight traffic.

The Santa Fe station downtown continues to serve as a major travel center and an architectural landmark for the city.

San Diego and Arizona


Southern Pacific’s round-about route provided a tenuous but more direct link to the east.

The San Diego and Arizona was conceived as a connection to the transcontinental mainline of the Southern Pacific, giving the city direct access to the east-west line as opposed to diverting trains to the north. It was a relatively late link in the transcontinental construction movement. The charter was created in 1906 and construction wasn’t complete until 1919.

San Diego had been the proposed destination of the Texas and Pacific. But with its construction halted with a connection with the SP in western Texas, this new route became the next key link in that chain.

The Southern Pacific provided much of the funding to the company. Labeled the “Impossible Railroad,” construction and maintenance was exceedingly expensive. Adding to the complications was the fact that the railroad crisscrossed the U.S. – Mexico border. The railroad became part of the SP in 1932. It was renamed the San Diego & Arizona Eastern. SP operated the line until 1976, when natural disasters and vandalism closed portions of the line.

Today portions of the line survive as both commuter rail and local freight operations run by Rail America and the Pacific Imperial Railroad.