2020: Model Railroading Year in Review

Even though 2020 didn’t go the way any of us had anticipated, it was still a good year to be a model railroader. New highly anticipated products were released, and with most of us spending more time at home, many of our hobby projects that had been put off were completed or expanded, and some even used this time to discover model railroading for the very first time.


blue and silver amtrak model train

2020 saw a fantastic selection of products come to fruition from all major manufacturers. Despite the supply-chain complications experienced by many industries, those in the model railroading business persevered to bring us some of the best and most detailed models to date!

HO Scale

Big Steam From Broadway Limited Imports

Known for their high quality and detailed models, Broadway Limited Imports delivered a bumper crop of new and re-released steam locomotives in the last 12 months! Some highlights from this year’s selection include the brand new C&O Greenbrier, made available in all prototypical paint schemes (including the striking Greenbrier Resort scheme), the Streamlined Pennsylvania K4, featuring the early Raymond Loey designed cladding, and the massive Northern Pacific/SP&S 4-8-4, including the famed SP&S #700 (which is preserved in mainline running condition). 2020 also saw the return of the popular 4-6-2 Pacific series, featuring a great selection of historic paint schemes in addition to the eye-catching modern Reading and Northern scheme, and the highly popular Southern Pacific Cab Forward.


Iconic Freight Haulers from Athearn Genesis

In the first quarter of 2020, Athearn delivered the newly tooled General Electric ES44DC. Featuring optional Soundtraxx Tsunami2 DCC and sound, this DC powered variation of the popular GEVO locomotive series had been sorely missed by modern modelers until this point. This was followed by a re-release of the more prevalent ES44AC series in the fourth quarter, with both prototypical and fallen flag fantasy schemes being represented. New to this release; Athearn additionally delivered several Primed for Grime examples in varying states of prototypical wear. These examples featured paint chipping, patching, faded liveries, and primer painted panels (to represent replacement parts), all copied from the prototype locomotives wearing the exact road numbers represented!


Modern Passenger Power from Bachmann

Late 2020 saw the highly anticipated release of Bachmann’s SC-44 Charger. Operating in reality since 2017, this was the first release of these ultra-modern locomotives in model form. Continuing their recent trend of offering a wider range of highly detailed and interactive models, the SC-44 came loaded with features to bring the model to life. These included CD-quality mechanical sounds from a real SC-44 Charger, passenger announcements, and an impressive range of programmable lighting effects including direction headlights, flashing ditch lights, blinking strobe lights (which flash white when in motion and red when in emergency), a destination display light, and directional markers. Surfliner examples additionally included the prototypical rear spoiler (designed to improve airflow over bi-level cars).


N Scale

Classic Road Diesels from Broadway Limited Imports

In addition to their massive release of HO Scale steam locomotives, Broadway Limited Imports also introduced some excellent new products to their N Scale lineup, including the iconic EMD F3 and F7 diesel locomotives. Finished with the same level of precision detail as their HO Scale counterparts, the F Units were made available painted and lettered for an incredible 15 different railroads. From the quintessential Santa Fe Warbonnet scheme, to the eye-catching Southern Railway scheme, all examples were finished with details such as varying horn types and placement, different roof detail configurations, and road-specific components such as trainline antennas on the Pennsylvania versions. As with all BLI models, all versions were equipped with Rolling Thunder compatible Paragon3 DCC and sound.

Broadway Limited Imports N 3801 F7 A-Unit, Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe #334L

Eastern Steam Giants from Bachmann

After a several year gap in production, Bachmann once again brought the mighty Baltimore and Ohio EM-1 to their N Scale lineup. Featuring a massive 2-8-8-4 wheelbase, this beast of the east was no small model, but demonstrated the ability to navigate 11.25″ radius curves, making it extremely maneuverable! Packed with excellent details such as scale cladding, piping, and riveting, perhaps one of the most attractive features was the classic B&O herald on the smokebox door, finished in full color with 3D cast detail. With fully functional cast metal driving rods and prototypical functioning articulation, the model is without doubt an impressive performer, and with factory installed Soundtraxx Econami sounds playing out authentic EM-1 sound effects, was absolutely a show stopper.


An Art Deco Masterpiece from Kato

In late 2020, Kato delivered the long-awaited 20th Century Limited train set! Replicating the iconic art deco styled New York Central express which ran between New York and Chicago, the set was one of the most anticipated releases of the year. Staying true to Kato’s usual release format, the locomotives and cars were made available separately (allowing for flexibility, should a buyer already own cars they want to use), with a newly tooled E7A 2-engine locomotive pack, a main 9-car passenger car pack, and a 4-car add-on pack. Highlights of the set included a segment of Kato Unitrack to allow your consist to be displayed straight out of the box, a collectable re-railer device painted to look like the famous red carpet used at Grand Central Station, and the choice of Hickory Creek for the observation car (a car which continues to be chartered on Amtrak trains to this day).

Kato N 1060440-DCC E7 A/A Diesel Set, New York Central #4008/4022

Rolling Stock

HO Scale

Modern Amtrak Equipment from Walthers

One of the biggest HO Scale rolling stock releases of 2020 came late in the year, with the re-release of the Walthers Plated Amfleet Cars. These are undoubtedly some the most detailed representations of modern Amtrak equipment available today, and were highly sought after following the first release in 2015. Setting these cars apart is their unique plated finish, which give the plastic models an authentic looking stainless steel finish, combined with crisp, clear paint application, and fully detailed interiors. This latest release focused on coach cars, with both Amfleet I and Amfleet II variations being produced. Both types were made available in the current Phase V Amtrak scheme, as well as the recognizable Phase III scheme used from the early 1980s to the late 1990s.

Walthers Proto HO 920-11203 85' Amfleet I 84-Seat Coach, Amtrak

Interactive Cabooses from Athearn Genesis

Several new variations of ICC Caboose designs were released by Athearn Genesis this year, however these were no ordinary caboose runs! In addition to featuring a wealth of prototypical detail, including plenty of road-specific features, all examples were made available with DCC controllable lighting and onboard sounds (yes, sounds!). Both bay window and wide vision copula style cabooses were produced in this release, featuring a wide range of both eastern and western road names. While all examples came equipped with functioning lights, sound functionality was optional. Lighting features included interior lighting (shining light on the furnished interiors) and prototype-specific marker lights. Onboard sounds included various brake effects, jointed rail and flange squeal effects, flat spots, and either a conductor whistle or air horn.

Athearn Genesis HO G78506 ICC Caboose, Pittsburgh and West Virginia #851 (Equipped with Lights)

N Scale

Gritty Realism from Micro Trains

Micro Trains continued in their tradition of producing fully weathered and graffitied freight rolling stock this year, with the release of some new notable pieces. These included several examples of the popular 50′ Rib Side modern Boxcar in TTX paint with various prototypical graffiti examples and weathering, several fallen flag cars with excellent rust, weathering, and patching, as well as some truly unique pieces such as a fully weathered NASA bulk-load flatcar and tank car pack.

Micro-Trains N 02545014 50' Rib Side Box Car with Single Door, Railbox (National Mischief Day Graffiti)

Modern Canadian Passenger Equipment from Rapido

Rapido Trains Inc. made their modern N Scale VIA Rail debut in 2020 with the release of the LRC Coaches seen on intercity consists throughout eastern Canada. Previously released in HO Scale, this was the first release of these cars from any manufacturer in N Scale. Both coach and club car variations were released, with all VIA Rail paint scheme variations included, as well as the Amtrak scheme used when the cars were briefly tested in the United States. As usual for Rapido models, no detail was left out, with everything from car-end gates to a fully furnished interior being included, and the constant voltage interior lighting (separately controllable with the included Rapido Wand) allows the operator to see it all.

Rapido N 508006 LRC Coach, VIA Rail Canada

Looking Ahead

Now obviously these are just a few highlights from this year, and by no means are they the only notable releases! If we were to include every locomotive and car delivered in this last year which we were impressed by, we’d be up for days trying to write this! What these represent are items which stand out to us as being significant examples of the direction the hobby is moving towards in terms of detail, functionality, and realism. With many more incredible products already announced for 2021, we can’t wait to see what will join them over the next year!

From all of us here at Modeltrainstuff.com, we wish you a safe, happy, and healthy new year!