The Bi-Level Autorack Prototype
As long as automobiles have been around, trains have been an essential tool for helping transport them from factory to showroom. In the early days of the automobile, boxcars were sufficient for this task, but as the popularity of cars increased, the need for bigger specially designed railcars became necessary. Interestingly, the first purpose-built autorack didn’t hail from the land of the car, but instead was developed by Volkswagen in the mid 1950s for use on European railways. North America wasn’t far behind however, and in 1959, the SLSF Railway commissioned Pullman Standard to construct a fleet of open-sided bi-level auto carriers, using a 42′ flatcar chassis as a base. Longer 85′ racks based on the same principle were developed over the next few years by railroads such as the Santa Fe, and by the mid 1960s, were in full production.
These cars still posed a problem however, as the open sides not only left the automobiles exposed to the elements, but also to dirt, dust, and worst of all, vandalism. It wasn’t until 1974 that the first enclosed autoracks were delivered to railroads, using much the same styling as more modern cars, but it would still be yet another decade before roofs were added, finally giving full protection to the loads. Since this time, the basic design of bi-level autoracks has remained relatively unchanged, with the exception of some of the most recent examples.
Model Train HO Scale Intermountain Bi-Level Autotrack
While we previously reviewed Atlas’s excellent representation of the height-configurable Multi-Max, representing the latest design of auto-carrier, the Intermountain cars we’re looking at in this article represent the more classic styling first seen in the 1980s, which are still arguably the most common style seen today. This is not the first run of these cars, however with this latest release comes new livery options such as Kansas City Southern, Providence and Worcester, and the current Ferromex rolling stock scheme, which was unveiled in 2016. So why take a look at a car that isn’t a completely new release? Well, the answer is simple – these are absolutely gorgeous cars.
The first thing that you’ll notice is the impeccable detail on the corrugated side panels. There’s a good reason why this looks so good – it’s real metal, and much like the prototype, has been etched with actual see-through holes. Each 5-piece panel has been cut and installed separately, allowing for a flush transition between the paneling and the structural columns, and the three horizontal panels on each section are also 100% metal, separately printed and applied to the corrugation. The corrugated ridges appear perfectly to scale, and the see-through holes have been cleanly cut. Both details stand up excellently to close-up photography!
The rest of the car is constructed out of more conventional injection molded plastic, but the details don’t stop here. Sharp finescale steps and grab irons can be found at each end, and the car-end handbrake has been replicated in full 3D detail, complete with connecting chain. This level of detail extends to underneath the car, where the brake piping, reservoirs, and other underside equipment are all replicated in full separately manufactured detail. The roof again replicates corrugated metal, this time in plastic, but it still maintains a convincing appearance thanks to the textured silver paint applied.
Perhaps one of the best features, aside from the quality of the corrugated siding, is that the end doors actually function! Yes, you can slide open the double doors on both ends to reveal a somewhat detailed two-floor interior. In addition to adding to the authenticity of the car, this feature has two advantages; it allows for realistic loading and unloading scenes, and allows for the installation of actual scale automobiles should you choose to take full advantage of the see-through siding. A word of caution however – the mechanisms for the doors are plastic, so care needs to be taken when opening and closing them. Looking below the doors, you’ll notice more delicate detail in the form of scale coupler cut levers.
Moving on to more practical features, the car features excellent free-rolling metal wheels, and body-mounted knuckle couplers come readily installed on both ends. Both the wheels and couplers display a great range of motion, allowing for flexible operation on 22″ curves or greater.
Each car comes accurately painted in a prototypical scheme such as the Ferromex livery on this model, featuring sharp application that again stands up to close-up viewing, and all lettering has been clearly printed in full detail.
If you’re in need of a quintessential modern autorack consist, these cars will absolutely do the trick, and will look great when consisted together! They’ll also look excellent mixed in with the Atlas Multi-Max cars, which display a similarly satisfactory level of detail. Start your autorack consist today by checking out our full stock of available examples at Modeltrainstuff.com!