The Siemens SC-44 Charger is built in California. The first units are in Amtrak- supported state and regional service. Chargers have been pulling trains in California (CalTrans, North County Transit District, and San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission), Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin (IDOT), Maryland (MARC), and Washington state (WSDOT) since 2017. Amtrak has ordered 75 similar ALC-42 locomotives for its long-distance interstate trains. They’re expected to be delivered in summer 2021. Construction started in March 2020.
The SC-44 locomotives are powered by 4,400 hp 16-cylinder Cummins QSK95 diesel engines designed to meet Tier 4 exhaust emissions requirements. The engine powers AC traction motors which can propel the locomotive to a 125 mph top speed. Only MARC is currently using this performance.
Based on the European Vectron diesel-electric, the locomotive is divided into five modular compart- ments: the crew cab, first electrical compartment, engine room, engine cooling compartment, and second elec- trical compartment.
In addition to providing power for the traction motors, the Cummins diesel drives the head-end power (HEP) unit, providing 600kW for train cooling, heating, and lighting. Dynamic braking can send regenerative energy to the cooling system to be dissipated as heat, or to the HEP or auxiliary electrical systems.
The first orders for 32 locomotives were placed in 2014 for the West Coast and Midwest Amtrak services. The con- tract allows for 75 additional locomotives, and so far, 32 more have been ordered. Testing began in 2016, including certification for operation at 125 mph, and revenue service began in 2017. Florida’s Brightline service ordered 10 similar SCB-40 locomotives, which were built, tested, and accepted concurrently with the Amtrak orders. VIA Rail Canada also has orders for Siemens Chargers.
Bachmann’s model follows typical HO scale locomotive construction, with a plastic body shell on a die-cast metal frame. A centrally located can motor powers all eight wheels, which also pick up electrical power from the rails. A Train Control Systems (TCS) WOWSound dual-mode sound decoder is mounted above the motor on the frame. The speaker is mounted in the fuel tank area.
To check out the inside of the locomotive, I started by removing the couplers. I probably could have left them in place. There are four screws that secure the body to the frame. They’re located aft of the front and rear trucks. With the screws removed, the body shell slipped easily off the frame, but be careful of the lighting harness going to the lights attached to the body shell, as it’s short.
The plastic body shell is one piece with numerous added detail parts, including the see-through grills on the cooling compartment that reveal the lighted compartment interior.
There’s also a detailed crew cab with control console. Separate windshield wipers, rear-view mirrors, and recessed handrails add detail to the outside of the cab. A separate five-chime horn and several antennas adorn the roof. Molded detail on the roof includes the air conditioner and radiator fans depicting fan blade detail.
The ends are detailed with m.u. hoses and receptacles, plus grab irons and handrails at the rear of the locomotive. The model scales to within inches of dimensions posted online in Siemens sales literature except overall length, which is affected by the slightly overscale nature of model railroad couplers.
Our sample was decorated in the Amtrak Midwest scheme, which is primarily silver with dark blue accents at the ends. The roof is painted gray with silver details, and the nose has blacked-out panels around the wind- shield and destination sign, which indicates this locomotive is headed to Chicago. Paint was opaque with sharp color separations.
The Amtrak Midwest lettering matches published photos, and although some of the placards printed on the locomotive are too small to read, they’re correctly placed and sized and have an appropriate look to them.
The electronics on this locomotive are a step beyond the norm. In addition to diesel engine sounds, the horn, and bell, TCS has included station announcements, a grade-crossing sequence, and an effect referred to as “Whoosh,” which simulates the train streaking past at speed.
Lighting also gets extra attention with an illuminated destination sign, flashing beacons on the roof, operating ditch lights, and lights shining through the mesh grids on the sides of the cooling compartment. Of course, there’s the expected directional headlight, plus directional marker lights and lighted number boxes.
I started testing the locomotive on my home switching layout, and one of the first things I wanted to adjust was the sound levels. My living room didn’t need volume calculated for a large club environment during an open house.
A nice feature of TCS decoders is Audio Assist, which makes volume adjustments easy. Pressing function but- ton 8 (F8) four times in rapid succession opens the feature. A woman’s voice guides you through various adjustments to configuration variables (CVs) without having to do any programming.
My goal was to reduce the volume of the locomotive. After entering Audio Assist, I pressed F1 to adjust sound set- tings, then pressed F1 again to adjust the master volume. Now, each time I pressed F1, the locomotive played a selection of sounds – a steam chuff, whistle, and bell – at a lower volume each time I pressed the button. Pressing F8 saved the changes. Pressing F9 took me to the previous menu, where I could press F2 to adjust the volume of specific sounds. Pressing F3 cycled forward through the sounds, and F4 cycled back in case I jumped too far ahead.
With the sound volumes adjusted, the Bachmann SC-44 Charger became a more welcome guest on my living room switching layout.
In speed step 1, the locomotive crawled along at 1.6 scale mph. Top speed at step 28 measured 93 scale mph, which is probably about the maximum on Midwestern tracks.
Bachmann and TCS have added two modern features to the decoder on this locomotive. One is an emergency stop sequence. Pushing the STOP button on my NCE PowerCab not only brought the locomotive to a halt, but also triggered a brake squeal effect and illuminated the red beacon on the roof.
There’s also a deadman’s switch. If you don’t send any commands for a set period of time, an alarm sounds. If you still don’t press any function buttons, the locomotive stops and illuminates the red beacon. If this level of realism is too much hassle, it can be disabled.
Of course, in DC there aren’t as many features available, but you still get the lighted cooling compartment, rooftop strobes, ditch lights, and directional headlights and marker lights.
Sound started at about 7.5V, and the locomotive started moving at about 9V at 38 scale mph. Once it was moving, I could slow it down. Before it started moving forward, is sounded two warning blasts from its horn and the bell sounded as the locomotive increased speed.
Giving the Bachmann power pack’s throttle a blip triggered a grade-crossing sequence. Starting in reverse triggered three blasts from the horn. Diesel engine sounds increased in speed appropriately as speed increased.
This is another well-done model of a modern Amtrak locomotive from Bachmann. The detail level is high, and all of the sound and lighting effects of the prototype are faithfully re-created. Contemporary modelers wishing to add passenger service to their HO layouts should certainly check these out.
Facts & features
Price: $459, DCC and sound
Bachmann Industries Inc. 1400 E. Erie Ave. Philadelphia, PA 19124 bachmanntrains.com
Era: Present day
Road names: Amtrak Midwest (two road numbers), Amtrak Cascades, and Amtrak Pacific Surfliner
•Audio Assist voice-guided programming
•Die-cast metal frame
•Dual-mode DCC sound-equipped
•EZ-Mate couplers, at correct height
•Interior corridor work lights
•Keep-Alive power capacitor
•Metal wheels, in gauge
•Operating marker lights
•Roof-mounted strobe lights, per prototype
•Separately applied windshield wipers, grab irons, and detail parts
•Steady/alternate flashing ditch lights
•Weight: 1 pound, 1.5 ounces