Monday, April 23, 2012


No, I'm not becoming a market speculator in the stock-market or commodities sense, unless you consider "investing" in model railroad rolling stock a means to pad one's portfolio. Really, if the goal is monetary gain scale model trains are a poor investment – especially in today's deflated, post-recessionary market. No, what I did is decide to purchase a Metra trainset in the RTA scheme as was released by Kato a number of years ago.

In my earlier post I mentioned the rumors surrounding Kato's recent N-scale release of a modern Metra Nippon-Sharyo bi-level set, along with a MotivePower Industries' MP-36 locomotive. There's been much debate on the internet as to Kato's intentions for the HO scale market, but while odds are good we'll see the latest version of Chicago's venerable bi-level commuter fleet there's always the risk that the rumors may not pan out as anticipated.

At the same time, the inventory of Kato's earlier run of smooth-side, Pullman-Standard bi-levels has slowly began to become more and more scarce in terms of availability. First, the C&NW green-yellow as-built models went out-of-stock, and now the Metra versions in RTA's original scheme of white with brown and red stripes have started to become depleted. While both numbers of RTA F40PH diesels remain in Kato's warehouse, it's the earlier runs of the cars that are the challenge.

I got myself into this situation by waiting and hoping for news of fluted, stainless-steel cars in lieu of the earlier, former CNW weekday warriors. Of primary concern was whether the RTA scheme lasted into my modeling era – a roughly ten-year window from the early '90s to the early years of this millennium. Having made many trips to Chicago by train for business – my employer is big into sustainability, hence the… ahem, "business-driven" decision to take Amtrak and Metra as common-carrier transportation versus the airlines – I have some familiarity on contemporary Metra operations as a passenger and railfan.

To be honest I've yet to see an old P-S smoothside in operation on a personal basis. Most of my travel has been confined by Amtrak 365-364 to and from Chicago Union Station's south gates, as well as the BNSF (former Burlington Route) operation from CUS to either Lisle or Naperville. I've also ridden from La Salle Street Station to Joliet on the Rock Island district – a short walk from CUS. All of these trips have featured trainsets of gleaming stainless, no dull carbon-steel anywhere to be seen. I had pretty much written off consideration of Kato's smoothsides until recently.

As noted in my earlier post, I've been spending some time perusing YouTube for videos of operations on UP's McHenry branch – a dark-territory operation that features three inbound and three outbound Metra runs daily, Monday through Friday. While searching for more video material on this line I stumbled across some videos of C&NW operations around Chicago during the early-to-mid 1990's. Having been a fan of the Granger roads – CNW included – I spent some idle time watching various collections of what I assume were video-taped footage back in the day.

Imagine my surprise to see complete trainsets of P-S cars on both the North and West lines emanating from North Western station in downtown Chicago, all of which remained in RTA colors well into the '90s. While most of the F40's at this time seemed to have assumed Metra's later blue and red, I did see one or two that continued to soldier on in the lighter RTA scheme. Based on what I could find it appears these former CNW routes were among the last to be upgraded to fluted-side cars. Wow, perhaps I could use those previously-dismissed RTA cars and locomotives after all. The problem was time had caught up with me, or so it seemed.

My extended period of indecisiveness had turned what I had hoped for as a simple internet order or phone call into a serious hunt, especially for the earlier car numbers. I could get an F40, coach and cab-coach combination, but I wanted at least a 3-car train – preferably four. I just couldn't find the earlier coach and cab-coach numbers that preceded the available combo. I even looked at auction sites to no avail.

Well, all good stories have happy endings. While price-shopping on the 'Net for the Metra equipment I stumbled across an old mail-order shop I've used on occasion in years past. Lo and behold, they were showing all four 4-window cars as available along with both F40PH diesels. The silver lining was most cars were priced below $40 each, and the F40 at less than I found elsewhere. Needless to say, I punched in my credit card almost without hesitation.

I say "almost" as a running joke with model railroaders is if you want a manufacturer to produce a desired model that has yet to become mass-produced, all you have to do is custom-build that prototype and before the Dullcoat dries someone will announce it. I believe the same rings true in the case, in that "settling" for the P-S cars has likely doomed me to soon reading Kato's pending press release of modern Metra sets in 1:87 scale.

No matter, as I've found video evidence of the earlier cars running with the newer stainless in mixed consists. At least either way I have my necessary bi-levels for less than the cost of a new-release sound locomotive, all factory-new and ready for a test run. First, however, I need to get that benchwork up and the subroadbed down – which will be the topic on a following post in the near future. In the meantime, I can relax knowing my 1:87 commuters won't have to drive into the Loop – but can "Fly" via RTA's Metra.

There, now I'm "sustainable" in both 1:1 as well as 1:87 scale. I feel better now. J

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