Bridging the Gap part 1: How the US met Europe

There are a lot of divisions within the Model Railways community. They can be about scale (our own L-Gauge, 0, h0, N, TT, Spur 1, G), but also about era (Epoche I-VI), type of railway (continuous vs. point-to-point). Or, more specifically for our hobby: Stickers, Glueing, 6/7/8/9-wide and cutting.

There is however one division which is easily neglected: Geography. Or, more precise: The division between modelling European or American railroads. Seeing BMR is supposed to be blog about all Lego trainheads,  I thought it would be a good idea to explore ways how to bring the two continents a bit closer together. Therefore, this will be a series of articles which will try to bridge this gap. The emphasis will not only be on prototypes, but will also showcase some models that already have been build, for even more inspiration!

Chapter 1: Styles
European Freight
American Freight

As you can see, and most probably know, American and European styles are quite different. Europeans have sophisticated and sleek designs, Americans are bulky, powerful and with lot of strange greebles all over the place. Of course, in the roaring twenties it was exactly the other way around, but after the demise of passenger railways in America, there was no need to hide all those strange outlets in intakes anymore. Next to that, Europe and America have very different loading gauges, partly due to the lack of overhead wires, but also due to America being far more vast. For example, Double-stack Container cars would never be possible in Europe, but in America it’s weird if there isn’t a container on top of the other one!

European Container Rake
American Container Rake

However, because this article isn’t called bridging the gap for no reason, we at BMR would like to tell you that we have found the solution. Well, two solutions actually. The first one is to not care about being prototypical. After all, why should you? Isn’t Lego just a toy? I mean, who cares if an American train has buffers? Actually, a lot of both European and American clubs do this on regular basis, because they just have one layout. So every now and then, you will see a German steamer on a American layout and visa-versa.

Chapter 2: The original bridge: Amtrak

That’s why there is also a second solution, which is more sophisticated and involves the fact that in the last 30 years, Americans have actually imported quite a lot of European trains due to reliability and specific knowledge, mostly about passenger railways. This way, the gap is bridged on a completely prototypically way and there is no need for using the ‘its just a toy’ argument anymore!

The main accomplice in this is the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, better known as Amtrak. After the failure of the E60 as an replacement for the GG1, Amtrak decided it was time to look across the pond for inspiration. Two manufacturers of Europe, ASEA and Alsthom, were asked to send a locomotive to the Northeast Corridor for testing. Both of them responded with sending a locally manufactured product that had already run on European tracks. Alsthom send one of their famous Nez cassés loco’s, ASEA send a tin can on wheels. Interestingly enough, this meant that for a while, true European trains ran on true American tracks! Both of them in the end even returned to their home countries to run again, the X996 again as CC 21003 with the SNCF, and the X995 as 1166 Rc4 with SJ and later with it’s Cargo Subsidiary, GreenCargo. This one even carries a plaque commemorating its Amtrak-history!

Amtrak X996
Amtrak X995

To make it even more interesting, in the end Amtrak decided to buy a modified version of the former, which became the AEM7. However, since this product was manufactured in the US by General Motors Electro-Motive Division, it’s not a real European loco. For the sake of the argument, we will include it anyways. It’s anyways a lot more European that these old testbed electrics meant for Conrail ever were.

EMD GM10B. Shown here just for the sake of the argument.

However, I can understand not everybody would like to A. hurt their brains with the strange noses of the Nez cassés loco’s, or B. like to build a toaster on wheels. Amtrak too must have realized this and to please their fans, they requested some more European trains. This time around however they were looking for a replacement of the Metroliner service. They asked two of the largest European train manufacturers of that time, ABB and Siemens, to send them their High Speed Trains. They were chosen over for example the TGV because they didn’t need any infrastructural changes to run at high speeds. ABB send their X2000, which had proven itself in the cold Swedish climate, whilst Siemens send their ICE, nowadays the backbone of German Long Distance passenger services. Both of them sleek and beautifully designed HST’s that fit amazingly well on any US-styled layout.

X2000 and ICE trains at New York Penn Station, 1993.
Chapter 3: Even Amtrak likes Diesels

The fair question by now would be: But BMR, the NEC is almost the only place in the USA with catenary. And these examples are all electrics! What about us Diesel fans? We don’t have any catenary on our layouts, so it still wouldn’t look very prototypical, would it? Well, thanks to Siemens, we have the answer readily available for you. Behold, the diesel-pulled ICE:

F69PHAC on tour with ICE

Yes, indeed, Siemens like the idea of an US export so much that they decided to tow their ICE all over America to let people and railway companies without catenary know how European travels looked like.

Amtrak Cascades with Talgo Carriages

But not only that: What about Talgo? Believe it or not, at one point, Talgo was the only European train manufacturer that actually had successfully exported trains to America. Yes, the motive power used by the Amtrak Cascades isn’t European. But hey, at least the passenger carriages were by made Talgo, in the exact same fashion as their brothers and sisters in Spain! Luckily the hideous second generation of Talgo is designed specifically for the USA, so that one doesn’t count.

New Amtrak Cascades by Talgo
Chapter 4: Almost European

Coming back to our story: In the end Amtrak chose for a specially designed train by Bombardier and Siemens, taking cues from the LRC by Bombardier which had been in use by Via Rail, and the ICE by Siemens. The LRC actually had been tested as well by Amtrak. This means that the result, the Acela Express, looked like an European train, but in fact, wasn’t. The same goes for the new ACS-64s cities sprinter, which is a true American product, and its predecessor, the HHP-8.  The latter however is derived from Alstom’s BB 36000 class (“Astride”), so it’s at least partly European. So if you want to model something that at least looks like something European, it’s better than nothing.

However, if you are really in love with European rolling stock but your Lego Train Club is in love with Americans and wants to stay prototypical, then now is the best time ever to start building that ICE, Toaster’s father, or even those strange looking Talgo carriages. Or, if you by accident have an ICE or maybe a X2000 laying around, you can just slap on those Amtrak stickers and you are good to go!

Chapter 5: Coming up

In our next installments, we will move into Canada because believe it or not, some true European gems are to be found here as well. Also, since this is in the end a Lego Model Railways blog, one of the future articles will dive in all those trains that already have had the MOC treatment. And, lastly, following the revelation of Amtrak’s X996 (which was for me the main drive to write this series to begin with) and my own love with Nez cassés loco’s, this series will most probably get a spin-off, where I will build X996 myself.

5 thoughts on “Bridging the Gap part 1: How the US met Europe”

    1. Thanks for the compliment David! It’s difficult to find out the exact right tone for Brick Model Railroader so it was a bit of a gamble to write this article, but since the Flickr Lego Trains group has about 10 pages of inspiration, I thought I could make sense. I’m already looking forward writing the follow-up in which I can include all those great models of ICE, X2000, Talgo…

      I have seen your version of the Cascades coming along in the previous years and I must say I really loved the details you managed to put into it. Also, the vertical mount of the L-motor with it being the pivot on its own was a reason for me to do the same with my Nez-casses loco. I never made pictures of it but it ran perfectly fine for 3 days in a row during Legoworld 2015!

  1. Interesting topic that you picked, and a very good article! One question that came to my mind: what about the other direction, engines that made from the US across the pond to the Old World? There must be more than the famous wartime RSD-1s that went to the USSR…

    1. Yes that’s part of the long-term planning of this series as well! The RSD-1 is definitely not the only one, for example, a Dutch museum is currently trying to get another wartime beauty shipped back to Europe. This is the NS 2000 series, better known as the Whitecomb 65DE14 series. See here: http://www.destoomtrein.nl/cms/index.php?show=PO0072LI.

      Also, a lot of American switchers ended up at private industrial railways. I found two great examples from Tata Steel in the Netherlands (I have no idea about types etc, but they seem to be GE-switchers): https://flic.kr/p/9Srbuy and https://flic.kr/p/9WVCfM

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