HO Scale - Kato and Spectrum F40PH locos compared

Discussion in 'Product Review Forum' started by LongIslandTom, Dec 4, 2006.

  1. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member


    These days, there are four manufacturers in the market offering F40PHs in HO scale, and buying one might lead to buyer's remorse if one did not make an informed purchasing decision. The four brands are Kato, Spectrum(Bachmann), Walthers Trainline and Life Like.

    The Life Like F40PH is a toy and not even worth considering. It uses one of those notoriously unreliable pancake motor drives with just one powered truck. Avoid at all costs.

    The Walthers Trainline uses a much better mechanism with all-wheel-drive and looks reasonably good, however, it is not DCC ready. I cannot include the Walthers in this comparison because I don't have one.

    What I do have are the Kato and Spectrum offerings, which I will be comparing for you side-by-side today so you can make an informed buying decision.

    Let's start with the mechanisms...

    Both the Kato and the Spectrum use a center-mounted motor mechanism with dual brass flywheels, which drives all of the wheels through shafts and worm gears. Both pull well, and neither have any problems hauling the four retooled Bachmann Amfleet cars I have all the way up to a scale 60-70mph or so on level track. (I reviewed the Bachmann Amfleets previously, here: http://www.the-gauge.com/showthread.php?t=22704). Unless you have a huge layout, you probably won't haul more than 4 Amfleets since those cars are rather long (scale 85 feet each). Low speed performance on both are very nice as well. On DC they start crawling steadily on my not-often-cleaned nickel silver track at a scale 5 MPH or so, and I have no doubt you can get them to crawl even slower if you got nice clean track and a good DC power pack.

    Both locos are DCC-ready with the standard 8-pin NMRA plug. Plug in any standard 8-pin decoder and you are ready to go. One can get even better low-speed control with a good decoder I suspect.

    Next post below I will talk about how these models look.

    Attached Files:

  2. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member

    Comparative review between the Bachmann Spectrum and Kato F40PHs continued...

    Now onto how the locos look... Unfortunately for the Spectrum, this is where it falls apart quite badly.

    There are several problems with how the Spectrum looks:

    - The fans do not look remotely close to anything EMD put on their engines.
    - The front truck is not in the right place. On the real thing, it's centered under the cab ladders.
    - The rear anticlimber is not contoured correctly.
    - The front plow is too flat.
    - The Spectrum Blomberg truck sideframes are rather crude compared to the other makes (Athearn, P2K, Walthers, Kato, etc.)
    - The grab irons are flush-mounted.

    The Kato has none of those deficiencies and looks a lot better. The Kato in the photos are new and does not have the included grab irons and other details applied yet, but rest assured they are included. See below for the photo comparisons.

    Attached Files:

  3. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member

    Continuing on with the photo comparison..

    Attached Files:

  4. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member

    In conclusion:

    While both the Spectrum and Kato are excellent runners with solid, quiet, good-running DCC-ready mechanisms, the Kato beat the Spectrum hands-down in looks. The only thing the Kato has going against it is its cost-- The Spectrum costs only $50 while the Kato costs $85.

    Personally, I feel the Kato offers the complete package-- Great mechanism and looks just awesome.

    However, if money is an issue and you just want to have an engine that runs, nevermind how it looks, the Spectrum is an acceptable candidate.

    Bottom line: Get the Kato if you can. It's worth it.

    Hope this review helps some of you from buyers remorse! :thumb:

    Just a note: The Walthers apparently suffers some of the same visual discrepancies as the Spectrum, like the incorrectly placed trucks. Definitely go for the Kato.
  5. jbaakko

    jbaakko Active Member

    Thanks for the review, I'd use it, but I have no need for F40PH's...
  6. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member

    That's OK. I'm sure there are plenty of modelers out there looking to add F40PHs to their roster. This is for their reference. :)

    Come to think of it, the F40PH is pretty darn popular all over North America. Amtrak, New Jersey Transit, MBTA (Massachusetts), MARC (Maryland), Metra (Chicago), Caltrain (California), VIA Rail (Canada), etc. Even CSX has one. I'm surprised I didn't have one on my roster for the past 20 years until two years ago when I bought the NJT (and was disappointed by it).
  7. cidchase

    cidchase Active Member

    Tom, I very much appreciate the time you put in to this review! :thumb:
    Thanks! I'm sure there are many of us with an interest in these locos
    for one reason or another!
  8. oldtanker

    oldtanker Member

    Great review but a little too late....I learned the hard way that you get what you pay for!

    I really like the better quality stuff just cause it looks better!

  9. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    Thanks for the review Tom. I model Santa Fe in the 1950s so I probably won't be needing one. If anyone has one of the cheap Lifelike toy models, or picks one up cheap at a train show, you can throw away the junk mechanism, and use the body on an Athearn chassis to kitbash an inexpensive F40ph. You will have to fill in the "mouth" in the front and rear that allows the use of talgo trucks and you will have to get a plow and other details to upgrade the body. One other thing to add. If you want the Kato version, buy it quick because it will be strictly limited production. The Spectrum will probably have a wider availability.
  10. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member

    Just a note for those who are thinking of kitbashing their own F40PH as Russ noted...

    If you are going to use an Athearn GP40-2 frame, you will have to either file or mill off the rear half of the solid-cast Zamac-alloy fuel tank into the shape of the F40PH's battery boxes and air reservoir tanks... Not an easy task, and that alone made me decide not to go through with the kitbash. :eek:

    Or... Another alternative if you want to use a LifeLike shell/Athearn chassis would be to buy the modified Athearn chassis from A-Line/Proto Power West... They took that Athearn GP40-2 chassis and milled the battery boxes out of the fuel tank for you, and repowered it with a Sagami can motor with tuned-and-balanced flywheels. However, the PPW chassis costs $80.. :rolleyes:

    In light of those obstacles, I think the Kato would still be the most time/cost-effective solution if you want a good-looking F40PH model. :thumb:
  11. Chessie6459

    Chessie6459 Gauge Oldtimer

    The photo's really show how much of a difference there is between the two of them.
  12. TrainNut

    TrainNut Ditat Deus

    Am I to assume that the Kato has a lot of detail not yet installed? While I agree that the Kato is a far superior model (I have one in N scale) in most aspects, from your pictures, it appears that the Spectrum actually has more details in certain areas.... the air hoses protruding from the snow plow, grab irons where the Kato has none, some things on the front which the Kato has none, a more correctly colored front coupler with air hose, etc. I'm in N scale and not real familiar with HO models but the reason I am assuming there is more detail to be installed is because you can see the dimples on the Kato where grab irons should be.... but aren't.
  13. MasonJar

    MasonJar It's not rocket surgery

    Trainnut... Tom mentioned in one of the posts that he had yet to install the inculded grabs.

    Tom - excellent review! Like Josh, I don't have a need for these locos (long live steam...! ;)) but it is a fantaistic, well written piece! Thanks for adding it. :thumb:

  14. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member

    Yes, the Kato includes separately-applied grab irons, MU hoses, and other details in the box.

    I did not get a chance to install them because I just received it in the mail two days ago. (Early Christmas for me.) :D

    Anyway, this is how the Kato looks like after you install the detail parts included in the kit:


    The details included with the Kato actually look better than the Spectrum... For some reason Bachmann flush-mounted most of the grab irons (which kind of defeats the purpose in the first place!). :rolleyes:
  15. caliban

    caliban Member

    Hi LongIslandTom,

    great review. I'm a huge F40PH fan. I've a Kato, two Walthers, a PFM brass F40, old and new Spectrum. The Kato F40's are the best non brass loco's. Nothing more to say about, it's Kato. The Walthers F40's are the best bang for the buck F40PH. As mentioned they are not DCC ready but easy to convert. The new Walthers run has no unpainted model:cry:, stripping a loco is always a pain in the :curse: ...

    There are still a lot of F40PH at work, not only in passenger service! Those old horses still do their work.
    The photos show a Walthers model with some extra detailling. The last two photos show a PFM brass F40.

    Attached Files:

  16. YmeBP

    YmeBP Member

    Thanks Tom!! I appreciate teh review and i'll probably end up w/ one of each. I've decided to model amtrak and come to think about it, i'll probably include septa and nj transit in the mix as well.

    Thanks again!! this is perfect.
  17. brakie

    brakie Active Member

    Tom,Is just me or is the nose on the Bachmann flatter then Katos?
  18. LongIslandTom

    LongIslandTom Member

    Heya Brakie,

    Good eye you got there. :thumb: The geometry of the nose is indeed a bit different on the two.

    The top of the nose is flatter on the Spectrum, while the topside of the Kato's nose has a more peaked contour (I think the Kato's looks closer to the prototype). Plus the edges are more rounded on the Kato while the Spectrum is more square (which contributes to the flatter appearance). The front of the nose on both have the same angle though.

    After running that Kato F40PH for the past month, I've noticed a potential problem though. It appears the Kato does have an Achilles Heel-- It uses a current pickup system of copper strips embedded in the frame to conduct current to the circuit board which controls the motor and lighting, and this same system has been attributed for problematic operation on Kato's SD40-2s. However, it can be fixed relatively easily with the fix our fellow JSpinner linked to in an earlier thread: http://www.electricnose.co.uk/dcc/dcckatosd402rewire.html

    Even with that potential problem (which is easy to fix if it occurs), I think I would still recommend the Kato over the Spectrum. :cool:
  19. YmeBP

    YmeBP Member

    I jsut got a spectrum f40ph in amtrak paint (i got it cheeeeeeeep) and i can't figure out how to get the shell off. Are there any schematic floating about, or could you provide me w/ some tips?
  20. Triplex

    Triplex Active Member

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