10.07.2010

Locomotive Roster: BLS Class 420; Minitrix 12781


Its been a while since I've talked about any of my locomotives so - while the layout is still a mess - I thought I would try and catch up.   This Minitrix BLS Class 420 is my second BLS locomotive, but like my first one, I love the color scheme and the lines of both of these a lot.  The color scheme is striking to me...the use of that funky neon green against the silver/metal body, with the bold, dark blue stripe has such an awesome modern look to it.

Additionally, the BLS is a Swiss railway I've only barely begun to understand, but it has a really fascinating history and one that seems to me to be quite unique (its history sounds very...American, if you will, compared to most of the railway histories in Europe - reminds me a lot of the competiton between the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific here on the Pacific Coast of the US).  The brief history on Wikipedia of this unique line is pretty fascinating reading.
This locomotive from Minitrix is also quite fascinating!  The detail work and crispness of the painting is up to the typically high standards that I've come to expect from Minitrix.  The 'silver paint' has a very convincing look for the 'steel' of the locomotive body...something that is often quite difficult to replicate on these plastic shells!

Although I have not had much time to run it given the ongoing layout renovations in the past year, the motor is whisper quiet with smooth acceleration and deceleration. 

While it is quite easy to bemoan the high cost of Minitrix compared to say, Kato, there are differences which should be pointed out in all fairness.  First, as I mentioned above, the low noise factor indicates some level of modern engineering expertise that I don't expect can come cheaply to any firm.  Second, a look at the underside of this locomotive reveals the metal gears and other metal parts, which represent a level of quality (one assumes) that is much more expensive to produce than with plastic gearing and parts.  Does this mean this locomotive will have a longer life expectancy?  Let's hope so given that the costs of these are so high compared to a similar Japanese locomotive!  And as is typical with European N scale locomotives, you have the option of using overheard catenary to pick up electricity, which is also a feature which adds to the cost (note the red switch in the below photo).
Like most modern production from European manufacturers, the smart NEM 651 socket feature is provided and is easily accessible with the removal of the shell.   I've said this before, but this is hands down the best system for adding DCC out there, and it would be great for all modelers if other firms adopted this method (Atlas? Kato?).  A nice overview of the simple process of converting one of these locomotives to DCC can found at N-Gauge Blog.  The decoder installed in this locomotive is the Trix 66838.  This is not my first choice as they tend to be more expensive than Lenz or ESU decoders, but this was all that was available at the time of purchase!

So...here's the bad news.  Despite the ease of adding a decoder I ran into some issues when I first attempted to read the decoder,; that is....an error.   Even attempting to communicate to the decoder using the default address of "3" resulted in no response from the locomotive.  I took it back to Walter at Euro Rail Hobbies and he couldn't get it to work at his shop either.  Leaving it in his reliable hands for several weeks, he later returned it to me in good working order, but had to make some soldering repairs to the circuit board where (apparently if I recall correctly) it was not properly soldered.

Unfortunately, this issue with Minitrix circuit boards, specifically regarding the contacts of their NEM 651 sockets is not an isolated case, as I've read of several other owners having similar quality issues on some of the European Railway message boards.  Let's hope Minitrix gets this quality issue sorted out quickly (if they haven't already) - its really not at all acceptable given the prices they charge not too mention the damage this does to the brand's reputation.  

The good news is that I got this locomotive through a dealer who can also service these locomotives and the fact that Minitrix does have a 2 year warranty on its products.

It works fine now and I'm looking forward to seeing it stretch its wheels out on my new viaduct in the near future as the messy parts of my layout expansion get completed!

6 comments:

  1. Nice little loc with a typical swiss design and a great color scheme.

    This color scheme is even greater on their EMU rolling stock. Who wouldn't have that in their roster:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:BLS_RABe_535_Loetschberger.jpg ?

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  2. A cute engine , Minitrix is one of my favorite .As you i change the dcc decoder.

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  3. About the minitrix nem sockets - I had a similar issue on a minitrix loco: the contacts on the board were set back quite far and I couldn't get a proper electrical contact. (sounds like the same problem as at togomera.blogspot.com). I got round it by removing the plastic guide on the dcc chip (requires snipping a bit of the shrink wrapped plastic off so that the 'black thing with 6 holes' can be removed - not tricky even for me)

    I've done that on every minitrix loco, haven't seen the problem with other manufacturers.

    On dcc chips have you looked at the bachmann 36-558 (half the price of everything else here in the UK) - I've got several, with no problems - does all the back-emf stuff if you want it, but doesn't do fancy lighting effects (strobe, blinking etc).

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  4. LA SAUCISSE: Wow, you are right, that is a STUNNING looking EMU in those colors! It seems like similar to the FLIRT that Lilliput is coming out with, I would hope they do something in these colors some day! Wow!

    PASCAL: Thanks again for your comments! I agree, the Minitrix brand is special to me, and I like that they are good at offering locomotives from several countries! I'm really glad They've survived the dark bankruptcy days of 2008!

    SF5Xe+: Great tip on the Minitrix NEM sockets, certainly a lot simpler solution than trying to solder jumpers!

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  5. Have you got the Mintrix EWiii push-pull coaches in the same livery?

    I do, however, prefer the older livery with brown locomotives and blue and cream coaches. The Re4/4ii was never painted in that livery (They are ex-SBB loks, previously green or red), but the Re4/4s built for the BLS still carry it.

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  6. Hello Tim! I used to have them, but alas, I did part with them to try and reduce a bit of my collection. However, I do regret that action and will likely get again some day!

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