Locomotive Roster: TGV Thalys; Kato 10910

Another non-Minitrix locomotive/train, this time the very beautiful TGV Thalys. I have been fortunate to have taken the Thalys from Paris to Amsterdam, and it was as wonderful a ride as it is a beautiful train (yep, that's yours truly in the photo with the "1:1" scale version!).

My real world experience with the Thalys was another one of those experiences that led me to 'return' to N Scale. I had seen the Thalys offered by Kato, and I knew, even if I didn't end up doing any modelling in this scale, I had to have it (of course, by now, I'm very clearly committed to N scale!).

This was actually the fourth N Scale item I got. After the Minitrix Digital Starter set with the Class 03 and V221, the TEE followed, and then the Thalys. Therefore, it was actually the very first DCC installation I had to do myself as the previous engines all came pre-installed.

The set is advertised as "DCC Ready", but what precisely that means, is almost anyone's guess. What it turns out to mean is that you need to get at least one or more of the following: An ESU manufactured replacement light board (KATO147456) and a NEM651 compatible decoder. While the ESU kit comes with 2 light board replacement boards, you are left to wonder how you get the lights to change over correctly in the non-powered unit? You could just leave the original light board installed, unfortunately, KATO's original light board has white LED's while the ESU board has yellow LEDs.

I didn't really want to have white light boards in the non-powered unit, and the only solution was to use two decoders for the Thalys. For my first DCC decoder installation, this was turning out to be a very challenging task. Thanks to the internet, there were a lot of websites with some clues as to how I should do this, but no specific instructions on how to program 2 decoders that will be installed in the same train set, but only one is powered, and the only function of the other decoder is to switch the lights depending on direction. While that may sound simple to someone who's been using DCC for years, for a newbie, this situation was fraught with questions.

Fortunately, I did not end up frying any decoders. Through a process of carefully reading the manual (which, for the Minitrix Mobile Station was neither thourough or long!) and plenty of 'tutorials' on the web, I basically figured out that giving both decoders the same address (although programmed seperately) but giving one the proper CV codes to reverse the lights, proved to not be the disaster that I thought it would be. I got it running!! Once I got it running, the sleek 10 car set looked great, but all of those 'dark windows' did not look right, and I ended up installing the appropriate Kato light kits to add lighting to the set. Not sure if that was such a good idea, as the contacts on passenger car light sets/kits are not the most reliable (can someone please figure out some new technology for this? Is there a solution?). Some of the cars look like they are having a strobe light party...oh well. Here's some impressions....


- Looks great. Kato's obvious experience with these types of train sets is apparent in how well (especially mechanically) the set moves and looks around pretty tight radii. The close coupling is amazing.
- Powerful. The engine in this thing is amazing. Very powerful and very quiet. Another plus for Kato.
- Reliable. This little engine swings around its 10 car set and never misses a bit on track that may cause other engines to falter. Excellent.

- "DCC Ready"? Come on, what does that mean? Kato needs to get with the 21st Century and start installing decoders or at least allowing for NEM651 plugs.
- Decoder fitting: As if the challenge I talked about above was not enough, once I finally got the decoders programmed, it turns out in this case that you need decoders with the long wire harness, not just the NEM 651 decoders that only have the short plug and no wires. Why oh why can manufacturers not be clear about whether there is space for the decoder and a long harness is needed to fit the decoder in the shell? Well, the good news is I ended up with spare decoders for another install! But, it keeps going....
- Weak shell to chassis connection: The method in which most N scale locomotive shells fit onto the chassis seems to be either too loose or too tight (both are bad!). In this case, the connection/tabs/friction tags between the shell and the chassis are very week, and I had significant difficulty (particularly with the non-powered unit) to get the shell to sit right on its chassis....and stay there!
- The couplers between the Powered Units and the transition (M2?) cars. For reasons beyond me, there are two types of non-standard close coupling mechanisms in this set: A very efficient and effective and easy to manage 'coupler' between the passenger cars, and then a very silly 'scissor-like', flimsy, and fragile friction type connector between the engines and the transition cars that you have to try and 'snap' together without snapping the couples or your precious train apart. I ended up actually snapping one and had to order a replacement (the ONLY source I found was MG Sharp in the UK, which thankfully had them. They are listed as "Eurostar Couplers" but are just the same. I ordered extras! And if I go through all of those, I will glue the connectors together so that the engine and the transition cars are permanently attached!).
Passenger Car lights: The kits were relatively simple to install, but getting all of the tiny brass parts so that they have good contact (particularly around curves) proved very difficult. The result is train where the lights are flashing on and off, particularly around the curves. Well, we're travelling between Paris and Amsterdam, let's just pretend those little N scale people are having a party in there....

I guess with so many 'cons' listed against this set, one might wonder if I felt it was worth it and would I buy it again knowing the problems and frustrations that I had? Yes, although the many hurdles that one has to go through sometimes to get something to work right, does have the tendency to take ones affections away, its a beautiful set unmatched or not produced by any competitor (that I know of) and franly, the price is pretty good for as much of a set that you get. When you add in decoders, light kits, etc... it does add up, but I feel it was worth it.

UPDATE: See new/updated information on the decoder installation at this post!


  1. If you are using the 11-209 or 11-210 kits, here is the trick:

    The pins on the circuit board are designed to sit in little tracks in the plastic holder. This is no good. Using the plastic holder, bend the pins out away from the tracks, towards the brass pickup rails. This will help reliability a ton

  2. Great suggestion. I will try that out and post my experience!

  3. Hello.

    We have the Kato TGV & AVE and would like to convert to DCC. We've purchased the ESU replacement lightboard and NEM decoder. but haven't gotten anything to work!

    Can you share a little more detail and photos of what you did to get yours to work? EuroLok only mentioned those two parts to do the install, didn't say anything about a wire-in decoder or harnass as well.

    Any help would be appreciated!

  4. I have a kato tgv as well, and have the ESU boards, but cant seem to find a decoder with a wire harness and NMRA small (6-pin) plug...

    which decoder dod you use?


  5. Hi Nataraj (& belatedly, Nik n Dad!). I'll need to get home and check, I should be able to update this post this weekend with the details.

  6. Did you get a chance to take a look at the decoder?


  7. Hi Nataraj

    Sorry for the delay, I added a new post with decoder information and other comments on the install. I hope this helps, let me know if you hit any snags!

  8. Did you need to put single function decoders in the passenger cars for the lighting in there?

    Love the site.

  9. Hi Drue! Not for the lights in the passenger cars, those are just the standard Kato lighting kits. For the cab / motor cars on the ends, each of those did need a decoder to manage the headlights or breaklights.

  10. Hi Jerry, following your blog as usual.
    I noticed the rolling stock icons on the left of your blog (nice icons), but noticed a small "mistake" that only a convinced European could notice ;)
    Thalys is shown with the "SNCF" (French Railroad) logo. The train is actually owned and operated by Thalys itself (the company), which is one of the oldest "private" international railroad operators in Europe.
    The gorgeous red train may deserve its logo instead of the SNCF: Thalys is the owner of the train.

    Now of course, the train is made by Alstom is France, mostly a modification of the TGV used by the SNCF. Sure, Thalys is majority-owned by the SNCF (62%), but the SNCB (Belgium) and the Deutsche Bahn also have their share.
    It is a private company located in Brussels, and SNCF rewards or discount cards do not apply on board...hence my remark.
    You know all this, I'm just being picky ;)

    FYI, I was talking to a Lemke rep in Germany last week (importer of Kato in Europe), and he said the new Thalys (with new livery) should be available in the summer....with NEM connector :-)

  11. Hi Pierre! I actually did not know any of this, but assumed that the Thalys was type of consortium that was basically controlled by SNCF! Thanks for the information! I will change the icon to reflect this more accurately!

    In truth, I like the SNCF logo so I didn't mind using it for this train, but if its incorrect, it must go!

  12. Looks nice with the Thalys logo as well :)

    Europe is complicated...skip the below information if it's too much ;)

    The EU has forced the international rail market (i.e. trains crossing border) to be opened as of January 1, 2010. Meaning Thalys has become a full fledged private company.
    Meanwhile, Eurostar (London/Paris/Brussels) is changing its status accordingly (they are going to have to share the tunnel, and the German ICE Velaro from Siemens/Deutsche Bahn got its "tunnel permit" last year).

    SNCF does retain the majority of Thalys, but its logo is not on the train.
    In fact, the only piece that reminds that Thalys is member of the TGV family can be clearly seen on your own picture: the "TGV-R" indication. TGV-Réseau (TGV-Network) being the family of power cars with 2 or more power systems to cross borders.

    While Thalys was an Gentlemen's agreement between the operators, it is now a simple private company among others. And the Dutch NS is actually launching the first attack on Thalys' strangehold, with the Fyra high speed train, that will compete between Brussels and Amsterdam at first.
    Now I find it particularly ugly, added to the fact that it is "slow" (max 250kmh/155mph), so I am not expecting it to run on my N layout http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fyra

  13. Yet another boring info actually, but maybe a train we will want to add on our layouts (if someday available): the new Alstom "AGV", long-awaited successor of the TGV, with no motor car but distributed power (as on the ICE).

    It will enter service in Italy at first for "NTV", and the first trainset has been already delivered: http://www.railwaygazette.com/news/single-view/view//ntv-readies-for-italo-high-speed-launch.html

    Air France had projects to enter the rail business as well with this train...we'll see what the future holds!

  14. Pierre, This is really interesting. I've very excited by these changes, seems like a lot of interesting developments! To be honest, its so hard to get information like this in English/America unless you can read French/German, etc... so I find this really interesting. Thanks for sharing! Please continue to share your insight with me (and the others who find this interesting as well)!

  15. ...
    What this all means is that the states are still going to have a strong planning power, through investments and incentives to the network owners. But any investment will have to be validated by the EU to respect market neutrality...and be opened to any trains: pretty much like we have built airports for the last 50 years.

    At the same time, companies, whether or not historically in the rail business, will enter the race in the next decade.
    The first signs of a real interconnected high speed Europe are appearing:
    - Portugal launched construction of a high speed line with Spain to Madrid.
    - Spain, with a super quality network and brand new ICE Velaros is expending north of Barcelona (to south-west France)
    - France is launching the buildout of lines to connect to Spain in the south-west, and to Nice and Italy (South-East). The center-east line to Germany through Strasbourg, where ICEs and TGVs are already running, will be finished within 5 years.
    - The UK has (finally) finished it first High speed line to the continent (Eurostar is now faster), and plans on building "real high speed" (300kmh+) national lines
    - The Netherlands just finished their high speed line to Brussels (Thalys runs faster since last year)
    - Germany finished the high speed line to the Belgian border (here again, Thalys is faster since last year), and they are slowly changing paradigm: Siemens has great trains (the fastest at 360kmh, until the AGV was released), but Germany has too many politicians negotiating stops of high speed rail in any 200k city... too many stops are killing high speed, and the new line linking Munich to Berlin is being built with that in mind
    - Connection to the east is still in planning, probably through Munich, then Austria, country which is thinking about building a high speed line (east-west, to link southern Germany/Munich to Vienna, and then Slovakia and so on...). Until now, they have a "fake" high speed train, but that still looks pretty cool and will be released in N this year, the Railjet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Railjet

    This map http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/9f/High_Speed_Railroad_Map_Europe_2009.gif of the current network may help... I am pretty bad in American geography so I'll never blame an American for not knowing where Brussels is ;)

    All this to say, there will be a lot happening to high speed Europe (and our layouts), probably no so much in 2010-2015, but more in 2015-2020.

    By then, maybe, you'll have left your Trix Mobile Station:-) ..but for sure keep inspiring us with your custom buildings !

  16. Don't get me started Jerry ;)
    There is a lot going on in High Speed Europe, sadly much more than in the US despite the announced plans.. I was in the Acela Express between NYC and DC two months ago, I was expecting a slow train (in European standards), but what I found scary was actually how crappy (sorry) the train was, pretty much worse than a run-down 15 yo TGV...

    Anyway, to close the exposé on why we may see many models and liveries of high speed trains in Europe in the next years:
    There have been 3 tendancies, triggered by the European Union rulings, aiming total "liberalization" of the rail market ("liberal/liberalize" in Europe means more capitalistic and more free market, so don't get confused with the American meaning :) ).

    1) The historical rail companies (owning trains, network) have been forced to split into different entities. The rail services are now, by law, totally split from the network owner (eg. SNCF/RFF, DB-Bahn/DB-Netz...).
    This is an ongoing process, but what that means for example is that the SNCF is now just a "customer" paying a fee for each kilometer run by its TGVs.

    2) The train service market is being freed.

    a) Freight has been privatized a few years ago already

    b) As I said, it is the case for cross-country traffic since 2010. For the moment, there is no new "private" international train yet. Thalys, Eurostar existed before as being run by national companies and just updated their statuses.
    NTL Italia, with its AGV, is threatening to invade France soon. NS with Fyra...other plans are not announced yet, but who knows

    c) It is slowly becoming the case for regional and nation transit as well (no limit date fixed by the EU). Some countries are well ahead, with for example Germany (see impressive list on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_German_railway_companies), or the UK (see Virgin Rail...). Some countries like France haven't opened their internal markets yet.

    3) As a logical consequence to the above, the traditional alliances between railway companies and manufacturers have been broken (although of course, they still collaborate).
    - French Alstom now sells AGVs to Italy, bypassing the SNCF.
    - German Siemens sells ICE Velaro (totally in-house version of the ICE3) to Spain, bypassing Deutsche Bahn....
    - Canadian Bombardier, so popular in Europe for its regional trains or trams, is heavily marketing its (marvelous) 380kmh Zefiro: http://www.zefiro.bombardier.com
    - Hitachi was the first to break the European taboo of high-speed, by selling a "shinkansen" to the UK, already service here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Rail_Class_395

  17. Jerry -
    Wonderful blog ... excellent info. Question ... I have a KATO N K10914-1 TGV POS 10-Unit High Speed Train (SNCF) #4404 and it has that common cheesy slip coupler between the M1 & M2. It comes apart all the time (especially on a grade). Any suggestions on a replacement coupler or how to make that work better? I'd like to still be able to take them apart to store them so gluing probably isn't the best option for me. Thanks!

  18. @ Scott

    Thanks for your kind words Scott! The only couplers I know of for these cars are the Kato replacements (which I got from MG Sharpe). It would be a great idea if someone could produce some better after-market versions! I would be first in line to replace these silly things!

  19. Thanks for the prompt reply Jerry. So the Kato replacements you mentioned at MG Sharpe are just the same thing right? When they break, simply replace them?

  20. @ Scott That's right. I just keep some spares around for when they do break. Fortunately, they're not that expensive.

  21. Hi Jerry,
    My Thalys got here today and the first thing I did was decoderize it. I used a Lenz mini Gold 6 pin decoder for the motor car and the TCS equivalent in the rear car($20 cheaper than the Lenz). Both decoders plugged right in. CV 29 in the rear car was given a value of 37 so it knows that it is traveling backward. Both cars worked great right away. I'm in the process of lighting the passenger cars now. One secret to ending the "disco party" in your passenger cars is a spot of dielectric grease at the connection points where the wheels meet their hubs. Just a dab!
    Most of my high-speed trains are Japanese, but this one is beautiful and one of my favorites. I think I may have to add sound to make it complete...


  22. @ Rocketv:

    Congrats...and thanks for the tip on the dielectric grease! That seems like a very easy modification to check!

    Just curious, did your Thalys come with NEM 651 sockets already installed, or did you have to but a replacement light board to install the decoder?

  23. The 6 pin sockets were already installed. It's getting an ESU sound decoder this weekend!