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FrontRunners: Rail Realism

Richard Carleton Hacker

The new offering from Lionel (www.lionel.com)  evokes the past while incorporating the latest digital technology. Far from a toy, the model Southern Pacific AC-9 ($1,500) is an O gauge (one-quarter inch represents a foot) replication of the huge and powerful original built in the 1920s through the 1950s.

The 32¼-inch-long die-cast AC-9 model features detailed piping, builder’s plaques, and operating hatches reminiscent of the original trains. Digital recordings of steam chuffs—which increase in intensity as the train accelerates—and conversations between the engineer and fireman are broadcast through miniature speakers. A flickering firebox and puffing smoke synchronized with the valve gears add to the sense of realism. Though the future promises increasingly sophisticated model trains, it is doubtful any Lionel AC-9s will be scrapped in the name of progress. 

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