Brief Amtrak History:
In 1971 Amtrak was formed by the US government to take over the nation’s failing passenger rail operations. Since all other railroads excluding the Alaska Railroad were getting out of the passenger business Amtrak was formed to save passenger operations. Because of this Amtrak inherited locomotives and passengers cars from all the major US railroads. So it was possible to see cars from the Union Pacific running with cars from the Northern Pacific, Santa Fe, Chicago Burlington and Quincy or other railroads in the same train. These trains were called “rainbow trains” because of different railroad cars or locomotives mixed in the same train from previous railroads. Early Amtrak colors were two thick strips, one red one blue. Each was separated by thin white stripes. This was called phase 1. There are actually 4 Amtrak Phase paint schemes and each represents a different year or era of Amtrak.
A lot of model railroaders chose to model this era of Amtrak because of the many different locomotives and passenger car combinations that could be seen together.
Ex-Santa Fe Budd High Level Cars
The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad known as the “Santa Fe” took pride on innovation and luxury travel. They also need to increase capacity on some of its most famous trains like the Super Chief. They contacted the Budd Car Company located in North Philadelphia to build these new bi-level cars. Known as the “Budd High Level’s” these cars had an upper and lower floor design and were made of stainless steel. In 1971 Amtrak acquired these cars from the Santa Fe and kept some of the coaches in service until the early 2000’s. The only cars still in operation are the lounge “Pacific Parlor Cars”.
Models of these revolutionary cars can be brought from two HO manufactures in ready to roll form (RTR). These include Walthers and Intermountain Railway Company. Prior to that these cars were sold in kit form from Details Associates and Model Train Station Products. At some point Intermountain Railway Company purchased the molds from Train Station products or Detail Associates and made the cars in RTR form. Walthers first released these cars in Santa Fe paint. And more recently Walthers has been making them in early Amtrak colors. You can still find both models in stores or online today but the Intermountain cars are a bit harder to find then the Walthers version. I purchase both on eBay to see how they look as far as details and how well they are built.
Details of the Walthers Model
The Walthers model features the companies “real metal finish paint” which simulates real Stainless steel. This car is also the lighted version of the car which is also offered with no lights. The car body is also highly detail from the fluted panels to the trucks and each end of the cars features the correct details matching the real cars. The car has metal wheels, highly detailed trucks and Kadee type metal couplers. It also is heavy and runs very well on the track. Prices range from $30-$94 dollars a car depending on where you buy it from. I paid about 50 for this car which is a good deal for the lighted version. Some currently on eBay are for sale for 40 bucks with lights.
Details of the Intermountain Model
The intermountain railway company version of the Budd High level is also well detailed. It doesn’t feature the metal finish paint but it’s still a good representation of stainless steel. Like the Walthers model it’s ready to roll and also has a full detailed interior. The exterior features a fine modeled fluted body with wire grab irons and other details that enhance the model. It also had highly detail trucks with metal wheels and Kadee couplers. The model is also heavy and rolls well. Brand new these models sold for $64 dollars each. I paid about $24 dollar for the coach in new condition but some stores still sell them in the $60 dollar range while others sell them in the $30-$40 dollar range.
Walthers model Vs. Intermountain model- Pro’s and Con’s Personal Observation
Both models have advantages and disadvantages with each other.
The Walthers car does have superior detail, running characteristics compared to the Intermountain model. The cars are also available with lights or without. It’s also built with durable ABS type plastic and its construction is extremely well done. It also has body mounted Kadee type metal couplers for smooth operation. But the Walthers car is more expensive and coming from the factory the modeler has to apply the road numbers to the car. If you’re paying $60-$90 a car that should be done from the factory in my opinion.
Intermountain Railway Company Car
The Intermountain model does feature better side grill generator details compared to the Walthers. Each car also has the road numbers applied to the car straight from the factory. The car also features a nicely detailed full interior. You can find them in Amtrak Phase 1,2,3 and 4 paints or the original Santa Fe paint. Currently the Santa Fe cars and the Amtrak Phase 3 and Phase 4 cars can be much harder to get. It’s also almost 50% cheaper compared to the Walthers car. So you can by 3 cars for the price of one Walthers depending on where you buy it from. This means you can build a long train more quickly. They are also offered in more then one road name. However the Intermountain model is not offered with a lighted version and it does not feature the detailed window details like the Walthers model. They are not as sharp or as crisp as the Walthers car. The construction of the car is not as durable as the Walthers car. The body can be easily crack or damaged when taking the frame off the car. The car also has truck mounted couplers which transfers all the draw-bar strain to the trucks instead of the body. This could lead to cars derailing if the train is too long or heavy. To fix this the modeler must customize the model to have body mounted couplers which eliminates this problem.
What I Think
All in all both cars are great even with these minor issues some being more than others. I recommend both because they each show the cars in model form with slightly different details and that can make the train more interesting. From a modeling perspective if you want to add lights and other details while being on a budget then you can get the Intermountain car. But if you want something that’s mostly done and has the real stainless steel look of the real cars then you can get the Walthers version. No matter which you chose your train will still look great!