For locomotives that "all look the same" there is actually a lot of subtle variety in the nearly 7000 GP7 and GP9 locomotives produced. As the locomotives' aged and passed ownership the detail variations grew larger. While many, including Athearn, have recreated typical Geeps in the past, no one has ever taken them to this level of individual detail.
Also, while previous Genesis Geeps have had some dimensional issues, the latest runs appear to have corrected these.
Although its locomotive sales were quite strong, EMD had been falling behind the competition in development of a road-switcher locomotive in the 1940s. These utilitarian diesels could handle multiple assignments from road freight and passenger trains to local and yard assignments. Their narrow hoods and end platforms improved visibility from the cab and made it easier for crews on the ground to get on and off the locomotive.
After a trial run with the BL2, EMD struck gold with the GP7 in 1949. The "General Purpose" or GP, unit was function over form, but the locomotives performed admirably on the rails and in sales. After building more than 2700, EMD improved the design, cranked out an extra 250 horsepower, and built another 4100+ GP9s.
Built until the 1963, many of the locomotives are still going strong today.
Simple and practical, the locomotives were more often rebuilt than scrapped. Those that didn't change owners through mergers were often sold to other lines. It is not uncommon to find Geeps running today which have served on five or more lines.
Anyone modeling railroads from the 1950s to the present day can probably justify at least one of these models for their layout.
Athearn has a long tradition of building reliable models. The GP9 is no exception. The model is offered in both standard DC and DCC equipped versions which include a Soundtraxx Tsunami sound decoder. The DCC versions were tested for this review.
The prototypes certainly stretched their legs over the road, especially when new, but as years went by the locomotives found a home in yards, branch lines and industries. As such, the models' slow speed performance is critical.
These locomotives all perform beautifully at low speeds. The motors and gearboxes are quiet - allowing you to appreciate the Tsunami sounds. And the locomotives have plenty of power to drill cars in the yard or work a typical local freight single-handedly. For longer mainline runs, you'll probably want to use multiple units - but so did the real railroads,
The Soundtraxx Tsunami decoder has already received positive reviews in other locomotives and is becoming the new standard for DCC sound. One of the features that sets these decoders apart is the ability to customize virtually every feature.
I left my locomotive on its factory equipped settings for this test.
One of the great features of these specialized locomotives is that Athearn has not only detailed the bodies to represent a particular unit, they've pre-programmed the sounds to match! For example, the former New Haven locomotive has a sound file to match the Hancock Air Whistle.
Sound is really a matter of personal preference, but to my ears all of the sounds are nicely balanced; no overpowering bells or whistles. I'll probably leave most of the factory settings as-is, but the volume settings can be adjusted for each sound if so desired.
It really is the details that make these models stand out. Not only has Athearn detailed these locomotives to reflect a particular prototype railroad, they've extended the details right down to individual numbers. With some railroads purchasing the locomotives in multiple orders with different features, and other railroads acquiring the locomotives used from multiple sources, there is a nearly endless number of options.
For this review, I purchased four of the Conrail locomotives to compare details. Conrail acquired its GP9s from several sources. Athearn chose four former Penn Central engines, with Pennsylvania, New York Central and New Haven heritages. By the mid-1980s, all of these units were rebuilt into GP10s or retired. Rebuilt units lasted on the Conrail roster until 1994.
Capturing subtle differences like this used to require hours of cutting and drilling, after-market detail parts and lots of careful research. Athearn has done all of that for us. While I may still track down some later GP10s and renumber the models to make them more appropriate for my layout's era, all of the hard work has been done for me. Or, I may just leave them as is - they are after all some of the finest models I've seen yet.
Athearn has already released GP7s and GP9s in several roadnames, with new versions announced just about every month. The models are all limited runs, so it is best to check their website and preorder with your local dealers. Models this nice don't sit on the shelves too long. List prices have also varied slightly for different runs. Prices for the locomotives seen here are $289.98 with sound and DCC, $189.98 without.