CMR Line is a new company and have chosen the SS3 for their first model. They are not the first to model the SS3, that award goes to the (now defunct) Model Train China Company, however this is definately a much more serious model than MTC's ever was. CMR Line have produced a very good model for their first attempt and the price simply can't be beaten, especially given Bachmann China's steep and unneccessary 'luxury tax' price increases.
So far four road numbers have been released (all light green/brown livery) and there are a further four to come with two different liveries including the dark green/white (central China - Luoyang) and a light blue/brown version. Unfortunately the dark blue version isn't on the cards yet.
CMR have put in a lot of effort into producing a highly detailed model and they have succeeded in packing a fairly ordinary locomotive into a very impressive package. Each version has road number specific details, such as different colored brake hoses (some with two or three colors), different styled numberboards optional airconditioner boxes, side mirrors (which need to be installed), etched metal walkways, boxpox wheels and plenty more.
Unfortunately, many of these details are very fragile, and both of my samples arrived with broken sandpipes on the bogies, warped walkways (in that they refuse to sit on their stantions - the walkways themselves are very nice) & uncoupling rods that simply slide out (and are nearly impossible to find once they do). The coupling rods can be glued to hold them in place so no big deal - just good to be aware of it. I need to experiment with the walkways on these models - I think CMR line are aware of the warping issue and have decided to hold it to the body with pins on every forth stantion. These are a bit too noticeable for me, but are probbaly acceptable for most modellers. I will remove the pins from mine and attach them with white glue (PVA) as it's strong enough to hold them in place and there is enough elasticity in the glue to counter any warping due climate. (you can see the warp in the fifth photo down in this review)
There have been a few complaints that the models look too plastic/cheap, but I don't find this to be the case with the model overall. I think the electric componentry on the roof should have been painted (and not cast using colored plastic). The main body paint work is very nice, so apart from the roof details and perhaps the pilots, very little work would need to be done.
One aspect I don't like about these models are the pantographs - which although look very good are also very difficult to seperate from the locked position, and very fragile. There are two very stiff metal clips on the base of pantograph which hold it in place. One needs a lot of force to extract them yet the slightest nudge in the wrong direction can lead to an epic/irreperable disaster. Best to try and pry out one side first and the other should follow relatively easier. I've also found that a couple of them don't really sit right and/or don't spring up to there full potential.
Due to a lack of layout, I have only been able to bench test these, but I will try and get a full performance run shortly. I have noticed however that one unit jumps to life and is very smooth & responsive, while the other is considerably slower and a bit buzzier. Hopefully a run in period will fix this.
Power pickup can be from the wheels, or the wheels/pantograph - there is a selector switch on the bottom of the locomotive. The locomotive has 12 wheel pick up (or 6 plus pantograph), and 8 wheel drive (center axles being the ones left out). The axles themselves are very slightly wobbly on a few axles and a few of my friends who operate them told me they replaced the axles, giving a much smoother ride.
Update 31 January 2013 - I highly recommend running these WITHOUT pantographs! After testing mine on a friends layout with a professionally installed Viessmann catenary system, I have finally been able to operate these locomotives with the pantographs. I used two samples, and left it at that, not wishing to destroy any more models in a night! The problem lies with the pantograph blades being very sharp and trying to cutting the overhead wires, rather that slide underneath them, a bit like sliding a razor blade over a metal ruler. My first sample got snagged and ripped off the entire pantograph off the roof. The second had a similar effect, but this time snapped the upper arm clean off leaving a trail of springs and wires hanging off the roof. I have since discovered it is not too hard to remove the remainding components off the roof, so swapping over to a more reliable German-made brand should be a relatively easy project.
Lighting is directional (LED's). The red lights are fantastic and don't overwhelm the entire light assembly like Haidar and a few of the Bachmann models do. The main headlight and side lights are nicer than Bachmann's locomotives. It shines out as a greenish yellow color, which can be noticed in some of China's locomotives - so although not the common yellow color, they are believable.
CMR have mounted an 8 pin socket to the PC board which should accept any 8 pin NMRA compatible socket.
Many modellers will be happy enough with the metal kadee style knuckle couplers supplied. They are short shank (look great with two locomotives coupled together). For those who want the genuine KD's with scale heads, a 58/158 should do the trick nicely (or for long shanks, #56/156's).
There are a few nagging issues with the SS3's, but overall they are fantastic models at an equally fantastic price and will fit the bill for most Chinese layouts with an electrified system.