After a bit of a break from building locomotives, CMR Line returned with the very pretty SS6B locomotive. I was quite interested to see the overall quality from their earlier SS3 locomotives from a few years prior. CMR were generous with the amount of road numbers , fourteen different versions over a range of different bureaus and both manufacturers (Datong and Zhuzhou locomotive works) with only one of those being a decorated version. The one piece body sits on a nice heavy diecast frame. The feel of the frame is very good now and is almost at the quality of Bachmann.
Details are improved in most areas from their SS3 locomotive, however there are a couple of disappointments. Starting from the top, the pantographs are reasonably strong and good looking, apart from a very unrealistic and ugly pantograph mount. CMR were aware of the criticism from the SS3 pantographs, but I'm unsure why they've gone to this extreme with the mount while leaving the major problem with these pantographs unchecked. More of that in the performance section.
Roof detail is not too bad. CMR have abandoned the idea of separate walkways on the roof, which is a shame, but hardly surprising from the problems they had with them in the SS3. They now form part of the shell and don't look overly convincing to me. The insulators look fairly good, but I will most likely paint mine to get rid of the plastic look. Air horns are very good as are the brake resistor grids, aerials, and air conditioners - and how thoughtful of them to actually glue them on for us this time!
The cab sides are very nice, with very sharp body detail. The handrails are superb, with the majority of them painted in the correct colors. Windshield wipers are exquisite and I'm very impressed with the window surrounds being chrome on the side windows and black on the front. The headlights and marker lights are very nicely reproduced and the pilots are also very good. Bogie details are great with real spoked wheels, traction bars and very fine brass ladders. My only criticism is the copper electrical contacts are visible and could have quite easily been designed to remain hidden.
The paint work is a bit of a mixed bag. It is certainly improved from the SS3's, being a better quality paint and more evenly applied, however there are a few very small areas with mishaps, over spray and under spray. The lettering is very sharp and ultra small on the front of the locomotive around the air hoses/coupler. Given these locomotives have rather chunky side number plates, its a bit disappointing that they are simply painted on. While it is sharp, it could have been a very cool touch with little effort by either supplying separate brass types or at the very least embossing the casting in the areas and then painting on. It would have been nice at least for the decorated version to have these. Speaking of the decorated version, which is so far the only example of this model that I own, the Pioneer badge looks good from a distance but is extremely thick upon closer inspection.
The model runs very well in both directions and is very powerful, many thanks to the heavy weight of the model. There are no traction tires and due to lack of layout I've only been able to perform basic tests. There is a very slight noise from the gear box, but after a quick service this went away and has been silent ever since.
As for the pantographs previously mentioned, it appears that while the pantographs are stronger, I am still very hesitant to use them. My example seems more sturdy than the SS3 locomotives and they spring up quite happily, however the pantograph blades are also very sharp and have a tendency to scrape along the contact wire, rather than glide underneath it. The result can mean even the slightest imperfection will see it ripped apart. I'm considering upgrading the pantographs on mine to a German brand once I can be bothered. I would like to hear from anyone who actually uses these (either powered or not) for your thoughts.
Power is ferried from the rails (or pantograph and rail if you wish) via a circuit board to the motor and the lighting system. There is a selector switch on the circuit board to allow the change between pantograph and wheel power, note this requires removal of the shell. DCC is easy to install with an 8 pin type. At the time of writing, I have not converted my example to run on DCC, however it is a priority for me in order to activate a very cool feature so far unseen on other Chinese locomotives - bogie lights! However, there is a pretty well documented fault with DCC. It's a relatively easy fix and you can find more instructions here on the China Rail Forum website.
The lighting system is very nice, even without the bogie lights, with a very strong white LED for the main headlight and more yellowish marker lights for forward direction and red for reverse. Lighting is directional.
For some reason, most likely cost, CMR have ditched the metal knuckle couplers in favour of plastic ones. They appear to have long shanks, and could most likely be reduced to a medium type for closer coupling while still maintaining a good clearance. For those who want the genuine KD's with scale heads, a 58/158 does the trick nicely (or is you still want the long shank type, go for #56/156's).
A great looking model. Definitely an improvement over the SS3, but room for more.