ND3 Class Diesel-electric Co-Co
Charming / ChangMing Model Train Studios
China began to receive Romanian built 060 DA class locomotives built by Electroputere from the early 1970's as part of a loan repayment program. These machines were designated the ND2 class in China. By the 1980's, domestically built locomotives, such as the DF4, were significantly more powerful and increasingly reliable. This saw the ND2’s downgraded to working smaller local trains and shunting operations. Due to their new status, a redesign for future Romanian built locomotives was made and from 1985, they were built as single-cab hood units, rather than the dual-cab full width design. They also saw a significant redesign of the bogies, however the mechanical parameters and specifications remained more or less the same. These new locomotives were designated ND3 and the majority of the class were based in the Shanghai area, with a small concentration Guangzhou province. Withdrawals began from year 2000 and the final example was retired in 2018.
The ND3's have plastic body shells and sit on a heavy alloy frame. A very large selection of road numbers has been produced, albeit in fairly limited quantities of each. The first series saw each road number available with only one of three control systems (either DC, DCC or DCC/sound/smoke), however the second series had each road number available in either DC or DCC/Sound/Smoke.
Charming's first series ND3's were made available in July 2020, a very exciting release and one which was very well received by the Chinese modelling community. The first round of models were based on the later and much more common ND3 shape, which had a number of aesthetic changes and componentry changes from the original four locomotives. They were a very modern looking machine for the time, and most were in a handsome dark green livery with red/white stripe. Charming put out an impressive 19 road numbers which included some of the rarer liveries, but unfortunately not all were made with DCC/Sound. DCC/Sound versions came with a very good range of of sounds and lights as well as a synchronised smoke system.
The second series were based on the early body shape and came out in October 2022 with very little notice. Four road numbers were made, and thankfully this time were all offered in DC or DCC/Sound versions. Asides from the body shell, they are virtually identical to the first series. The box cover has had a facelift and is more in line with the recent ChangMing products. (and yes, Charming became ChangMing (although the Chinese remained the same!). I suspect something was lost in translation and changed when they found out the meaning of Charming was somewhat different to the meaning of 'Chang Ming' (Long Sound).
Packaging for both models is essentially the same asides from the artwork on the box. The models are fixed inside a display case and held to the platform by a pair of screws into the alloy fuel tank of the model which can be removed from the base by hand without the need for a tool. The rest of the model is protected by a soft plastic sheet and a harder plastic clam shell to further support the model. The clear part of the display case simply clips into the base. There is a pair of polystyrene blocks which suspends the display case in the high quality two-piece cardboard box without touching the surface. Some high density foam blocks provide extra cushioning. Included in the box is the instruction manual and a bag of additional parts to be added to the model. A presentation cardboard sleeve slides over the box.
The ND3's are extremely well detailed models and at the time of their release, were probably the best detailed plastic shelled model locomotives I had ever set eyes on, even outside of the Chinese arena. Most of the add-on detail parts are brass or steel. In typical Charming fashion, each road number has a large number of subtle variations as per prototype.
Handrails are wire and painted in the main body color of the respective version. Extra care should be taken when handling the models to prevent the handrails getting bent, however so far so good with my three samples which have seen a fair amount of use. Grab irons on the car ends are also metal and color coded to match the body. The grab irons on the roof, however, appear to be plastic as they have a lot more flex and forgiveness in them. The side running boards are plastic and roof top walkways are brass, both have a checkerplate pattern on the surface. Uncoupling rods are steel wire and air hoses are plastic and color coded with red taps and nozzles. The details of the louver vents are amazingly fine, especially considering these are plastic. In many places, they are hollowed out.
The cabs are fully detailed and have an overall light grey finish with dark red floor. The controls are all visible and many are hand painted appropriately. Note the instrument gauges which illuminate (DCC). Crew members were not included in the first series locomotives. The exterior portion of the cab is packed with excellent detail. Air horns are painted brass parts and have all associated plumbing. Windshield wipers are made from very fine brass and painted gloss black. There are metal wind breakers installed on the side cab windows which are movable, but they are very loose in the mounts and tend to flop around a bit. The layered roof panels look absolutely fantastic from the front and headlight visors are very nicely recreated. Oh and those awesome looking number number boards on the side cabs? They can be illuminated as well (DCC).
The bogies are nothing short of artwork. The main structure is a casting with further brass, steel and plastic details added. The sheer detail packed into these things is staggering. They include full traction motor details, suspension springs, brake pipes, tachometer cable and speed sensors, brake cylinders, rods, shock absorbers and sanding equipment. The sand pipes are made of a flexible plastic - almost rubber, and flex with the bogies. They sit between the brake rigging and the idea works fairly well, but care should be taken to ensure they haven't popped out, lest they get snagged and damaged. The wheels are amazing, painted red and white and of a spoked design, a bit of a rarity in this era of Chinese rolling stock.
The paint work is first class. It is evenly applied with extremely sharp lettering and lining. All versions have a nice matt finish to them and the colors represent the prototypes accurately. There were many slight variations in the common livery applied to the bulk of the ND3's and this has been faithfully replicated as per prototype with various shades of dark green and blue green. I have tried my best to describe the different colors in the table above, but reference photos should be sought prior to purchase if this concerns you.
There are plenty of other things to drool over the ND3's, fuel gauges, re-railers, etched metal dynamic brake fan grilles, guard steps, etched metal builders plates.. and we haven't even got to the good stuff yet!
The second series of ND3's are based on the earlier and very rare body style. While they share the same general arrangement as their more modern counterparts, there are some fairly major differences. The short hood is lower and the long hood doesn't taper in towards the end which gave the crews less visibility when long end leading. The top edges of the roof are rounded rather than angled and there was a considerable amount of ribbing added to the upper roof section and cabs. Many of the roof details are in line with the main body giving a much more streamlined appearance.
The cabs have seen some improvements with the addition of a hand painted figure in one of the driver seats. The cab interior is painted in a lovely pale green color and there are additional details painted. Air hoses have a more accurate metallic nozzle and the marker light surrounds also have a chromed look and different style to later ND3's. Asides from all the differences from the first series, the build quality is equally as good and the same build quality remains.
As usual, there are many variations between the road numbers of the second series, mostly color differences such as number plates and handrails, with one version even having high-visibility bright yellow handrails.
The ND3's are superb runners. They have an excellent speed range and will crawl along at exceptionally slow speeds. Despite having plastic shells, they are quite heavy for their size thanks to the heavy alloy frame and extra weight from the metal fuel tank and bogies. Electrical pick up is taken from all wheels and all axles are geared. The motor is almost dead silent and brass flywheels help the locomotive come to a smooth stop. These models are also fitted with on board capacitors to prevent sudden loss of power and jerky motion on dirty track.
All DCC versions of the ND3's are packed with technology and effects, seldom seen on other model locomotives. All of my versions are fitted with ESU Loksound v5.0 sound decoders. The sounds are very clear with no fuzz and good volume. The engine noise is brilliant (although straight out of the box a little loud) and there are plenty of other sounds such as rail squeal, dynamic brake fans, brake block noise, horns, compressor, oil pump noise, driver chatter, and even an enthusiastic sound track, for those so inclined.
Asides from the noise that comes with the dynamic brake, the fan also spins when activated. The smoke unit will only be active when the sound is turned on and a nice feature is the simulated start up affect, (turn on the smoke before activating the sound function. The smoke units on these models are synchronised with engine speed and is controlled by miniature turbines which will spin according to engine output. Smoke fluid is supplied with the models from the factory, however quite often this will be removed for overseas purchases as outbound customs refuse to allow it to travel by air mail. Occasionally they will make it through however. Fluid is added through the exhaust on the roof and it should be added VERY sparingly using a very fine eye-dropper; 2-3 drops is plenty for it to run for a good 10 to 15 minutes. One should keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn't run out for an extended period of time, otherwise the unit may overheat and melt the shell. Over filling the reservoir can also lead to damage to the turbine which will have a similar effect. The design is for the most part very good however. Note there will be traces of oil on the roof after extended use, which can be cleaned off with isopropyl alcohol on a small micro cloth.
The lighting is truly amazing on these models, like most Charming/ChangMing products, and all are LED's. You have the usual directional headlights and marker lights and some versions of the first series even have an extra pair of ditch lights on both ends. I have noticed the main headlight on the rear is so strong, it bleeds through the body, but I have fixed the problem by adding small pieces of electrical tape on the inside of the shell. There is a cab light and even better, instrument gauge lights - a seriously cool piece of engineering! The side number plates also have lights behind them and the bogie lights look fantastic. These models are also fitted with sparking brake shoes, achieved by orange micro LED's fitted behind each of the brake blocks, which activate automatically along with brake squeal noise when a heavy brake application is made. They are a little on the bright side for my liking, but a neat effect nonetheless.
DC users have the option of adding a 21-pin decoder of their choosing. As I understand it, this will allow the lighting effects that DCC/Sound/Smoke enjoy.
The frame can be accessed by first removing the coupler boxes held in by a single screw. Then there are four more Phillips head screws to be removed, a pair between the pilot and front wheels of either end of the locomotive. Once these are out, the shell lifts off very easily.
The ND3's are fitted with Kadee scale head couplers with trip pins removed. I haven't had to swap these out as they are perfect for me as delivered, however for those who want the magnetic pins, coupler replacement is an easy process by removing the screw from underneath the coupler box and sliding the box out through the pilot. Be extra careful doing this as the rail sweepers have a very high tendency to snap off and will require gluing back on if this occurs. I highly recommend placing these models inside the provided plastic clam shell packaging for support while working on them to avoid inadvertently damaging some of the detail parts on the roof.
To date, it is very difficult to think of a better HO scale model available. Charming/ChangMing have really set a new standard with these, one which seems even they have trouble keeping up with given the state of some of their more recent products. They are very cleverly engineered models, look amazing, perform perfectly and come with the latest technology available. While they are by no means a budget model (average cost at release was ~2100rmb), considering all of the above this is about as good at it gets. They get a well deserved rating of 9.5 / 10.