Alstom 8K Class Bo-Bo+Bo-Bo
The distinctive 8K class electric locomotives were designed and built in France by Alstom and were based on the SNCF BB 15000 class locomotives. 148 locomotives were built and delivered between 1987 and 1989. A further two units were assembled by Zhuzhou Electric Locomotive works for a total of 150. These twin unit Bo-Bo + Bo-Bo locomotives put out 6400kW and were technically far more advanced than the Japanese Kawasaki 6K and the Soviet Novochelkas 8G class which were introduced at roughly the same time.
The 8K's were freight locomotives and were based at Beijing's Fengtai West depot and Taiyuan's Hudong depot operating over the Fengsha, Daqin and Beitongpu lines. The 8K class began retiring from 2010, with the final units belonging Fengtai depot ending their careers in 2016. Four locomotives were named; 008 Science, 135 Worker Pioneer, 147 Communist Youth League and 148 Militia. Numbers 001, 008, 018, 065 and 091 have been preserved at various museums and railway colleges and numbers 025 and 080 are stored at Fengtai locomotive depot for rescue trains.
This review covers the first production run only. The second series was released with some extra features, but is untested to date.
Charming Model Studios have followed up their awesome Japanese 6K model with the French twin unit 8K. In similar fashion, they have made three versions ; DC, DCC with single sound decoder and the premium DCC with twin sound decoders. They have produced an impressive array of road numbers, liveries and bureaus which makes for a compelling argument to collect all of them (if only!). Charming have produced 50 pieces of each road number/version.
The DC and DCC single sound versions have a thick two piece box with stiff foam inserts, while owners of the premium versions have a beautiful polished timber box (although the boxes emit a very strong smell of eucalyptus oil). To protect the models from damage, each unit is screwed on to a semi-permanent three-piece plastic shell from the bottom with hex bolts into the chassis and an Allen key is provided to remove the models from these bases. The box contains a basic instruction manual in Chinese language (with DCC functions in Chinese and English), spare couplers & drawbars and a number of add on accessories to be installed by the owner. The premium versions arrive with most of these add ons already installed.
The real 8K's came with a pair of different style builders plates on each unit, although most of these went "missing" in their later years! Fortunately Charming have decided to provide a full scale replica 1987 Alstom plate with every model. If you were lucky enough to score one of the premium versions - you get both types!
Like the 6K's, the 8K's have details that simply blow everything else out of the water in the Chinese modelling world. Each model has individual details and subtle differences as per the prototype. These models seem a little less 'fragile' than their earlier counterparts, so one must take care while handling them. I have noted a few tiny parts on one of my examples have come loose including the pantograph contact strips, hadrails, bogie components etc. While handling the models, take extra care not to press any of the side windows as Charming have used the absolute minimum amount of glue to hold them to the body shell.
The China Rail logos and number plates are separately applied pieces and look absolutely stunning. Concerning the decorated versions, all locomotives come with the China Rail logos on the front with the special badges supplied separately. I don't believe they have been lazy in not applying, it just gives the option to leave them standard or decorated. The gurus at Charming have even been nice enough to hollow out a section on the reverse of the decorated panels to fit nice and snug over the China Rail logos. This does present a dilemma however... they are almost too nice to cover up!
Paint is exceptionally sharp and beautifully applied. There are paint differences between versions with the main body color either yellow for the Taiyuan machines and slight differences in orange for the Beijing units. There are differences also in the grey color and some differences in smaller detail parts such as air hose taps.
The automatic pantographs that were used on the 6K models are no longer offered on the 8K's as they were proving very troublesome for the manufacturer. This takes away some of the 'wow' factor, however I no longer live in fear that my pantographs may one day fail! Even with manual control, they are extremely well detailed and have a good firm spring action to keep them held against the contact wire. One of my units has a loose contact strip no one of the pantographs that I haven't been able to solve yet.
These models use Zimo sound decoder/s produced by Roco and and have a host of impressive and genuine sound effects. I am happy with them enough not to adjust any of the values, apart from the volume which is by default set to maximum. Asides from the engine throttle noises, there are the usual coupler attach and detach, pneumatic systems, generators, motor alternators, flange squeal and brakes. There are also some voices from the crew, level crossing alerts and station announcements (initially these locomotives were designed for freight service, but were often thrown into passenger service when required). The crew and station noises are a bit of a pain as they go on for a very long time and can't be interrupted, save from lifting the locomotive off the rails; not easy if you have overhead wiring installed. DC users can buy the sound decoders separately from China at time of writing, should you decide to upgrade.
The 8K's feature a huge array of lighting effects including engine room, headlights, ditch lights, running and directional markers, cab lights and roof mounted power status lights. They also have a really cool 'sparking brake show' lighting effect which comes on under heavy braking modes. All are able to be controlled individually. Lighting functions fade in very nicely. Charming have of course taken the effort to include genuine colors for all lights and the effects are simply superb. The main headlight is very strong.
All lighting and sound functions are listed in English in the otherwise Chinese language only instruction manual.
The models are very smooth in all directions and throughout the speed range. The powerful Canon can motor emits next to no noise. A contact of mine experienced a failure with the mechanism rendering it undriveable, however Charming were very prompt in providing the necessary parts to fix it. All my units run well and can navigate the tighter #4 Peco code 83 points, however it should be noted that I am running my models with the provided drawbars which gives more clearance between the two units than using the couplers.
The model comes with genuine scale head KD couplers #158 standard shank whisker couplers front and rear. As these are my couplers of choice I haven't needed to test any others. I currently using the supplied draw bar between units as it provides slightly more clearance. If i revert to couplers (as it looks much better) I will have to swap out the 158 couplers for long shank #156's at least as they don't quite meet up. I will provide test results here when I get around to it. The draw bars are a bit fiddly to connect, but you will develop a technique for it to connect pretty quickly. My advice is to install the draw bar into the housing on one unit, then while keeping both units on a very flat surface, mate the two units together at a slight angle and apply firm (but very careful) pressure, making sure the lugs at the end of the exposed end of the draw bar is pushed up against the housing.