Friday, January 8, 2016

East German Workhorse – DBAG Class 143/DR Class 243 in N Scale
Hi there. I am back. This time with an overview of one of a current DBAG loco.
Two 143 engines in current DBAG livery.
Source: wikipedia commons
One of the most ubiquitous locomotives on German rails today is the DBAG Class 143 Bo’ Bo’ electric. This loco started life as the Class 243 of the East German Deutsche Reichsbahn. It was conceived as a multi-purpose engine with a fairly high top speed of 140kph (even 160kph was possible). However, due to the limitations of the East German rail infrastructure top speed was finally limited to 120kph. The prototype Class 243 was unveiled in 1982 with regular series production starting two years later at LEW Henningsdorf and continuing on beyond the collapse of the GDR into 1991. An amazing 646 units were built.

Starting in 1990, the now renamed Class 143 (the first digit 1 indicates electric locomotives, 2 is for diesels at DB) started appearing all over Western Germany as well. In particular, the locomotives soon proved to be extremely reliable and effective for regional and S-Bahn trains, outperforming the DB Class 111 in many areas. Although over 250 units have been scrapped already – the lightweight aluminum construction means that many otherwise minor collisions result in irreparable damage to the frame – due to the sheer numbers produced, the 143 still is very much an everyday sight, pulling regional trains across all parts of Germany. In addition, a handful are now in freight operations with a number of private operators, such as RBH and MEG.

DBAG Class 143 in N Scale

An earlier Arnold 143 model issued prior to the Hornby takover
in traffic red Era V livery but with wrong red pantographs
Not long after the 143s invaded and spread out over the West, in 1992 both Roco and Minitrix produced N Scale models of this locomotive, shortly followed the next year by Arnold. All three models have been continually updated and reissued over the years in all of the most frequent liveries: original dark red DR colors; orange/grey S-Bahn livery; orient red, as well as the current traffic red. MEG and RBH liveries were made by special order on the Arnold model.

When I shopped around for models of this locomotive, I was strongly advised by German forum users against the Minitrix model. It has somewhat inaccurate dimensions and axle spacing. It is also the only one not to have been updated with a newer motor with flywheel and accordingly has the worst driving characteristics. Since I never bought any of Minitrix’ models I cannot provide any further details on it.

Innards of old (bottom) and new (top) Arnold models
Under Hornby management, Arnold in 2011 reissued its 143 in current Era VI lettering and updated with operational red marker lights, a NEM651 decoder socket, as well as a new 5-pole motor with two huge flywheels. Two years later, Fleischmann reissued the former Roco model, likewise updated with marker lights, BEM651 socket, close coupling mechanism, but with Fleischmann’s trusty 3-pole motor and a small single flywheel. Shortly after, Fleischmann also produced a full DCC sound version with sound decoder by Zimo.

Comparing the Arnold/Hornby and Fleischmann/Roco models in their latest incarnation, the result is more or less an overall tie. Which model suits you better will depend on your individual preferences and willingness for compromise in certain areas. Visually, the two are very similar in overall accuracy, detailing, printing and looks. I would give a slight leg up to Arnold on the visuals due to the somewhat crisper details and due to Fleischmann’s continuing use of Roco’s huge and clunky pantographs. 

Fleischmann (left) with correct inner marker lights.
Arnold (right) with wrong outer marker lights.
Note the much higher Roco pantographs on the Fleischmann
Fleischmann did, however, do one thing correctly that Arnold managed to screw up: on the Fleischmann model the correct (inner) lights light up as the marker lights, while on the Arnold model the red light comes out of same lights as the white headlights. This is an unfortunate blight on an otherwise really exquisite model, as the configuration of the taillights is rather characteristic on this locomotive since it is so frequently seen pushing regional trains. Due to lack of foresight as well as the limitations of the 6-pin NEM651 socket, neither model permits turning off the lights on one end without extensive soldering and rewiring, so you invariably end up illuminating the first coach.

The current Fleischmann reissue of the Roco model.
In terms of performance, the Arnold model easily outclasses the Fleischmann model. In analog use, the two sizeable flywheels of the Arnold, along with its fine five-pole motor, give it superb low speed handling characteristics and smooth acceleration and deceleration. Out of the box, my particular Fleischmann 143 had a misaligned flywheel that produced a noticeably uneven run and required return to the shop and realignment. Once fixed, it performed much better, but still nowhere near as smoothly as the Arnold. The differences are somewhat less pronounced in digital operation. I have a Doehler & Haas DH10 installed in the Fleischmann and an ESU LokPilot Micro 4.0 in the Arnold and the DH decoder manages to tame the Fleischmann very well so that realistic acceleration and deceleration is possible. Overall, I still prefer the handling of the Arnold.

The other area where Arnold gets an unfortunate and rather serious demerit is accessibility for maintenance. The Fleischmann/Roco construction is rather simple – though, as is typical for Roco, a bit quirky – to disassemble: you pull out the four bumpers and then you can easily pull off the shell. The circuit board is on top and the decoder socket is centrally located for easy access and leaving ample space for the decoder of your choice. 
The current Arnold/Hornby model. The new issue has
correct grey pantographs.
Not so the Arnold. To open that model, you have to spread the sides of the shell and pull off the shell – so far, so normal – but then you have to pull out the headlight/marker light units, which are held in place inside the shell by the clear plastic light attachments and which are tied to the circuit board by soldered wires. Pull too hard and the soldering joints will come apart. Trying to reassemble this thing afterwards is a nightmare. Additionally, as is common with many early 90s Arnold designs (103, 152, ICE3 etc.) the circuit board is inexplicably located underneath the chassis, where it is prone to have contacts gunked up by lubricant from the nearby bogies. Decoder installation requires complete disassembly of the entire locomotive and space for the decoder is limited. The ESU LokPilot micro is just about the largest decoder you will want to try to fit there, as it fills out the space entirely.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

DB Class 103 - Addendum

Couldn't resist one additional post on my favorite loco...

I happened to snag Fleischmann's latest version, the 103 184-8 for a really good price on ebay recently, and I can say it is Fleischmann's finest. Absolutely crystal clear printing with a lot of detail missing on previous version (such as silver rings around headlights, black seals between body hoods, etc.), finally cab side windows that fit properly, and finally a proper darker grey center roof hood. See for yourself (click to enlarge):

One small note, however: Fleischmann advertises this model in its catalog as an Era IV livery. This is inaccurate. While the difference is very subtle, the lettering depicts the locomotive as it is currently preserved and as it operated until recently with the new international numbering system, i.e. Era VI, although the additional digits are kept in medium grey, as on the original, in order to preserve the overall historic appearance of the locomotive.

The model is still powered by Fleischmann's trusty three-pole motor with a single (moderately ineffective) flywheel. Mine runs very smoothly, including at low speeds, but still has ridiculously excessive top speed, as with all Fleischmann 103s since the 70's. This latest version has a NEM 651 6-prong socket for easy installation of a DCC decoder, but the headlights are unfortunately still illuminated with a regular incandescent bulb just like 40 years ago (and the lighting still illuminates the cab - I'll do a quick post on how to fix that soon).

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

eBay Update

I have decided to thin my collection a bit and focus on present Era VI DBAG trains, as well as select few historic trains that I like. I have a bunch of Era IV and V stuff up on eBay right now, if any of you are interested, including two recent production Fleischmann 103s in Era V liveries. Take a look at my listings here. Thanks.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Inspiring Layouts - Vol. I

The formatting of this blog still leaves a bit to be desired and my links don't seem to want to save. I hope to have the kinks ironed out soon.

In the meantime I wanted to start a little series about inspiring N-Scale modelling I have found on the web while browsing around. In each installment I will present a layout or module that I find to be particularly well done: convincingly realistic in terms of both landscaping and the rail operations presented, as well as reflecting an above average attention to detail.

The first one (or two, actually) I want to draw your attention to are the layouts by Gabriel H. His main layout is entitled "Rheine Nord" and is a room-filling depiction of Rheine in the 70's and has been featured in a number of publications. I don't want to post pictures here directly without permission, but you can find one gallery with layout plan here at and another set of posts with lots of pictures over at

The town of Rheine in North-Rhine Westphalia sits along two important main lines (from the Netherlands east towards Hannover and from nothern Germany south towards Cologne) and was a significant freight hub. Most interestingly for railfans and rail modellers, that area was one of the last to be electrified and thus Rheine remained one of the last bastions of steam traction in West Germany through the mid 1970's. Gabriel's layout captures this transition era perfectly with one of the two main lines having just been electrified but plenty of classic steamers living out their last days.

The layout uses code 50 flex track and long turnouts that really are essential to achieving such realistic trackage. The buildings contain a fair number of commercial kits, but also a lot of kitbashes with a handful of scratchbuilts as well. Indeed the kitbashing is so masterful that you can often hardly recognize the donor kit. E.g. you would never guess that the post office to the right of the station is composed of elements from Faller's "Bonn" station. Most locos are superdetailed with brake hoses, UIC couplers and the like and have been weathered realistically and not too excessively.

This layout to me is a perfect example of capturing the spirit of both a specific era and a specific place. Not only are the train compositions as perfectly prototypical as can be done in N scale, but the architecture and the landscaping are unmistakably those of northwestern Germany, close to the Dutch border. This is hard or impossible to achieve taking commercial kits right out of the box. Moreover, with respect to the landscaping, Gabriel tackled the considerable challenge of hiding the "ends" of the main line where it descends into the underground very effectively with overpasses and mirrors and the like, despite modeling a region with a nearly flat landscape.

A layout like Rheine Nord requires a lot of space, which I won't have. For that reason, I find Gabriel's second more compact layout (300 x 80cm), Basel-Ost (pictures at the same two links above), even more interesting. I am fascinated by terminus stations. The additional shunting and manoeuvering necessitated by a terminus as opposed to a through-station, presents a wonderful opportunity for much more interesting train operations on a model layout, regardless of whether you are modeling an earlier era when locomotives would have to be changed, or if you're modeling the present era with bi-directional and push-pull trains. Unfortunately, most terminus stations are in large cities and an even borderline realistic representation even in N scale would require prohibitive amounts of space.

Gabriel has very effectively overcome this challenge by merely suggesting the entrance to a terminus at the right end of the layout. This focuses the viewer's gaze on the intake area in front of the station, where most of the action happens anyway. The name "Basel-Ost", while without real prototype, suggests a secondary eastern terminus, perhaps a ways outside the city center proper, thus not requiring such grand scale or very large urban buildings in the immediate vicinity. The choice of location - Basel in the Alpine foothills - offers both the opportunity to make trains disappear in tunnels thanks to the hilly topography, as well as giving an excuse for varied SBB and DB train compositions with Basel being on the Swiss-German border. There is even space for a little tram line.

Monday, May 5, 2014

DB Class 103 in N Scale - Part II

In this part, I will summarize the N scale production of models of the 103 and include some general comparisons. Eight different molds of this locomotive have been made in N Scale by Minitrix, Fleischmann and Arnold so far, four each of the pre-production series 103.0 and of the production series 103.1 with the short cab. Just recently, Minitrix and, shortly after, Fleischmann finally announced what will be the first ever N-scale models of the lengthened, later version 103.1. Both are expected to be released later this year, but no reliable pictures are available yet of either one. All earlier representations of models with production numbers 216 and higher are inaccurate since a genuine long cab 103.1 mold was not previously available.

Most molds date from the 60s and 70s and range from abysmal to still acceptable by modern standards, the more excellent ones having remained in production and having been updated with newer electronics and motorization. Arnold, in the 90s embarked on a complete rebuild of both its pre-production and regular series molds, and these remain optically the best representations of the 103.0 and 103.1 in N scale. Minitrix likewise in 2004 produced a new mold of the 103.0 pre-production model that is likewise very good.

I have included some comparison and individual model photographs. Please excuse the quality - most of these were taken with iPhone. Some of the comparison shots as well as the pictures of the Minitrix loco, feature models I have since sold off and which were therefore not available for reshoots when I wrote this post.


Minitrix produced its first model of the pre-production 103.0 in 1967 (item number 2954 or 51 2945 00). This was a very robust, all die-cast metal model powered by two (!) motors with traction on all six axles. It didn’t have traction tires and thanks to its weight and excess power didn’t need them. By modern standards, though virtually indestructible, this is a completely inadequate model, visually, mechanically and electronically, and is best avoided. The bumpers are oddly attached to the bogies instead of the body, resulting in a very unseemly seam, the top speed is ridiculously high and low speed control next to non-existent. It was designed as a toy and many of the (often overpriced) models that flood eBay have been treated accordingly.

103 132-7, a model Minitrix produced in 2002 on the same old
mold it has been using since 1976. The printing is good (though
lacking some possible details such as black seals between the
roof hoods). The insides are up to date with new motor with two
flywheels and 6-pin digital interface. But the nose shape is
unsatisfactory and the roof details very clunky. The DB logo is
merely printed.
In 1976, Minitrix introduced its first model of the series production 103.1 (various item numbers ending with 57, loco serial 103 133-5), with a plastic body, a single motor and traction to the two outer axles of each bogie. The initial run remained in production for ten years. As with all N-scale locos of that vintage, the motor lacks a flywheel and the print is not as fine as you would expect today. Amazingly, Minitrix continues to use this 1976 mold to the present day, despite its many flaws. It is generally optically quite accurate and all body details that you would want to see are appropriately embossed/engraved, though in some cases too thick. However, next to the competition, the Minitrix remains decidedly third choice for three main reasons: Firstly, the electrical equipment on the roof is depicted in clunky plastic that is too thick and not anywhere near to scale. Second, the nose shape just isn’t quite ‘right’. In particular, the ‘forehead’ above the windshield seems to droop a bit too low. It looks OK in profile, but in front view it doesn't get wider around the top as it should and in 3/4 view the curvature of the nose is just all kinds of wrong. Thirdly, Minitrix previously only made one type of bogie for the 103.1 and it comes with (somewhat undersized) skirts that were removed by the early 80s from the real world counterpart. Fine if you want mid-era IV, inaccurate for anything later, and completely wrong on any orient-red 103s. Only major plastic surgery will fix this. 

Minitrix's 103 109-5, made in 2004-2006 with new motor and
electronics but on the same mid-70s mold. Why both pantographs
are up is a mystery. (Trix - catalog picture)
Nevertheless, there are a few Minitrix issues on this old mold that are worth mentioning and perhaps owning. Starting in about 1996, all Minitrix 103.1s were equipped with newer motors with two flywheels that vastly improved low speed handling while delivering a more realistic top speed. Among these later issues, there are a few variants that only Minitrix produced and for which Minitrix unavoidably remains the only choice. Firstly, Minitrix is the only manufacturer so far to have produced an orient-red 103 with the more common grey field around the vents (item number 12651, loco serial 103 147-5). If you can live with the inaccurate bottom skirt or are willing to do the surgery to remove it (or are unwilling to repaint a Fleischmann model), this is a good model to have. Likewise, Minitrix is the only one to have produced 103 109-5 in its original delivery scheme with the silver area around the vents (item number 12539). This model also offers a NEM 651 socket for a digital decoder.

This is the catalog picture released by Trix of the announced
16301, their first DCC Sound equipped 103.1, which from the
pic appears to have no skirts on the bogies and no bumper
cowlings. The latter would suggest a new mold, but the rest
looks just like the old 1976 mold, with the same clunky roof-
top wiring and inaccurate nose shape. The gap between bogies
and body seen in this pic doesn't help either. (Trix - catalog
In 2005, Minitrix produced a new mold of the pre-production 103.0. I have never held one of these in my hand, but from what I have read and seen, these are nearly as fine visually as the newer Arnold model (see below), apart from retaining the overly thick, plasticky roof details common of earlier Minitrix models. They all have new motors and digital interfaces.

At last year’s Nuremberg toy fair Minitrix announced a DCC sound-equipped reissue of the 103.1 (item number 16301), which appears from the catalog pictures to have new bogies without the skirts, as well as another first in N scale: no bumper cowlings. On the original, these were removed towards the end of the 103’s career, as it was found that rainwater would collect inside them, accelerating corrosion.

This is the catalog pic Trix issued for the upcoming 16341. It
has finer roof details but the same old curvature of the nose.
The close coupling mechanism interferes with a reproduction
of the rail sweepers. (Trix - catalog picture)

Likewise, Minitrix announced a completely new mold of what will be the very first ever N-scale 103.1 with the extended cab (item number 16341). This DCC-ready engine depicts 103 235-8, one of the last surviving operational 103s, as it appeared circa 2012, with two different pantographs - one for cross-border trips to Switzerland - though in the case of the Minitrix model they appear to be the same standard Sommerfeldt pantos used by all manufacturers, merely with one colored grey, the other red. It appropriately has no front skirts. A new short coupling mechanism has been announced (in contrast with the bogie mounted couplers on the older models), but from the pic it looks like the realism of the rail sweepers has been sacrificed to accommodate the mechanism. (There are larger photos in the 2013 new items catalog.) Unlike its other Minitrix-103 brethren, this new 103.2 finally seems to have fine metal roof electrical lines. However, the nose shape sadly seems to be the same as all other previous Minitrix 103.1 molds. Both 16301 and 16341 were announced for 2013 but delivery has been pushed to 2014 at the least, so we will have to see whether this extended cab 103 will be a serious competitor for the announced Fleischmann version.

A further 103 was announced by Minitrix for 2014 under item number 16342 with built-in DCC decoder, but while the serial 103 245-7 suggests the longer version, the pic shows the short version. Likewise announced is a model of 103 220-0 in Touristik livery.
Arnold was the original N-scale pioneer, but what was supposed to be its great model of the DB flagship was a complete dud from the start. Its first mold of the 103.0 from 1967 and the first series 103.1 mold from 1972 are simply abysmal even by the standards of that time. The nose shape is completely off, the window inserts have square corners that don’t fit the round corners of the housing, and there is a huge gap between the bogies and the body showing a clear view of the upper half of the wheels, which view simply doesn’t exist in the original. Inexplicably, Arnold continued to produce these hideous clunkers through the early 90s.

Arnold's gorgeous E03 004, here the Hornby reissue as HN2018
from 2007. Note: Arnold somehow managed to screw up the
isolators around the pantographs and installed horizontal models
only found on prewar electrics like the E18. I replaced them with
spare parts for an Arnold E10. In every other respect this is the
best N scale reproduction of the pre-series 103.0.
Before its insolvency, the old German-based Arnold tried to revive itself with a few new and reengineered models, which included what remain the best 103.1 and 103.0 in N-scale. Thankfully, both molds have survived the Hornby takeover and are being reissued from the Chinese production facilities Hornby uses these days (Kader?). As far as I am aware, there are a handful of versions each of the 103.0 and the 103.1 on the new Arnold molds. From the original German/Italian production there are item nos. 2370, 2371, 2372 and 2374 for the 103.0 and 2373 for the 103.1. The item numbers for the current Chinese Hornby production are HN2018 for the 103.0 and HN2131 for the 103.1. There are some slight (mostly internal) differences between the German/Italian pre-insolvency production run and the newer Chinese issues. Firstly, the German made versions feature a failure-prone flexible silicone tube connector from the motor to the bogie gears, which was replaced with a more durable plastic universal joint rod in the Chinese production. Secondly, the Chinese made models have an updated motor, as well as a NEM 651 socket for a digital decoder, though to the chagrin of all digital railroaders the entire circuit board is located idiotically (as on so many newer Arnold models) underneath the metal chassis, requiring complete disassembly of the loco for installation of a (very small) decoder. Some 103.0 models have the center hood on the roof installed the wrong way resulting in a disconnect of the rooftop wiring, but that can be fixed easily. Both versions feature traction on the outer two axles of both bogies.

Arnold's new 103 mold as reissued under Hornby ownership,
depicting 103 113-7 (HN3231). The shade of the lettering on
the red skirt isn't quite accurate and the box between the
bogies belongs to the pre-production 103.0. But otherwise this
is a gorgeous model.
All that said, the Arnold mold is simply stellar, though not without some issues. The nose shape is as perfect as you can expect it to be in this scale. The curvature is as close to the original as possible, all proportions seem accurate and all windows fit snugly. In addition, the Arnold model features removable skirts on the bogies, so you can switch between modeling 70s TEEs and 80s InterCity trains with a simple removal of two snap fit parts, though the skirts seem to be a tad too far forward. The five-pole motor with two flywheels gives the Arnold model the best handling, especially at low speeds, of all N-scale 103s. The roof detailing is plastic, but is very filigree and nearly to scale. One main point of criticism is, however, that Arnold carried over some elements of the 103.0 that are inappropriate for the 103.1. For instance, the “underbelly” parts between the bogies are from the 103.0, some roof details like the placement of the whistles reflect the 103.0 layout, and the bogies themselves are missing the anti-roll damper installed on the series production 103.1.

The sleek lines of 103 113-7.
As an additional note, HN2131 is a replica of 103 113-7 which remains in active duty, albeit with the buffer cowlings removed. Unfortunately, Arnold seems to have not been able to decide whether to model it in Era IV or Era VI lettering. The lettering and logos seem to have been printed entirely in white. This would be partially accurate for the current scheme of this engine (see the white serial number contrasted with the beige body and logo on the image I posted in the previous post). But it should have been beige (like the rest of the loco's body) for proper Era IV lettering. And both the buffer cowlings and the inspection dates suggest Era IV. Also, Arnold swapped the numbering of the cabs.

The earlier pre-insolvency model 2373 which featured alternatively locomotives with numbers 103 169-9 and 103 149-1, has a black frame and otherwise typical Era IV livery and none of the printing errors of the new Hornby/Arnold model. However, the production run seems to have been very limited and the few models one sees occasionally on eBay fetch very high prices (EUR 150 to 190 is not unheard of).

The insides of Arnold's latest build of 103s under Hornby ownership. A new five-pole motor has replaced the older Arnold model and plastic universal joints transfer power to the gears, where the pre-insolvency Arnold version from German/Italian production had failure-prone silicone hoses instead. The two flywheels give Arnold's 103 the finest handling characteristics. Admittedly, Arnold's model is not maintenance-friendly at all. The body sits extremely snugly and all parts that you could pull below (bogies and center box) can and will detach if you pull too hard. The circuit board (and the six pin connector for DCC installation) are *under* the chassis. The motor-gear joints are very small and will go off on their own when given an opportunity. Space for a decoder is extremely limited between the bogies.
Fleischmann so far hasn't produced a pre-series 103.0 model, though it did announce a brand new 103.0 (with and without sound) for delivery later this year (the catalog just shows images of the Roco H0 scale model). But Fleischmann's regular series 103.1 mold, dating from 1972, easily outclassed the contemporaneous Arnold mold, as well as the later Minitrix mold, and (with updated motorization and circuitry) remains one of the top choices in N-scale despite the competition from the outstanding newer 90s Arnold mold.

Printing on nearly all but the very first issues is crisp and clear, and any models from 1996 onwards have updated (three-pole) motors with (one single) flywheel. Unlike Minitrix and Arnold, the roof of the Fleischmann model features fine plastic insulators and actual metal wire, though the center hood is painted in too light a shade of grey. The insulator on the main transformer has been widened disproportionately and serves as the switch that allows the user to choose between running the loco with electricity from the rails or from the catenary. The nose shape is close to ideal, quite a bit better than Minitrix, though not quite as convincing as the new Arnold. Fleischmann made two types of bogies (at least for the earlier versions), one with skirt and one without, so finding the right representation for the epoch you are modeling is possible (or can be accomplished with a simple swap of parts). As a nice touch, Fleischmann actually has two variants of the mold, one with an embossed representation of the cast iron “DB” logo and one without, while all other manufacturers simply printed the “DB” on the nose. The one optical flaw on the Fleischmann model is the side cab windows, which do not fit very well on most issues and show a sizeable gap between window and frame. On all but a handful of the newer issues, Fleischmann neglected to print the headlight frames in silver, but this can easily be touched up with a fine silver permanent marker.

The innards of two generations of Fleischmann 103s. You can hardly tell that more than 20 years separate the two models. 103 116-0 has a newer three-pole motor with a sizeable flywheel, which improves handling considerably, but doesn't reach the performance of five-pole motors with two flywheels, like Arnold. The older 103 142-6 handles remarkably well for its age. Replacement gears and digitalization can considerably improve the handling of these robust old Fleischmann motors. The latest models have a six pin DCC connector.
Confusingly, Fleischmann continues to mainly use the same item numbers despite many updates of the innards of its 103s and despite different paint scheme and loco serials, so I will give a little bit of a buyer’s guide here. Generally speaking, no loco serial was produced in more than one production run, so that will be your ultimate reference when browsing out of production models on eBay. The Fleischmann item numbers are basically meaningless. Following are all of the different N scale 103s produced by Fleischmann so far:
- 103 101-2 the only good N-scale representation of the LH Airport Express livery as Fleischmann item number 9351 in a set with three coaches, making a complete prototypical train composition.

- 103 110-3 issued as part of a commemorative set "30 Years of InterCity Trains" (item 7802) with three coaches, meant to replicate a '71 InterCity in the first years of this new train product, with two blue 1st class compartment coaches and a restaurant coach in TEE livery. This is a very fine Era IV depiction of the 103, but incongruously with scissor pantographs (correct for 1971) but no skirts on the bogies. This model likewise has the newer motor.

- 103 115-2 this was the first orient-red 103 and was produced in similar numbers by Fleischmann in the late 80s like 155, not only individually as item 7377, but also as part of the updated InterCity Start Set. Again, visually fine representation, but with the old motor.

Fleischmann's 103 116-0 - the only N scale 103 in red/beige
with new DBAG logo, as operated in the 90s and early 2000s.
- 103 116-0 produced under item no. 7375. The only N scale representation of a red-beige 103 with the post-privatization DBAG logo that I am aware of. This model has the newer motor with flywheel.

- 103 118-6 is the earliest version of the Fleischmann 103 made in two production runs between 1972 and 1979 in classic Era IV red/beige livery with black frame, scissor pantographs and skirts. The first run had hideously clunky pantographs and the printing on this one isn’t as good as on the later models. (The original 118 was the locomotive that was modified for high speed testing, reaching up to 265kph.)

- 103 142-6 issued under item 7375 in the 80s. This is visually and mechanically actually a fine loco. Just be aware that it is among the older Fleischmann 103s on the market. If you find one in good condition, great. But it will still have the older motor without flywheel and run at ludicrously high top speed (that applies to all the older models as well). That aside, those old motors run very smoothly and (with proper maintenance) are nearly indestructible.
- 103 150-9 the only correctly liveried/printed Era IV 103 with red skirt produced by Fleischmann. This is a newer model with flywheel.

- 103 155-8 this is probably the most produced Fleischmann 103, as it was included in many InterCity Start Sets (with four coaches, track and power pack) as well as in form of an individual issue under item number 7376. Many of the units included in the Start Set had quality issues with dying motors. Secondly, the representation of the prototype is inaccurate as no. 155 never had the red bottom frame that Fleischmann decided to give it (both in N and in H0!).

- 103 163-2 this was a special limited issue under item number 837375 in classic Era IV red/beige livery. Apart from featuring more detailed printing than the regular issue 103, this model came with pre-installed DCC decoder and also has switchable illumination of the engine room (visible through the dome skylights on the roof). Due to the limited production run and the special features, this model is in high demand and regularly fetches well in excess of EUR150 on eBay despite being now ten years old.

- 103 184-8 also currently available from retailers as item 737602. This is a replica of another survivor. The original is still operational. Note, that, contrary to the catalog description, this model has Era VI, not Era IV, lettering.

Fleischmann's 103 197-0. Probably the finest orient-red 103
currently available.
- 103 197-0 orient-red, but unlike 115 with the newer DBAG logo, however, incorrectly without the dark grey box around vents worn by the real 197. (The original survives alongside E03 002 without innards in a park in southern Germany in classic old red/beige livery.) New motor with flywheel.

- 103 233-3 item 737601. Fleischmann reproduced the only traffic red 103. Sadly, 233 is a later version with the longer cab, so the mold is inaccurate for this livery. Maybe they will redo it when the new stretched mold is available.

In addition to the 103.0, Fleischmann has announced a new release of a 103.1 with the longer cabs for later this year (again, with and without sound), but only as an exclusive webshop item (one would think that there will be subsequent regular issues as they can't possibly recoup the investment in a new mold from webshop sales alone). As with the 103.0, the current catalog pictures only show the Roco H0 scale model, so it's anyone's guess what the actual model willl look like when it arrives.


Here are a few direct visual comparisons of representative examples from Minitrix, Fleischmann and Arnold.

A comparison of nose shapes: Arnold's 103 113-7 (HN2131) from 2013 in the back, Fleischmann's trusty 103 142-6 from 1982 in the middle (note: I touched up the headlight casings with silver), Minitrix's 2002 model of 103 132-7 in the front. The Fleischmann model still features the clunky older pantographs, while the other two use Sommerfeldt pantos now used by all three manufacturers. Note the nicer detailing and more accurate nose shape on the Arnold model. Fleischmann has an embossed DB logo on some of its models like this one. Window fit on both Fleischmann and Minitrix leaves something to be desired. The Arnold's windshield wipers don't extend below the window frame.

Rooftop views. Again, Arnold in back, Fleischmann in middle, Minitrix in front. The thick, plasticky wiring and the oversized isolators of the Minitrix model are overly apparent. Fleischmann has the finest wiring, but Arnold is not much worse, despite being plastic. Note the printed details on the Arnold, including the rubber seals between the hoods (Fleischmann did this on a handful of its newer models, too, and catalog pics suggest that Minitrix might soon as well). Arnold also modeled the pantograph actuator cylinders as separate parts. The whistle on the left side is in the wrong place, however, reflecting the pre-production E 03 layout. Note the clunky main switch isolator on the Fleischmann, which functions as the switch for catenary power.

Front views. The Minitrix on the right with its large forehead and weird windows is the odd one out. The other two at least look like they're from the same family. Note the better cross section shape on the Fleischmann.

Friday, May 2, 2014

DB 103 Class in N Scale - Introduction

While the focus of my collection and my layout will be present, Era VI DBAG operations, there is one train from my childhood in Germany that will forever hold a special place for me and which I therefore could not avoid collecting. This is the InterCity in post 1979 two-class configuration, operated by the classic, unsurpassed Class 103. 

Prototype History

The Class 103 was for more than three decades the flagship of the German railways. This Co’Co’ locomotive was specifically designed to pull premium passenger trains at top speeds of 200kph (125mph), even though at the time of design there were hardly any routes capable of accommodating such speeds, thus reducing it operationally to 160kph top speeds through 1977. Over the course of its service life, the 103 gradually was displaced from premium long distance trains by the arrival of dedicated high speed ICE trains in the 90s, as well as the 103's successors, the Class 120 and the Class 101, both of which have push-pull capability unlike the 103. Although slated for retirement in 1990, many 103s were kept active after German reunification in order to permit DB to serve its now suddenly vastly expanded network. The 103 saw a further limited renaissance in 2008 and 2009, when a number of units were reactivated to pull substitute trains following the grounding of all ICE trains to investigate and repair possible wheel fractures. At least four operational 103s remain with DB Fernverkehr AG, with several others on static display in various museums around Germany.

The production series 103.1 represented the state of the art of 1970s electric locomotive construction and remains one of the most powerful electric locomotives ever built. Its initial tractive force of 312kN up to a speed of 140kph remains unrivalled even by more modern three-phase electrics. A handful of units were modified for high speed testing and set various German speed records going up to 283kph. Even when the InterCity system was expanded to include 2nd Class coaches in 1979, and train compositions went from four to six coaches single class to seven to fourteen coaches in the two-class version, the 103 fulfilled its new assignment with distinction. As it was considered a relatively expensive locomotive to operate and maintain, DB management aimed at keeping these engines running as much as possible to generate maximum revenue. As a result, the 103 still holds utilization records with DB in excess of 350,000 operational kilometers per year per locomotive.

Pre-production prototype No. 1 with its original designation as
E03 001, distinguishable from the production model by its
single row of vents and silver roof and trim. (wikimedia)
Its iconic streamline shape, its speed and its ubiquitous presence at the head of most German premium long-distance trains made the 103 the childhood dream of all wannabe train engineers and consequently resulted in a plethora of models being offered in every imaginable scale. But before looking at the offerings in N-scale, we should note a few visual variations of the prototype’s shape and paint schemes.


The original pre-production series was named E03 (before the introduction of the computer numbering system in 1968, whereupon it was redesignated 103.0), of which four prototypes were produced in 1965 and used for extensive testing. It is easily distinguishable from the production series 103.1 by its single row of vents. The production series 103.1 (145 units built from 1970 to 1974) had a second row of vents added to address overheating issues identified during the testing of the four prototypes. Additionally, the last 30 production units (plus one engine rebuilt after an accident) were lengthened by 70cm (noticeable by a larger distance between the side window and the access door) in order to address engineers’ complaints of cramped quarters in the streamlined nose. 

103 235-8, one of the surviving operational stretched cab versions
in the classic TEE colors, pulling a special train of restored 1968
Rheingold coaches. (wikimedia)

The 103 wore a number of paint schemes over the course of its service life. As it was originally designed to pull exclusive 1st class only Trans Europ Express trains, the four pre-production engines were originally painted in largely the same scheme as the then-current TEE flagships, the E10.12 electric (a.k.a. 112 Class) and the Vt 11.5 DMU (a.k.a. 601 Class): silver roof with red trim, beige body with a Bordeaux-red lower side and a black bottom frame, plus a decorative Bordeaux-red stripe around the nose, with a black cast-iron DB logo attached to the nose. The first production models retained largely the same scheme, apart from losing the silver coloring and red trim around the roof. During the 80s, the cast iron logo was often replaced with a red DB sticker. In addition, a handful of later units had a Bordeaux-red bottom frame instead of the dark grey.

103 113-7, a surviving operational short cab 103 with the more
rare red bottom frame. Compare also the painted DB logo to
the cast iron DB sign attached to 103 235-8 above. (wikimedia)
Originally, all 103s were delivered with scissor type pantographs. These were found to be problematic at higher speeds, especially when traveling under the Austrian catenary system. After a number of incidents in Austria, in which crosswinds caused the scissor pantographs to entangle themselves in the overhead wire and tear it down, the scissor pantographs were replaced gradually between the early and mid-1970s by single arm pantographs. Initially the single arm pantographs were not available in sufficient numbers, so single arm pantographs from brand new Class 111 engines were swapped with scissor pantographs from the 103, as the 111 traveled only at lower speeds. Both types of pantographs were factory painted in red, but that paint was often covered in grime so that representations in dark grey or black would not be visually inaccurate. Also, all 103s had initially skirts around front end of each bogie. These were removed between 1981 and 1982 on all units, as aerodynamic effects around these skirts caused ballast and ice to become airborne and damage the trailing coaches at higher speeds.

A typical orient-red 103 with dark grey vents operating an
InterRegio train - one of the 103's typical assignments in the
90s and early 2000s. (wikimedia)
In 1987, DB introduced a new paint scheme, whereby all locomotives, regardless of operational scope, would be painted orient-red with a white ‘bib’ on the nose. Most 103s were repainted in this scheme as they came up for overhaul, though a few remained in the original red/beige until retirement. Many, though not all, orient-red 103s had a dark grey box around the side vents. As the Deutsche Bundesbahn was converted from a state enterprise to the publicly traded Deutsche Bahn AG, the old DB logo was gradually replaced by the more slender DBAG logo on both the orient-red and the remaining red/beige engines.

Four special paint schemes exist (of course all of them were represented in N scale in order to stretch sales of an old mold a little more):

- 103 109-5, though the ninth to be built, was the first series production 103 delivered to DB and as such initially had a slightly deviating scheme, with a silver box with pointy ends painted around the vent area, as well as a red stripe around each nose that extended further past the doors. It kept this (increasingly tattered) livery until 1987, at which point it received the regular red/beige but with a red bottom frame.

103 101-2 in its unique Lufthansa Airport Express, pulling
the namesake three coach train, which operated between
Stuttgart Hbf and Frankfurt Airport. (wikimedia)
- 103 101-2 was painted in Lufthansa Airport Express livery from 1991 to 1993 for the new route from Frankfurt Airport to Stuttgart. This engine is preserved in Darmstadt in its later orient-red livery in largely operational condition but without last checks and certifications which it would need for actual operation.

- 103 220-0, a later stretched-cab version, was painted in a multicolored blue/green/yellow scheme for the DB Touristikzug (with matching coaches). This engine was until this coming weekend preserved in this livery in Neustadt a.d. Weinstraße in largely operational condition but without operational checks and certification. It is due to be returned to DB for repainting in classic red-beige TEE livery and will go on display at the DB Museum in Koblenz-Lüztel.

- In 2000 DBAG introduced yet another livery, whereby all locomotives would be painted traffic red with a white bar on the nose and grey bottom and top. As the 103s were slated for retirement already, none were scheduled to be repainted in this livery. But the Austrian model train manufacturer Roco put up some sponsoring money to have one engine, 103 223-3, repainted in the new livery. This engine is preserved in that scheme at the DB Museum in Koblenz-Lützel in non-operational condition, having been scavenged for spare parts to keep other units operational.
More on individual N-Scale offerings in the next instalment. In the meantime, here are some (German language) resources and just nifty web finds on the Class 103:

Der Zugindianer (pictures, data - hasn't been updated in a while)

IC-Lok (production index, pictures, Flash animations)

103er (production index, data, pictures)

Gallery of Class 103 pics on

Gallery of Class 103 pics on Drehscheibe Online

Latest issue of Class 103 special issue from Eisenbahn Journal

Standard reference book on Class 103 by Michael Dostal, latest edition

mdr TV episode celebrating 40 Years of the Class 103

Classic DB TV advertising featuring the 103

Second Classic DB TV ad featuring 103

Trailer for the 1977 film "Rheingold"

I am planning on building a modular N-Scale layout on themes from the Rhein-Main area of Germany. While planning is still in the early stages and actual construction way off in the future, I thought I would offer some background on prototypical DB modeling in N scale and comparisions of N scale products. There is a plethora of information on this on the web, but mostly in German and mostly for H0, next to nothing in English. So in that spirit, welcome ! and I hope that you will find some of the information here helpful.