JNR IMPERIAL TRAIN WITH EF58-61
KATO 3038 & 10-418

N-SCALE TRAIN SET

10/18/15- Kato's Imperial Train set depicts the train used exclusively by the Emperor of Japan and the royal family from the 1950s until it was replaced by the E655 Imperial train in the 2000s.

Kato's set (10-418) consists of five cars, with the electric locomotive EF58-61 (Kato #3038 released in 2009) sold separately. According to Hobby Search, 10-418 is a 2001 release, now discontinued, but can still be found at Amazon.com (at premium prices, of course). The passenger car set appears to have been re-released in 2011 as Kato 10-853, "Showa Era Specifications", although it's even harder to find. It seems to be the same configuration but I haven't been curious enough to learn how it differs from this set.

I later found out about and ordered Kato's Nagomi Imperial Train (10-1123) which is the current EMU-style (Electric Multiple Unit) incarnation of the Imperial Train; At the time, I almost regretted buying this one... until it arrived. It's a beautiful set (if you like brown retro trains) and as usual, Kato did an outstanding job. I like the traditional paradigm of locomotive + passenger cars; this one can do historically-accurate double-duty as a locomotive for Kato's 1988 Orient Express set (which I'm hauling around with my Minitrix BR-01 with Reichsadler because I think it looks cool, prototypical be damned!).

Interior Lighting: Since this is the Imperial train, the interiors have varied cabin configurations-- not just the rows and rows of seats of most commuter and express trains. This train set, more than most, begged for interior lighting (and painting/detailing with figures-- maybe later).

The passenger cars are an older design so they're not set up for Kato's current design of lighting kits. While they have openings to insert the brass contact strips, they don't have the supports to slip in the LED unit. That's was fine with me; I wasn't blown away by the single LED/diffuser design, and thought this set deserved a more upscale treatment.

I was too impatient to wait for an order of Steamlined Backshop's DCC-friendly light kits, so I harvested them from my Kato Hakusan 489 set. I didn't feel that they were ideal for the 489 set since the seating imparts a heavy tint to the light (compromising the effect of the warm light LEDs). From a certain angle, the bottom edge of the window inserts reflected the ceiling-mounted LEDs-- meaning, you could see the individual LEDs reflected on the bottom edge of the windows. The Kato light kit with its diffuser would probably be a better option.

Tranferring the universal short passenger light kits was easy; pry up the tiny squares of servo tape holding the circuitboard to the ceiling of the 489, slide out the contacts, and reverse the process for installation in the Imperial cars. No soldering (after the first installation), thanks to Kato's slide-in contact strips. It's a great system!

The first and last cars were a little different because they have an LED unit for exterior direction lights. I fit the 4" lighting kit in the end car, but placement needed to be just right for a thick capacitor to clear a wall in the interior detailing. For the front car, I used a shorter 3-LED Z-scale light kit which fit without any issues.

I think the warm incandescent-like lighting looks great; the windows aren't tinted, and the bottom of the frames don't reflect the LEDs on the ceiling. (I think that's because the clear window inserts go from ceiling to floor.)

Direction Lighting: This was designed as a DC train (where changing direction at the throttle swaps the track polarity and which light turns on: Brake = Both lights off) and there's no provision for installing Kato's headlight decoders in the end cars. In a DCC system (Digitrax Zephyr) without the light decoders, both lights stay lit regardless of the direction the train is moving. This could be fixed with decoders in both cars.

I decided not to do that. In a modern EMU passenger car (with the powered car in the center), the cab decoders are desirable because there are usually more lights to switch, and both cabs do duty as front and rear cabs. With this train's retro design, the loco is at one end or the other (and has directional head lights). Therefore, the first car's simple direction lights aren't at the very front of the train, and only the last car's red taillights are of importance. Installing the decoders to make it operate more accurately would be a lot of buck for very little bang. The more practical options would be to ignore the front car lights, or turn them off permanently and always keep that car as the front car. I removed the front car's LED assembly.

EF58-61 ESU LokPilot Decoder: I knew this wouldn't be a "DCC-Friendly" installation, but was given hope (before I bought the set) by a forum posting from someone who had done it. Unless it's a really old locomotive, wiring usually isn't the problem (2 motor leads, 2 power leads, 2 head/rear light leads and a common lead for the lights): Finding space to put the decoder is the critical question. As it turns out, the body shell is packed and a very tight fit (and hard to get off). However, there's just enough room at the top for a very small (LokPilot) decoder, thanks to a protruding and removeable ventilation housing on the roof. It looked like it would fit.

A lighting circuit board hooks on top of the casing that covers the motor guts. The lighting board positions the two LEDs at the ends at just the right place for the light tubes; the underside of the circuit board mashes down on the brass power contacts (from the trucks) and distributes the power to the LEDs and the motor.

For a DCC installation, the power distribution is better/easily accomplished by wiring. Therefore, the circuit board could be disposable (to save space) except for its use in positioning the LEDs. I ground off all the printed circuit traces on the underside (to isolate the motor and power and remove any possibility of shunting) and enlarged the side slots in the circuitboard where the motor contacts protrude. The decoder's motor (gray & orange) and power (black & red) leads are soldered to the motor tabs and to the lengthwise power strips as the last step after the circuit board's been hooked on.

The directional lighting was sort of an ordeal, thanks to my stupidity. I snipped off the SMD capacitor (used to turn on/off the LEDs depending on the direction/polarity of the DC power), and the resistor (used to bring the track voltage down to a safe level for the LEDs). Snipping these off reclaimed vertical space for the thickness of the decoder, which was the critical question of whether it would fit. The two sets of traces to each LED were left intact so I could use them instead of wires. I then tested the LEDs to determine polarity and jumpered the common positive anode (blue, per the decoder's pin-out). The front (white) and rear (yellow) LED leads were soldered to the cathode traces. After soldering the motor and power leads, off to test... errrrr...destroy LEDs!

NOTE TO SELF: LokPilot decoders are configured by default for 12-volt incandescent lights, not 3-volt LEDs! I hadn't done this in a while and had forgotten that it was even an issue. So, first test: motor works, forwards and reverse... sweet. Turn lights on: brief blip of forward LED, then nothing. ? Confused. Change direction. Same thing. More confusion. Temporarily shunted with full-size LED. Same thing. Unsoldered decoder, applied DC power to circuitboard. No joy. Shunted with full-sized LED: LED works, confirming that I'd just fried both SMD LEDs! Awwwww, crap. I just love to solder SMD LEDs, especially with my deteriorating eyesight. An hour later, I'd replaced the LEDs with white ones and installed a space-hogging 470 ohm 1/4 watt resistor (no SMD resistors in my collection) inline with the blue common decoder wire. Tested, success! However, the real test would be reassembling the locomotive: Would it fit?

Just barely... the space taken by the 1/4 watt resistor made reinstalling the roof ventilation housing very difficult, just enough to make it want to pop up on one side (that figures... arrrrgh). By sheer willpower, I made it all fit and hopefully the housing will stay on forever and never need to come off again (it was a bitch to get off in the first place).

AFter testing the assembled loco, I put it on the Lokprogrammer and verified that it had an unchecked checkbox to set it for LED use, and a brightness setting; I'm not wanting to pop it open again to remove the resistor and test to see if it's necessary (and risk blowing more SMD LEDS)!

Performance: This is a smooth-running train and the LokPilot decoder made a huge difference in its performance versus running it as a DC locomotive on a DCC track: Snail crawl speed, realistic top speed, gradual acceleration, momentum when stopping... Cool!

The weird leading truck on the locomotive seems to do okay pre-guiding the locomotive around R249 curves; at least it doesn't seem to cause problems. I say "weird" because it's so exceptionally floppy and doesn't have power pickups; I think the train would run fine without them (but wouldn't look right).

The cars have truck-mounted knuckle couplers which couple easily and stay together securely, while giving the visual appeal of close coupling. Removing cars is as easy as lifting the car from the consist; no need to lift them up at an angle and "snap", like the couplers (Scharfenberg?) that Kato uses in its newer passenger train sets. Unfortunately, the two types are incompatible. Maybe someday I'll make sense of the quagmire of couplers. Maybe someday I'll understand why things aren't more standardized and why no one makes their couplers for NEM-standard pockets.

The EF58 locomotive comes fitted with Rapido couplers, but includes a pair of the knuckle couplers for connecting with the Imperial cars. I replaced one of them; the Rapido coupler comes in handy for connecting to other cars, like the Orient Express passenger cars. (For what it's worth, the Orient Express set proves that Rapido couplers can do close coupling.) The couplers are grey, which I thought was funky, until I realized that they camouflage better than black with the grey roadbed.

Fiddley Bits: The locomotive and train set comes with a ton of fiddley bits that take really good eyesight and steady hands to install. They're cast in a soft, flexible plastic which means that you're less likely to break them, and that they'll stay in place pressure-fitted, without glue. However, it takes a long time to put all of them in place, and some are fairly challenging to insert. A few spares of some parts are included, which is a great idea. You know when you hear a tiny part hit the ceiling that your odds of finding it are practically nil.

Why they didn't install these at the factory is quite beyond me. They don't offer any alternative installable configurations like the Emperor's Death Star uplink, ion cannons, or forcefield generator. If you don't install the included parts, you're left with decorative holes in the roofs. It looks like we were meant to suffer...

The Japanese flag herald (indicating that the Emperor is on board) is included with the EF58 locomotive, along with some other tiny parts. Magnets on both ends of the locomotive help hold the flags in place, although a notched tab at the bottom does the main work of keeping it in place. Since instructions didn't come with the locomotive, it took me a while (and online photos) to figure out where all the parts went.

The Headlight, Again: The super-bright white headlight bothered me since all the interior lighting had a warm white (yellowish) glow. It bothered me enough to dare taking the train apart again (much easier this time) to fix the headlights. A mix of Tamiya yellow and red clear paint dabbed onto the SMD LEDs gave them the nice yellow/amber glow that I thought they needed.

 

THE SOUND DECODER

I wanted to install a sound decoder in an electric train, partially for variety but also because almost all my Japanese trains have electric locomotives, and not a one (except the D51 steam locomotive) has a sound decoder. I also thought it would be fun to make a Japanese-flavored soundset, since ESU doesn't have any in their downloads section. Obviously, it wouldn't be a prototypical sound set since Japanese trains are on the other side of the world and I don't know what this one is supposed to sound like.

I selected this train for the decoder since it's a traditional design (locomotive at the front), has good power pickup, and it's one of my favorites of the Japanese trains I've acquired so far. The EMU passenger trains would have had the engine and horn sounds coming from around the center of the train, where the motor car is. That didn't appeal to me as much as having the sound car at the front next to the locomotive that's supposed to make both those sounds.

The great thing about Kato's modern passenger trains is that they're all wired for lighting, and the power pickup from the trucks is very reliable: They're a great choice for making a standalone sound car.

Locating Components: This was an easy installation because the interior cabin detailing was laid out nearly perfectly for it. A walled channel for the resistors and wiring ran down the center from the front where the decoder was installed. A crossways walled space was nearly a perfect fit for the rectangular speaker. I had to remove some plastic wall supports to fit the speaker against the floor (for the vertical fit), and cut an opening at the end of the channel to run the speaker wire along the floor. The front area's LED module was removed (I'd already removed the LED circuitboard) to make room for the decoder, and the floor openings for powering the original LEDs was a convenient place to run power leads for the decoder.


To add weight, the center channel is topped off with squashed pellets from a pellet gun.

IMO, the sound car doesn't need any additional openings to let the sound out. The Sugarcube speaker is very loud just laying in the car with the speaker facing upwards; in fact, I've reduced the volume of many of the individual sounds.

Lighting: The decoder provided four wires for lighting: The head & tail lights plus 2 AUX lights/devices. From the center channel, it was easy to route wiring to SMD LEDs to the front, middle and rear compartments, suspended without mounting by their leads (SMD LEDS weigh next to nothing so the wires are sufficient support).

The speaker blocks a small window on both sides of the car, before the rear seating compartment, which is lit by the overhead LED pointing down and rearward into the compartment.

The center section has walled, undetailed compartments with frosted windows on the outsides of the channel. Those sections on both sides of the car are dimly lit by pointing the LED towards the ceiling.

The decoder is mounted on the floor of the front area in the space that was used for the LED module. The area is lit by an LED pointing forward from within the channel. Just for grins, I set that light to flash like a rotating beacon when the train is in reverse, and dimmed to about 70% when in forward.

All the lights, though individually controllable, are function-mapped to turn on when the headlight is turned on.

The Sounds: ESU's website has a download area for previewing soundsets. Admittedly, I don't know what the real EF58-61 sounded like, so I picked a soundset that sounded what I thought the drive sound should sound like: a German BR-420 electric commuter train (ESU's 55821-LSNV4.0-Elok-BR420-R5). This has a nice, conservative winding up sound with an electric hum that tracks speed with pitch. When it winds down (with a suitably long deceleration), it finishes with a subtle brake squeal. I replaced the whistles with three American airhorns because they sounded pretty awesome. In my YouTube viewings, I came to the conclusion that Japanese trains use every imaginable type of horn sound from melodies to shrill whistles, to what sounded like truck horns (and everything in between), so it wasn't necessary to agonize over finding that distinctive Japanese horn sound.

I found the Japanese sounds at the website, Sounds of Station (a huge collection of sounds there). I replaced the German station announcements with one from a Japanese station; it took a while to find one that wasn't the annoying canned announcement that's at all the stations announcing arrivals and warning people to stay behind the yellow line. One sound that I didn't find (burned into my brain from my childhood) was the super-nasally announcements on the train... bummer. I replaced the crossing warning sound since the Japanese one sounds more electronic than any from the ESU templates.

It can take a long time to tweak a soundset to your liking (due to the long write time for sounds), but that depends on how fussy you are. Most volume levels can be balanced from writing the base decoder, which is much faster.

When making a sound car, don't forget that the locomotive has a decoder too, and that both decoders need to be on the same page. If a function key is set to engage Shunting mode in the LokPilot decoder and honk a horn on in the LokSound decoder, you may wonder why the train slows down when the horn is honked. Similarly, both decoders should have the same motor control curve (even though the sound decoder isn't driving a motor) to synchonize running sounds with the train's speed.

Onboard sound occupies a unique area of model railroading. It's hard to claim that it adds to realism like weathering since the sounds are usually so exaggerated. While it adds a new dimension to the train and fun to the train-operating experience, the disconnect from reality comes from the issue of perspective. The train station is a rich stew of sounds, and it's where you're most likely to hear a train's electric wind-up and wind-down sounds, the brake sound, the sound of the doors and announcements. Outside the station, you're either outside the train or inside it, and what you hear is quite different. Inside, you hear the muted clackety-clack of the rails and announcements, but not as much of the engine sound. Close by on the outside, you hear the clackety-clack, the rumbling and powerful rush of air and the doppler effect of the mechanism. From a distance, you mainly hear the horn. Most sound sets use the perspective from the train station, so it's wrong for all the other perspectives. From the distant perspective of a train layout operator, to have realistic sound, you wouldn't hear things like doors closing, and other sounds would be very faint. That wouldn't be as much fun, IMO.

That said, sounds are really about fun and adding an additional dimension to the model. Some find the sound to be annoying... which they are when you're enduring endless repetitions of the sound of a train running at an unchanging speed for a long period of time. That's not too unrealistic since riding a real train does involve enduring the environment of the journey until arrival at your destination. At least on the model train, you can turn off the running sound if it bothers you.

 

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