SERIES 115-300 JNR YOKOSUKA COMMUTER
KATO 10-1271

N-SCALE TRAIN SET

10/13/15- This is the JNR Yokosuka Commuter Train four-car set that I learned about after I'd got the modern JR Yokosuka/Sobu set. I'm more fond of the retro-looking stuff because having grown up in that era, they look more like what I expect this kind of train to look like. Some of the modern stuff looks too much like buses for my tastes-- which I understand as a practical design evolution. (I don't think train designers sit around thinking about what would make a cool-looking model train for me).

Cab Head/Tail Light Decoders: The decoder installs were identical to the other Kato passenger trainsets of this design generation (489 Hakusan and 217 Yokosuka/Sobu). The front and rear cab headlight decoders (FL12), though always aggravating to slide in, eventually seated and performed as expected. In this train, the destination/route display and the head/tail lights illuminate, with the head/tail lights changing color from white to red depending on direction. I wish the Yokosuka/Sobu train worked like this!

If you're new to this: The FL12 decoders are inserted facing opposite directions in the two end cabs so that when the throttle direction is forward, one cab's headlights are white and the other's headlights are red. Naturally, this needs to agree with the direction that the motor car is moving (if it's moving the wrong direction, flip it around).

Motor Decoder: I believe this set is a newer release than any of my others because the motor has a plastic cage around it that holds a pair of additional contacts wrapped around the brushes. My other sets didn't have this. I immediately thought, "Aha! I'm not the only one who thought that the EM13 decoder install was problematic!" Just for grins, I tried my EM13, but I couldn't get it to work. It may be fried and the new contacts may actually solve the problem-- I don't know, but my experience with the two EM13 decoders that I've bought convinced me to spend a little more on ESU decoders and solder them in from now on. (If I come across a train that I don't expect to run well, I may try soldering in that EM13 to see if it works.) The funny thing is that Kato's "fix" added extra junk that I snipped out to make the soldered-in installation easier.

Performance: The combination of ESU's LokPilot and Kato's product design results in a smooth-running, great-performing train. The only difference between my samples of their trains is the sound of the motors. The Yokosuka/Sobu train makes a thin treble-y electric motor sound, whereas this makes a deeper, less treble-y sound. Maybe it's due to the new plastic cage around the motor? There are individual differences between trains too; the 489 Hakusan is noticeably quieter than the Yokosuka/Sobu, and they have the same construction.

Couplers: The Scharfenberg/Shibata couplers (with the pointy tip) appear to be standard on Kato's newer passenger train sets. While they do keep the cars strongly coupled, they can be irritating when you want to remove a car from a consist. It's hard to do without derailing adjacent cars, which is aggravating if you're removing the car so that you can re-rail it.

These cars (and others like them) seem to be extra finicky about being re-railed. It's often hard to see when there's a problem, it's hard to re-rail them by feel, and using a re-railing ramp doesn't guarantee that every wheel will be setting perfectly on the rails. If one wheel's off, the train is succeptable to a cascading derailment. Even if you catch it before that happens, fixing it often means removing every car and rerailing it.

Coupling cars together with these couplers isn't always easy, and fiddling with a stubborn one may cause the truck on the other end of the car to derail without you noticing it. Of course, you notice it when you run the train and hear the telltale sound of wheels being dragged across the ties.

I'm investigating whether they can be replaced by Kato's non-magnetic knuckle style coupler, which are much easier to couple and de-couple.

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