Every once and a while, a product comes along that is just so cool you’ve got to try it. That was my initial reaction when I found the HO scale Trackmobile by Factory-Direct Trains. This product has since been produced using the same tooling by Broadway Limited.
- MSRP: $79.99 (DC)/ $109.99 (DCC equipped)
- NCE decoder in DCC version, DC version is not DCC ready
- Replacement pickup shoes: $10.00
- Roadnames: Factory, CN, CP, MILW, NS, UP
- 10" min. radius
Prototype Trackmobiles are hybrid road / rail vehicles often found toiling around industries where their versatility can be put to the test. Most are owned by the industries they serve. Part tractor, part locomotive, these little critters are the modern equivalent to the small industrial locomotives built by the likes of Porter, Vulcan, Brookville, General Electric and others throughout the Twentieth Century. Because the Trackmobile can go off-rail, operators can save a lot of time and space avoiding run around moves and the like during switching.
The model is available in DC or DCC decoder equipped versions. The rubber-tires are purely for show, it is a rail-only switcher. For this review, I tested the DCC equipped model.
Paint and Details
The Factory-Direct Trains model captures the look of the prototype very well. The detailing on the body is terrific. Fine plastic handrails and an abundance of roof-top details really make the little model pop.
The Trackmobile is available in several roadnames. While some large railroads do own them, I can't vouch for the authenticity of all of these. For those wanting a more generic paint scheme for a private industry, railroad logos can be easily removed with some decal setting solution and a clean eraser.
The paint on my Canadian National unit is cleanly applied and all of the graphics are crisp and legible even at their small size.
The biggest question with any model, especially one this size is, "How does it run?" I had my concerns that an engine with a short wheelbase like this would have trouble on switch points and frogs. Given its intended industrial role, that would be a big problem.
I am very pleasantly surprised by its operation. This model truly runs as good as it looks. It will negotiate No. 6 turnouts without any problems. It's top speed is about 30 mph, and this thing will crawl. Sustainable slow-speed performance is outstanding.
The Trackmobile will pull 3 to 5 cars on level track, which is about right for the prototype. The 10 inch minimum operating radius should open lots of options for those trying to pack a lot of railroad into the tightest spaces.
The biggest shortcoming on the model is the lack of a second operating coupler. This greatly limits the model’s operating potential since, unlike the prototype, it can’t just spin around on its rubber tires to change directions.
I suspect many will be willing to let their 1:1 scale arms reach into the scene and turn the engine around to compensate. It may also be possible to modify the shell and add a second working coupler.
While it would be a challenge, and undoubtedly would have added greatly to the cost, the model would benefit from working lights. There is very little room inside the shell to make such modifications. Fiber optics may be the best option for adding these aftermarket.
Overall, this is a fantastic little model. With its outstanding detail and unique design, the Trackmobile is sure to get attention on any railroad. While the lack of a second working coupler is a distinct disadvantage compared to other switching locomotive models, the smooth operations and slow-speed running have no peer in anything in this size-bracket. Many modelers will probably simply opt to take the engine "off rails" will a little help from their not-to-scale hands. The engineering involved in producing this model is simply amazing.
Given the size of the model, I would not want to attempt a DCC decoder installation if I didn't have to. If you are even considering DCC control for your model railroad, spend the extra money up front on the decoder-equipped version. I also purchased the recommended replacement pick-up shoe. Although the model should see very light use on my layout, an easy repair option on a delicate model this size is always a sound investment.