My long-latent interest in trains and model trains has recently been rekindled, so I've been exploring the current state of N scale model trains. To paraphrase my recent topic about improving an N scale P42 diesel locomotive to have more realistic lighting, I've been considering a layout modeling the area I travel through during my frequent commutes between New York, NY and Burlington, VT, and along that route, I frequently see Acela express passenger trains speeding past. It stands to reason therefore that I'd be interested in exploring modeling Acela trains. The easy solution would be to buy Bachmann's N scale Acela train set, which includes two locomotives, a cafe car, two passenger cars, and a DCC controller and track. Pretty cool for <$300, right? Not so fast: I was disappointed to learn that neither of the locomotives actually has a motor inside. Instead, because the Acela trains are rarely separated into individual cars, the cafe car is actually the one with the motor, and the locomotives just have a board that reads motor instructions in order to light up headlights and tail lights. It seems that the components of an Acela consist are rarely separated, and that Federal Rail Administrations restrict the cars or engine from being run on main lines separately, but it still seems like a fun project to me to make the locomotives actual locomotives.

Helpfully, Bachmann sells just the locomotives as a two-unit set for $75. Like the cars included in the $300 set, they have DCC lighting boards inside, non-standard couplers to connect to each other or to Acela passenger/cafe cars, but no motors. Far be it from me at this stage in the hobby to consider trying to outfit these cars with motors, gears, and electrical pickups from scratch, so I tried to think what else I might use as a base. Happily, Bachmann also created a model of the Bombardier-Alstom HHP-8, an electric locomotive that Amtrak ordered around the same time as the Acela trains. The Bachmann model has a very similar body to the Acela locomotives, has the exact same wheelbase (spacing between the trucks), has identical structure around the wheels, and even has a DCC decoder built in. Therefore, I wanted to try to use the mechanical and electrical components from an HHP-8 to make one of the Acela locomotives work, and if that succeeded, to do the same to the other one. Happily, possibly because the real HHP-8s have been retired for poorly reliability and high maintenance costs, the N scale HHP-8 can be purchased for under $60.

When I purchased these two, I wasn't sure if I could actually make this work. There was nothing for it but to take the Acela locomotives (Bachmann #81551) and the HHP-8 locomotive (Bachmann #83054) apart and see what I found. The following five photos compare the interiors of the two locomotives, from the size and materials used for the bodies to the very similar PCBs inside each locomotive to the different undercarriage components. The bodies are nearly the same length; the HHP-8 has a steep slope at both ends, while the Acela locomotive has a shallower slope at one end. The HHP-8 has both mechanically and electrically working pantographs, while the Acela locomotive's pantographs don't connect to the board. Speaking of the control PCBs, they appear identical. The Acela locomotive's board is only missing a few passive components no doubt important in motor control, like the two prominent (hand-wound?) coils on the HHP-8's board.

At this point, it looks like I'll need to machine the front of the metal HHP-8 body to slim down the front and remove the protruding metal piece. I currently lack a rotary tool, so I'll need to either resolve that or be very patient with manual tools. I'll probably spend further time examining exactly what will be needed to (1) make the Acela shell fit over the HHP-8 body, (2) make the Acela light pipes line up with the HHP-8 LEDs, (3) replace the original HHP-8 LEDs with brighter ones, (4) fit the Acela undercarriage and couplers on the HHP-8, and (5) make the Acela's pantographs electrically functional. For bonus points, I may try to populate the missing components on the Acela's PCB.

Edit: For the sake of LED-purchasing, the HHP-8 is dropping 2.83V across the white LED, and 1.78V across the red LED. The Acela is the same.
Hi, I was thinking of doing the exact same project. Were you successful?
Rpearlman wrote:
Hi, I was thinking of doing the exact same project. Were you successful?
I'm hoping to start this again in the next few weeks. I actually just got another pair of HHP-8s at a great price ($40 each), and I also finally got the entire consist of a prototypical Acela train. I'll be sure to update this topic as I work on the project, so keep your eye on it!

Edit: Also, if you decide to attempt this yourself, I hope you'll maintain a progress log here!
Can't wait to see your progress Kerm! 🚆🚆🚆
A couple of items of progress. I finally finished collecting a complete prototypical Acela Express train, namely the 2 power cars, 1 first class coach, 1 cafe car, 1 end business class car, and 3 regular business class cars. I also have an additional 4 power cars, 3 first class coaches, and 1 cafe car. I posted pictures of the full train set up on some Atlas Code 55 track here on Cemetech and on Reddit, the latter of which turned out to be a reasonably popular post:

I spent quite a bit of time getting the overhaul to more prototypical operation going. Neither cafe car was working particularly well: one didn't seem to run at all (although the lights lit up), and one had a motor that kept stalling. I swapped the motor from the one that didn't run into the one with the stalling motor, and also swapped a bogie from that cafe car, and now I have one reasonably-well-functioning powered cafe car. It is sufficiently powerful to push and pull the 8-car consist along a level gradient with some struggling. I also snipped a DCC lead and removed the driveshafts and worm gears from the other cafe car, essentially turning it into an unpowered dummy. Finally, I began the serious work of making the powered metal chassis from an HHP-8 locomotive fit under the shell of an Acela Express power car.

Photographs of all that coming soon.

KermMartian wrote:
A couple of items of progress. [...snip...]

This is epic! If/when you finish, could you put up a video? This is really intriguing.
_iPhoenix_ wrote:
This is epic! If/when you finish, could you put up a video? This is really intriguing.
Oh, absolutely; you'd have to try and stop me. Smile

The part that I haven't gotten a chance to post about is my initial attempts to work towards making the locomotive(s) itself/themselves powered. Part of that was to make my Acela cafe cars no longer a source of motive power (in the original N-scale set, as I mentioned, the cafe cars were the source of motive power, rather than the power cars). Since I have two cafe cars, one of which worked poorly and one of which worked very poorly, I combined the parts to make one dummy cafe car with freely rotating wheels and one powered cafe car (in case I want to try running a classic Bachmann Acela train at some point). The following photographs show that process.

The second picture above in particular shows all of the parts inside the stock cafe car, enlarged here for your edification. From top, the shell, the bottom of the chassis with couplers, the light PCB and light distributor, the two halves of the upper chassis with the motor and DCC decoder, and finally the bogies with worm gear assemblies and drive shafts.

With that squared away, I got to modifying the engines themselves. The first image on the left shows pre-modification HHP-8 chassis, with bogies installed; the front of locomotive/power car is to the left. The second image shows modifying the front underside of the Acela power car shell to attach to the HHP-8 chassis. The third and fourth demonstrate the HHP-8 chassis (with its motive power) inside the Acela shell for size testing, to see what I need to change to make it fit better.

Next up, I tried to use the HHP-8 chassis to pull a full Acela train. Unfortunately, this was unsuccessful, and suggested to me that I might want to put traction tires on the HHP-8 chasses inside each power car.

I then resumed modifying the HHP-8 chassis to fit better inside the Acela shell. I cut away parts of the front and front underside of the nose with a Dremel and cutting disks; the following photos show that process. I'm not sure what unhealthy dust I'm generating from this particular metal, but it's sufficiently soft that this isn't actually that bad.

The process has been on hold for quite a few months, but I'm hoping to get back to it soon!
Hey has anything ever come of this? I am interested in doing this myself
Thanks for reminding me! I haven't made as much progress as I should have since I posted this. I did succeed in getting enough Bachmann HHP-8 parts for quite a few of these conversions. I believe my most recent step was to get a nice decoder, Dremel off most of the existing decoder (maintaining the truck contact points), and mount my own decoder in place. I recall having issues with programming the decoder, which is where I think I stopped. One of the big remaining issues is mounting LEDs and figuring out light pipes to reach the existing shell's apertures. I'll do my best to get this thread up to date again soon.
They have lights that will fit in the existing tubes and fit out without much modification. I was honestly thinking of having the acela frames 3d printed and trying to fit a motor in the cavity where the weight was. There's already clearance there and then build the top up for more weight and put a nice loksound decoder with the aem 7 soundfile on board.
Out of what material would you have them printed? If you decide to explore that route, I would love to see some photos (and perhaps a build log, on this forum for example, if you feel like it!). I wasn't pleased with the existing lights; like my P42 mod, for example, I want the two ditch lights to each be an independent LED.
I was thinking of having them printed out of aluminum or steel, and I understand how you feel lol, but considering what we are playing with is a rapidly evolving tech, what you did with what was available was very good and very tricky. Now they have pre resisted .6mm led's available that will fit in the original holes for the lights and basically remove the need for light tubes or fiber optics. I am in the cad stages at the moment but if I get one working I'll definitely post it check those out next time you have a project like that. Just paint the outer edges of the led that aren't going to be facing directly out word and they won't spill over. You could even run them to a plug then to the board so when you separate the shell the wires for the lights don't get in the way, or if you're really creative you could make a ribbon cable on the side of the shell and frame line up so when the shell is on the contacts overlay, and there's no plug to play with
I finally have gotten back to working on this project a few days this fall/winter, so time for few updates from the last two or more years.

In February 2018, I got a decoder (SDN144PS) (as previously mentioned). A few photos of that installation process, just cutting the existing DCC board where it is:

Because I like making life difficult for myself, last December I thought about how I can make the nose removable so I can tuck a coupler underneath, like the prototype. I first experimented with using an X-acto knife to cut the plastic, but it didn't do nearly a neat enough job. I discovered friction cutting: sawing the plastic with thin sewing thread, which generates heat and smoothly cuts through the plastic. I used a spare Acela power car shell to experiment with this, cutting the cab off. There's still a little plastic loss, as far as I can tell, but hopefully it won't be wider than the existing "gap" modeled as an indent in the plastic body. The method of attaching/detaching the nose is for future Kerms to figure out.

In the past month, I picked this up again. It took me a little while to get TI-DCC working again; the latest version appears not to send symmetrical DCC pulses, so I need to submit a bug report to geekboy and/or Iambian and see if we can get it figured out.

When I left off this project, I was struggling with sporadic performance from my prototype power car with the decoder installed, and in the last day, I've managed to figure out what was happening. I suspected that either something was wrong with the power train, or something was wrong with the decoder; it turns out it's a compounding of two factors. The first is that Bachmann's pickups (the method of getting power from the track into the decoder/circuit board) is unreliable: when the train jerks, it appears to sometimes lose connection. I've tried bending the copper contacts down, to no particular avail. I've thought about adding wires, but presumably this isn't done because the movement of the wires as the train rounds curves eventually fatigues the wires and causes them to fail? It may also be because the trucks are designed to be removable, in which case I might consider some sort of socketed wire solution.

The second issue is that the motor performance is extremely jerky at low speed: although Bachmann advertises the HHP-8 locomotive that I've been basing this verison on as having a five-pole, skew-wound armature, the internet says that "it's actually 3-pole and straight-wound" and agrees "When faced with low throttle settings, mine goes all hummy and buzzy on me before grudgingly starting to move [...] the tiny flywheels are pretty useless, as these models tend to start and stop rather abruptly." Therefore, I think I need to consider a different motor, and I'm rapidly getting to the point where a reasonable replacement chassis with a good motor and drivetrain would be a better option: there's decreasingly much left of the HHP-8 now.

I'm not familiar with where to find replacement motors online, and the options I've found are fairly limited. The original motor is 10mm x 12mm x 16mm, with two 1mm shafts. and pressed-on combination flywheels/axle adapters. One option looks to be the motor from Bachmann's newest iteration of the GP-40, which apparently has a proper five-pole motor that "runs whisper quiet and smooth as butter at all throttle settings. Slow speed creep is one-tie-at-a-time." I haven't a clue how large that motor is, though, and if it'll fit in my existing chassis (or work with my existing drivetrain). Other options I've found include the Mashima MHK1015 (close to the right size, axles too large) which would require some sort of adapting, possibly with the help of Geekboy's SLA printer, whatever replacement motor might work from Atlas's parts catalog, or the proper-sized motor from NWSL, which unfortunately appears to only be 3-pole and therefore of dubious smoothness of performance.[/list]

So those are my updates! Fingers crossed that I'll have vague time to work on this going forward, but no promises.
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