This B-B road switcher was a ubiquitous sight on American rails beginning in the 1950s as American Locomotive (Alco) captured 40% of the diesel locomotive market.
The Alco RS3 was the builder's pinnacle in its early road switcher designs. While the American Locomotive Company would have some success in later Road Switcher (RS) series models, like the RS11 and RSD5, nothing would compare to the amazing success of the RS3. When it was released Alco had already cataloged two previous versions, the RS1 and RS2, both of which had seen modest success as the first true road-switchers ever produced. Unfortunately, overall the Schenectady manufacturer had considerable trouble seriously competing with Electro-Motive whose cab designs were far outpacing anything in its catalog. In any event, the RS3 would go on to be the most commonly seen Alco model across the country and remained in the company's catalog for more than six years. Today, numerous examples of this locomotive remain preserved, several of which are still operational.
The Alco RS3 entered production in 1950 replacing its predecessor the RS2. The new model produced slightly more horsepower than the earlier design at 1,600 hp using Alco's commonly problematic 12-cylinder, model 244 prime mover. From a visual standpoint the RS3 looked almost identical to the RS2. Both had much improved styling over the RS1 albeit it was quite subtle with heavy beveling to corners and edges giving the unit a much more streamlined appearance (because of its good looks some railroads elected to employ theirs in passenger/commuter service). Instantly beloved by railroads for its versatility and reliability, RS3s began rolling out of Alco's Schenectady shops in the masses.
Perhaps more than any other locomotive the RS3 defined Alco as a locomotive manufacturer offering eye-appealing, classy designs with their trademark belching black smoke. While the RS1 and RS2 had sold relatively well perhaps it was the RS3's extra 100 horsepower over its predecessor that really appealed to railroads. While the model 244 proved generally reliable and rugged in its smaller switcher and light road switcher designs (like the RS3) the prime mover simply not been properly researched and developed for heavy-haul use. As such, the FA and PA models in production at the time experienced significant mechanical issues. This allowed Electro-Motive to gain a notable edge and these problems ultimately resulted in Alco's exit from the market.
Interestingly, a year prior to the RS3's release EMD was finally cataloging a competitor, the GP7. Unfortunately for EMD their initial design, the BL2, proved unsuccessful although the industry leader quickly learned from their mistake. The model used the same road switcher design setup pioneered by Alco in its 1941 RS1 with a long trailing hood, offset cab, and short front hood. Both as the time as well as from a historical stance the RS3 has been deemed an incredible success for Alco. However, had the builder acquired the reputation of EMD it may have sold even more. The GP7 went on to sell more than 2,700 examples before its production run ended in 1954 and its successor, the GP9, was even more successful.
When the RS3 was produced Alco was still working in conjunction with General Electric and Westinghouse to supply internal components for its locomotives. As such the model contained air brakes and compressors from the latter while the former provided its model 752 traction motors that gave the RS3 around 60,000 pounds of initial tractive effort (more than 2,000 more than the RS2). The model weighed around 114.5 tons, was 55 feet/5 inches in length and equipped with dynamic braking. This latter ability allowed railroads to use the RS3 in heavy-haul service, such as moving coal drags up steep grades and many did not shy away from doing so; for instance the Reading, Lehigh Valley, Louisville & Nashville, Southern and others beat theirs to pieces in this capacity.
It was the model's ability to take this abuse regularly and continue operating on a daily basis that so endeared them to railroads and resulted in many returning to Alco for more. It's a shame that the company could not have produced other locomotives that emulated the success of the RS3. By the time production ended in 1956 Alco would sell more than 1,300 and even today you can still find these venerable locomotives operating on short lines and tourist trains all across the country. Most interesting is that when Alco introduced its RS line in 1941and found success with a locomotive that could be used in multiple roles EMD was convinced to begin manufacturing its own line of road switcher that would eventually help put Alco out of business one day.*
Athearn packs this model in a yellow and blue Ready To Roll end-opening carton with a cellophane viewing window. Inside the model is securely packed inside a form-fitted interlocking plastic cradle that envelopes the engine. The cradle is in turn held inside a plastic sleeve. Delicate parts such as the hand railings are protected by foam inserts. Finally, the model is protected from scuffing by thin plastic sheet. Athearn includes a parts diagram.
After releasing the RS-3 from the protective cradle, the first things that I noticed are the sharp painting and the individually attached parts: grab irons; horn; radiator fan; headlight; exhaust stack, to name a few.
ROADNAME SPECIFIC DETAILS: Interstate
• Filet flat pilot
• Twin outside bezel headlight
• Crosswise exhaust stack
• Leslie Tyfon A-200 Air Horn
• Fuel tank extension
• Fully assembled and ready-to-run
• See through etched metal radiator fan
• Metal grabirons
• Fine scale handrails molded in engineering plastic
• Frame mounted bell
• McHenry scale knuckle spring couplers
• DCC ready
• Minimum radius: 18"
• Highly-detailed, injection molded body
• Painted and printed for realistic decoration
• See through cab windows
• Bi-directional constant lighting so headlight brightness remains consistent
• All-wheel drive with precision gears for smooth and quiet operation
• All-wheel electrical pickup
• 5-pole skew wound motor with flywheels and multi-link drivetrain for trouble-free operation
• Wheels with RP25 contours operate on Code 75, 83, and 100 rail
• Interior plastic blister safely holds the model for convenient storage
The model has a metal frame for weight and an injection body. The cab is mounted separately, as are battery boxes and other superstructure components. Knuckle couplers equip the model. It boasts bi-directional constant lighting.
Molding is of good quality with good detail. Hinges for the hood doors are not razor sharp yet they are not blobs of plastic, either. The trucks are well detailed.
One of the windows shows a bit of excess glue.
Athearn's IRR RS-3 looks good and I think it makes a fine IRR ALCo out of the box. Athearn put effort into customizing this model to match the prototypes. But without expensive tooling for multiple hoods and bodies, some compromises were made.
Plenty! Individually applied grab irons. An etched fan under a metal grille. Brake cylinders on the trucks. Piping on the fuel tank. Interstate-specific lights. Look at those wire loops atop the hoods!
Ready To Roll is Athearn's basic line of models so compromise between price and detail is to be expected. No MU nor air hose is provided. if they were, they would be mounted - uncommonly - above the coupler on the end platform handrail posts.
Overall, I am impressed with this RTR model.
nitpicky rivet counting (if you care)
Focused Interstate RR modelers may note some departures from the prototype RS-3s with the striking livery of that small railroad hidden away deep in the Appalachians. Interstate RS-3 numbers 30-36 were built new and painted at the factory in November, 1953, to 'Phase 3' standards; No's 38 and 39 were built in January 1956. Each unit sported a dynamic brake vent on the top of the short hood. This model lacks that but is molded with the long flat dynamic vent on the long hood. Detail Associates' PRR "Hammerhead" vent can represent the IRR vent.
RS-3 No.37 was the Alco demonstrator, built in 1952, repainted and upgraded by IRR. Sources state that the top color was "cream", not white. A photograph of No.37 and a sister shows the color darker than the sister's.
IRR RS-3s also had two vertical vents on each side of the long hood. These can be cutout with knives and files and aftermarket parts.
paint and markings
Athearn's paint is sharp, opaque, and does not hide detail. It effectively represents IRR's "orangesicle" livery. Printing is high quality, sharp and legible. Athearn even painted the rubber weather gaskets around the windows.
As note above, No.37 had a different upper color that Athearn did not replicate. Modelers who can not sleep at night knowing this can probably mix up a creamy translucent filter to apply to this model.
Athearn's RTR RS-3 is a good looking model. Even if they did not bump up the cost per model by cutting molds for specific hoods for small railroads, they created a passable model by adding particular details. The wire grabs look great. Painting is top notch.
I am very happy with my RS-3 and believe it should please all but the die-hard IRR modelers. With that in mind, I recommend the model.
We thank Athearn for providing this model for review! Please tell Athearn and retailers that you read about this model here - on
* Bernard, Marty, and Adam Burns. "The Alco RS3." American-Rails
. American-Rails.com, 10 July 2014. Web. 18 July 2014. [http://www.american-rails.com/alco-rs3.html]