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Athearn RTR RS3

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  • Member since
    February, 2018
  • 106 posts
Athearn RTR RS3
Posted by OldEngineman on Thursday, October 11, 2018 8:27 PM

I was considering buying a new-old-stock Athearn RTR RS3 from the 2007 production run.

Are these to be avoided? I've read mixed reviews on the RTR RS3. Some good reports, others not-so-good.

Can they be upgraded with parts from a later run?


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Posted by 7j43k on Thursday, October 11, 2018 8:33 PM

I can't help with info on ones from 2007, but I got all three of the SP&S ones from a couple of years ago.  I put decoders in them.  They run beautifully.  A guy thought they were brass.  They DO look good.  Only complaint is that they're generic.

Also, I have no idea about any changes over time that Athearn may have done.



  • Member since
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  • From: Northeast OH
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Posted by tstage on Thursday, October 11, 2018 9:51 PM

I purchased a Athearn RS3 when it first came out.  While it's a very nice looking unit, mine ran poorly.  I also wasn't particularly impressed with the wiring (all black) and the use of grain 'o wheat incandescent bulbs for the front & rear headlights, which were glued in. Tongue Tied

Needless to say, I wouldn't recommend them and would choose the Atlas RS3 instead.  I have both a Silver & Gold version and they are terrific runners.


Time...It marches on...without ever turning around to see if anyone is even keeping in step.

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Posted by CNCharlie on Thursday, October 11, 2018 10:54 PM

I bought one of those 'new old stock' RS3s a year ago. I put in a TCS decoder and have to say it is a very smooth running loco that just creeps on step 1. Mine has some road specific details ( CNR). I am very happy with it.

CN Charlie

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  • From: OH
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Posted by BRAKIE on Friday, October 12, 2018 12:31 AM

I agree with Tom,go with the Atlas RS-3.




“Shut one’s eyes tight or open one’s arms wide, either way, one’s a fool.” Flemeth-the witch of the Wilds.
  • Member since
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  • From: Pittsburgh, PA
  • 405 posts
Posted by ctyclsscs on Friday, October 12, 2018 7:12 AM

I'm not an expert on engine performance, so I'll just say that the older Athearn units I had suffered from cracked axle gears. They ran fine after replacing them, but they still don't run as smoothly as the Atlas RS-3s I have. But I think the handrails and some details on the Athearn units seem a little finer then on the Atlas ones.


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  • From: Massachusetts
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Posted by Paul3 on Friday, October 12, 2018 12:06 PM

Here's the deal: Athearn RTR RS-3's look better.  They are much more accuate in appearance, with single bulb or twin sealed beam headlights, crosswise or lengthwise exhaust stack, 2 kinds of steam gen. or no steam gen., the correct horns per prototype, different fuel/water tanks per prototype, different radio antennas, finer handrails, different pilots, etc.  The downside is that they are more fragile.

OTOH, the Athearn RTR's can have drive problems.  The biggest one is that they suffer from cracked axle gears and generally need to be replaced at some point (easy to do).  They also use the old Athearn motor instead of a modern can, so alignment issues can cause them to grind.  This, too, can be fixed, but it's a little finicky. 

The Atlas RS-3's run better.  They have the Kato clone drive and thus are very smooth runners.  They are heavier and so pull more cars.  They never suffer cracked gears, and the motors are top notch and perfectly aligned.

OTOH, Atlas RS-3's have some pretty obvious dimensional problems, with the long and short hoods being the wrong lengths.  They only offer it with the twin sealed beam headlights that are not positioned on the ends correctly, and this can mess up some paint schemes.  They only offer it with one kind of air horn and no steam gen.  On the newest models, they have redone the stack so it can be either crosswise or lengthwise but older ones have a pyramid shaped crosswise stack.  The upside is that they are more robust.

The conclusion is that for looks, buy Athearn.  For performance, buy Atlas.  Not to say that Athearn RS-3's can't be made to run really well, and not to say that Atlas RS-3's can't be made to look better.  It just depends on your interests and skill set.

Athearn RS-3's are not "generic" as they have a lot of custom options in regards to stacks, steam gen., horns, tanks, and other details that makes them more prototypical.  The Atlas RS-3's are truly generic with only the latest runs offering the two kinds of stacks and that's it.

All the wiring in Athearn and Atlas are all black.  Future runs of Athearn RTR RS-3's will be LED's.

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Posted by BigDaddy on Friday, October 12, 2018 12:09 PM

I thing the arrival of Bowser's RS-3's has been pushed back to next summer, because of China problems.


COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

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Posted by 7j43k on Friday, October 12, 2018 5:00 PM

But the Athearn RS-3 IS generic in that they have only the little bitty side mount number boards, while all the RS-3's that SP&S bought had the big top-mounted angle number boards.  And changing from the former to the latter on a decorated model is not-fun.

It appears Bowser will be solving that problem for me.  As did OMI, previously.



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