Walthers Mainline vs Athearn Roundhouse

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Just wondering your experiences with Walthers Mainline vs Athearn Roundhouse Diesel loco's. Basically which line has the smoothest and quietest drive? Are the axles metal or plastic? Any known issues with the GEVO's? Thanks for any input.


Well-Known Member
I don't have any of their GEVOs, but I do have a couple of the SD70ace locos. They seem to run very well, and the sound is ok. I haven't run them a whole lot, but I'm going to pick up a Citirail when its released. I have no RoundHouse locos, so I'm no help there.
Thanks for the info. I bought two Roundhouse NS AC4400's and I'm not very impressed. I have Athearn Genesis and there is a world of difference...I know price is way different as well. But some companies use the same motor and drive/gears in lower lines as their premium. The 2 Roundhouse are noisy and not smooth at slow speeds. I pulled the factory boards and installed Rail Pro and it took me about 30 seconds to MU the two and try them running together. One ran at a faster speed than the other so I reversed the slower one and made it #2 in the MU and it ran the same speed as the faster one...LOL

I don't have any of their GEVOs, but I do have a couple of the SD70ace locos. They seem to run very well, and the sound is ok. I haven't run them a whole lot, but I'm going to pick up a Citirail when its released. I have no RoundHouse locos, so I'm no help there.
I have 3 of the Mainline SD 70ace and 3 Athearn RTR SD40-2 units. While they are not as detailed as the Genesis models, they run pretty smooth. The sound units do not have all the sound options as the higher dollar models but they work fine for me.

i will say this, out of the box with no speed matching they run as well together (Mainline to Mainline) as anything I’ve seen. I even use one midtrain as a DPU with no issues.

i can say the same for the Athearn RTR units as well.

For the price point, they were a good investment.

Hope this helps you out.


Well-Known Member
Staff member
This is copied from the specifications sheet of the Mainline ES44AC

  • Factory-Installed SoundTraxx(R) sound for DCC and DC layouts
- 16-Bit digital quality sound
- Horn and short horn toot
- Bell
- Prime mover

  • Three lighting functions

  • Same powerful drive as WalthersProto(R) locos featuring:
- Five-pole skew-wound motor
- 14:1 gear ratio
- Helical-cut gears for quiet operation and easy multiple unit operation
- All-wheel drive and electrical pickup
- Dual machined brass flywheels
- Heavy die cast metal chassis
- Constant and directional lights

  • Molded drill starter points for grab irons (sold separately)

  • RP-25 metal wheels

  • Proto MAX(TM) metal knuckle couplers

To me, the most notable advantage these models will have over both of their competition, is the use of the Proto versions motor and driveline, incorporating the latest improvement to that line of all helical cut gears. This should guarantee a very quiet drive with very smooth running, something Proto has been renowned for even before that modification. I can't speak for Athearn's Roundhouse line, but only their Genesis line uses can motors, their other line, Ready to Roll, does not, using a 5 pole open type that has been around since after their Bluebox days. Gears are straight cut and the shafts are the modern hex drive. I would assume the Roundhouse versions to be the same. The Tsunami decoders used in the cheaper versions are reduced function versions, made by Soundtrax to the model makers specs. e.g. Bachmann's Sound Value also. I note that Athearn now say the RTR models are fitted with the newer Econami decoder. It also lacks, like the models being discussed, the Prime mover start-up and shutdown sounds available in both the old Tsunami and the new Tsunami2.
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Well-Known Member
Staff member
I did also find on the Net, a Model Railroader magazine review of the Mainline model, where it said the ditch lghts could be made to flash, but it appears this means they both flash together, but not alternating. You could, with the old Tsunami and presumably the new Tsunami2, reprogram a few CV's to make them alternate flash (I have done this with most of mine, all the first version) because they are wired to 2 function outputs on the decoder. In the case of mine, that involves both F5 and F6 functions.


Whiskey Merchant
I recently purchased a Walters Mainline F-7 A and B unit with DCC and sound. The main reason is that there are very few Northern Pacific road deisels available and these fit the time period I am modeling plus I needed something that could haul a decent size train on the two and a half percent grades on my model railroad club. the paint is crisp and clear and any of the cast on details such as the fans and rivets and excellent. It does not have lit number boards as some of the more upscale model have, but does have an operating mars light.

My home layout is DC only but needless to say, the club is DCC. I am very happy with these units. They do lack some of the details that some more expensive models have, but I can add some of these in the future. I also have a two and a half percent grade on my layout and being that both units are powered. I easily pulled 35 cars up the grade and could probably have added more without the units breaking a sweat.

Here is a short video of the units at the top of the two and a half percent grade.

Even running on DC the control and low speed capabilities are excellent. The prime mover sound is also very good. Can't wait to get it on the club layout.


Active Member
Athearn currently used the Roundhouse brand to re-release old tooling without any upgrades. Most of the old Blue-Box kit tooling has been moved into this branding, with newer stuff in the Ready-To-Run label, and the higher end stuff in Genesis.

So the Roundhouse AC4400 is basically just the same 20 year old Athearn BlueBox engine.
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Section Hand
I have locomotives from both manufactures and I can't fault either brand for the price. I have heard that some of the Mainline locomotives have KATO drives, but can't confirm this fact.

I have Mainline switchers which I installed DCC and they are smooth, slow operating locomotives and I also have several Athearn switchers and they run equally well but lack details that the higher priced locomotives have that are factory installed.

I did buy a C&NW Mainline locomotive with DCC for $59.00 NIB at Walther's during a close out. Great performer.

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Can someone tell me what is the best sound decoder for the Athearn Roundhouse AC4400 locos? I got one so I can model the train in unstoppable. My son loves that movie.

Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
I have heard that some of the Mainline locomotives have KATO drives, but can't confirm this [sic as] fact.
I would seriously doubt that. The "Mainline" series of products are produced as budget or economy level offering. Since they don't use Kato in their premium Proto line, I cannot imagine any reason they would use a premium drive in their economy units.
Both Walters and Athearn offer three product lines. Athearn genesis, and Walthers Proto are the top of the line models, Athearn RTR and Walthers Mainline are the mid range line, while Athearn Roundhouse and Walthers trainline, are the entry level lines, using legacy tooling.

Iron Horseman: I will find a second source to ask about some of the Mainline locomotive having KATO drives. I may even open the C&NW that started this idea of KATO drives to see what I find for a motor and drive. This is a smooth runner and I have several other Mainline locomotives that I installed DCC in and they also run very smooth, but lack the deatil of more expensive locomotives.

I know that I have older Walther's locomotives that with some having either KATO and Roco drives and the are dated back to the late 1980's. I have two switchers, maybe SW1200's (not Premium locomotives, but Walther's did have a relationship with KATO) that have KATO drives and two Milwaukee H10/12's with Roco motors.

I spend too much hanging around the Walther's Showroom where I pick up product details from other customers. Most of these guys are very knowledgeable about locomotives.

I have contacts at Walthers that I can ask these questions about the locomotive drives.


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Iron Horseman: Here's the reply from Walther's to answer my questions regarding KATO or Roco drives.

"None of the Walthers Mainline locomotives came with a KATO motor. The very
early H10-44 Walthers locomotives did have the Roco motor and drive systems.
The SW1200 did not have either a Kato or Roco motor." -Walther's email reply.

I guess I should be happy with Mainline locomotives' performance under DCC.


Iron Horseman

Well-Known Member
I guess I should be happy with Mainline locomotives' performance under DCC.
Kato might have set the bar high back in the day, but many other manufactures have worked toward it such that it isn't that "high" anymore. We have much better operating locomotives today even in the budget range that are much closer than the "budget" trains used to be. It doesn't have to be a Kato to be considered a very good unit anymore.


Well-Known Member
Staff member
Protos have been very smooth runners from when it was a Life-Like brand, some of that due to the higher ratio gearing meaning it takes less effort from the motor and it spins faster for any given speed. Does make them a little harder to speed match with other brands that are lower ratio.

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