Nothing is more important to any train than the locomotive. No locomotive, no train! Aside from being the key part of your z scale railroad, the locomotive is one of the more interesting aspects of the hobby. Car after car may go by but your focus is on the locomotive. Finally, the type of locomotive you prefer will have an impact on your layout, especially on radius of the turns. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the locomotives available. If you missed part one on controllers, please check it out here.
One of the most iconic locomotives has to be the Marklin 0-6-0 that was introduced in so many starter sets in 1972. These little locomotives are still around and you can find them on ebay used for around $50. These little guys are still a great choice for small radius layouts, like 120mm or even less they did just fine. So if you are modeling a small European railroad with tight curves these little locomotives do well. But for the purposes of this series, we are focusing on US prototypes. which brings up one of the problems in my opinion with z scale, their simply isn’t enough small z scale switcher locomotives available. Marklin offers several US locomotives including steam locomotives. They have made available 2-8-2, 4-6-2 and 4-6-0 steam locomotives which seem to do ok on a 145mm radius. Their F-7 diesel locomotives also do well on a smaller radius turns. Marklin has recently released E-8/9 units, not sure what the recommended radius is on them, but on larger locomotives, a larger radius makes for smoother operation and looks better. Another very cool Marklin unit is their GG-1 locomotive.
American Z Line, or AZL has really opened up the door to z scale railroading with very nice selection of locomotives. Steam offerings include the Mikado, a real workhorse for many prototype and model railroads alike. But their is also some real high end steam units available, including several versions of a Big Boy and a SP Cab forward, both in brass. Sold out and very hard to come by are the AZL GS-4 units and Challengers. While AZL recommends a 220mm radius on the Mikado, some report running them on 170mm. 195mm seems to be a realistic minimum. As for the bigger locomotives really need 245mm plus.
AZL also offers a wide variety of diesel locomotives as well. Smaller GP38-2 locomotives can be had for under $100 and are billed as entry level locomotive. They really are a great value and can be upgraded to DCC and Micron Art offers a super detail kit if you want to dress them up a little. They do well on a 195mm radius and are available in variety of roads. Other smaller diesel locomotives include GP-7’s and 9’s, and GP30’s. A very nice series of SD70 and SD75 locomotives is also available with more modern diesel power promised this year. The E8/9 units have been an awesome addition to the z scale line up as well.
Micro Trains Line has been offering diesel locomotives for some time. While they have made some very nice SD40-2, GP35, GP9 and F7 units, currently their F7 A&B units are by far the most readily available with a nice variety of road names.
Marklin, AZL and Micro Trains all use different couplers. While AZL & Micro Trains couplers are compatible, Marklin is stands alone so you would have to convert them or use a conversion car to use them with cars and locomotives other than Marklin. We will address couplers a little bit later. In part 3, we will get to your track options in z scale.