Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Scale Trains Crude Oil Tank Car - Review & Comparison of the Rivet Counter & Operator Series

End detail comparison between the Operator version (left) and the Rivet Counter version (right). 

Okay, time to get back to something more relevant to my primary focus for this blog (well, in theory anyhow) – model railroading.

Tonight I thought I’d take a look at some of the differences between the Scale Trains Operator and Rivet Counter lines which offer differing levels of detail for their “crude oil tank car” model.

The Prototype

The advent of easy to reach light sweet crude oil in the Bakken formation extending over much of the United States and Canadian prairies spurned a boom in the need to move this oil to refineries. Whereas pipelines offer greater capacity, they are stubbornly fixed in place, while railcars can be routed anywhere on the North American rail network. This is particularly beneficial to refineries beyond the reach of pipelines, such as those near the Pacific or Atlantic coasts (many pipelines tend to run generally north-south). 

While some of this demand could be met by existing equipment, new tankcars were required to handle this boom in oil traffic. Light crude is less dense than some other bulk liquid commodities so capacity could be expanded to just over 31,000 US gallons (30,000 gallons was the previous standard size). An industry-lead move to enhance tankcar safety resulted in the so-called CPC-1232 standard, whose key features over a standard 111A100W1 tankcar include: half-height head shields, fittings protection (in the event of a rollover), and increased tank thickness (9/16” vs previous minimum 7/16”). One builder of this new standard of car is Trinity Industries (the prototype Scale Trains modeled), which produced thousands of CPC-1232’s to meet the oil boom demand.

VMSX 310781 (owned by Valero Marketing & Supply) eastbound at Bayview Jct, ON, on 9 October 2016 with a load of ethanol (UN 1987). This car is the same prototype modeled by Scale Trains.

The Model

As noted previously, two versions of the car are offered: a basic model (“Operator” line) and a more detailed version (“Rivet Counter” line). I could tell you that “the model closely matches prototype dimensions”, but this isn’t Model Railroader. Instead, this post aims to identify some (not all) differences, and comment on the execution of each model. For this review, I acquire one of each version of the car, DPRX 259272 (Operator Line, Deep Rock Refining), and TILX 350417 (Rivet Counter Line, Trinity Industries Leasing fleet).

Side-by-side comparison of the two boxes for the Operator and Rivet Counter lines. It's easy enough to tell the difference from the front, but a difference of colours would make it even easier to tell the two lines apart.

            Operator Version

I think the concept of the Operator line is a brilliant move on Scale Trains’ part, especially for a car such as the crude oil model, which like the prototype is likely to operate in unit train consists. This appeals to someone wishing to run an HO version unit train, which would probably be prohibitively expensive to do with a solid train of Tangent-like quality. The Operator line comes with the same basic details including handrails metal wheels, side ladders, wire handrail stanchions, and most of the graphics. What it lacks compared to the Rivet Counter version includes:
  • Coupler operating levers
  • Double-shelf couplers
  • Rotating roller bearing caps
  • Wire grab irons
  • Placard decals
  • Mesh running boards
  • Thicker head shields (only slightly)
  • Complete brake gear (rods/plumbing)
  • Some graphics (such as “2 inch HF comp shoes” on side sills)
  • AEI tags

Overhead view of Scale Trains' Operator line. Note that this model incorrectly lacks the yellow reflective striping applied to all new cars built after 2005.

This is not to say that this is a “cheap” version in any way – this model still exceeds the quality of some other RTR models, even including some newer Walthers releases (prior to their Proto line). The graphics are still razor sharp, and if desired, the modeler can still add most of the omitted details (e.g. hazmat placard decals, cut levers, air hoses). In fact, I think for the retail price of $22.99 US, this is indeed a bargain, especially considering it’s a new model, not a re-release.

            Rivet Counter Version

Whereas the Operator line is a basic-detail version, I’d say the Rivet Counter line is above par compared to other high-end HO manufacturer’s in terms of details offered and their execution. Several details are noteworthy and not common to many other HO offerings including:
  • Car ID stenciled on truck sideframes
  • Rotating roller bearing caps (Athearn Genesis did have these, but not blue ones)
  • AEI tags on side sills – that’s cool!
  • Full brake gear including rods, levers, and brake hangers
  • Orange dot painted on handbrake chain – how cool is that?!

I’d say that the level of detail in the Rivet Counter line exceeds any other modern HO tank car previously offered, including the Athearn Genesis modern LPG tank car which is also a highly detailed model. Retail price for the Rivet Counter line is $38.99 (US).

Side view of the Rivet Counter model. Check out all the wire details - brake gear, grab irons, handrails, as well as coupler cut levers and double-shelf couplers.

General Comments

While Scale Trains did go above and beyond in some of their details, there was one gaff of note: some cars did not come with the yellow reflective conspicuity stripes. These stripes were made mandatory on new equipment starting in 2005, long before these CPC-1232 cars hit the rails. First built in 2012, all CPC-1232’s are equipped with the stripes; I believe the omission of stripes from some models was an erroneous effort to make the model applicable to modelers who want to depict the pre-stripe era.

Overhead view of the two models - not much different from this angle as the basic tank shell casting and fittings and manway cover appear to be the same between the two models. 

Both lines come with well-designed packaging that includes a soft plastic sheet to prevent scuffs from plastic packaging shell (the manufacturers finally seem to have made this somewhat-standard on new models). The colour scheme and product numbering scheme for the two lines is similar, at first glance it’s difficult to tell which line is which. Personally I think two different colours would be a better way to differentiate the two lines, but it’s easy enough to do when looking at the front of the boxes.

A comparison of the ends of the two models illustrates the differences including: couplers, grab irons, graphics (stenciling on had shield and placard decal), roller bearing caps, and air hoses.

From above, the thinner head shield on the Rivet Counter line is obvious, though in my opinion, the head shield on the Operator line is not obstructively or obviously thick. Also note the wire vs cast plastic crossover platforms, and the grab irons on the Rivet Counter model.


This was Scale Trains’ first RTR offering in HO, and being a tank car (with a lot of exposed details), it’s not an easy thing to get right. And that they did – I think the split offering satisfies modelers at both ends of the spectrum, some desiring a few highly detailed models, others a whole train of slightly-less detailed models. The models are well-executed and if this is an indication of things to come from Scale Trains, Atlas, Athearn, Walthers, and others should take note that there is a new, serious, player in the game. I think their recent announcement of a carbon black hopper will only continue the success generated from the Trinity 31,000-gal crude oil tankcar.

'Til next time,


  1. Great review! I've been wondering how significant the differences are, and you highlighted them well. For me the Operator is the level of detail I care about, but it's nice to know there's a step up for those who want that extra detail.

  2. Tank shell thickness on non-insulated CPC-1232's was 1/2". T

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