Micro-Trains Line 40-Foot Icebreaker Boxcar

Published: 2021-06-18 - By: CNW400
Last updated on: 2021-06-18
visibility: Public - Headline
In December 2020, Micro-Trains Line added another entry into the unique and oft-ignored icebreaker equipment family. Unknown to the casual model railroader and overlooked by modern hobby manufactures - the ‘clearance car’ is sure to turn some heads when featured on your layout. Its towering steel beams and sheets of horizontal metal mounted up high above your rolling stock will intrigue the curiosity seeker.

Road Names and Pricing

The Micro-Trains Line collection of icebreaker cars include:
  • Baltimore & Ohio 055 00 550 Open 2-Bay Hopper #IB-12
  • Canadian Pacific 024 44 460 40-Foot PS-1 Boxcar #410009
  • Canadian Pacific 073 00 270 40-Foot PS-1 Boxcar #410010
My review includes observations of Canadian Pacific boxcar #410009. This boxcar comes factory weathered and decorated with graffiti. The suggested retail price for this model is $32.95.

The other two Micro-Trains models were previously released and do not arrive from the factory weathered or with applied graffiti.

Prototype History

Looking more like a medieval weapon than a piece of maintenance equipment, the icebreaker or clearance car was designed to clear icicles and overhanging snow from tunnels and bridges along their routes. The need for ice and snow to be removed was many and varied. Railroads in the colder regions that sported dome passenger coach cars needed the ice cleared before causing damage to the ‘bubble’ of glass. Eastern and northern lines designed icebreakers to prevent damage to auto-racks and high-cube boxcars. Also accumulating ice and snow had to be removed before causing havoc to locomotive windshields and cabins. As one unnamed retired engineer stated in a Model Railroader Magazine article, “We laid on the floor and hoped it didn’t smash the front windows”.

Each rail line had their own way to manage these frozen obstacles. Some examples include the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific equipping their diesel units with breaker bars mounted atop the locomotive roof. These engines serviced such areas as the Donner Pass, Sierra Nevada and Shasta Routes.

The B&O (Baltimore & Ohio) company shops converted open two-bay hoppers with reinforced steel beams mounted to each end of the car. The PRR (Pennsylvania) resigned open four-bay hoppers, while WM (Western Maryland) utilized older 40-foot boxcars whose steel icebreaker-beams reached 18 feet above the ground. The WM removed the roof and 2/3 of the side panels to create a gondola-bulkhead shape. In order to keep the converted boxcar stable during its run, 93,000 pounds of limestone ballast was loaded onto the car. The railroads attention to icicles became more heightened for freight during the early 1960’s when tri-level auto-racks were pressed into service.

B&O 2-Bay Icebreaker Car - Model released in 2019 by MTL - Image Courtesy of Micro-Trains Line

Supposedly GN (Great Northern) fit some caboose cars with breaker bars on freight train consist as a preventive measure for their passenger service and opposite direction running freight engines. And lastly of course, section and road crews handled ice and snow issues.

The subject of this review, Canadian Pacific (CP), initially mounted icebreaker bars on the locomotive power hauling ‘The Canadian’ passenger train from Toronto, Ontario to Vancouver, British Columbia. In 1984, the CP modified five 40’6” standard boxcars into icebreaker cars with large vertical frames to remove hanging ice and snow. The five boxcars were originally built between 1949-1953 and were renumbered 410005-410010. The Canadian Pacific again converted five more 40’6” boxcars in 1988. These cars were built during the years 1957-1961 and were renumbered 410011-410015. These boxcars are placed in front of freight cars with high lading, such as auto-racks and lumber center-beams, to protect the loads from damage. It was reported that CP resigned a series of these boxcars around 1993 with larger clearing devices to handle the enlarged heights needed to protect double-stack container loads.

These icebreaker boxcars are usually assigned to duty during the fall thru spring months and are parked during the summer either at Revelstoke, British Columbia or Calgary, Alberta.

The Model

The boxcar comes packaged in a clear plastic jewel case with a slip-off cover and a thick foam bed to cushion the model and loose parts. The icebreaker assembly is laser cut and comes uninstalled and unpainted. It is recommended to paint these parts before assembly - the prototype icebreaker panels are painted yellow as a radiant warning that a hazard is approaching. Also included is an instruction sheet explaining the construction of the icebreaker beams. The model information is clearly labeled on the end of the case for ease to locate when in storage.

Weathered PS-1 Boxcar Shipped with Foam Cushion

The factory weathering is exquisitely applied and consistent along the entire injection molded plastic model. The weathered model exudes the feel of a grimy, rusty old soul that is neglected and designated to a hard-life on the rails. I was impressed with the attention given to the battered panel roof and the side panel lines. I particularly admired the ‘ghosting’ effect of the old Canadian Pacific Railway lettering visible on the graffiti side of the boxcar - this effect is present on the ‘real’ #410009.

Complete Contents Include Laser Cut Detail Parts and Instruction Guide

The brown boxcar is stenciled in white with the CP Rail reporting mark. The Canadian Pacific Railway referred to its rail operations as CP Rail from 1968 to 1996. As part of a corporate reorganization in 1968, each operation (rail, air, express, telecommunications, real estate) of the company was split-off into a separate subsidiary. In 1971, the parent company name was changed to Canadian Pacific Limited with the motto “To the Four Corners of the World.” At this time the famous Canadian Pacific Beaver logo was abandoned and the Multimark logo was used between 1968 and 1987. The Multimark (affectionately called ‘Pac-Man’) was to represent a diamond in the center of the world when placed adjacent to a mirrored logo. In 1996, coinciding with the move to their new headquarters in Calgary, the rail operations changed its name back to the former Canadian Pacific Railway.

Factory Applied Weathering and Graffiti - Notice ‘Ghost’ Road Marking from CPR

Each side features an operating 6’ Youngstown single sliding door with low tack board, the proper PS-1 10-panel side configuration, stirrup steps (which are finely designed and proportionate for N-scale) and two molded half-ladders. The sides also feature yellow Conspicuity stripes. The yellow Conspicuity stripes are situated on rolling stock to reflect the headlights of a vehicle. All railroads have adopted the practice of applying reflective stripes to their equipment. The ARR mandated that all in service rail cars have reflective markings by January 1,2014. Lastly, for those that appreciate the art of graffiti, one of the sides has been colorfully ‘bombed’ in bubble letters and ‘tagged’ Freezer Burn!

Operating Sliding Door and Conspicuity Stripes

Now here’s were some complaints have been thrown at Micro-Trains. First, I have read several posts criticizing MTL’s choice of boxcar. Apparently the PS-1 model used by Micro-Trains does not have the correct dimensions when compared to the prototype rail cars - a variant of a 1944 AAR boxcar is supposedly the proper piece of equipment. I admit I am not knowledgeable enough to discern such minute details - but a side-by-side comparison of the MTL model and prototype boxcars are very similar. A subtle difference I noticed is the prototype has two grab-irons on the left end of the side panels and a half ladder on the right. The model has half-ladders at both side corners. I believe MTL selected a model already in their collection that matched ‘close-enough’ to the real prototype and chose to use a generic model with common features over worrying about nit-picking accuracy.

Secondly, there has been some noise about the thickness and realism of the icebreaker parts. Yes, the icebreaker supports do appear to be a tad large in proportion for the model - but it is N-SCALE! The general public is more concerned about these pieces not breaking or becoming lost than a millimeter of realistic model railroading. Those modelers that have voiced their displeasure over the quality of these detail parts probably have the know-how and skills to create their own desired results.

Icebreaker Detail Parts That Require Painting and Assembly

Both ends feature two molded half-height ladders, a high-mounted tack board and prototype incorrect 4/5 Improved Dreadnaught ends (prototypes have a 4/4 configuration). A separately applied low-mounted brake wheel is located on one end, which is NOT in the same placement as the prototype image. The prototype images have the brake wheel mounted high with a full height ladder - another discrepancy for those desiring a prototypical correct car. Extra fine etched metal walkover platforms are applied. The lettering is neat and in proper arrangement with the road marker & road number located at the top right corner of each end.

Car End with Non-Prototypical Dreadnaught End and Ladders - Nice Metal Etched Walkover

Another distinguishing trait of the PS-1 boxcar was the ‘Bow-Tie’ roof panel. The PS-1 roof panel sections were wider at the outside and become narrower at the roof peak creating the illusion of a bow-tie configuration. The icebreaker model is fitted with the proper PS-1 slanted-diagonal roof panel design with no roofwalk. Running boards were not mandatory on new equipment built after 1966 with a target date of 1974 to have running boards removed from all rolling stock. The deadline was extended to 1983 to allow removal during normal maintenance cycles. Finally, the impressive work on the weathered panels is tarnished with the display of a production mark right smack in the middle of the roof. I assume this mark is part of the injection process for older tooling molds and hidden by the roofwalk in the past. Now that modern rolling stock does not have running boards, these production flaws are becoming more and more exposed.

Steel Panel Roof with Bow-Tie Pattern - Note Production ‘Dot’ in Center of Roof

The underside is painted black and has all the basic molded details such as the brake cylinder, braking system components, stringers and cross bearers. The boxcar rides along Bettendorf trucks and black plastic wheels - metal wheels would be nice for $33. Furthermore, the icebreaker is fitted with body-mounted Magne-Matic© couplers.

Highly Detailed Underside with Plastic Wheels and Body-Mounted Couplers

The car is 3 1/8 inches in length and weighs 0.6 ounces (with and without icebreaker parts), which is extremely light according to the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) recommendations (1.0 ounce for this size car). I have several Micro-Trains PS-1 boxcars running on my Kato Unitrack layout and never have had any operating issues. My only operating complaint with this series is the sliding doors open too easily and always seem to wiggle themselves ajar.

In short, another fine release by Micro-Trains Line. A whimsical ‘twist’ of an old classic boxcar design - a tasteful and realistic weathering application with flashy graffiti artwork. I especially appreciated the ‘ghosting’ effect from the original paint job. I also applaud the recent attention to the obscure pieces of rail equipment - as such the icebreaker car and scale test car (which I also reviewed January 2021).


What could have been done better? For those demanding the highest degree of prototypical model railroading - yes it appears a non-prototypical boxcar was selected by MTL. But I think it is “close enough” for most of the model community and I don’t believe Micro-Trains (or many other companies) have the resources to invest in a complete retooling for a unique one-off project. That’s why I also understand the presence of the production mark on the roof panel - it’s still an eyesore if I am giving an honest review. I would have liked to seen metal wheels furnished - but on the other hand the body mounted couplers and metal crossover platforms are nice touches.

The 40-foot icebreaker is what you expect from Micro-Trains Line - a high quality product that needs no adjustment for smooth-running performance. The weathered boxcar will be an attention grabber with or without the icebreaker detail parts affixed as it travels to the four corners of your layout.

About the Author

CNW400 became enamored with trains while watching the ‘Green & Yellow’ double-decker cars clad with shiny green windows (C&NW) rumble by his childhood house in Chicago. His first train set was the Tyco Bicentennial model in 1976. Furthermore, he is also a collector of railroadiana focusing on lanterns, locks & keys and insulators.