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An Excellent Lionel Experience (can use some more tracks though)
on December 19, 2011
This is our second Lionel Train set (our first dates back to 1997 -The Santa Fe set, from back when these things still said "Made in America")
Some of the differences are notable:
The Engine is very nice, similar to our Santa Fe engine - all metal, heavy in the hands - feels very solid (which is why you get an O-gauge set in the first place in my opinion - This is probably the first electric toy a kid will get that (if properly cared for) will last long enough to be passed down to their kids - Wheel configuration is 0-8-0, meaning no front or back guide wheels, just 8 powered wheels in the center. As a plus it has someone driving the train inside! and another odd-plus is a working-coupler in the front (you kids who watched "Thomas The Tank Engine" on TV will know what to do with this part!)
The Coal-Car has the same whistle mechanism as our much louder Santa-Fe, and it sounds when you hit the whistle button on the controller and, yes it does whistle, but at a low, kind of far-away tone.
There is a 3-dome tanker car - again, nice feel to it - looks really great with authentic looking markings and steel wire wrap-around -seems very solid.
A very nice Box car - w/ sliding doors -compares favorably with our circa 1997 boxcar, feels a bit more solid even.
Caboose - More solid than our older caboose, with a better light/connecting wheel beneath - stays lit with a steady light as it goes around the track.
The Track: FasTrack is almost a revelation for people who were used to the older 0-27 and 0-36 all metal track. Note: It does take some considerable force to connect it, so your kids might need some help with this part. On the plus side it works great on floors and carpets and it looks authentic with a gravel track-bed. On the minus side, it is a bit harder to connect and I found it to be noisier than our other 100+ year old track design (O-36 - the number means the size of the circle in inches that you can make when only using the round sections.
Also note - You may want to consider ordering some extra track sections. This set doesn't come with an X-Cross-over and only has 4 total straight sections (1 is the powered FasTrack terminal section) - Amazon and affiliates have it for $6.75 + tax and/or s/h per section, but 2 of our local hobby shops in Queens have them for $4 each (TIP: Shop locally for the tracks!) - The included sections only allow for a rather small 40" x 60" layout, which might not be enough to make it around the Christmas tree AND accommodate presents.
Nice touches: 1 billboard and 10 telephone poles (TIP: use Fun-tak to adhere these to the floor for non-permanent Christmas-tree type setups or they will be falling down all over the place)
0.5 Fl Oz of smoke fluid is included. (Hobby shops have a big 4-6 oz bottle for about $6 each when this runs dry) - go very light on this stuff as it can flood the engine - Use 1-4 drops at a time.
The controller is where this set really comes together - It feels much better than the older one and the connections are very high quality. The train can run at full speed (which would cause a de-railment on our older set) which will is certain to delight young and old alike.
One bummer - the button on the controller for the bell needs an extra car with a bell function in order to work. (Mommy, Daddy, can we get one? Please!?)
Also: Our older set had more extras (and it also cost more) like a working log roller, button-operated de-coupler, and a working crossing gate. These things and others can be added to this set, but again, for the money ($137 as of mid-Dec. 2011) this is a *realy* good deal.
So to sum up: Excellent build quality, high speed fun with nice touches for a bargain price. Some adult help to assemble is advised (go easy on that smoke fluid! -tell 'em only 2-4 drops per hour) - Get More track - as 40"x60" sounds big but is pretty small for a train of this caliber - from a local hobby shop @ $4 per/track (and maybe an accessory or two) -and you will make this a full 5-star experience!