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Lego's 2010 Hogwart's Express
on October 1, 2010
**Update December 2011: Lego has delisted this set. Expect prices from third-party retailers to soar.**
I am the nut-job parent that you'll see in some of the other train reviews. I grew up with Lego and returned to it when I had kids. Obviously I am terribly partial to Lego, but I'll give you the best review I can so that you can make the decision that is right for your kids. I do not receive free sets or compensation for my Lego reviews.
It is really hard for me to give a Lego train four stars instead of five, but please hear me out before you ding me. If you have a Harry Potter fan in the house, then this train is wonderful. It has a great set of characters and the train is sufficiently styled like the actual GWR 4900 Class 5972 Olton Hall that you can imagine it steaming towards Hogwarts with Harry, Ron and Draco aboard. Where it falls short is in the use of standard train wheels for the engine, something that Lego did not have to do because they began producing large steam-engine style drivers in 2009 (see sets #10194 and #7597). Yes, this train is easier to build, it does not require as much tinkering, and it should be easier to motorize. But Lego lost an opportunity to make a really fantastic engine. As it is, the wheel trucks simply look odd. I have other qualms with the design, but the wheel issue is why I find myself giving it four stars instead of five. My apologies to die-hard fans of the design.
As for the kids, they don't seem to care about the wheels.
Now for the nuts and bolts. This set includes a locomotive, tender and austere coach. It does not include track or a motor. This is the fourth Hogwart's Express from Lego (earlier sets being 4708, 4758, 10132); I think this new one does a better job of using sloped bricks. The set includes Harry, Ron, Ginny, Luna and Draco, two owls, a cat, a trunk, sweets trolly and a very nicely rendered enchanted Ford Anglia from "The Chamber of Secrets." The coach lacks doors but it has an easy-lift off top for positioning mini-figures. The top of the tender is hinged allowing it to be used as a secret compartment. The train is fairly easy to build, though five and six year olds may require some assistance.
Parents, be sure to buy track. As of early 2011, Lego discontinued their standard track pack, #7896. Two such sets gave you an oval. 7896 is still available but often at outrageous prices. In place of 7896, Lego currently offers a flex-track pack (#8867, which is enough to make a circle) and a combination straight and flex pack (#7499). I don't believe the flex track is ideal for curves, but it is not clear what Lego's plan is at the moment. There are also switches available (set #7895). In a pinch, you can use the train without track; Lego's directions allow you to lock the swiveling bogies in place. But track makes a big difference in the play experience.
You do not have to motorize it right off the bat (my kids enjoy push trains as well as motorized ones). But if you do, the set should be fairly straightforward to motorize with Power Function components, probably with a motor under the firebox, a battery in the tender, and an infrared receiver somewhere in between. Power Function (PF) components are available directly from Lego. You will want to purchase: 88002 (motor), 8884 (IR receiver), 8879 (IR transmitter), and one of the following:
-8878 (rechargeable battery) with 8887 (transformer for recharging)
-88000 (AAA battery box).
Lego trains prior to 2007 used an electrified 9 volt track. This system has been discontinued. If you are just starting out with Lego trains, you are best going with the current system (Power Functions) since 9 volt parts and track have become scarce.
If you are not sure about whether you want to invest in a Lego train and want more information, I recommend looking for Lego train videos on Youtube. It is often hard to find Lego trains in stores and even then, you don't get to see them running or handled.