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on January 11, 2012
Let me just stay first and foremost that this is a beautiful train and it looks great under the Christmas tree. I grew up with a train under the tree and now that I have my own tree to set up this year, I'd like to keep the tradition going. I must stress that the track that it comes with is Lionel Fastrack and it is the LOUDEST track I've ever heard. Combine hollow rails with hollow plastic underneath and you've got yourself quite a ruckus. I bought this on Amazon just before Christmas (Love Amazon Prime!). I brought it home, set it up, and it looked beautiful. Perfect. Was very excited. But as soon as I ran it for the first time my wife and I looked at each other in disbelief at the noise! So keep this in mind: It's not that the train is loud, it's the track. You've been warned. That's why I knocked off 1 star. Otherwise, this is a 5-star train all the way. But there's hope! Read on.

Now that I've warned you, I'm going to help you. If you really wanna make the most of this train, plan on upgrading the track. Atlas makes a new track called 21st Century track. The great thing about this track is that the rails are SOLID nickle-silver AND the center rail is blacked out to make it less noticeable and look more traditional. The Atlas track is not only MUCH quieter than the Lionel FastTrack but it sounds so much better (more solid and higher quality sounding). They sell a great starter kit on Amazon (O Track Starter Set). It comes with O-36 curves (which will work just fine as it's the same size as the FasTrack included in the Hogwarts kit) but I wanted O-45 curves (bigger circle, more pieces needed - 12pcs vs 8pcs). I actually went to a local train hobby shop (Loose Caboose in Bogota, NJ) and picked up a dozen pieces to make the size circle that I wanted.

Some notable features is the great detail on the engine and cars, the passenger car windows that light up (lots of spare bulbs in the kit), the engine headlamp is nice and bright, it creates smoke when you use the smoke oil, the engine whistle sounds great, and you can run it forward, backwards, or have it sit in neutral to keep it in place but have it still light up. Great for photos!

BOTTOM LINE: This is a really great train but if you want to run it more quietly, especially under a Christmas tree, replace the Lionel Fastrack with Atlas 21st Century track. It really takes this kit to a higher level.

Check out my pictures up top!
review imagereview image
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on December 25, 2012
Updated: 01-30-14
I just wanted to note that last year (2012) this product's smoke system stopped working shortly after the holidays. However, since it ran well, and since we had to return it multiple times prior for other issues upon arrival, we decided to not worry about it and leave the smoking option turned off. Oddly enough, I hear that for some unknown reason, it started working again and proofed wonderfully during this holiday season (2013). I know there are issues with this model's smoking system, so be warned that this might be a problem for you. I hope this review helped.

Original Review:
I recently purchased this Train Set and encountered multiple issues with the product, none of which were Amazon related. The first train set sent to me had a broken smoke unit and had to be sent back (most-likely a manufacturing issue since the smoke stack had chipped paint on it while being perfectly wrapped and cushioned). The Second set sent to me had a broken decorative wire on the outer surface of the engine (most-likely due to delivery since the box was torn and punched in many places). The Third set worked great, but was missing a few small items in the set which I decided was not worth sending it back (once again, a manufacturing issue). I did keep this set since the engine worked well and the passenger car's lights look great at night. I must give Amazon credit since they took care of all the return shipping labels ASAP and increased both of the new sets with one-day shipping each time since this was a gift to be given for the holidays.

Now, as for the train set itself, I own many Lionel trains and thus will compare this set to other "sets" I have boughten over the years, rather then more expensive models. The engine is heavy in quality; however, the smoke unit is poor when compared to many other sets and the decorative wires and feature are extremely fragile (as such, this engine needs to be carefully handled and might not be best for younger children). The Passenger cars look great at night and light up well. However, it would have been nice if they added silhouettes of the children witches and wizards in the windows, but that can be easily resolved with transparent paper and a printer (make them yourself and slide them in the window slots). Sadly, the Passenger Cars do not look as good during daylight. While the engine has nice detail, the passenger cars feel lacking in visual quality, mainly via the color of the roofs since they almost blend in with the window coloration. I know every Harry Potter fan (including my wife and myself) interested in buying a Lionel Set will want this, but if you are more interested in having a heavyweight engine and a beauty Passenger Car set from Amazon, I might ask you to look at the Polar Express Set which I also purchased. In conclusion, the set is nice, but in the world of Lionel Train Sets, there are better options out there if you are not a die-hard fan of the Harry Potter books and films.

Side Note: You can add passenger cars to this set which is a nice feature (I did this). The other passenger cars are just like the ones that come with the original set with the exception to the numbers only. However, the dementor passenger cars are very interesting. They even have silhouettes of the dementors in the windows which really make the cars look sharp. However, the dementor cars continuously flash on and off and really mess with your eyes at night.
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on December 29, 2010
Background: I grew up having a few Tyco HO Scale trains and have always thought train sets in general were fun, but never jumped whole hog into them as a serious hobby. Five years ago we bougth a G scale train for around the tree. Sometime this fall while envisioning what our finished basement would look like, I decided the family room needed to have a ceiling mounted train around its perimeter, and that O-scale was the size to go for. Life is busy so the basement finishing will take a while, but when I saw this train on sale at Amazon for a very reasonable price, I decided it was exactly what I wanted for the ceiling train. At that time there were about 10 reviews and the morning after I ordered, Amazon posted that they were no longer selling due to some vague issues, which another reviewer has already mentioned. My train arrived yesterday and I decided I had better set it up to see what issues I might have with it. I am pleased to report that I have found none. The fast-track is easy to set up and keeps the track flat and together; I had to make a wooden base for our G scale train. The whistle works fine in our set (sounds great), and the puffing smoke is a nice touch although I turned it off since I don't plan on using that feature while the train is in storage awaiting its grand layout. Derailing wasn't much of an issue. Yes, it did come off the track a couple of times during the two hours we tested it today, but I adjusted the tracking on the front wheels after the first derailing. I set up the track in an oval and if I ran it at 100 percent, it would derail--but honestly, that is just way too fast for this small of an oval (in terms of enjoyment). We ran it at 50-60% full throttle, which is an enjoyable speed, and had no issue with derailment. This is an O36 train and so the supplied track radius is a minumum, and when I install my ceiling layout, I will do something more like at O48. Since most derailments happen on the curves, a layout using a quarter turn, then straight, then quarter turn (rounded square with the supplied track) is probably better than the 180% oval layout--but I am only speculating and a real Lionel hobbiest might address that issue better. The train was packaged very well! There is virtually no ability for the engine, etc, to move during shipment, but use care when unpacking. There aren't unpacking instructions; I can envision someone short on patience John-Wayning the stryofoam out from around the engine wheels and damaging the parts. The engine is solid, but there are fine parts as would be expected and a young child could damage some parts depending on what they decide to grab and pull on. Lastly, again as other reviewers have said, silouhettes in the windows of the dining cars would have been nice. But the tops can come off the dining cars and I'm going to using some overhead transparency and a sharpie to make my own. Overall, for me, its a five star train. Exactly what I wanted, nice looking, and I look forward to many years of service. .
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on August 8, 2016
PLEASE READ MY REVIEW BEFORE BUYING. This is a really nice set but only has a air whistle for sound. Lionel is releasing a new upgraded version this October, Same O-Gauge Harry Potter Hogwarts Express Set in Lionchief. The upgraded Lionchief set will have sounds and a wireless remote control. Set number 6-83620
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on January 5, 2015
Definitely like it a lot. Wonderful addition to Christmas mornings. Slightly unimpressed that it takes a lot of effort to align the track and the wheels.
Note to newbies: I bought extra Straight and Curved tracks thinking the ones supplied may not be sufficient. My recommendation is to just first just buy the train set...then set it up where you are planning to use it and visualize what you would do differently if you had the extra tracks before purchasing the extras. Turned out I really didn't need either of the tracks (straight or curved) and if anything, I might end up using the straight ones more than the curved since the kit comes with sufficient curved tracks...the extra curved tracks only ended up messing up the track run. You live and learn.
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on January 9, 2014
Santa Claus put this train under the tree for my eight year old son, and we love it. At first, we tried setting up the track on top of the tree skirt, which is thick and lumpy, so the train would easily derail. After I pulled away the tree skirt and made sure the track was on the hard level surface of the floor, the train worked great. At full power, smoke billowed out the smoke stack and the whistle is a nice effect too. The engine has a bright headlamp and all the boxcars light up, which is really neat. I like the fact this train is loud going around the track. What little boy doesn't like making tons of noise? It makes operating the train more exciting. After New Years, I packed the train back in it's box and put it with the Christmas decorations, but I wouldn't be surprised if we pull it out in July for a little spin around the living room. This is a nice product!
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on January 25, 2013
I was very excited to get this nice looking, detailed train set. I see many excellent reviews for this product. I would have no problem giving this product 5 stars, too bad I can't get one that operates properly.

1st train-everything ran great, but no smoke. 2nd train-smoked well, but ran intermittently(If i stopped train it wouldnt start back up)! Swapped engine/tenders with transformer/tracks with identical symptoms on same engine/tenders. Now I'm on my 3rd set! It runs great. No whistle at full speed and no smoke. Seals broken on package plastic and liquid smoke leaked out with a different cap than other sets. I'm beginning to wonder if they really are new?

Some of the general complaints I've read refer to the train jumping the track at curves and not running smoothly. I didn't have the train derailment issues, however, the train did not run as smoothly as I expected.

I've spoken to 2 different customer service reps from Amazon. Both were very polite, concerned about my issue, and followed up with phone calls, however, I still do not have a working train set! I've got until next Christmas!

UPDATE...

Amazon agreed to refund and pay return shipping for the 3rd defective train. I was originally looking at the Lionel Polar Express train when I unfortunately decided on this train. Both were priced about the same originally. The price had went up considerably on the Polar Express, however, Amazon gave me a credit for the difference. I bought the new train at the beginning of the year(2013) and everything worked perfectly as it should. Fast forward to the end of 2013 to setup for this Christmas. The Polar Express still works perfectly! I setup extra track, upgraded tender, and 2 extra cars(hobo / conductor).

Verdict

Lionel Hogwarts Express Train Set-O Gauge (POOR)major problems with 3 different sets / delicate engine parts that would surely break / little in add ons available for this set
Lionel Polar Express Train Set - O Gauge (EXCELLENT)everything works / seems much more sturdy / many add on available
Amazon Customer Service (OUTSTANDING) Addressed my concern and gave me a most satisfactory solution.

Thanks Amazon!
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on November 26, 2012
I ordered this train just to put around the Christmas tree, but it has exceeded my expectations so much that I'm thinking of expanding the set (I've already bought some extra track and am thinking about buying some other accessories). I picked this particular model for under the tree since we had ridden the Harry Potter train when in Scotland, and this set has lighted cars, smoke, and a good design and color scheme that I liked. I got it for a good price ($250) from Amazon (it is normally a little over $300). It came nicely packaged and every thing about it has worked just exactly as it supposed to. The transformer and locomotive are both heavily built. The Fastrack goes together easily. We were REALLY surprised that it is this nice. Before I bought the train, I saw a few reviews that complained some of the parts are too delicate (especially for young kids). I have two observations: 1) the box says it is intended for children 14 and over; and 2) it IS somewhat of a precision-type toy that is not intended for rough handling. I guess a $500 to $1000+ "more serious" train set might be tougher?? But I am really surprised that a train set of this quality can be made this well for the price. Bottom Line: Assuming that the build-quality and reliability of my train set is representative of most of the Lionel sets that are sold, then I would have no reservation recommending the purchase (even at the $300+ normal price). BUT I would not buy it for younger children, unless they are unusually mature, or will be fairly closely supervised.
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on December 31, 2013
I bought this train for my daughters for Christmas this year. Purchased back in Sept 2013 for a great price of $230.00, but of course I cannot return it since it's past the 30 day window. Next time, I will be smart enough to try out the item and not just hide it in a closet for 3 months until Christmas Day!!

Anyway, the train itself looks great--beautiful. the engine is great--I've read from other model train enthusiasts that this engine/motor is actually very nice for this price point and pulls well (my experience is the same). My unit stays on the track without any problem at all, even at maximum speed. The whistle and directional controls work great.

HOWEVER, this smoke unit is a joke. And, with many hours of research looking into this, no one could really tell me why it didn't work. So, I took the unit apart (4 simple screws) and was able to determine that the plunger for the bellows device was getting stuck. I tried to lubricate and get it to function, and it did briefly until getting stuck again. (For those who don't know, this smoke unit is a heating element--resistor--surrounded by some type of insulating material. You are supposed to add few drops of smoke fluid that soaks into this material and then is vaporized when the train runs. The small bellows underneath is supposed to puff the smoke as the engine's wheels turn. If the bellows does not function, some smoke is created but it does not come up out of the chamber at all.)

Anyway, very frustrating. For those few brief moments when I had beautiful puffing smoke rings, I felt like Clark Griswold when the Christmas lights started working! Really, all it did was make me realize how cheated I was that this train did not smoke all the time as it should!!! If this train smoked as advertised, it would give it 5 1/2 stars!!

Oh, and lastly, the Lionel FasTrack is horrible. There is another review of this train by J. Dash on Jan 11th, 2012. I agree with him fully regarding the FasTrack. Way too loud--really awful and completely detracts from the experience of the train set. I followed his advice and ordered the Atlas O starter pack, and hope for good results there.

Hope this review was helpful. As a final note, yes, I would still buy this train again. I mean, come on, it's the Hogwarts Express!! Just wish Lionel would make a higher quality product.

UPDATE 1/4/14:
Received the Atlas O Starter Set track, and although it does look great and is much quieter than the FasTrack, the train does NOT seem to take the Atlas O curve as well as the Lionel FasTrack curve (even though they're supposed to both be O-36). The engine wobbles back and forth going through the curve and makes a scraping noise. I'm thinking I will try some old school Lionel "O-27" track with a 42 inch curve and see how that works out.
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on January 7, 2012
This is a beautiful train, and the track it comes with is perfect for around the christmas tree. I bought this for my wife, and we've both enjoyed it thoroughly. It came quick, and the engine is clearly a quality build.

Track and engine are beautiful. Track is slightly elevated.

The coal and passenger cars are plastic. They too appear sturdy enough, but certainly not as detailed as the engine. The chord to the control panel is very short. A longer chord would have been much appreciated, so I could place the controls on a table.

After setting the train up, even at very slow speeds, the train would derail on every turn. No matter how carefully we placed it on the track, or how slowly we operated the train, off it came... I'll chalk this up to my being a rookie at this, but it took us 45 minutes to get it 'just so.' Once it was on, however, it stayed on perfectly for weeks.

It does not operate at a steady speed. To keep it on the track, we operate it at no more than 65% power. At this speed, the engine goes slow on straight-aways, and comes nearly to a stop on turns. This isn't a major detriment, however, as I want people to see the train, anyhow!

All in all, I'm pleased with the quality and detail.
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