Customer Reviews: Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer O-Gauge Remote Train Set
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on December 11, 2013
(This is the first train set I've ever used in my nearly forty years on this planet, so take this review with that frame of reference.)

Feeling shortchanged by our own upbringings, my wife and I had been talking about creating some Christmas traditions for our toddler and, in the back and forth, we wondered if people really did put trains around their Christmas trees (clearly our families did not and, apparently, neither did our friends' families). There was something that felt a little too Norman Rockwell/Saturday Evening Post about it, but when I saw this set pop up on a Gold Box deal I decided to pull the trigger. I'm glad I did.

Setup was quite painless, taking about 15-20 minutes from unpacking to the maiden voyage around the tree. All the instructions were straightforward and, if you've got the patience I didn't have, the Lionel site has a 20-minute video about the set. Size-wise, it fit pretty perfectly around the base and skirt of our 7-foot tree with the track in square formation; oval would've presented more problems. Operating via the remote was easy and even my 20-month-old was able to 'drive' the train and make noises with the buttons (though he got a little too vigorous with the speed dial and made me nervous that his quick spins were going to break something since the remote does feel more fragile than I'd like).

What makes this a great purchase for me is just how much my little one enjoys it. I figured it would be a nice novelty that would zip around a few times during the holidays, then go back in the box for 11 months since, really, how many times can you watch a few cars go in a circle? A lot, it turns out, if you're an excited toddler. Since I've set it up, my kid is pointing to the room with the tree and repeating "Train! Train!" and "Choo-choo!" fairly frequently. It's one of the few things that can get him to sit quietly and watch for several minutes and he's fascinated when I start pointing out details like the little people in the engine. What I'm worried about now is that I've introduced him to some kind of gateway drug to a very expensive hobby.

To be fair, I guess the above could apply to any train set, so here are some specific thoughts on this one:

The boxcar and caboose are both darker than they appear in the product picture, much more maroon than the orange/rust color shown.

Similar sets I've seen (including the older model of this one, I think) have shown features like an illuminated caboose and scenery like billboards or rail crossings. This set has none of that. The light on the front of the engine is always on, however.

As I mentioned, the remote feels more fragile than it might actually be. It's that whole thing about heft=better sense of quality, whether it's true or not.

The sounds on the train are a mixed bag. My kid loves the horn, but he also loves the conductor sounds, which are a small collection of phrases that are generated based on the train's movement or idling. Apart from the redundancy of them, the most bothersome element is just how loud they are. I may end up having to tape over the speaker on the bottom of the tender car to muffle it a bit. Some kind of volume control would be welcome, even if it were just a low-high option (if there already is one, I haven't found it). Same could be said for the chuff function which, when engaged, is so loud to me it overwhelms everything else.

Bottom line is that this set looks nice around the base of the tree and it makes my toddler happy, which is enough to make it a good purchase (though I don't know that I would've bitten at full price). I'm taking off a star for the noises, however, because they're something that's going to be a natural appeal for kids, but can easily become grating for adults at their set volumes.
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on December 14, 2013
There is a ton to like about this train set from the substantial die-cast locomotive model to the remote control system, unfortunately poor execution of the audio electronics is a major negative in this set.

A couple quick observations that have not been mentioned previously - the body of the locomotive is die cast metal, not plastic, as other reviewers have stated. The paint color of the locomotive is a matte gunmetal gray-green which is subtle, not the bright forest green finish implied by the promo pictures. The caboose is no longer illuminated as it was in the 2012 version, the cars are otherwise identical with new paint schemes.

As far as basic operation, the brilliant thing about this set is that even at maximum speed around corners in either direction I could not get the train to derail, nor could my 2, 5 or 6 year old children. I seem to remember frequently derailing my father's O-gauge train sets running on traditional AC transformer controls back in the day so this is probably less likely to prone to damage as a result.

The issue with the tender car & Railsounds RC audio system occur on many levels.

First, the physical connector between the locomotive and tender that carries both power and signals from the Lionchief electronics in the locomotive are integrated into the coupler that is subject to constant mechanical stress and shifting. The wires on the locomotive end are very short and soldered to a small circuit board on a connector that swings around on the coupler arm as the train turns corners. When going around a curve (which on a beginner set oval is a LOT). When the locomotive goes around a corner the wires pull against the solder joint and, in the case of my locomotive, led to a break at the solder joint after about 2 hours of operation. There simply isn't enough slack in the connector and I expect more of these will fail after a few hours of operation. This isn't specific to this model, it's also a complaint that's shown up in the 2013 Polar Express set which shares a common locomotive-tender wiring connection.

While they worked, the audio effects themselves sucked. There are 5 audio effects included; two automatic and three user controlled. The two "automatic" effects are a "standing still" clanging/steaming effect (always on when the track has power and the train is still), and an "in motion" chuff sound that simulates the way a steam locomotive sounds in motion. There are also 3 user initiated effects via buttons on the remote, a bell (terrible fast clanging sound), whistle (only slightly less terrible than the bell, decidedly non steam locomotive sounding) and a completely strange bit of radio dialogue chatter that was lifted off of their modern diesel engine models but is totally out of place in an 1800's steam locomotive. Clearly money was saved by recycling audio samples from other sets rather than developing a decent sounding whistle or sensible dialogue for a steam engine ("All Aboard!" would have been fine on the middle button...). It would be ideal if you could also disable the standing-still sounds (or if they shut themselves off after 60 seconds) because short of powering off the track you cannot silence the train when it's not moving and the track has power, a frequent complaint from the earlier Thomas the Train remote control O-gauge sets with the same audio effect functions.

Regardless of your opinion of how the samples sound, the bigger issue is that the audio system electronics in the loco picking up horrible noise interference from the motor (probably due to the combination of a plastic motor housing and long runs of unshielded wire between the loco/tender through the previously mentioned coupler). When it works there is so much interference that the audio system is pointless anyway... not only does the noise of the train drown it out but at slow speed you hear mostly electronic buzz mixed in with the bad samples they chose to use.

Everything else about the train set is actually really nice and makes it great for a beginner, the complete failure from poor solder joints to noisy electronics playing poor samples in the Railsounds RC system is an unfortunate flaw specific to the Lionel 2013 LionChief steam locomotives with tenders (the Thomas/Percy and diesel locos like the Santa Fe Scout do not have the same issues). If the sound effects are not a huge deal it's an otherwise great starter set.
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on November 17, 2013
This is the first O gauge train we've bought and it has been a fun experience. The remote works very well and the sounds with this set add to the fun you have while playing with it. I'm not sure how well this would work with older models since the remote changes speed in the train and the track has a set voltage etc.

The engine is quite heavy but still a plastic shell. All pieces look like they are well built and will last a long time. Keep the ribbons with the engine to help with storing it and keep the smaller box for the track or it will be almost impossible to get it all back in the big box.

When in the square shape, the track looks to be the perfect size for around a tree. For other fun you would really need more track.
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on December 9, 2013
Great starter train set. Caught this at a special price and saved 40%. Set up and operation is quick and easy. I bought this to entertain my two year old grandson who absolutely loves trains. I almost bought the "Thomas the Train" set; but thought he would outgrow that in a very few years. He eventually will get this set when he is old enough to appreciate it. I can hardly wait for him to come for Christmas. He probably won't want to go home. I really like the realistic sounds (chugging sound, bell, whistle and engineer and dispatcher voices). I'm going to enjoy building up the scenery over the next couple of years; to make it even more realistic.
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on October 6, 2015
Package states that the caboose is illuminated, it is not though. Other than that annoyance it is a good train.
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on December 17, 2013
Remote control and all its features puts this train over the top. The Fastrack really looks great but really holds the track together without having to tack it down!
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on January 30, 2015
I bought this through the Warehouse deals for my wife who had been wanting one for a long time. I paid $150 for it so it was a great deal. Even though the warehouse deals said "Contents in perfect shape, Package may be damaged", I did not see any damage to the package. It was in perfect condition. The train is pretty rock solid. I mean it. It is at least 2-3 lbs and looks like quality construction. The rest of the cars are also very detailed but pretty light weight. Setting it up was a cinch. I put the tracks together, very gently. One trick I noticed that worked well was to put the tracks together half way through then turn them upside down and use the plastic tabs to pull the pieces together. That was a lot easier than pressing the pieces together.

I was afraid that the packaged track will be too long, but it is actually fairly short which works great for me since I did not want to dedicate too much space to it. The track can be setup as an oval O shape or more like a square shape. I decided to go with the oval. I heard from some of the reviews that the noise from the train starts grating on your ears after a while. However, I noticed that there are two buttons at the bottom of the engine. One of them switches the smoke on or off and the other switches "chuff" on or off. When I switched the "chuff" to off, the engine does not make the slightly annoying "chuff" noise from speakers when running normally. After that, when you use the remote and press the buttons "whistle", "ring" and dispatcher sounds, they come up. Press the ring button once to start ringing. Press it again to switch it off. I think most people, unless they have kids in the house who love the chuff sound, will want to turn it off. The remote is a bit unusual in that it actually has a tiny "On off" switch like the electric switches on regular electric panels. Then, the other thing that was a bit weird was that the remote has to be "On" for the train to be running. If the remote switches off, the train stops automatically. The remote takes 3 AAA batteries so I wonder how long with the batteries last, if I want the train to run continuously.

Anyway, that is just a minor criticism. I seated a few of my lego mini-figures on top of the train and grinned as they went round and round. The LED light in the front is really nice touch as it really gives the cool feel that the train is real.

Overall, I am really pleased with the train and my wife said that "her childhood dream has been realized" so I guess that counts as a big brownie point. Well done Lionel!! Attaching two pictures to show my lego mini-figures riding the train and the train with the headlight and all the carriages.
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on January 28, 2014
Although the hardware seems sturdy enough to withstand a lot of use, the electronics are poorly designed and inclined to malfunction. From a design perspective, the sound unit is too loud and can only be silenced by removing power from the track or operating an inconvenient switch on the cab. The smoke unit gets dangerously hot without fluid. Since you can't coax more than a few drops from the tube provided, leaving the unit turned off is the only practical alternative to buying a lot more fluid. I returned my unit because the engine would operate only in the reverse direction. Other reviews of this same electronics design seem to confirm that the problem is widespread.
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on November 13, 2015
This is an excellent starter set. The main engine is heavy and well built. The cars are made of decent quality plastic and the box car has sliding doors. The tracks are very simple to snap together and take apart. The remote is a great idea and works well. The engine is a little difficult to run at the slowest speed as it stops when going around the curves. The chuffing and smoke can be turned on or off with the 2 switches on the bottom of the engine. The whistle is nice and can be controlled to have short or long tones. The bell is a different story, When you want to stop the bell it goes off abruptly which really sounds bad. The train is not quiet, especially at full speed. One good thing, the train never derails even running at full speed. It would have been nice if the caboose would have been illuminated but for the price I guess that's what you get. Overall this is a nice starter.
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on September 6, 2014
The set is awesome buuutttt Sound stopped working on the second day of use. It appears that one of the wires broke off on the Engine/Locomotive drawbar. It also looks like the wire was squeezed by locomotive frame when it was assembled which led to the stress on wire and eventual failure. So the conclusion would be a bad quality control. Now since Amazon is not authorized dealer I am not sure if I will get the warranty work by Lionel. Bummer to spend pretty good buck on something when it breaks on the second day and now I have no functional sounds. I am looking Forward to hear from Amazon reps what should I do!!!
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