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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 December 27, 2016
I agree this is loud, but it's a train, they're loud, and it doesn't bother me or my kids. I was surprised at how large this train is, I know nothing about model trains and wanted something larger than the HO train we had under our tree since it constantly was falling over and my cats running over its small pieces finally broke it. This is considerably heavier and larger than my HO train (see pic, HO is in front/O in back-both on their track), so if space is really limited stick with the HO train.

This does light up on the front engine and smoke. Those who say it doesn't probably need to add the liquid smoke fluid and/or make sure they turned on the switch that makes it smoke that is located under the engine car. This is one of those products you need to read the instructions for! My kids tried to not read them and set it up and failed, but after I spent 3 min reading them I got the train set up in under 10 min. The track was a bit stiff connecting the pieces but if I couldn't make one work I tried another and that usually did the trick. Unlike others I had no audio issues. I do wish it came with one accessory building, and clearer instructions about what is needed to add lighted accessories, because I'm confused about what I even need to order when I add them, but I will just call or go by a train model store when I'm out near one and ask.

Overall I'm happy with my purchase and so are my kids. Even better 3 days after set up my 2 cats (one is a 15 lbs Ragdoll) still haven't knocked it down despite running over it multiple times.
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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 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 30, 2017
I recently purchased the Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer for my son and he absolutely loves it. It is a classic o gauge electric train set. It is very easy to set up. It comes with enough fast track to make an oval approximately 30"x60". The curved track is o-36 so those longer flatbed cars might have a little trouble, that is of course if you decide to add on. It already comes with a powerful die cast steam engine, coal tender, a box car, tanker, and caboose. This combination of cars gives you a pretty good size train for this track. This train is controlled by a Lionel Chief wireless remote control and features realistic railroad sounds, including several railroad announcements, bell chime, and a steam whistle. THIS TRAIN IS A WORKING STEAM ENGINE AND DOES FEATURE REAL PUFFING SMOKE!!! That being said you have to add the proper amount of smoke fluid in to the stack in order for it to work properly. It does have a bit of a smell, but it's not terrible. If it bothers you a scented version of the smoke fluid is available online. It is a plug and play set but if you don't have the cars seated properly on the track it will not work. If you set up and get no power light on the track, you may just simply have a train car that is not seated properly on the track. This truly is a great train! Loads of fun and easy to set up and use. Worth every penny!
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on January 1, 2017
"Santa" brought this train set for the kids, but the parents and grandparents have really enjoyed it too! The scale and detail of each car is quite impressive and the LionChief remote makes operation a cinch. Like others have said, the sound effects are on the loud side and I resolved this matter by partially covering the speaker at the bottom of the tender with some packaging tape -- it took some trial and error to cover just the right amount to keep the effects loud enough while not to the point of annoying, and this simple fix has worked great. The track also creates a good bit of noise especially at high speeds so we just keep to "medium" throttle for the most part and it's fine. My kids love the smoking stack and the radio dialogue, and one of their favorite scenarios is to disconnect a few cars and then run the train in reverse to make them reconnect, and then zoom off again with the bell clanging. Also, since the caboose has such nice windows, I picked up some low voltage lamps from a local hobby store and installed them into the top of the car along with a small switch and AA battery, and 'voila' -- lighted caboose (pic attached)! Really easy to do and adds another neat scale effect. We've only had this train set a short time, but it's worked great so far and I can definitely see us adding more track, cars, etc. in the future.

Update - 11/23/17: It's almost been 1 year since purchasing this train set and I wanted to report that it has held up great with a lot of use from my youngsters. One car suffered some damage and a connector no longer works, but this is likely easily repaired. The track is now mounted on a piece of plywood as setting up and taking it down was becoming too much of a chore. Very happy with this train set.
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on December 3, 2016
My goal was to get something to set up with my Christmas village, on a platform under the Christmas tree. I did my research on this one to choose a size that would "fit" best with the village scale; watched youtube videos, read all the reviews. My only reason for not giving it five stars is that (for me), the SOUND of the train on the tracks is somewhat loud. And really, that is not the fault of the set...it is just my own personal feedback. I made the mistake of putting fluffy fake snow on the base of the whole plywood for the set up, and then had to pull a lot of it out from under the tracks because it just sat up too high, then sunk down when the weight of the train would pass over it. AND...I found out the hard way to TOTALLY clear the fake snow from around the edges and turns, because it jammed up the wheels and had to be (painstakingly) cut/pulled out.
Pluses: headlight, smoke from chimney stack, able to turn "chuffing" sound on or off, able to turn smoke on or off, forward and reverse settings, extra sound effects (would have been nice to have ones that automatically set off every 30 seconds or so that could be turned on or off, otherwise you control them with the remote).
This is a great set for even someone starting out if you have the extra money to spend. The quality of it is top notch. I already bought some extra track to make it bigger and fill the space...and can see myself buying more accessories in the the future. Not so sure I will only use this at Christmas, because...let's be honest...you are never too "old" to be a boy who loves to run a train set.
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on December 29, 2016
Bought for my 69 year old father who has severe depression and dementia. He had one as a child and the past several months he has been talking about "his train". This has brought such joy to him and the whole family. Very realistic and sturdy. The engine is dicast and super heavy. The cars all hook together so easily. The track is a little hard to push together but that is expected. Once together they stay very well and can be pulled apart a lot easier. The engine actually smokes when smoke fluid is put in and smoke button are on. It's the coolest thing ever. Worth every penny!!! The package came factory sealed in plastic and then in a separate box than what it was shipped it. Would highly suggest this to any first time train enthusiasts!
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on June 20, 2015
As described. I've owned it now about 8 months or so and my 4 year old has been kinda rough on it but it is a durable train. It chugs along and also puffs out smoke (liquid smoke is included). I have no complaints everything worked as described and my son loved it. I've inspected it and feel it is of good quality and when you look at the alternatives on the market (for the good ones) who wants to spend 800 dollars or more on one of these? Not me! This one is perfect for a child, even an older child who is, say, 13 and in to trains. Probably for a middle aged train collector or enthusiast, you may want to spend the extra money, for the rest of us, this is what you will probably be happy with.
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on February 11, 2016
Got this for $140 at Christmas. It is a great product at that price. The engine has great detail and the cars are high quality. The remote works great and the sound effects are clear and realistic sounding. The headlight is bright. My 3 year old has no problems putting train and cars on the track. This is better quality than what Lionel was selling just 10 years ago. I don't use the steem. There is a switch on bottom to turn steem off so you don't burn it out when there is no oil in it.
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