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Beware of the Engine Problems with this Train
on December 21, 2013
There are two Polar Express train versions. One is the "Freight" train version and the other is the "Passenger". What I didn't realize when I purchased the Freight version (Last December 12-3-12) was that this engine is not the same as the "Passenger" version. The Passenger version has the Berkshire Engine which has a much better track record (according to our local train expert here in Northern VA.)
Due to our extenuating circumstances we were only able to set up and run the train for a month during last holiday season. We carefully packaged and packed it away. We unpacked it this week. The engine took about 4 spins around the track and died. We did as much trouble shooting as we could and took it to a local Lionel repair station - then to another expert - a more advanced Lionel Repair station. Our transformer is fine - tracks are good but the engine is defective. The suspected culprit is a defective circuit board. I've since read (including here) that there may be a problem with these "Freight" engines. So my recommendation is not to buy this set. The Polar Express Passenger set may be a viable alternative - as it comes with the Berkshire Engine.
We contacted Lionel through their website and will continue to pursue this but I suspect even though it was run only a month last holiday - they will not stand behind this product. Lionel is definitely not the same Lionel of days gone by. We plan to keep adding to my daughter's trains but are probably going to start collection the post-war O gauge. The Polar Express set is beautiful but a train is only as good as its engine - and I would highly recommend you stay away from this version!
One other piece of advice - I saw a comment about the transformer. If the train doesn't run, be sure it's not the engine (seems like the more likely culprit). When we went to our local Lionel Repair Station - we took our transformer and that worked just fine - the internal circuit board is the problem. Lionel has some interesting repair requirements for dealers that may be very capable of repair but Lionel makes it very impractical to get this engine fixed because the parts are impossible for the dealer to get.
We spent some time with our local Train gurus (KMA Hobby in Manassas, VA) and received some excellent advice - and bought our daughter the Southern Belle (Kansas City) train and engine - This engine will have no problem pulling her Polar Express passenger and freight cars. We really appreciate KMA Hobby for saving our holiday with their expertise!