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on November 21, 2013
I'm going to compare this model (6-30218) to the previous model of the Lionel Polar Express (6-31960), since many people seem to be asking what the difference is. That set is already thoroughly reviewed on Amazon. There are many similarities and a few big differences. Which one is better is a matter of opinion. For me, it's the new LionChief version due to the updates and remote control.

We'll start at the front of the train: The mighty Berkshire engine is almost exactly the same, with some exceptions: There are no longer separate hand rails adorning the sides of the tank. This was a nice detail on the previous model, but I don't miss it. It's been replaced by a handrail that's cast to the metal body. Also, there are two toggle buttons in the cab of the engine, one that turns on/off chuffing noises and the other that turns on/off smoke. (The chuffing sound doesn't actually come from the engine; all sounds are from the tender). The third difference, and this is big, is the previous model used a very simple metal bracket to "couple" the tender, which I never liked. This model uses a new over/under coupler (quick connect drawbar) that's heavy plastic with copper diodes inside. The diodes are responsible for sending sound commands from the engine to the tender and also syncing the chuffing noises with the speed of the locomotive. This works very well - I'm impressed with how accurate it is. And, last, the smoke! The smoke on this engine works very well. The old engine was hit or miss - most of the time the train had to warm up by going at least half speed around the track for a few minutes before there was any smoke. This engine started making smoke rings right away, and they are perfectly timed with the chuff of the engine. I'm impressed.

Next, the tender: Like I stated, the tender is where all the sounds come from. I was surprised to find the tender didn't have any volume controls. In fact, it has no controls at all since it now interfaces with the engine. The tender simply has a speaker inside with a sound screen on the bottom. The sound is decent. Still, I'd like to control the volume. This is Lionel's "RailSounds" module, as opposed to the less feature rich "TrainSounds" or "SteamSounds". If chuffing is turned on, your train can chuff and play other noises simultaneously. With previous versions, the bell, whistle, or announcements would interrupt the chuffing. This is more realistic. All sounds (except chuffing) are controlled by the remote buttons. This works pretty well and makes more sense than using a transformer to control sounds. The previous Polar Express only came with basic sounds. You actually had to upgrade the tender to hear any conductor announcements or chatter. The fact that this is now standard is a very good thing. One thing I do want to point out: The whistle only has a single tone. Some of the better RailSounds have a more realistic steam whistle that changes frequencies. Not a huge deal, but enthusiasts may be disappointed. I'm very happy with the sounds included on this model.

Next, the three passenger cars: Not much has changed here. You still get very high quality passenger cars with metal carriages and sturdy plastic cars. All cars have interior lights that are on when the track has power. There are silhouettes in the windows that adhere to the book and movie - children lining one car, forgotten toys in one, and the last has one lonely child near the back. The last car also has an observation deck and rear light on the crown. The observation deck comes as a separate piece that you attach. The plastic tabs that attach the deck to the train are flimsy. I feel like this piece could easily break, so I used a line of super glue to keep the deck permanently attached. This is really my only complaint with the passenger cars.

The track: You get 12 pieces of FasTrack (8 curved, 4 straight), which is a good deal considering the price of additional track. This is the same FasTrack set that comes with most Lionel starter sets, with the major exception of the single straight terminal section that supplies power. Sets that come with a transformer (this one does not) have a positive and negative wire terminal. This set simply has a jack to connect the power supply. So, here is a question that's better suited for the hobbyist: How many accessories can I power with the supplied adapter? I haven't tested this or running my train up any inclines, so I can't answer that. I do know this power adapter supplies 18 VAC to the track and everything included has ample power. I've even seen video of multiple LionChief trains running on the same track with a single power supply. But, at some point, when you add track or accessories, you'll have to add a transformer. Do I mind that a transformer wasn't included in this set? Not at all. I'm glad they kept the price down. Even a starter transformer would have added too much overhead and this is something you can always add as your set grows. (Tip: If you plan to put this around the Christmas tree, I recommend ordering additional track. This 4 pack should give you plenty of room for presents to fit inside your layout: Lionel - FasTrack - Straight Track - 4 Pack )

The remote: This is the real innovation. Remotes on O-Scale trains are traditionally very expensive. A remote on a starter set is kind of a game changer. The remote itself is lightweight plastic and requires 3 AAA batteries (not included). It's a shame that it doesn't feel more sturdy. Plus, it isn't interchangeable; meaning that this remote has a set frequency that will only power this model. You can't simply pick up a replacement and set the frequency to match the engine. The control knob moves to neutral, forward, and reverse and there are three buttons for the bell, whistle, and announcements/chatter. The response of the controls is very good considering the less-than-wonderful quality of the design.

Function: Once you plug the terminal piece of track into your power supply, the track is powered. Oddly, there is no toggle to cut the power on or off - you have to unplug the adapter to kill power. The remote has an on/off switch, but that only turns the remote on or off. As soon as you set your train on the track you will have light and sound. If chuffing is turned on, you'll hear slow chuffs and steam noises and some chatter after a little while in neutral. If you put the train in low forward or reverse, it crawls decently, not great, at low speeds. The smoke rings are better at low speeds, since you get big, billowy, puffs of white smoke. At faster speeds you can't see the rings. The train handles fairly smoothly - slowing down slightly on turns. It's capable of running faster than you would want to run it. So, caution if you hand the remote over to a child. It could easily derail at top speed. The supplied track is rather noisy, especially on hard wood floors. Placing the track on carpet or a rug improves the noise considerably.

Overall, I love the quality of this set and I think you get a lot of value, even if you were to pay MSRP. But, considering you can find this set for a substantial amount less than the list price, it's even a better deal. The lack of transformer makes it ideal for remote control around a Christmas tree. If you are getting into the hobby it's a great starter set that I hope will last for years. Only time will tell if the electronic components and remote hold up or not.

Also in the set you will receive 4 plastic movie figurines (Conductor, Engineer, Fireman, and the main character), smoke fluid, and a commemorative jingle bell as depicted in the movie (I guess it makes a nice ornament). Nice little extras, but nothing fancy.

One Final Note: Lionel is releasing a LionChief Plus series in 2014 that will have upgraded features such as a toggle for use with a traditional transformer and automatic decoupling. As of now, they have not announced if they plan to release a Polar Express model with LionChief Plus.

This train is in the first release of the LionChief line. There is no toggle that will allow it to run without a remote. The train will run on a track that is powered by a transformer (not included). But, that requires opening the transformer to full throttle and using the remote to control the movement of the engine. I'm only mentioning this because some people prefer using the traditional transformer over a remote control. My advice to anyone who wants the option of remote or transformer would be to wait for the LionChief Plus line to be release.
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on January 5, 2014
If this review was about Amazon customer service It'd be 5 stars for sure. First the bad, I ordered it and got it before Christmas - yeah! Had it all wrapped up and ready. My son opened it on Christmas day and we set everything up, plugged it in and the lights came on, turned on the remote and then nothing.............. We called around and read reviews online and found out that some of the kits remotes do not work, so I tried calling Amazon on Christmas day. Their service department answered and sent me a new one to my doorstep on the 27th. The good, the second one worked like a charm.

Observations: Metal engine and pretty much all the other cars are plastic. Detail level is adequate but far from the best I've seen. Definitely a beginner set. Comes with a large Santa's sleigh bell (if you have seen the movie you know that it symbolizes the spirit of Christmas and can only be heard if you are a believer) that is not used on the train more of an ornament (well made). It also comes with 4 characters, the 2 train engineers, the conductor and the main kid character (not quite to scale but good enough). A small bottle of smoke fluid, a transformer and extra passenger car light bulbs. The sounds come from the coal car behind the main train, but is controlled by the remote. Unfortunately volume is not adjustable. The main engine has a working headlight and all the passenger cars are lit with silhouettes of passengers and puppets based on characters in the movie. I've ran the train full speed forward and backwards without any derailing. The smoke generator works really well and left my room with quite a bit of smoke after running it a while. The train set is easy to setup the fast tracks snap together intuitively and the transformer plugs into a straight section. Make sure you set it up close to an electric outlet.

Some Quirks: One hassle is the lack of an on/off switch. You basically need to plug and unplug the transformer every time you play. It should be easy enough to retrofit or connect to a switched outlet. The smoke generator can be turned on and off while the train is on but make sure you have fluid in the generator. The chugging switch that mimics the trains chug chug and idle steam sounds can also be turned on and off however you need to unplug/plug the transformer (reset the system) for it to take effect. Not sure why it was designed that way. It should just be a simple open/close circuit to turn on/off sounds. The last quirk is if you leave the power on but do not run the train with the remote for an extended period of time, the train goes into a sort of a sleep mode. The lights stay on but the train does not respond to the remote, so when you turn on the remote and try to run the train it won't work. At that point you need to unplug/plug the transformer (reset the system) for the set to work again. It is by design. The remote has its own on/off switch which is a nice touch.

The set uses a bit of power so you may need to upgrade the transformer if you add additional tracks or trains on the same track. When the train is in a turn, it slows down a little, press the horn/bell buttons, to add audio and it slows down even more. When the train is running slow enough turning on the horn sound around the curved portion of the track can bring the train to a halt due to the weak transformer. Usually I run it at mid-speed and the issue is less noticeable.

For me this train will serve as a Christmas decoration for my kids probably with a small village underneath the Christmas tree (not to scale), so I don't expect to expand this set much. For this purpose I think this it great. Ample details and functionality. For a complete town try the smaller HO or N scales.
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on March 6, 2017
received it, cars uncoupled consistently, went through quite a bit , with cooperation of seller, before returning. seller was ultimately helpful, with some coercing, but lionel just not making these with the quality and service i expected. sadly, as i so hope they continue, and do better. really want to get back into this for grandkids. searching this problem will bring up numerous enthusiasts with same problem, and youtube reviews echo same issue.
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on January 16, 2017
I figured I'd wait a little bit before writing a review to see how it shakes out, here it goes. My son is a HUGE train fanatic and this was his number one ask for Christmas. He was ecstatic when he opened it up and saw what it was. Exactly what he asked from Santa. While setting it up the last passenger car deck rail needed to be 'clipped' on, but the clips don't hold so it just falls off. I tried to leave it off, but my son, 'No dad, the kids are going to fall off the back if the rail isn't there.' After operating on/off for a couple of weeks, the end-of-train light was intermittent and now it doesn't work at all. For over $300, that's not what I'd expect to get for a o-gauge train. If it wouldn't destroy my son, the train would already be on the way back for a refund. I'll see what they do to resolve these issues then update this post.
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on January 8, 2017
I had read reviews of the train not working, I bought anyway, I am not a fan of remote control wireless for a train. i set the track up placed train on and it worked fine. when my niece i showed her, and wouldn't you know it train didn't work. But she hit the track by mistake and then the traingot power again. ran around track and stopped on its own, engine had no power but lights on the passenger cars were on. I stepped on track in couple places till train started on its own, so anayway I cut out a circle from plywood attached the track to that, ran it, worked fine set up the christmas tree with this train underneath, and it worked fine for the 3 weeks we had everything up. if you have trouble it might be something in the engine itself , but it just might be the track not making a good connection for whatever reason.
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on January 12, 2015
1st train stopped working after 1 day. Pick-up wheel on center track came off. I fixed it. 2nd day engine began to stop intermittently. Took to local Lionel dealer who said it would be a couple weeks before their guy could even look at it. I sent the entire train back and paid shipping. 2nd train after a day the center track pick up wheel fell off. Fixed. Next day train began to stop intermittently. You're kidding... This time I removed the our outside corner screws holding the body on the engine and fixed two chassis ground connections. One under the circuit board and the other right above the center track pick up wheel. Both had too much paint between the wire connector and metal chassis. Engine now works.
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on December 23, 2013
Lionel is top of the line when it comes to model trains.
We have 5 & 2 year old Grand-sons and they love trains. We purchased this train to display under our Christmas tree. Our Grand-sons did not know about it until they arrived for a visit. They couldn't wait for me to get it up and running.
When I plugged in the power supply the train light up and immediately began making the sounds of a steam locomotive at idle. I switched on the remote control and pressed the bell button and it began to ring. I then pressed the speaker button and heard the message "All aboard, this is the polar express!". I then turned the control knob clockwise and the train began to move forward making more sounds. I pressed the speaker button again and heard the message "tickets, tickets please". Smoke came out of the stack and the faster I ran the train the more smoke came out. I pressed the horn button and the train made the sound of a train made the sound of a real horn. Press the button for a short time and get a short horn. Press the button for a long time and get a long horn.
My Grand-sons were totally excited by it and laid on the floor watching the train for a long period of time. Every time they drop by the first thing they want is for me to start up the train.

The order was shipped promptly and arrived one day earlier than expected.

I recently found my train set (in my parents attic) that was purchased in 1960. I cleaned it up, did come maintenance on it and set it up in my shop. It runs like a new one.
Proof that Lionel makes a quality product!!
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on December 23, 2016
What can I say? It's the Polar Express. It's a great addition to my Christmas village and it looks right at home there. The sounds are great and the lit passenger cars look fantastic when running through the village in low light. I'm very glad I bought this.
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on December 23, 2013
Had to give it only three stars for now. Ordered off Amazon Lightning deal (which was AWESOME!!! compared to how much they are regularly priced). Shipment arrived late through FEDEX (was supposed to be 2 day but ended being 5 days). When we put it together, saw some of the same issues as others. The one of the two wires that attach from the engine to the connector for the tender had come off and so we had no sounds coming from the tender. When we put it into initial operation, it would only go in reverse and only at full power. Messed around with it several times and still could not get it to work properly. We ended up calling Lionel for service and hopefully get the replacement to try it again. It would have gotten only two stars (I don't like it) vs three stars (It's okay) but the construction is excellent and it does have a lot of possibilities once we get one that works. This will definitely replace the HO gauge we have under the tree this year start next Christmas and will be a great addition to the collection. Also, I agree with other posters that this is for children older than 5 or 6. The engine is really beefy and the details are great. Would definitely recommend additional tracks to fit under a tree.
Update - Service was great, got the engine sent back and returned with more than enough time for Christmas!
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on January 27, 2017
A very nice train set, the engine can creep very slow, go full speed both forward AND reverse with 5 cars and not derail, impressive.

It is tricky getting it to run the first time. All of the wheels have to be on the rails or the lights go off and it will not move. The track connections were not great, but I squeezed the ends a little with pliers and that seems to help.

Be careful putting on the rear observation car rail, the tabs break very easily.

My 6 year old loves this train, and even with the minor hiccups I consider this a quality product.
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