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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 It's been replaced by a handrail that's cast to the metal body.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 December 6, 2017
I am writing this to save you the aggravation I went through with my new train. Last year I purchased the Lionel Polar express and it worked perfect for two hours then the problems started. The train would stop on the track with lights on but the engine would not move. I read the negative feed backs and found others had the same issues. I even sent the train set back to Amazon for a replacement. Amazon is outstanding with returns. I choose this over Lionel warranty of returning the engine to an authorized service center.

The new train experienced the same issues and this is what I learned. When the train is plugged in and the remote is not used for 10 minutes the engine times out and will only restart if the track is unplugged and plugged back in again (reboot). I wish Lionel would have written this in the owner’s manual. Judging from the negative feedbacks they probably don’t know this is an issue or they would address it rather than have a bunch of train set returned. Another issue is the track snaps together but will loosen from the weight of the train when used over carpeting. I was able to fix this by clamping 15mm binder clips at each joint on the bottom of the track.

Overall I like the train and would have given it 5 stars if I didn’t have to go through all this aggravation to fix the issues. I hope this helps you and I hope Lionel will address these issues.
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on December 21, 2017
Love this train for our Christmas village display. Stays on track very well.
Only issue is the engine chugging sound very inconsistent & often no chugging sounds as moving. Have tried the instructions reset many times & that doesn’t help. Grand kids love it so I can’t return yet.
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on January 10, 2018
We had to return the locomotive and then a train car as being defective. However, both were exchanged immediately, one time by Lionel and the other by Amazon, and both replacements arrived within two days of our talking with the persons about the problem. We did not like the defects, but were amazed by how well the problems were cured. Each of the new parts (locomotive and one car) worked perfectly after receiving them.
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on January 14, 2014
I have the Lionel Polar Express O gauge with the 80W transformer that I got 8 years ago and it is great, but this remote version is just fantastic. I bought it in December 2013 during the Amazon sale. The remote works very well and you have buttons for a whistle, Tom Hanks quotes from the movie (2) and the bell. The remote speed control knob has a very similar feel as the traditional transformer. Reverse works great as well. The chugging sound is synchronized with the speed of the locomotive and the increase or slowdown is very smooth as you adjust. Top speed is quite fast and I never had the engine move off the oval track under the tree. The engine is cast and very heavy. She smokes nicely when you turn the heater on inside the cab and apply smoke drops. The whole train looks realistic and it is so easy and smooth in its operation. The train whistle is hard to hear as well as the Tom Hanks quotes when the train is moving pretty fast. What a train! The cars are plastic but light up nicely with silhouettes and are quite realistic. The couplers are solid as I never had a car separate in the 8 or 9 hours that I ran the train around the tree.
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on October 10, 2017
A little pricy but I love it. It’s the perfect addition to any Christmas tree. Heavy weight and nicely constructed. It’s not model railroader grade but for the average guy like me it’s perfect.
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on December 17, 2013
As it just so happens our family rode on the Polar Express last week and I'd been eyeing this train for my kids for months. When the price went down to a "too good to pass up" deal, I snatched it up and I am so glad I did. We even got it a day early and enjoyed a nice evening of setting it up together. My husband was like a little kid as he controlled the train, the whistle, and the announcements. My son, who has Asperger Syndrome, lay on the floor playing with the train and watching it go around. I got an amazing picture of him doing this. With an Aspie kid, these moments are not easy to come by so it was a definite win for all of us. Even our two year old daughter loved watching the "choo choo" go around.
Beyond the joy, this product is extremely well made. I love the design of the couplers as compared to couples on other train sets we've had. And the engine is definitely going to stand up to being handled by kids. All in all, we are thrilled. Thanks Lionel and Amazon!
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on December 30, 2013
I bought this for myself as a Christmas gift and didn't open it till Christmas morning.

This is my first Lionel Train, well my first Train EVER. I fell in love with this movie when it first came out and believed it was the best Christmas story out there. But when i heard they train would be made in the LionCheif set i had to get it.

The train was set up and running in about 20 minutes tops. The train did skip and stop right away but that is because I DIDN'T put the wheels on properly. This is the issue i believe most of the reviews have been complaining about. That the train "Locked Up" the wheels all need to be properly placed on the 3 rail track so the electric current can be properly transmitted.

The ease of use and look and feel of this train makes it a main attraction under my tree this Christmas and for years to come.

I'm already looking into buying more cars so my train is as long as the train in the movie.
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on January 2, 2014
We have a 4-year old son who is obsessed with trains. We really wanted a substantial train to go around the tree this year and I was torn between the Polar Express and the Hogwarts Express.
The Polar Express proved the right choice. It's engine is heavy and substantial so it doesn't derail. The coal car plus 3 passenger cars look great and the added figures give our son lots of opportunity for imagination play. The remote with sounds is fun, although can be annoying in the hands of a 4-year old; be warned!
The smoke puffs are fun and over-all felt it was a great investment. An earlier poster noted the noisiness and it's true, the tracks are noisy when the train is going fast. We leave it on a low speed while we are in the room, so unless our son is playing engineer, it's not too disruptive. We may upgrade the rails in the future however.
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on December 9, 2015
We love it! Easy to put together and no problems using it on the carpet under the tree. The smoke works wonderfully! Very well made and easy to use. I originally purchased the G gage and decided to purchase this instead. It was nice, but a little larger than I wanted and a little juvenile. We returned the G gage as soon as we opened this one. My family loves it!
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