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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 It's been replaced by a handrail that's cast to the metal body.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 May 31, 2017
this was a santa gift, its every little boys dream. there is real smoke action which can be turned on and off, there is the real sounds from he movie which can also be turned on and off which is a good thing cause its the same few sound clips over and over again. it goes together easily stays on the track well, the remote is easy to use and goes a good distance from the train. the lights are a tad hard to get to to replace but once u figure it out its ok. make sure to read the instructions and do ur registration on it. other wise have fun! the down side is the caboose deck doesn't stay on to well and the sound is a tad loud with no volume controls. very nice set over all
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on December 20, 2014
This is a very quality steam engine that has all the bells and whistles, literally. Since it is Lionel, you would expect nothing less. The engine is die cast and very heavy as they used to be made. If you have children, they will enjoy many hours of play pretending to be in the Polar Express Movie due to the realistic sounds of Tom Hanks, the smoke chugging out of the train, and the characters from the movie that are included. This is a true, collectors, edition.
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on November 21, 2014
I bought this for Christmas last year because I've always wanted a train set around the tree. It worked well for a couple of days, but the engine fails to engage. I do not know if it is the remote or the engine itself, but it will only occasionally move forward or reverse, and doesn't do the sounds or smoke. I packed it up, and pulled it out again this year (2014). It worked for about 30 seconds, and back to not working. Not the quality I expected from a reputable brand like Lionel. The physical appearance and craftsmanship of it is actually really nice. I just wish it worked.
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on January 4, 2014
We bought this for your young son and were excited to get such a great deal (otherwise the cost is prohibitive for all but adult train hobbyists). Set up was easy, and it worked brilliantly Christmas morning (huge hit!) and for a couple of days after. But then there was obviously a power connection failure, as the train stopped working. Each car we'd place on the tracks, the lights would just flick on and off repeatedly. We tried reconnecting all track segments, etc. No motion. So, we processed an exchange via Amazon. The replacement delivered quickly, but one of the wires on the engine that runs to the tender (which generates the sounds) arrived disconnected. (Defective right out of the box! This was not shipping damage.) This train runs fine but makes NO sounds. Unfortunately, we had already packaged and returned the first train… seems one needs to essentially "pick-a-part" to assemble a functioning train! So sad that Lionel is not living up to their former brand. We have a few used HO engines and stock with EZ track; some of these are Lionel and function well. My son is gentle with all the trains and can set them up and use a transformer. Apparently Lionel rushed this new O gauge Polar Express set, and released a sub-standard product. And I agree with others that having to unplug the power supply is ridiculous. (How hard is it to provide a power switch?) We might wait for the 2014 model, but cost could be a barrier.
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on December 1, 2014
So i bought this for Christmas this year and it only comes with 4 straight tracks and 8 curved pieces. You definitely need more straight pieces and the track put together with the pieces provided doesn't give you much to work with. I bought a number of additional track pieces, maybe too much because the train seems to short out at the farthest point from the control point. I was unaware that the number of track pieces would pose a problem, but I will be reconfiguring to figure out if that is the problem. The train itself is extremely sturdy, the engine anyway. The "Polar Express" cars are fairly light and cheap.....if it ran properly this would be pretty awesome, but at this point, it still leaves a lot to be desired.
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on December 12, 2016
This set is not nearly the quality of my other set. Mainly the steam engine. My "Three Rivers" set has the Berkshire engine also but is much more detailed and heavier. There is also no way to operate other accessories unless you purchase a separate power transformer. I asked to return and was given authorization but with a 15% restocking fee. Which would have been $40 plus and that was if it was unopened. There is no way to look at the quality unless you open it. Train set was sent from " Trainworld". I will not order again if my order is fulfilled by Trainworld.
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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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