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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 It's been replaced by a handrail that's cast to the metal body.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 22, 2016
I am currently waiting for a replacement. I opened the brand new packaged train and the train track LED light would only blink when the train is placed on the track - indicating a short somewhere in the engine. Lionel customer support says it must be the power pack not supplying enough electricity to the track (but why would the train show a short when placed on the track along with sparks around the contacts?) Maybe someone here can answer that... My Pennsylvania Flyer and alternative power pack run just fine on the track. We'll see what round #2 brings...

Update #1: Lionel customer service sent a new wall adapter and piece of track with the LED light and plug. The train now runs! BUT, the sound is not working. I have the switches turned on and no sound. I am returning to Amazon for exchange.

Update #2: The new train arrived. I placed the new engine on the track and it runs perfectly. The sound works great. An added bonus - this train engine does not derail at the fastest speed. Obviously some was wrong with the other train. Another note - I am pretty sure Amazon sent me a returned product and called it "new." This box came wrapped in "factory sealed plastic" and actually included an instruction manual and other literature that was NOT in the other box. I'm not sure if I'm more disappointed in Amazon or Lionel. Or both. So, I'm leaving this as 1 star and now question Amazon. At least returns/exchanges are easy (I hope).
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on December 28, 2014
This is a terrible product. I dont usually write negative reviews but i am so disappointed about this. This was intended to be a gift for my six year old for Christmas. What could be worst than a non-functioning train on Christmas morning ? Set everything up and couldnt even get the train to go in a simple loop without intermittently stopping on the tracks. Engine light would go off and the train would just stop - almost always in the same few areas of the loop. I rechecked track connections, cleaned the tracks and I altered the tracks thinking it was defective fastrack but that didnt solve the issue. I tested the electrical continuity and voltage of the transformer and found no obvious issues. Very frustrating problem. Either there is a short in the electrical wiring of the train or multiple segments of track are defective and i cant pick it up with my tester - very unlikely. Either way it doesnt work and is going back. Amazing that my 35 year old Lionel engine built in the USA still works with my old transformer and old tracks.
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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 December 24, 2015
I couldn't be anymore disappointed with this product. The train "worked" for all of about 10 minutes. We've gone through all the trouble shooting, read the instructions, etc. and it just appears to be done. Even when it did work it was a complete hassle to keep it running and keep the track from losing connection, a cheaply made car from losing its connection, etc. Just a complete piece of s*** for a premium price. I certainly hope I get a full refund with my return. I have zero desire to be sent another one of these pieces of junk.
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on January 1, 2017
Would not work out of the box . Very sad kid on Christmas morning.
I figured out that the transformer was faulty .
Lionel help line is not open trough the Holliday season which seams unusual for a toy manufacturer. I paid a lot of money to avoid something like this happening.
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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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