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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 It's been replaced by a handrail that's cast to the metal body.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 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 18, 2013
I brought this thanks to amazon at a Lightning good price. I did verify the website at Lionel trains they charge 400 Dollars, compared to eBay or Lionel, Amazon has this at a great amazing price. I brought this for my self as a collector, I fell in love with not only the quality Die cast metal of the train, But also was shocked with the Box package it was really well made and put together. I will soon buy the area 51 train next. But if your reading this rating I sincerely Highly recommend this to any person. This is a serious train for mature youngster or adult... My son is 5 years old I am teaching him how to use it.. When he turns 9 or 10 years old I will buy him his own.
I rate this train set a perfect 10+++( Super important reminder) buy 4 pieces of 30 inch tracks extra with this purchase you will need it if you really want this to enjoy the beauty of the trains speeds, and mechanics, also sparks.

May my evaluation helps you in your purchase.
Sincerely, Ivan
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on December 14, 2016
This train is amazing for the price! I'm not a train collector or enthusiast, but I wanted to get my son a decent quality Polar Express train for under our Christmas tree. I was thrilled when I opened the package and found such a nice quality train set. It comes with everything you need for a circular track setup. I purchased some of the FasTrack - O-Gauge straight tracks to add on to the layout. The package includes the train and cars that light up, power cord, remote control, curved track pieces, Polar Express figures, and a nice quality sleigh bell ornament. The train is heavy weight and has amazing detail. It has an option to make a "chuffing" sound when it's running with a switch to turn it off. It also has a switch to use the "smoke" that puffs from the top as it's running. The sounds are very clear and loud and sound just like Tom Hanks! The whistle and bell buttons on the remote sound great too! If you're looking for a quality plug-and-play train set that's easy to setup and use, you can't pass this up!
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on December 6, 2017
I purchased this O-guage set because, really, I was tired of the HO (smaller) set. The smaller sets are harder to manage, come off the tracks, and ar fragile. This set is the exact opposite of all of that. I am not a hobbyist. My set goes up for the tree, and comes down with the New Year. If you're like me, and you want a set that is easy to mange, simple to put up and easy to operate, this is the set for you.

There are, really, no flaws that I can see to this train set. The quality of the engine is remarkable for the price. I am astonished, really, that the cost of this entire set is $300.00. I've seen engines of this quality cast twice that much. The engine is heavy, well built, durable, and bulls the entire train set quickly around the track without coming off the tracks, and without the rolling stock becoming disconnected.

The remote control which allows the train to move around the tracks, is absolutely wonderful. I can sit on my couch, watch T.V., drink coffee, and from my T.V. screen, control the train going around the Christmas tree. This is wonderful.

More impressively, is the new plug-n-play, and I think this is one of the best features of recent development in the train industry. If you want to add accessories, just plug into special tracks (these are not included with the set), and they work.

As for this set, there was NO WIRING. Just put the tracks together, put the trains on, plug in the power adapter, put batteries in the remote control and it works.

There are three sounds. A bell, the voice of Tom Hanks, and a horn. You can activate all of these sounds from your couch with the remote control. The smoke stack from the engine is a wonderful quality, and it a really nice finishing touch from the locomotive, the engine makes a "chuffing" sound that coordinates not only with the smoke coming out, but in the frequency of the smoke. The faster the train moves, the more smoke comes out, the more the "engine-chuffing" sound moves with the smoke stack.

Both the smoke stack and the "chuffing" sound can be turned off with switches on the engine body. Lionel also has different scented smoke odors you can buy from their website.

Overall, I have to say, for the cost, I can't imagine anyone would be disappointed with this purchase. If you are looking for a train set that I have described above, and is durable and fun . . . this is the set for you.

I am very satisfied with the quality and the finishing touches on this product.

Well done, Lionel.

Thank you for all your hard work.
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on December 6, 2016
HUUUUUUGELY disappointed in this train. DO NOT BUY.

We were caught up in the Christmas spirit and made the leap to purchase this expensive train set for underneath our tree. What a mistake.

Firstly, the locomotive looks amazing and is heavy and well made. That's where the good points end. The smoke stack is abysmal at best. Not sure if it ever did make any noticeable smoke.

The motor is very weak and simply going around corners would slow it down.

The lights in the cars flicker constantly and no adjusting, light changing, or contact wheel cleaning would make a difference.

The cars them selves are very cheap and flimsy. Compared to the locomotive, these items are garbage.

The train also just stops intermittently. What a disappointment.

The track came warped and didn't fit together right.

It's also very loud.

Do NOT buy this train. Lionel was supposed to be great. I'll now likely never get into this neat hobby as my first impression was one of great frustration. Too bad, Lionel had a great reputation. Not any more...

SIncerely,

Christian Walsh.
1 angry wife
and 2 very sad kids now that we're boxing this train set up to be returned for a refund.
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on November 24, 2017
Just gave this to my husband yesterday as an early Christmas present and he absolutely loved it! We put it around our Christmas tree and he and the kids played with it for hours. It was really easy to put together. Make sure it is unplugged when you go to put the train on the track (which he would have know if he read the directions) because it will spark. It comes with a small bottle of liquid smoke but was smoking before we even added it. There is a way to turn off the additional background noises while the train is in motion so I am not sure why some people were complaining about the sound unless they have never been around real model trains before... All in all it is a great train set and can't wait to use it for years to come.
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on July 26, 2017
We were hesitant to spend so much money on a train for the Christmas tree, but it was worth it to see the smile that it put on the face of my 3-year-old son. When he saw this last Christmas he was absolutely ecstatic, and is already looking forward to putting up the tree again this year.

The reason I gave it 3/5 stars is because sometimes the train would seem to lose connection with the remote. I'd normally have to power cycle the train in order for it to start working again, which is annoying. Everything remains lit up on the train though so it is still receiving power, but it just loses communication with the remote.

I contacted support and they tried having me check things using a volt meter and stuff, which I think is taking things a bit far for a general consumer. I know that the train is still receiving power because the train cars are still lit up, and so it seems like a problem with the remote or main train unit that communicates with the remote. The support seemed like a hassle to work with so I didn't pursue it any further, and I'm outside my return window on Amazon.

My son seems okay with restarting it periodically so I think we will still keep using it. I just wanted others to beware of a possible issue with the remote. Sometimes I wish the remote was wired instead of wireless because I think that would solve the issue, and it would still be just as much fun for my son. Aside from the communication issue with the remote I'd say that the build quality of the train is outstanding at worth every penny in that regard!
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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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