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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 It's been replaced by a handrail that's cast to the metal body.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 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 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 December 11, 2017
this is the third train (Polar Express) I have had. First one didn't work at all. I sent it back. The second one I got at a hobby store and it did work, but not without a lot problem expanding the tracks. I did however get it working. It lasted x2 Christmases then a piece of metal driving the wheels broke. I sent off to get this one. Set up the tracks plugged it in placed the engine on the tracks using a device to line up the wheels ( and yes I did have the smoke option off for the trial run. Light came on. No movement of the engine no matter what I did. I packed it up to prepare for return. I've put a lot of expense and time into this project and I'm angry, disappointed, and about to give up. I can not recommend anyone get this kit. I feel that Lionel has targeted the not-as-committed hobbiest into purchasing this product, have them give up, then bite the expense of a piece of crap. I will try this one more time. Oh by the way Lionel has a phone number on the instructions on where you can find a vendor. I have not called this yet, but its's interesting it isn't a number for assistance or complaint. If there isn't anything I can do at least I can tell you DON'T BUY IT!!!
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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 29, 2016
Disappointed on Christmas morning when this train wouldn't work. HOURS were wasted trying desperately to get it working. We checked every connection, all the set up instructions, and there is something wrong with it. It will only turn on (cars light up) intermittently, and randomly drives backwards half way around the track when the remote is OFF...but won't run forward at all when the remote is ON. Now we are stuck trying to figure out whether to get it serviced (which we shouldn't have to do) or return it and try a different model/brand. Major disappointment for something we spent so much on.
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on January 6, 2017
It is fun and fascinating. I love the sounds, smoke and voice of the announcer. My 4 1/2 yr old grandson was estatic. He played and has played with it for hours since Christmas. The 30 inch track extensions made a big plus to the overall fun of running the train. The track is pretty sensitive. It needs to be on a board for stability. Overall...it was worth every penny. Teach your child how to handle it and everyone will have a good time.
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