Customer Reviews: Lionel Polar Express Remote Train Set - O-Gauge
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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 It's been replaced by a handrail that's cast to the metal body.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 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 13, 2013
After first setting up the entire set (by following all instructions), I was able to move the train forward once and backwards once before it stopped working. The red light where the plug attaches to the track flashed on and off about once every half second or so and the headlight on the engine would turn on and off in unison. The transformer was powering on and off for an unknown reason.

I tried removing all the cars, and I verified all track connections and still this on/off power would occur with the engine on the track. (Made no difference with the tender on the track or off it).

I took 6 screws out of the bottom of the engine and slid the metal body off and tested the engine on the track and it worked fine. I have no idea what was wrong but when I reassembled everything it worked fine.

The other key tip was that the switches which control the smoke and "chugging" sound don't take affect right away. I had to power off and then power on the track to get the new switch setting to take effect.

I give this four stars because it's put together well and runs well. The fast track is good and creates a reliable connection and continuous smooth rail when it's setup on carpet under the tree. I don't know if the initial problems I had were my issue somehow or a manufacturing problem. All is working now!

UPDATE after 12 days of use:
The engine continues to run very well since the initial problem was resolved. The one issue I've had over the past 12 days was that the engine would not smoke. Today, I turned the engine over and let some of the smoke fluid drip out and instantly it began to smoke. You need to put a little less smoke fluid in here than you think and if it isn't smoking, try tipping it over and draining out a bit of the extra fluid.

Everything else works great and it continues to be a hit with the kids.
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on January 1, 2014
I was actually quite happy with it as I ran it for an hour or so after opening it on Christmas day. It ran good but with being limited on space(kids toys everywhere), I decided to package it up for a later date. I came back today to read some current reviews and to write a review but noticed many complaints and that Amazon actually pulled the product from sales. So being I only had till 01/08 to return it I decided to run it for a few hours today. Like many others, my train ran for maybe a few hours then sure enough it just quit. Something to do with the power source with the track that accepts the power. It just won't work however sometimes the red light will blink when the track is tapped. It seems to me that this connection became faulty from the train vibrations and it just won't connect now.

The train had some other issues also but nothing to major.

Overall it was built nice but the seams on the train weren't very tight. I seen a lot of light leakage from the front light in several different spots. Not a huge issue but it does take away from the 'realism' of the train.

No on/off switch is kind of silly.

There seemed to be sound issues as far as having to shut the sound off or turning it on. It had to be reset by unplugging the set.

Edit 01/06/13: I've decided to try another copy of this set as the set its self is very nice and detailed. I'm just worried about the longevity being there seems to be many of us who received sets that died in hours/days of being new. If my second set works good I'll raise the stars to where I think it should be.

EDIT 01/09/2014 REPLACEMENT: Replacement arrived, would not work out of the box. Upon inspection I noticed it looked like the train derailed off of a 5 foot high platform. It had scratches all over from the locomotive all the way to the last car. The locomotive even had black touch up paint covering some of the nicks and scratches. Also the gold whistle is super flimsy, was sideways, and nearly is broke off. I have no doubts this was a refurb put back on the shelf to sell as new. I ended up figuring out that the contact bars on the bottom of the locomotive weren't touching the track. Pulling them down a little ended up giving the train the contact it needed for power. The abuse this train looked like it went through is to much to keep. I mean it's suppose to be NEW. It's going back...

Luckily I haven't sent back my original and as I suspected it was an issue with the piece of track that accepts the power. So I'll just switch them out and send back the 'used' replacement I was sent. However, I have very little confidence that this train will last of the coarse of time. I just have no faith in this product but it is neat, I'll give it that. At $200 I'll take the chance. At the very least if it doesn't hold up out of warranty, I'll have a cool shelf piece for my office.

I can't give this more then 2 stars though. 2 bum copies isn't a good sign and my replacement is real bothersome as it look like it's been through a rough life already. Plus it does feel like an unfinished product with it's quirks I pointed out in my first part of my review.

Edit 01/11/2014: Returning the item. I have a couple of issues outside of what I went through above and even asked here on the question section of this product and I have comments saying it's not normal. My locomotive seems to struggle at low speeds, the motor is making an electrical buzzing sound at low speeds(like the motor has too much strain) and when entering the corners will even come to a complete stop at times. I've cleaned the track, cleaned the connections on the bottom of the train, reassembled everything and even moved it to another power outlet. Nothing mattered. Also I have a ton of light leaking from all the seams of the locomotive in the front by the headlamp. It's super annoying and make the set look extremely cheap and it does take away from the realism a bit.

Solution, buying a MTH RTR set.
review image
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on February 26, 2014
1 star I purchased one at Christmas and my grandson loved it unfortunately after only a week it started to not run consistently, stopping all of a sudden and slowing down by itself . I spoke to local train shop owner to try to trouble shoot and followed the suggestion to clean the track with no improvement. Then I noted the cord getting very warm to touch also so I returned it for a new one from Amazon. Since it was already passed the holiday season I decided to just. Set that one up to check it before packing it away until next year and I am glad I did! It worked for one evening for about 1/2 hour then it would not turn on at all! Again I felt there was a cord problem at connection to the fast track. I returned it and asked for a refund this time. Unfortunately Amazon decided to charge me a forty dollar restocking fee on a train that doesn't run! I am very disappointed in their service !
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on December 5, 2014
After dealing with the tears of a brokenhearted grandchild who wanted to see her Polar Express train circle the Christmas tree I spent three frustrating hours trying to troubleshoot why the engine would randomly stop and not resume until it had been moved up or down the track. It was not a lack of power to the track; the cars remained illuminated. It was not bad track. The stoppages took place randomly in different places on the track; sometimes going forward and sometimes in reverse. I suspect it is a loose wire someplace in the engine. The owners manual is worthless and numerous web sites shed no light on the issue. The only thing this product has in common with the Lionel trains that I played with in my youth is the name on the box. If you have a child excited for a train set for the holidays be prepared for heartbreak
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on December 31, 2013
The first set broke after two days , loosing one of the rollers on the bottom of the engine . Also the engine was moving back and forward when the train was moving , like the wheels are out of alignment .
Got this one replaced and received yesterday (!!!!) a replacement set just like the one I just returned . Not even one day later the engine stop moving at all and the train sound was always neutral even when turning on the remote to full speed . The train just " jumped " on the tracks . Yes , I did replace the batteries in the remote and I did check all the contacts on the bottom , everything seemed to be alright . All the tracks been together very well and there was no dirt or so on the tracks .
Just returned this one and will now get a refund since this made in China crap just don't work as it should .
My recommendation : If you want to keep your kids or yourself happy , don't buy this set . The quality is so bad , Lionel should be ashamed to bring a set like this on the market .
Amazon on the other side is very helpful replacing or refunding this set . Thank you !
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on January 6, 2014
Received two defective units.
The first was ordered as a Christmas gift. No power to the track; either a defective wall pack or defective terminal track section. Received replacement in three days.
Worse issues with the replacement. The track had power but the wire that powers the sound was broken off at the solder joint. The wires are too short and too delicate for the application (read other reviews - this is a common issue). Second, after running the train for about 5 minutes one of the metal piston arms snapped in half and blew apart the wheel drive assembly on one side of the train. A third issue (which also appears to be a common complaint) is that when the train did operate, it would often move in short bursts, especially when going forward.

I had no intention of writing a poor review until I politely questioned a Lionel representative regarding my experience and asked if there was another Lionel product that I could purchase that is a more reliable alternative to this Polar Express set. I guess that was the wrong question to ask. Then, when he found out it was purchased on Amazon he became extremely irritated and obstinate stating "Well that was your first problem" and suddenly the defect issues became solely my fault. He attributed my experience to fact that I did not purchase from a Lionel dealer and that the sets were surely damaged in shipping. Apparently, to avoid the potential for any shipping damage, Lionel must be hand delivering these from their manufacturer in China directly to licensed dealers and everyone else must be out of luck. The units were not damaged in shipping. My guess is that it makes more economic sense for Lionel to have you pay full, or near full retail price at a dealer and then send out questionable product for them to rework.
Amazon's inventory of this set was actually put on ship hold for several days. I would be interested to know why it was released again.
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on January 3, 2014
I recently purchased the Lionel Polar Express train set for my 5 year old son for Christmas. After assembling the train tracks and the trains, we were very disappointed to discover that the train did not operate. The tracks are connected properly and are fully powered (the red light is solid), but when I put the locomotive on the tracks, the red track light blinks and the locomotive only moves backwards in spurts. The locomotive does not move forward when we dial the remote to “forward”, or backward when we dial the remote to “reverse”. It only jerks backwards in spurts.

I called Lionel, and they want us to return the locomotive, tender and remote to them at our cost. Lionel won't pay for shipping back the defective product. I recommend avoiding this product and Lionel products generally.
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on November 19, 2013
If you are buying this train set, please be aware of the following: The Picture and the detail description in the 2013 Lionel Ready-to-Run Lionel catalog shows and lists "Separately Applied Metal Handrails on the locomotive body. This is not true, these detail features have been removed from the actual locomotive supplied in this 6-30218 Polar Express RTR set. the same applies to the Handrails on the Tender, they have also been removed from this train set. Another discrepancy listed in the 2013 catalog indicates that the set comes with eight (8) curved 0-36 track sections, One (1) 10" track section, and, one (1) Fast Track Wall Pack Terminal section forming a 40" x 50" oval layout. The actual box that this set comes in states that in addition to the (8) curved sections and (1) Fast Track Wall Pack Terminal section, there are really three (3) 10" Straight Track sections (not one 10" track section) forming a bigger 40" x 60" oval layout
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