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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 It's been replaced by a handrail that's cast to the metal body.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 19, 2013
Bought this set for myself (BIG KID) Set worked fine out of the box. It has some design quirks like:

No off/on power switch on xformer (minor).
If you make any changes to the smoke switch or sounds switch, you have to uplug xformer for it to take effect.
Should be a volume control on remote. Very noisey on hard floors.
Does not seem to have adequate power. If running at slow speed, it almost or does stop at turns.

Problems I have encountered so far:

1. Engine headlight was intermittent. The is a miniture screw in type 18v incandescent lamp. Problem appeared to be a cold solder joint on the bottom of the lamp socket. The problem was that the lamp had been glypet (almost glued) to the socket. When trying to tighten an or remove it , it broke. The intermittent problem was now permanent.

My fix:

I bought an 18v L.E.D. miniture lamp and hardwired it in place of incandescent bulb. Now have a permanent lamp.

2. The smoke on/off switch litterally fell apart. I soldered the connection to the on position till I get a replacement switch.
3. Smoke was also intermittent. The smoke mechanism is mechanical and electrical (heating element)A lever attached to the wheels pushes a bellows type deal up and down which is syncronized with the chug chug sound.
Every so often, the bellows type cylinder would get stuck, causing no smoke rings and also caused binding slowing the engine down. Still kind of working on this problem. This is probably causing the non smoking problem in other reviews.
Being a tech, I solved most of the problems. Overall, I like this new inovation ( remote control and sounds) It is a new low end product line which still has some kinks. Quality control should have caught most if not all of these problems. (my opinion).

For the price I paid $ 144.00, i really can't complain, I enjoy my toy !
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on March 1, 2017
I love this train. It is a great addition to your Christmas decorations. It is also a great starter for your first Lionel Train set. Kids love it too. I would recommend this train to any one who asks me.
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on January 16, 2015
The coupler for the last car kept staying open and the last car would keep coming lose. In checking it out we noticed that the plastic mechanism was bent causing the opening not to close. The coupler on another car was missing the thumbtack shaped part that was suppose to help open and close the coupler. Not sure who to contact to see if we can get replacement parts. We also had a problem with the railing on the last or observation car. It didn't want to stay attached. The small bottle of smoke fluid was really stiff and we had a very difficult time getting the fluid out of it. It was a good thing that we had purchased an additional bottle which was flexible and easy to use. All in all my son really enjoyed the train.
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on November 22, 2016
Great set. Locomotive looks like the real 1225 Pierre Marquette Berkshire the movie engine is based on. The engine and cars are detailed beyond the usual "toy train" level, but are still plenty rugged enough to withstand rough handling by small hands. The track snaps together easily and looks better than the old style "tinplate" tubular track. The Lion Chief remote control makes it easy for young folks to control the train. My four year old niece was driving the train like a pro after a few minutes of figuring it out. The Lion Chief remote replaces the traditional transformer control with a hand held radio control unit paired to the locomotive. Power is supplied by a single wire from a power pack plugged into the wall. Once the power is turned on, the locomotive headlight turns on and the engine makes "idling" noises. The remote controls speed and direction. The engine makes chuffing sounds that match how fast it is going, and they can be switched off. The remote also has buttons for bell and whistle sounds, as well as movie clips from the Conductor played by Tom Hanks. What the Conductor says depends on whether the train is moving or not. The set also includes a bottle of smoke fluid so that the engine can puff smoke as it travels around the track. One other thing is that unlike other "Christmas trains", the Polar Express is not festooned in the usual red and green or "Seasons Greetings". The engine is black, and is a faithful reproduction of a real world engine. The cars are a subtle grey/blue with black roofs and a maroon stripe and gold lettering. The train could easily serve as a regular passenger service for a budding model railroader after Christmas and the beefy black locomotive would look great at the head of a line of freight cars bought later on.
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Overall this is a good product, but mechanical issues with the engine did the set in for us. After just a day, the engine started making a binding and clicking sound. Not sure if it was the motor itself or actual binding of the rods. Wasn't worth the trip to the hobby shop for a brand new product, and Lionel customer service of course wants you to send it back on your dime. We ended up returning it.
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on January 14, 2014
I have the Lionel Polar Express O gauge with the 80W transformer that I got 8 years ago and it is great, but this remote version is just fantastic. I bought it in December 2013 during the Amazon sale. The remote works very well and you have buttons for a whistle, Tom Hanks quotes from the movie (2) and the bell. The remote speed control knob has a very similar feel as the traditional transformer. Reverse works great as well. The chugging sound is synchronized with the speed of the locomotive and the increase or slowdown is very smooth as you adjust. Top speed is quite fast and I never had the engine move off the oval track under the tree. The engine is cast and very heavy. She smokes nicely when you turn the heater on inside the cab and apply smoke drops. The whole train looks realistic and it is so easy and smooth in its operation. The train whistle is hard to hear as well as the Tom Hanks quotes when the train is moving pretty fast. What a train! The cars are plastic but light up nicely with silhouettes and are quite realistic. The couplers are solid as I never had a car separate in the 8 or 9 hours that I ran the train around the tree.
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on October 10, 2017
A little pricy but I love it. It’s the perfect addition to any Christmas tree. Heavy weight and nicely constructed. It’s not model railroader grade but for the average guy like me it’s perfect.
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on January 4, 2017
I want to give more stars because it's truly a nice train set. When we received it the whole family got involved in setting up the train set. The excitement of seeing the kids faces watching the train go around in circles and rings of smoke come from the train was a moment to cherish with the whole family. But the excitement didn't last, after two weeks of use it stopped working. For the price I didn't think it was worth keeping it for only two weeks of use. I returned the train set back .
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on January 9, 2014
I bought this train for our son's for Christmas and it was beautiful. Neatly packed and easy to assemble. However noticed that the locomotive would not stay on track and a piece under the car was not secure and not able to secure. It looked like a manufacturer defect. Wow, did Amazon remedy that situation quick. They sent me a replacement within 5 days, had the UPS person pick up the old one and back to business. Just put the new train up and it is as lovely and works great! It is always difficult for me to connect the cars because they don't stay on and I am not sure if the coal car has a defect in the connection, but we will see if it will stay connected. My boys love this train. It has a conductor voice just like the movie, awesome sounds and smoke, comes with little figurines, and the bell ornament. It really gives you the feel for the Polar Express movie. I am so glad this is the train that I purchased for Christmas instead of buying a regular train for under the tree. I hope we will have it for many years to come.
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