Customer Reviews: Lionel Trains Polar Express Train Set - O Gauge
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on January 3, 2005
Wow this was worth the hassle to find. We lucked out and got it at retail price and delivered before Christmas. This was my 6 yr old son's first "real" electric train. What a special train it is. The details are fantastic. Lionel out did themselves! The engine is sooo heavy and very well built. The passenger/observational cars were suprisingly light, but incredibly detailed, quite beautiful! Transformer is powerful, track easy to put together. The characters are to scale and he has placed in the train and they ride around sticking out the end of the cars and in the engine. Smoke stack works perfect. Everything is just great. I guess we have a train enthusiast now. He runs it every day... and is soooo proud of it. He is so careful with it and teaches all his friends all about it. Worth every penny.
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on January 13, 2007
My son is 4 years old. He is really into Thomas and was just amazed the first time we started reading Polar Express and played the video. I was playing with the idea of getting this set for him for Christmas and opted to get the Bachmann Thomas sets since I had not seen one of these in person and he is "really" into Thomas the Tank engine.

After Christmas, a major department store had these for 50% off the suggested retail price. I could not pass this up. The department store also had one of these on display.

All I have to say is "wow". The locomotive is actually metal. It smokes; it has a whistle; it lights up; and it's a train. The power pack is nice and stout also. For anyone who had train sets as a kid, this is a blast from the past. It reminds me more of my father's Lionel set from 40-50s than the plastic one I got one Christmas as a kid. It is very well detailed. I would probably have paid full price and felt ok about it since it is good quality.

The bell is a nice touch.

The figures are neither here nor there. Maybe if kids are a little older they might be better. Just a note: The fireman does not have the same long hair as the video.

The track is a lot easier to work with than the old Lionel with the pins from back in the day. You do not need to tack the pieces down to keep the track together either.

The locomotive moves smoothly. It is heavy and stays on the track well.

The cars light up brightly.

At 4 years old, my son primarily watches and hits the whistle button. He has operated the speed a little. The track would be tough for him to work with. Stick with Geo Trax or wooden Thomas if you are not going to work with/supervise your kids on this. But then, the set is also recommended for ages 8 and above.

Minor downsides.

When we tested the unit, the tender's mid rail pickup was not fully inserted and shorted with the wheels next to it. We fixed this and all was well. This item may have been a packaging issue but appears to be ok now.

I have not run the set up to full throttle, but it looks like it might derail at full speed. (We had this on a table and derailing it would have meant doing a "drop" test.) This just means someone needs good judgement and experience in setting the speed. The train also is slow to start after you set the speed. (I am not sure if this intended to simulate inertia or not.) Again this probably means you want a patient person on the throttle.

Other thoughts.

It is O it is takes up space. You can rerail these easier than HO and N.

With the radius curves included in the set, the coaches seem a little long.

We also picked up the Hot Chocolate car at a local retailer that had it on sale. The coaches are plastic but look good.


I would definitely buy this set again. The locomotive looks awesome Accessories are a bit expensive (in my opinion at least). The Bachmanns Thomas sets are a good year round thing, but this one seems like it will be something special for around Christmas time.
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on January 21, 2010
I bought this set with the hopes that it would become something that would stay in the family for generations - like my father's Lionel set. For those of you who don't know, Lionel Corporation is long gone, and Lionel LLC (the makers of this set) acquired what was left of the company a while back. It's not the same. Here are my two cents:


The locomotive is a die-cast 2-8-4 junior Berkshire, and although the pilot (cowcatcher) is exaggerated, it's a nice looking locomotive. The wheels and trucks are metal, too, although the product specs don't say so.

The passenger cars are nicely lit.

The set comes with Lionel Fastrack, which is nice-looking, durable, and reliable track.


The set comes with a CW-80 transformer, which reportedly fails 50% of the time.

The locomotive has a lousy smoke unit; some work okay, others don't work at all. You can find ways to repack the unit with pink insulation on the Internet, but why would you want to take a new train apart?

The decorative bell and whistle on the locomotive are plastic and flimsy.

The metal handrails on the locomotive that I received were unevenly applied.

The plastic rail on the observation car is a joke. It is flimsy and falls off easily.

The couplers on the passenger cars are plastic.

I've heard a lot of complaints that the passenger car shells are plastic. Well, that's true, but it's really hard to find metal passenger cars these days, made by anyone. It's also hard to find trains made in America. In fact, there's only one company that still makes them here, and they are priced for the serious hobbyist.

I returned my set and went with another brand.
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on November 7, 2006
This is a solid first-quality train set that would be well worth the asking price even if it wasn't affiliated with a popular book and movie. In fact, the locomotive is a scaled-down model of a real locomotive, a Berkshire that was used by the Pere Marquette railroad that ran near the author's home when he was growing up. It is a lucky coincidence that the locomotive the author painted in the book is one that Lionel has been modeling since the 1950s, and all they had to do is change the "paint job" to create this fine model. In case you wondered, this is the best steam locomotive that Lionel includes in any of its train sets. The passenger cars are also based on the same class of real-world cars that the author painted for the book.

A number of comments here had to do with the fact that the first "run" of the train sold out before it even hit the warehouses in 2004. Nowadays, the rush isn't so great, but that doesn't mean there won't be a last-minute "run" on the set if a network station shows the movie in December. Unlike most "Christmas Trains," though, this set is tasteful enough to be used on any O gauge railroad all year round. And it's built like the Lionel trains your grandfather grew up with, solid enough to last for generations.

Happy Holidays - Paul Race, editor, Big Christmas Trains
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on September 28, 2011
After seeing this train set at our local train store, I knew that this would be a great addition for our Xmas season. I was apprehensive about buying this though after reading many bad reviews. Like most of you, I cringe at the thought of anything made in China. What may have been, or still can be, against my better judgement, I went ahead and bought this set. As noted in previous posts, it is low priced. I'm not a train hobbyist and really didn't want to drop a lot of coin on something I'd use a month or two of the year. Just wanted something for my boys to enjoy. I just received it this week and so far so good!

No problems yet with the transformer. Train changes direction without fault. The whistle works fine. The locomotive also steams as it should. Of note, I ran it at 60% throttle and after 5 minutes of running, I had plenty of steam. Make sure that you have the steam switch set to the "on" position on the locomotive. It is in the manual but easy to overlook when you are excited to get the set together.

I'll add another post to this review after Xmas updating on its long term reliability. Also of note, this set was manufactured in April 2011. I suspect Lionel has worked out the faults over the years.
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on January 16, 2007
We purchased this train as a Christmas gift for our grand children and they were delighted. Very well made. Tracks work on carpet or hardwood without difficulty.
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on December 6, 2012
So this is the second Lionel train we are on. Ordered the G gauge for the kids and the locomotive was INOP, decided to move "Up" to the O gauge, as it looked like it was made a LITTLE better. Anyway, it arrived and the engine and locomotive are nice, but the cars are plastic and pretty cheap. Went to connect the cars and one would not connect. Looking closely at it, it appears there is a small PLASTIC pin that holds the couplers together, and it was broken. When I say small, I mean like the size of a sewing needle, and only a 1/4' long. Contacted Amazon customer service about a replacement car, but their policy dictates sending the whole smash in and them sending me a replacement. I would have been happy with a car, but they have their policies.

Let me be clear and say that Amazon has been great about both issues, but the cheaply made Chinese junk that Lionel is putting out is costing someone some time and money. Like someone else posted, not the Lionel I remember as a kid.

If it weren't for Amazon's perfect customer service I would look elsewhere for something that lasts, as this appears to be headed for the garbage in a few years if not sooner. Pay for the made in the USA if you can afford it (and find it).

Also, buy some extra track if your tree is larger than a shrub, otherwise you wont make it around with whats supplied.

Your mileage might vary, but I wont buy from this manufacturer again.
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on December 25, 2011
Purchased this train for my 6 year old son and was fairly disappointed. Here's why:

1. The whistle is barely audible.
2. The bell sound does not work at all.
3. The train struggles to stay on the track and often derails. The real challenge is to keep the train on the tracks and this diminishes the purpose of the train; to have a working Polar Express.
4. An annoying issue and one common to alot of toys. The seemingly unecessary need to assemble minor pieces to larger parts. Here, the handrail on the last car needs to be inserted into place. The question I always have to ask is why should such a small piece NOT already be inserted at the toy factory?! And the kicker here is that this specific piece won't stay in place, so I am off to the store tomorrow to buy super glue.
5. The power supply often "locks up" with the green light flashing on the controller unit. The instructions say the flashing light indicates some issue with the current being drawn from the wall outlet. And while the green light is flashing, the train will not run.
6. The train car couplers don't securely hold the cars together and this coupled with issue 3, makes for a frustrating experience!
7. The smoke feature barely works. A minor puff here or there.

One has to question the QUALITY CONTROL of Lionel, a company that proudly boasts its longevity in model trains, yet delivers products with such issues descirbed here. Do they care? After forking out over $200 for this product, I would have to seriously reconsidering purchasing another Lionel porduct.

Day 2 Update: Train in completely unusable. Green light on transformer blinking and train will not run. Smoke not working. Also one of the passenger cars will not couple to the other cars and is unusable in the set.

Day 3: So I emailed Lionel with my concerns. In all fairness, the bell sound is not equipped on the Polar Express. In reply to my question about the nearly in audible whistle sound, a PDF file was attached with instructions to fix it. The fix requires a SOLDERING IRON and seems pretty involved. The biggest problem encountered to date with this train set is that the transformer constantly locks up with the blinking green light indicating the power limit on the transformer was exceeded. And out of 1 hour of time, the set is only usable maybe 5 minutes.


1. WHY is the transformer designed in such a way that it can not handle the power being exceeded. As a person with a computer engineering background, it makes absolutely no sense that Lionel can not provide a working transformer. And what power is the manual talking about that is being exceeded? If it is the wall current, them the home's circuit breakers should handle it. This is a serious issue as it makes the train set UNUSABLE.

2. To LIONEL: The quality of this train set is ABYSMAL. Where is your quality control? How can train sets where the cars will not couple together and a flaky transformer that doesn't allow the train to be used be allowed by your company make it to store shelves?!

3. I think it is absolutely ludicrous that as a consumer spending over $200 on a train set, I am expected to repair my train's whistle with a soldering iron. An issue requiring such a fix should be handled by the company sending a working replacement, not reliance on the consumer to Gerry-rig a fix.

To Lionel: You claim to be the historically premier model train company, but with train sets that perform as described here, you are
destroying your reputation. At least with me. And the real sad thing is that you are disappointing children who do not understand train cars not couple or transformers with blinking green lights that make the train unusable.
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on December 26, 2012
This, my headliner, I cannot wait for my son to open it on Christmas day,gift disappointed on so may levels. First of all, it did arrive quickly and as promised in a factory sealed box from Lionel, assembled in China. The engine had a short or something, and it would not work. I called Lionel and they offered for me to ship it to them at my charge and they would repair it. I really thought since this was a brand new toy out of the box, and such an expensive item that I should have been offered a new one. And to charge me shipping for their lack of quality control really got my goat. I returned it to amazon, with whom is easier to deal. But shame on Lionel, perhaps if they moved their manufacturing back to America their product could live up to its reputation. This does not even get into the heartbreak of both my son and I for the big surprise to become the big dud. He wants a new one, but I am a little afraid.
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on June 7, 2013
We love this train! I would have given it 5 stars but see below for warning!

After having spent a lot of money on Thomas the Train wooden railway and Trackmaster sets for my train-obsessed four-year-old, I was reluctant to purchase this train set, given the cost and larger size. However, I ended up buying it for Christmas after my son insisted for months that he only wanted one thing from Santa, a real Polar Express train with a whistle and steam. I am so glad that I did!

The quality is amazing. The engine is a hefty metal, very solid with incredible attention to detail. The train coaches are plastic, but also beautiful, with window silhouettes of objects and passengers inside the puppet car from the movie, the main car in which the children sat, and the last car with the lonely boy from the wrong side of the tracks. I'm no train expert, though, so my only basis for comparison is other toy trains. There is no comparison! My son loved the power, speed, sound and lights of the engine. He thought it was truly magic. The bell from Santa's sleigh was a wonderful extra. We set up the train around the tree and separately wrapped the bell in a small box, just like in the movie. And the adults pretended we couldn't hear it ring, of course. This train set made my son's Christmas dreams come true!

BUT anyone getting this as a gift should listen to other reviewers' experiences about trains that didn't work out of the box. That is exactly what happened to the first train set we received. We oohed and aahed at the sight of it but couldn't get the train to run despite troubleshooting and Googling how to make it work. It was simply defective. At that point, with visions of my crying son on Christmas morning dancing in my head, I was ready to give this train zero stars! Fortunately we had enough time to ship it back and get a replacement before Christmas. Amazon was wonderful as usual on the returns, and thankfully, the second train was perfect right out of the box. It arrived Christmas Eve! It's been half a year and the train still runs great. We are very pleased with our replacement train. But I can't give it the full five stars because of the first train we received.

Another note: this set can be a little tricky for little hands - the trains must be positioned correctly and in contact with the track to run. I would say that four is the minimum age for this train set, so the child has enough patience to make adjustments.

Final note: we also purchased extra track so we could make a bigger loop. If we hadn't done that, the track wouldn't have gone all around the Christmas tree skirt.
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