LionChief Model Trains

A Model Train Review by Papa

I love Lionel trains and I truly enjoy talking about the sets I personally own and play with, every chance I get.  You can see what I have to say about my favorite set, the Polar Express, in my article about it here. But my affection for the Lionel train lines doesn’t end there.

One of my first sets was the Lionel New York Central RS-3 Freight Train Set – O-Gauge.  This set features a dark blue NYC diesel locomotive all trimmed in white. The model railroad set comes with one NYC boxcar in a nice bright green, and a striking red caboose.  Both cars are trimmed in white and black with the oval shaped NYC logo. This set comes with the wall pack power supply, the remote, and enough Lionel FasTrack to make a 40 inch by 60 inch loop.  I have found quite a few NYC railroad cars, and now when I run it, I have a nice long NYC train.

The Patriot Diesel train set is a model train I purchased about a year ago.  I love the red, white and blue paint scheme on the locomotive and caboose. This is a great set to help celebrate the 4th of July, which is a special holiday for our family.  The set comes with a green boxcar celebrating 200 years of our great nation, and a special hopper car with bold red and white stripes.  This set has enough track to make a 40 inch by 50 inch loop, a wall power pack and the remote control.

I even have a train set for Halloween!  The Lionel Peanuts Halloween Train Set is a spooky set according to my six-year old grandson, who does not like the Halloween sound effects. Painted in Peanuts’ themed Halloween style, this train is ready to take you on the hunt for the great pumpkin.  Being a steam engine, the set includes the tender, a boxcar, a tank car and the caboose, a wall power pack, the remote and enough track to make a 40 inch by 50 inch loop.

Here’s a family favorite, Lionel’s DC Comics Batman Phantom Train Set in O-Gauge.  This set features the best sound effects. Batman’s voice sets the stage, talking about fighting crime as train moves smoothly around the track.  The Phantom diesel has two additional cars, the wall power pack, remote control, and the standard 40 inch by 60 inch loop of FasTrack. Heads turn every time this train set goes by.

I’ve been planning on expanding my O scale trains, and have been planning a layout to showcase my favorite trains. Eventually, the layout will have farmland features, so I had to get the Lionel John Deere Steam LionChief Train Set – O-Gauge.

John Deere green is the predominant color of this train set although the steam engine does have a bright metallic nose. The set has a flatbed railroad car with two tractors on board, a gondola car with crated farm equipment, and the caboose. The set includes the remote control, a wall power pack and the standard 40 inch by 60 inch loop of FasTrack.

I’ve purchased farm buildings, grain silos and other accessories to go along with my countryside setting. Part of my farmland layout will be done in older O track so I can incorporate some of my post war era Lionel accessories.  You should see the cows go from the corral to the stock car.

Did I mention that our layout will have a subway level?  We will be running the Lionel MLB Yankees LionChief Subway Set.  It’s a three car, M7 subway train set painted with scenes baseball fans can enjoy. This model railway set comes with a wall power pack, remote control, and enough FasTrack to make a 40 inch by 60 inch loop.  

To expand the subway line, I also have the Batman M7 subway set and I have plans to have it make special runs to the Arkham Insane Asylum from Gotham City.

As an O-scale model railroad collector, I’ve also picked up a few sets that I are no longer find available online but are worth mentioning in case you happen to find them in a model railroad hobby shop, or swap meet.

My Lionel Pennsylvania Railroad Keystone Special features a working searchlight flatcar. I also have a Lionel Union Pacific Scout Hill Freight Train Set.  We met a railroad engineer who told us that Union Pacific’s nickname is “Unkle Pete. I can say with confidence that I love “Uncle Pete!”

In addition to modern railroads, I also have a Rio Grande & Santa Fe Steam Switch Engine Train Set. It was my very first railroad set.

Part of the fun of model railroading is going to different hobby and train stores and train shows.  I like looking for interesting sets to expand my railroad layout. The diligent, knowledgeable shopper can find some good bargains hidden on the back shelf, so it’s absolutely worth getting to know your hobby store staff to find out what they’ve got hiding behind the counter.

One of our biggest inspirations in O-Scale train layouts is Ericstrains on YouTube. If you love trains, you have to check him out!

I have saved the best for last.  I bought the Lionel BNSF RS-3 Scout Freight Set with Bluetooth Train Set for myself, then I gave it to my grandson who loves BNSF. The BNSF diesel locomotive is a vintage RS-3 painted in the new BNSF road colors. The set includes a green Burlington Northern boxcar, a black BNSF tank car, and a red BNSF caboose. The set has the standard 40 inch by 60 inch oval loop of FasTrack, a wall power pack, and the remote control.

One of the coolest features of the Lionchief systems are the included sounds that come from hidden speakers. You have a bell, a horn, and voice announcements. There are different announcements for when the train is moving and for when it is stopped. Both of these situations switch to a third announcement after 30 seconds of changing from being motion or stopping.

Operating two or three Lionel LionChief train sets on a big layout gets noisy, but it’s my kind of noisy. We’ve added a few extra BNSF railroad cars, and the train is impressive as it winds around the layout. These trains are powerful enough to easily pull a dozen railroad cars. I intend to obtain another of these sets so that I can have my own, again. Then my grandson and I will have two identical engines to play with. I have not tried that yet!

To me, gaining the ability to operate an O scale train from my tablet or smartphone with bluetooth functionality makes playing with the model trains more like running the engine from the cab. The features of the control panel are excellent.  Having the Bluetooth ability is also be a great way to run the train if the batteries in the standard remote control fail. The Lionel Bluetooth app is a free download available at most app stores.

Once you get started playing with Lionel trains, it’s easy to get enthralled with the charm and excitement of each different set. I know you’ll enjoy run any of these railroad sets! To get started choosing your own Lionel O-Scale railroad set, you can browse their Amazon storefront here.

Want more like this? Check out some of our other lists and reviews below.

Papa’s Favorite Lionel Train: The Polar Express

A Model Train Review by Papa

We all love the movie The Polar Express, and Lionel has produced quite a range of train sets, rolling stock, and accessories around this story.  I’ve always wanted my own Lionel Christmas Tree railroad layout, and was excited when I discovered I could own The Polar Express. I was delighted to find Lionel offers O scale including The Polar Express LionChief Train Set with Bluetooth.

This set has a 40 inch by 60 inch oval of FasTrack, a DC power pack, remote control, the engine and tender. It also comes with two coach cars and an observation car, all with “snow” covered roofs.  These Lionel model railroad sets are special in that they also come with four O scale figures that can be attached to the cars and engine by using the available figurine pins on them. The figures each have a socket on one foot that fits the pins. My grandson and I love staging figures on the roofs of the cars, or the front of the engine, and watching them ride the rails.

Another version you might find in model train hobby shops, or perhaps used from a private model railroad seller, is Lionel Polar Express Remote Train Set, which is very similar to what I’ve listed above, except it does not include Bluetooth controls, and neither the passenger cars or observation car are painted with snowy tops.

When I bought my set, I also got a The Polar Express Holiday Gift Set which came with a hard bound copy of the picture book and a beautiful silver bell for the Christmas tree. Our version of the gift set came with a “golden ticket”, but current versions may come with the movie on DVD or Blu-ray instead. These extras were the perfect gift for my grandson, who is my favorite train buddy.

If you shop around, you might find other versions of the Polar Express sets in the Lionel Ready to Play and American Flyer (by Lionel) model railroad lines.  Please note that engines and track provided with either of these sets are not compatible with Lionel O scale FasTrack, which is the track I prefer.

Now comes the fun part, expanding the Polar Express train set.  The available expansion accessories fall into three main categories.  First, Lionel offers an extensive array of add-on cars. Second, there are the Lionel O scale accessories like bridges and other structures.  And third are the Polar Express figures packs.

Here are just some of my favorite add-on cars for The Polar Express:

Disappearing Hobo Car 6-84602

Hot Chocolate Car 6-84603

Letters to Santa 6-84601

Diner Car 6-84604

Boxcar 2-Pack 6-83645

Conductor Announcement Car 6-83437

Silver Load Hopper 6-84370

Baggage Car 6-84605

Combination Car 6-84600

There are many additional cars that be found on the shelf in hobby and train stores from previous Lionel releases.  In addition to several of the railroad cars above, I own a Polar Express Aquarium car and a Silver Bells car. I’ve also added several non-Polar Express Lionel O scale Christmas cars, including a Christmas Music Box car.  With all the extra cars, and another Lionel engine, we were able to run more than one train around the Christmas tree this year!

The Polar Express Scenic Accessories

In addition to this wide variety of model railway rolling stock, Lionel produces a number of O scale Polar Express scenic accessories.  I started with a bridge, since my layouts always include water (using a piece of blue vinyl)  and fishing. I added some vintage Lionel accessories and a train station platform, but there are even more additions available including the hero’s childhood home, the Polar Express Gateman shed, flagpoles and more.

In addition to displaying my Polar Express and other holiday model railroad sets with Lionel accessories, I also set up a village of ceramic buildings that I’ve collected over the years. My little town has complimented my O scale Christmas model train set for many holiday seasons.  While they aren’t exactly the same scale, they are close enough, and the bright lights of the village on a white felt bed bring to mind steam trains rolling through a small town in winter.

This brings to mind a little tip: If you don’t have lots of O-scale accessories, but you have other toys and decorations in a similar scale, feel free to use them! All it takes is a bit of imagination, and you can decorate your model railroad with any manner of items, from paper mache mountains, to ceramic cottages and LEGO townhouses.

Add-on figures for The Polar Express:

Finally, Lionel has produced a range of O scale figures specifically for The Polar Express railroad line.  Available sets include more characters from the movie such as Santa, his elves, reindeer, wolves and rabbits.  

Setting up a Christmas layout is really fun, and I hope you’re feeling inspired to build The Polar Express model railroad set at your house this holiday season.

Want more? Check out some of our other lists and reviews below.

What track do I need for Lionel model railroads?

A Model Train Help Article by Papa

If you’ve decided to get into Lionel model O Scale trains, are you now wondering what style of track to get? There are some options for you to consider.

Lionel produces a wide variety of ready to run sets that include an engine (and a tender if the model is for a steam locomotive), some rolling stock (railroad cars like box cars, tank cars, flat cars, or hopper cars. etc.), and a caboose. These sets come with a power pack made to connect a special section of track to a standard electrical outlet in your home.

Some entry level sets will be have a curved section of powered track. Assembled with the rest of the included track, you’ll have a 40 inch diameter circle for your train to run on. (To see an example, you can view the Lionel Junction Santa Fe Steam Train Set on Amazon here.) Lionel Junction sets are inexpensive starter sets that give you just enough to track, power and railroad cars to get going.

Other sets will use a special straight section of track for the power input. Some sets include an additional standard straight and a special accessory section to power track accessories. These sets make an oval layout that is 40 inches by 60 inches and will fit on a 4 foot by 8 foot sheet of plywood. Most of the Lionchief sets include this size loop of track.

You need to think big if you want to operate an O scale layout that is more than the simple loop included with the sets.  You can add the inner passing loop set to give you an inner siding which increases the layout to 40 inches by 70 inches.  You have used up some more of the available space on that 4×8 sheet of plywood.

Along with the kit mentioned above, Lionel track kit offerings include outer passing loops, grade crossings, both left and right hand turnouts and siding kits that include a decoupling section and a rail line dead end bumper section.

Modern Lionel sets include FasTrack molded plastic track with three metal rails. The center rail is the “hot” rail and the outer two rails are the “ground” rails.  Lionel produces power rail section for both the DC remote control sets and AC Transformer units but please note that you cannot connect both power systems to your layout at the same time.  When I tried to do that, the protective circuitry in the power pack and the modern transformer would not allow either one to work.

Besides the modern Lionel FasTrack, you can still find older “O-27” and the later “O” three rail metal track but you should note that “O-27” will not plug into “O” due to the use of slightly thicker connecting pins on the “O” track and the height of the rails themselves.  Lionel does produce an adapter section of FasTrack that will allow you to mix “O” track with FasTrack. I have done this so I can incorporate vintage operating model O scale railroad car sets into my FasTrack layout.

I have also acquired some older box sets with “O-27” track and have modified some “O-27” to connect to “O” but have to use a ¼ in plywood shim under the “O-27” to match the rail height of the “O”.

The “O-27” designation actually is referring to the approximate diameter a circle made from just track curve sections.  A circle of track is 27 inches in diameter when measured from the outside of the metal ties. “O” is slightly larger at 31 inches in diameter and standard FasTrack is “O-36” which is measure from the outside rails instead of the ends of the model RR track ties for the older tubular metal tracks.  Lionel offers a variety of curve diameters and straight track lengths. Standard FasTrack straight is 10 inches long per section. If you are like me, you will always want more straight track like the 10 inch or the 30 inch extra long track section. You can also get a 4-pack of the 10 inch straight sections.

I hope that as you explore all of the offerings Lionel FasTrack has to offer, you’ll find the combination to make a model railroading layout that’s uniquely yours. My grandson and I have a lot of fun designing new layouts, disconnecting the track and rebuilding it to see what new combinations we can make. We’re sure you’ll have fun building your model railroading layout, too!

Want more? Check out some of our other lists and reviews below.

Are those model trains HO?


How To Tell The Difference Between Model Railroad Scale Sizes

A Model Train Help Article by Papa

What’s the difference between model railroading Scale, and Gauge? Scale is the ratio of the model dimensions to the real life size.  Gauge is the distance between the two outer rails. As an example of Gauge, O Gauge track is listed as 1.25 inches.

O Scale is 1:48.  This means 1 actual foot (12 actual inches) on the model train layout equals 48 scale feet.  Looking at it from the layout perspective, each ¼ inch on the layout represents 1 scale foot.

The above image is of an O Scale train next to an O Scale brick wall. If O Scale layouts seem too big for you, then consider HO, N or Z Scale.

HO Scale is 1:87, N Scale is 1:144, while Z Scale is 1:220.  These very popular scales allow you to build impressive layouts in smaller locations.  Where a Lionel O Scale diesel locomotive might be about 12 inches long, the same engine in HO Scale might only be about 8 inches long. An N Scale model train may be just 4 inches long, while a Z Scale engine could be as small as 2 inches!

Now, if you decide you want to go bigger with your model railroading, take a look at G Scale model trains.  Often called “garden” railroads, these systems are often built outdoors.  At a scale of 1:22.5, this means your engine might be 2 feet long!

But wait… there’s more.

Model railroading hobbyists are intensely individual. That’s why where are so many different scales for model railroading. And just because G, O, HO, N and Z are the most common scales, they aren’t the only ones. Another lesser known scale is S Scale at 1:64, just a little smaller that O Scale.  There is also the unofficial L Scale for trains made by LEGO at 1:38. And then there is Live Steam… I’ll leave a little video for you to check out some Live Steam model trains below.

As you learn about the different model railroading scales, make sure you look at the pros and cons of each size. Some scales are smaller, so they can fit in tight spaces. Other scales offer a wider variety of track, engine and accessories. Do your research so you can find the model railroading experience that’s right for you. Or, if you’re like me, and can’t decide which scale is the right one for you, get one of each!

Happy railroading!

Want to see more? Check out some of our other articles and reviews below.

Help! What kind of Lionel train controller do I get?

The Changing Current of Lionel Model Trains

A Model Train Help Article by Papa

If you are just getting started in the model train hobby, you may be looking at new and pre-owned O Scale Lionel trains for sale, and wondering what kind of control system you’ll need to run your railroad engine. In this article, we’ll take a look at the different kinds of controls available for both new and used Lionel model trains.

The first thing you need to know about operating Lionel O scale train sets, is that there are two basic engine types.  Originally, all Lionel train sets operated using an external variable voltage alternating current (AC) transformer. (Currently available is the Lionel CW-80 80-watt Transformer).  The maximum voltage output of this transformer style control is about 18 volts AC, and is applied to the center (hot) rail of the track.  The two outer rails are the common, or ground, rails. This “transformer method” of control involves applying power to the engine using the transformer speed control.  The engines can go forward and reverse, and has a neutral setting between each direction. In order to change directions of the model train with a transformer controller, you turn the controller to zero, apply power in neutral, turn the controller back to zero again, and then apply power to start moving the train.

The neutral position on the Lionel transformer powers the track to operate motorized accessories while the engine is stopped. Lionel has changed the transformer style over the years and older, no longer-in-production styles can still be found in small hobby shops, or purchased used from model train hobbyists. Modern transformers also have buttons for horn and bell, if your engine has them, and a reversing button that can stop the train and change direction with one touch.  

Lionel introduced multiple engine control with its TrainMaster Command Control (TMCC) system in 1994. TMCC was replaced in 2006 by Cab-2 and the Legacy system. The Legacy system is available today for Lionel’s Premier Line. These are very nice and very expensive train sets for the serious collector.

Then came the digital revolution and its version of remote control.  The success of the Lionel Thomas remote control set in 2012 led to LionChief introduction in 2013.  These systems use 18 volt direct current (DC) and full power is applied to the track as soon as the Lionel LionChief 72W Wall Pack Power Supply is plugged in and turned on.  All controls are in the hand-held remote that allows the user to operate the train and the included sound system. Commands are sent from the controller to the train wirelessly.  These systems allow the train “engineer” to follow their train around the layout. The remote speed control centers at zero volts and allows easy slow downs and direction changes by simply turning the knob in the desired direction at the desired speed.  Each train set has its own controller and own frequency. LionChief Plus became available in 2014. Lionel has introduced the universal controller which can control up to three locomotives, but not all past LionChief sets will be supported.

In 2017 Lionel introduced Bluetooth controls which allow you to control the LionChief train from a smartphone or tablet using the Lionel LionChief App, which is a free download from most app stores.  This is really important since non Bluetooth sets cannot be operated if the controller batteries fail, or worse yet, the controller fails. A failed controller will have to be sent to Lionel for repair.

If you happen upon a transformer set in your local hobby or model railroad shop, you may want to get it because in 2018, Lionel decided to discontinue production of the AC transformer equipped starter sets.

But please note that you cannot connect AC and DC track power supplies to a single layout at the same time.

I recommend that newcomers start with LionChief Plus with Bluetooth.  These sets will come with enough FasTrack to make a oval loop and you are on your way. To take a look at some of Lionel’s O Scale offerings, you can head to their page on Amazon here.

Want more? Check out some of our other lists and reviews below.

Lionel O-Gauge Trains

Model Railroad Review by Papa

When you collect trains as long as I have, you can’t help but pick your favorites. In my collection, I have about 30 engines, over one hundred different model railroading cars, and enough O scale track and accessories to fill most of the floor space in my house. When I look over at my collection, it’s easy to see that Lionel trains are my favorite.

I prefer Lionel O gauge model trains for a number of reasons.  First, is nostalgia. That’s where it all started with the first Lionel train set that our dad bought for me, my brother, and himself. (You can read more about my first train set in A Love Affair with Model Railroading here.)

I also love the weight and size of the Lionel O scale model railroading engines. Lionel trains are heavy, and you should use both hands when you pick one up. And watch out for little hands – small children will definitely need help moving the engines around the train room.

Many of Lionel’s engines are equipped with working headlights and and sounds. There are illuminated cabooses, and passenger cars with people who move on the cars.  I have model railroad freight cars that carry and dump loads of “wood”, “coal”, and “feed”. Searchlight cars and other operating cars can be quite fun. You would be amazed at how often new models and O scale accessories are added by Lionel!

One of my favorites cars is the Lionel US Army boxcar 3665, which includes an operating plastic missile launcher.  I personally enjoy the wide variety of flat cars and all the different loads you can model. The detail on tank cars for oil and gasoline are amazing.  If you look hard enough you can find models that relate to the history of your town, state and country. We used to have a Reynolds Aluminum plant where I live, and I was able to find two Reynolds bauxite cars for my O scale trains.  One of my newer log dumpers carries the Weyerhaeuser logo, to represent the mill that used to be in our town, too.

Another fun aspect is finding vintage “post war” era railroad cars.  I found a vintage milk can car, Lionel 3472, that can carry 7 “milk cans” and unload them onto a side platform.  I was given a post war era cattle car and unloading side platform, Lionel 6656, with 15 “cows”. Since each car can only hold 5 “cows” I have been looking for more of these vintage stock car and now have two.  (Please note that vintage accessory pieces like the milk can station or the cattle corral were made to work on the track available at that time, Lionel “0-27” three rail metal track and will not work with modern FasTrack without adapter track section and some shimming due to dimension differences.)

You can model specific railroad lines, which adds a lot of color and variety to the model railroading layout.  I have always been a fan of Union Pacific railroad, while my son prefers Burlington Northern. My grandson is up to date and likes BNSF railway.  I also enjoy freight lines like Pennsylvania railroad, NYC, Rio Grande and Santa Fe. With all the real life railroad mergers, you can see some of these road names still operating today on actual railroad systems.

Lionel is my favorite model railroading manufacturer because of the wide availability of sets and accessories, coupled with affordable prices. But that’s not to say that Lionel trains are cheaply made. Their remote control sets can now include Bluetooth ( e.g. Pennsylvania Flyer LionChief Set-with Bluetooth), and for the more discerning model railroader hobbyist, Lionel offers more expensive engines with remote control couplers (Lionel Southern LionChief Plus 4-6-2 Pacific Steam Engine w/Bluetooth), and other options like a wider array of sounds, lighting, and more sturdy construction of the engines.

My favorite thing about Lionel model train layouts is they’re so easy to expand. Combine your favorite engines with add-on sidings that have decoupling sections (like the Lionel FasTrack Siding Track Pack)and you can create a working train yard with multiple sidings for each train line or style of load like freight cars or hopper cars.

For those who want to look beyond Lionel trains, another brand I enjoy is MTH (Railking). I was happy to acquire a vintage NYC docksider set made by MTH.  Although Lionel is still my brand of choice, I also look for Atlas, Menards, and Industrial Rail O scale model railroad sets.

You’ll enjoy Lionel trains because they are fun, full of features and best of all, expandable.  Playing trains with family and friends has created rewarding experiences that I’ve cherished for half a century, and I know they’ll do the same for you and your loved ones, too.


Want More? Check out some of our other lists and reviews below.

A Love Affair with Model Railroading

Do you remember your first encounter with a railroad train engine? I was a toddler and my dad took me to the Union Pacific railroad roundhouse in Meridian, Idaho. The big black, noisy steam engines scared me.  I think that was why dad bought us our first set of Lionel trains.  He loved the O Scale train set as much, or more, than we did.  I still have that engine although it doesn’t work anymore. The original model railroading set sold for $19.99, which was very expensive for the early 1950’s.

Today, Lionel’s offerings are significantly expanded. Entry level Lionel train sets are inexpensive, and easy to use.  I love browsing hobby shops and model railroading stores looking for “hidden treasures” like vintage engines and rolling stock.  Modern Lionel trains bought in a set come with a loop of FasTrack, a power pack, a remote control, a model train engine, one or two railroad cars, and a caboose.  Once set up you will usually have a 40-inch by 60-inch oval loop.  If you’re like me, just going in a loop won’t be enough, but here is where Lionel model railroading really excels.  Add on kits are readily available to allow you to create the model railroad system of your dreams.  You can buy turnouts, siding kits, passing loops, and powered accessories like lighted towers.

My collection has expanded since those early days. I have about 30 engines, over one hundred different railroad cars (often referred to as rolling stock) and enough track and accessories to fill most of the floor space in my house.

Our current Christmas tree O scale layout has seven different engines including my favorite, the Polar Express.  Yes, there are sidings everywhere!  All the engines have separate remote controls, and we only operate two trains at a time to avoid train collisions.

You might be lucky enough to have a relative or neighbor with a “model train room” filled with Lionel trains. If you do, you know the fun and joy that comes from playing with the trains.  And if you don’t, I recommend reaching out to a local model train club in your area.

We are fortunate to have a local model train club who displays their trains several days a week for the general public. They run O scale model trains, have an HO scale layout, and even get their N scale model railroads running most afternoons. Visiting with avid collectors and model railroad enthusiasts is where you get a real feel for what is possible.

These days, I enjoy sharing my model railroad with my family. But I especially enjoy playing with the Lionel trains with my six-year-old grandson.  We operate the “B&S railroad” whenever we get the chance.


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