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.

LEGO City Cargo Train 60198

Amazon Product Name (APN): LEGO City Cargo Train 60198 [Amazon Exclusive]

Our Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Toy Review by: Papa

If you like trains and LEGOS, then this is the set for you!  The LEGO City Cargo Train 60198 is one of the newer remote control motorized train sets that includes Bluetooth control so you can operate the train from your smartphone or tablet.  The Lego Powered Up app is is a free download from your favorite app store.

This train set is full of features and accessories.  Besides the motorized, remote control engine, you get the parts to build a operating crane railroad car, a loaded log freight car, and a flat railroad car with 2 cargo containers.  One of the cargo containers contains a bank vault with money and gold and there is an armored van for making deliveries. The set includes 6 LEGO minifigs and a siding control tower.

I love that this set comes with a turnout switch and a track dead end bumper stop. It has enough track to make a nice loop with the siding on the inside of the loop. You can park Lego railroad cars on the siding.  Kind of makes you want more railroad cars or another engine. Yep, that’s how I think. When it comes to toys, more is better, don’t you agree?

I really enjoy playing LEGO trains with my grandson, who is just starting to understand that if you take your LEGO apart, and don’t know how to put it back together again, then you end up with a tub of parts, but no toys to play with.  I added the LEGO City Heavy Cargo Transport 60183 Building Kit to this layout and my grandson, who is six years old, put the entire kit together by himself. He has played with it almost daily for the last two weeks and it is still all put together.

If you’re looking for a new engine to add to your LEGO City layout, you can find this one on Amazon here.

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

LEGO City Passenger Train 60197

Amazon Product Name (APN): LEGO City Passenger Train 60197 Building Kit (677 Piece)

Our Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Toy Review by: Papa

I love this set so much so that I bought two of them.  Here’s why.

I have purchased LEGOS for others most of my life.  It wasn’t until a few years ago that my son came up with the idea to use LEGOS to build a monitor stand for his computer.  I stole his idea and ran with it. I have been buying LEGOS for myself ever since.

I really enjoy building the LEGO sets. If you know me or have seen any of my other articles and reviews, then you know I also love trains. So buying a LEGO train set was a very easy decision.  Even knowing that I would end up with a room filling layout, I jumped right in.

The LEGO City Passenger Train 60197 kit has 677 pieces and suggests it is for ages 6-12.  It has a motorized engine and two railroad cars, enough track to make a loop, some LEGO minifigs and some track side accessories.  It comes with a remote control but you can also operate the engine from your phone or tablet using the LEGO PowerUp app that is available for free.  The LEGO app has the added benefit of adding sounds to your play.

The kit has everything you need to load passengers and take them on their journey. I bought the second passenger train kit because I wanted a longer train with an engine on each end.  That was the reason I ended up with lithium batteries. With six new lithium batteries, the engine pulled the entire train (engine plus 4 railroad cars and a “dummy engine”) fast enough that derailments could, and did, occur! This is a very fun set and like all LEGOS, they can be added to and modified to suit your own needs.

If you’re interested in getting into LEGO train sets, I recommend you take a look at the Lego City Passenger Train 60197 on Amazon here.

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

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.

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

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