Pros / It’s well-designed and fast.
Cons / We couldn’t get the app remote control to work.
Verdict / The Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer is our best overall pick because it’s detailed, interactive and honestly just a ton of fun to play with.
This train is a sight to behold. It’s an O gauge train so it was one of the larger trains we tested, but it’s still breathtakingly detailed. The set comes with five train cars in total including a boxcar with a working door and a locomotive with a working headlamp. Right away we were thrilled because this train actually has a working smoke stack and comes with a small bottle of liquid smoke. Granted, the bottle of liquid smoke was leaking and hard to squeeze into the smoke stack, but after a few attempts we were able to get the train running as it blew smoke rings into the air in time with the chuffing sounds. It’s those details that really moved this train to the top of our rankings.
The set comes with 12 pieces of track you can build into a massive 60 x 40-inch oval. Seriously, it’s massive, so you’ll probably want something smaller like the Bachmann Freightmaster if you’re short on space. The Pennsylvania Flyer affixes easily to the track, which is then plugged into the wall. One of the downsides to this train is you have to unplug it when you’re done using it, as there’s no off/on switch on the cord. The train runs via wireless remote, which requires AAA batteries. You can use the remote to activate the engine’s bell, whistle and announcements, but there’s an on/off switch on the engine itself for the smoke and sound if you’re tired of all the commotion.
The real smoke is complemented by this train’s speed. We clocked it traveling 2.17 feet per second, which is by far the fastest of the trains we tested. It also only derailed one time while our testers were using it. The couplings are really easy to use, in part because they’re pretty big, but many of our testers focused on this train’s audio components. One tester said, “I like this one because it’s got more bells and whistles. And smoke.” Some testers said they wished it had a volume control, and they didn’t like that you can’t move it manually on the track when it’s turned off. However, The Pennsylvania Flyer got very high marks overall and earned an A+ for design and detail.
This train’s one big failure is that it has bluetooth capability and is therefore more expensive. You’re supposed to be able to connect the train to the Lionel LionChief app on your smartphone via Bluetooth, but we never could get it to work. Once you’ve downloaded the app you’re prompted to press engine buttons 1, 2 and 3 at the same time, though there are no buttons with that label on the remote or train. The instructions included with the train don’t mention these buttons and simply say the train should appear once you’ve downloaded the app. It does say the train will chirp until setup is complete, and it did keep chirping. Honestly the chirping is super annoying. This train is available for about $50 less without Bluetooth, so we recommend trying that model or the Santa Fe Blue Lightning.
The locomotive feels heavy enough to use as a murder weapon. It’s well-designed and has small design elements most of the other trains we tested lacked. The other cars are clearly made of a higher quality plastic while still feeling quite light but well put together. They feel like they’re able to handle a little abuse, so we put it to the test and dropped the engine four times from a height of about 3 feet. This was the only train we tested that had absolutely no external damage after the drops and continued to run just as well as it had before, earning an A+ in that category.
This train has everything you could ever want – it’s fast, durable, easy to assemble and a ton of fun. You don’t need to have a lot of patience with this model because you can assemble it in a few minutes and start having fun right away. Its design, smoke stack, speed and user-friendly features make it the best train out there.