This military-themed train set is the least expensive one we reviewed, and we could tell. Each piece is extremely light and made of cheap-feeling plastic. The track itself is no better, and everyone who used it had a hard time keeping it on the track. Even with the real smoke feature and accessories included with the kit, it’s not one we recommend.
The box claims this train is “highly detailed” but to be honest, there were a lot of details we didn’t like. You get four train cars total, including the engine, and the size proportions are totally off. The train cars are carrying a tank and a helicopter and while your kids might think that’s fun, the older folks who used this train noticed the toy soldiers guarding the heavy machinery are as tall as the machines themselves. The set comes with cardboard figurines and pieces of scenery including a bridge, railroad sign and trees, but all of our testers noted the proportions didn’t make any sense, as the various characters included with the cutouts are substantially larger than the train. The real cherry on top is the fact that one of the cardboard cutouts included is Jacob Frye from the video game Assassin's Creed. There is absolutely no explanation for this anywhere on the packaging.
This train is generally the size of an HO gauge train, but the proportions aren’t realistic. It’s definitely a toy, not a model. You’ll need to install four AA batteries in the coal car and connect it to the engine via a small cable. This powers the train, so once the batteries run out of juice you’ll need to replace them. Installing the required batteries into the remote proved really difficult. The instructions say to remove one screw, but it’s unclear how to pop the plastic cover off after that. We had to struggle a lot to get it off and nearly broke it in the process. And speaking of instructions, they’re on the box and they’re vague.
Twelve pieces of track are included to create a 40 x 30.7-inch oval, but we didn’t get that far because one of our testers broke a piece of track while trying to assemble it. A piece simply snapped right off. The plastic track is small with hard, rough edges that make it really difficult to put together. It feels like it’s going to break every time it’s about to snap into place. We recommend looking at the underside of the track when snapping two pieces together so you know exactly how much more you need to push. Taking the track apart, however, is strangely easy as pieces almost fall apart from each other.
The Choo Choo Series is recommended for children no younger than 4, and honestly, we can’t envision older children enjoying it. Once assembled, the train wouldn’t stay on the track while running. However, it does have moving parts around the wheels, fun train sounds and a working smoke stack. We used this train quite a bit and didn’t run out of smoke, but once you’re out, you’re out. There isn’t any extra liquid smoke included and the instructions don’t say anything about adding more. The engine also puts out a pungent burning smell after a while, presumably from the smoke. It’s a little off-putting and made us wonder if the whole thing was in dire need of an oil change.
The military theme of the train doesn’t really match the Renaissance Era-looking cardboard cutouts, but younger kids might not care. One of our testers referred to this model as the “military industrial complex train,” and because it worked so poorly it got an F for overall design and detail from our reviewers. We tested this train’s speed as well, and the fastest it could go while remaining on the track was 0.44 feet per second, making it the slowest train we tested by far.
We tested durability by knocking all of the trains we tested off a table about 3 feet high. By the third drop, a small piece of plastic broke off the Choo Choo Series and it would no longer run backwards on the track. After the fourth drop, however, it could, earning this train a B- in that category. If you want a sturdier unit try the Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer or the Bachmann Chattanooga, though they are much more expensive. Honestly, if you’ve got a kid who has shown an interest in machinery but tends to break things, give the Choo Choo Series a try. It’s inexpensive and has moving parts and interactive features your child will probably love. This definitely isn’t the train for hobbyists.