The Lionel Polar Express is a fun, easy-to-use train that’s perfect for play or decoration. This O gauge train is big so it’s not ideal for small spaces, but it’s a ton of fun to use and has some really fun interactive pieces. The only reason this train didn’t rank higher is because it’s Christmas-themed. It’s not something you’re going to want to use all year.
This set comes in a massive box with 32 pieces of track. Just like the Mickey Mouse Train Set, you can build an oval las big as 73.2 x 50 inches. This track isn’t the easiest to work with and can be a little rough on your hands, but it’s pretty easy to get the hang of snapping the pieces together. It also comes with a 2-8-2 steam engine with whistle, bell and chuff sounds, a coal tender, coach car and observation car. All four pieces of this O gauge set have a little bit of weight to them in your hand, making it feel high quality. We liked that, especially considering this is one of the more expensive models we tested. You’ll need 6 C batteries and a screwdriver to install them in the engine, which is generally really easy to do. The wireless remote also requires three AAA batteries.
While this train looks like it has traditional train wheels with moving parts around them, each car actually has two sets of four wheels – one on each end. You’ve got to make sure each end is aligned with the track perfectly before it will run correctly. This took a little bit of finesse, and some of our reviewers didn’t like it. This train also chirps incessantly if you turn the remote off but leave the engine on. It’s a reminder to conserve battery power but it can be annoying. However, all of this was trumped by the fact that our testers really loved the Polar Express theme and the sounds the engine made when using the corresponding buttons on the remote. Tom Hanks voices the movie’s conductor character, and it’s his voice that comes out of the engine’s speakers. This detail ultimately earned this train an A- in design and detail.
The Polar Express comes with a silver sleigh bell Christmas ornament, which is a nice added bonus. The train itself doesn’t emit smoke like the Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer, but it does have a working headlamp and moving parts. As one reviewer put it, the train has a “certain charm.” Charm aside, we tested the engine’s durability by dropping it off a table several times about 3 feet above the ground. It didn’t show any damage until the fourth drop, when we noticed it made a clicking noise while going around the track. This train is recommended for children age 4 or older, and it earned an A for durability. You don’t have to worry about Little Sally breaking it. Most likely.
The one category we weren’t really impressed by was this train’s speed. It maxed out at 1.33 feet per second on the track, making it the third-slowest train we tested. That aside, our testers really enjoyed this Christmas-themed train because it was simple and easy to use all while being fun to look at and interact with.