Updated: June 14, 2015

Lionel Trains - Train Sets:

Lionel trains were invented by Joshua Lionel Cowen and first produced by him in 1901 and the first release to the public was in 1906. The pre-war lionel trains (1906-1942) were solidly built with metal parts and most ran on the wide gauge tracks. The Lionel O gauge really took off after WWI (World War I) as the smaller O gauge trains became quite popular. From 1945 to 1969 the post-war Lionel trains were produced and that was when General Mills purchased Lionel for a short period of time. Metal parts were replaced with plastic and the trains became cheaper than before. Eventually General Mills sold Lionel and the modern trains (1970-present) are now designed with much more detail and they look more realistic. The Polar Express Lionel Train was released in 2004 and with the success of the movie came families that wanted the train for their homes. The popular Lionel collectors trains include Union Pacific, Great Northern, and Southern Pacific. What I think is really cool about some of the locomotives is that they actually make whistle sounds and produce smoke (steam engines).


Are you looking for a modern Lionel Train Set? You can piece meal a set together if you want by purchasing a train engine or locomotive. Look for ones with 3 positions - neutral, forward, and reverse. The Lionel train cars include flatcars, freight cars, boxcars, gondolas, cabooses, refrigerator cars and more. The modern era diesels (GP-7 and GP-9) are considered good for those just starting out in trains. All Lionel trains need a power source and controls to run the trains with. Trainmaster is perhaps the best current control system on the market allowing multiple trains on a single track to be controlled at the same time. A single throttle transformer is something like th 1033 Transformer (dates back to the 50's). You will find that most modern Lionel trains use the O gauge tracks which have 1 1/4 inch between the outer rails. These tracks are available in O27 and O. Beyond the track and cars it's also nice to buy crossing gates, signal towers, gateman shack, whistle shack, track-side signals and other accessories that really bring your train set to life. I grew up with an older Lionel Santa Fe set my dad had bought, but unfortunately that set was sold or lost and that is when I searched out a new model train set for myself and my son. Besides the Polar Express Train Set, other popular models include the Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer, Lionel New York Central Flyer Train Set, Harry Potter Hogwarts Express, and the Rio Grande Fast Freight. I had the basic Lionel Thomas & Friends set but returned it because it didn't feel like a true Lionel. You can browse the top selling Lionel Train Sets online here. Expect to spend about $200 to $250 for a quality train set and perhaps more depending on how many accessory items you buy for the set. Most sets are expandable so if you feel like you want more tracks and trains, it's always possible.

Lionel Polar Express Train:

RECOMMENDED - The #1 seller on Amazon is the Lionel Trains Polar Express Train Set - O Gauge - Come Christmas time one of the most popular kids movies is the Polar Express and Lionel has produced a train set to match so now all families can have a bit of the movie and trains in their family room. The Polar Express train is perfect for young boys and girls and the track is fairly simple to setup for the parents with no actual assembly of trains required. Just place the tracks together, turn on the power box and off you go. The die cast metal Berkshire steam locomotive has a tender, 2 lighted coach cars, and a 40" x 60" oval track to go along. The included figures have movable arms, turning heads, jointed knees, and bendable waists. The transformer lets you move forward, go in reverse, or stay in neutral. The tender features an air whistle and there is an operating coupler on the rear. You get puffing smoke from the maintenance free motor and the engine has a cool headlight to light your way. The O gauge track is what all train enthusiasts use. Reviews are almost completely positive on this train set. Sure, some mention that it's expensive at over $200, but for the holidays it makes a great attraction around your tree. Parents note that kids and adults enjoy watching the train make its rounds and several say "it's great family fun". A nice accessory to this set is the Lionel 25186 Polar Express Hot Chocolate Car. See all the Lionel train products here.

Lionel Sets:

Not everyone wants a Christmas themed train in their house all year and so that is why the other Lionel train sets are worth considering. RECOMMENDED - The Lionel New York Central Flyer Train Set is a complete train system with transformer controlled forward, neutral, and reverse. You get realistic train sounds from the Central Flyer - steam whistle, bell, squealing brakes, and steam chuffing. There are operating couplers and a headlight on the train and the track is O gauge with minumum curve 0-27. What comes in the box? You get a 4-4-2 steam locomotive, gondola with canisters, searchlight car, caboose, tender, boxcar (with opening doors), the CW-80 transformer, smoke fluid, 3 straight FasTrack sections, 8 curved sections, and a terminal section. This is the train set I went with for my son and I since it offered so much more than the Polar Express set (listed above). The track and trains are durable and so far we have had a great time together enjoying the sights and sounds of this train. My son is a real Thomas the Train fan and he sits and watches this train for hours. I would say it's well worth the money and definitely a better deal than the Lionel Polar Express train. Other consumers/owners say it's the "most realistic train set ever" and "great entertainment value for kids and adults". You can Find it here.

Lionel O Gauge:

The other Lionel train sets with O gauge are not given as high marks as the two we listed above. Certainly this doesn't mean they aren't worth looking at. Some people like the Lionel - Rio Grande Fast Freight w/Train Sounds Set O - 6-30049 although we think the set is too expensive and prefer the Lionel 30034 Great Western Train Set w/Lincoln Logs if you have kids that like to tinker with the cars. Lionel makes the best train sets on the market so take your time, learn about the different gauges, and read reviews by actual owners to get a feel for what makes a great train set. Ebay offers more of the vintage Lionel sets, but they will cost you a pretty penny as many are collectors items and hard to come by.