Letting Off Steam

Where People's Opinions - Pro and Con - Are Heard

Here's yer chance to let us (and anyone else who visits here) know what you think, either pro or con, about things that LIONEL does. Coherent (non-profane) remarks will be appreciated and the best ones will be posted here. Accepted submissions are usually edited. (We are not currently accepting new submissions. Stay tuned.)

This is for Tom Evans (below), about Lionel current production 0-72 switches. The flangeways through the frog and the switch points are too shallow, and thus these new switches will not accommodate any equipment that has deep flanges on the wheels. The flanges on prewar Lionel equipment ride up onto the bottom of the flangeways in the frogs, causing bouncing and derailments. One solution is to obtain prewar #711, 072 switches with Bakelite frogs. Frog flangeways on these switches are OK, and the switch points are taller (top of rail to bottom of rail) so all prewar rolling stock will negotiate these switches. I have over 12 of these late prewar switches available from my old layout in TCA C-7.

Phil Bender

Here's my contribution to the "I hope Lionel..." department. 2006 Vol. 1 catalog shows the Pennsylvania Coal Train 6-31749 on pp 40-41 with its yellow cupola caboose (cabin car for the Pennsy purists). I don't recall Lionel offering a yellow-top PRR porthole caboose before. Someone broke up a set and offered the caboose (Lionel 29720) on ebay, complete with a nice photo. There were wonderful details in the ebay photo that aren't shown in the catalog rendering. Examples: black Train Phone antenna system and trainman figure inside lighted cupola window. By the time shipping was added in, this item sold on ebay for almost $100. I hope Lionel offers this great caboose as a separate item - soon.

Steve Jackson

I recently purchased the L2-a #2770 New York Central engine and what a pleasure to run, that 5.0 sound is a joy to hear. I have been a Lionel fan since I was a kid. I bought new in 1957 the Canadian Pacific diesel passenger set and it's still in mint condition. I am disappointed that your passenger car bodies are now plastic not aluminium. What happened to the quality Lionel made? At the prices Lionel charges passenger cars should not be ABS. One other item I would like to see eliminated are those traction tires. They are a real pain. Is it possible to go back to magna-traction? On the brighht side I look foward to purchasing many more 5.0 engines and yes your TMCC is a joy to use. Thank You for listening.

John Pensabene

TMCC so easy to use:

Last week I thought I would see how easy it would be for my TWO year old Nephew to run Trains with a CAB-1. After showing him how to control the speed and where the horn was, he was off and rolling. If my 2 year old Nephew can run a train, so can you.

Mike S.

The 0-72 tubular 'O' gauge track switches currently being made by Lionel are really junk. The plastic bases are often warped, the switch points are not sharp and do not close tightly. My large scale-size Lionel steam engines slam and bang through them. My freight cars often pick the switches and derail.

I recently purchased a K-Line O-72 switch and my engines and cars run through it smoothly. Hopefully Lionel will continue to make these or will improve the quality of their own O-72 switches.

-- Tom Evans

My Acela finally arrived. It's a beauty, with scale length cars and push-pull locomotives. But, within 15 minutes running time, it emitted a puff of smoke, and an acrid smell, and the pantographs on the power unit stopped working.

The cars must be coupled together with care to insure that the infra-red signal gets from one end of the train to the other. Once coupled properly it is a technological marvel, with doors opening and closing, cars tilting, more announcements than you can shake a stick at, and sound to bring a smile to your face.

This one is going to need a really long layout to bring out its attributes. Right now it's circulating on an 8 x 16 0-72" temporary loop, awaiting the finishing of my train room.

A call to my dealer brought the response from Lionel customer service, that no repair parts were available??? I find it amazing, that I can spend a fortune for this set, and have it fail and not be able to get it repaired in a timely manner. Can you imagine GM delivering an automobile, and not having spares to back it up?

-- Lou La Salle

Great site, thanks for the TMC tutorial - it might have made up my mind to get it.

I am a newbie, not to trains, I've had various brands and gauges (but mainly HO) on and off for the last fifty some odd years but Lionel - to me - were always something special and yet I never got into it mainly because in my early years I was in England, on account of being English (!)

An American boyhood friend DID have a Lionel train and it stuck in my memory as "cor, wow, I wish WE had trains like THAT!" because in 1950 something smoke was unheard of in toy trains and the whole size of the things were so impressive. It made an impression.

Over the years - I've been here since 1970 - I've sort of drooled over Lionel displays when I've seen them but I had kids to pay for, the usual story, it was just too much money for me to tie up as well as my motorcycles, sailboats, you have to draw the line somewhere.

My son gave me a Lionel 'collectable Disney set' last Christmas, so there it is I'm back in the game and one of the first things I do is to go over to the Classic Toy Trains forum and start reading and also visit a few hobby shops and that's where the problems began because now I find myself swamped in conflicting data about the pros and cons of this that and the other, who's going belly up next month, why this ones controllers suck, that ones rails are better, you name it. Only to be expected of course but it does tend to cause confusion.

Bottom line I decide was to go with my own experience and engage brain before reaching for wallet, ask a few questions and sort out the wallies from the decent fellows. I must say though that I like what I've seen of Lionel and its a shame the whole 'collector' issue muddies the waters, one can only hope they go off and collect something else soon and maybe the toy trains can be made, catalogued and sold at prices reflective of their true value, made to the standards of yesteryear and if the market contracts I, for one, hope Lionel survives because what it has going for it that the others don't is the name, the reputation and the fact that Lionel has always stood for a classic bit of important Americana. Its almost an icon really.

Everyone goes through bad patches occasionally with the turkey shoot that modern business practices have made of the whole shebang, one can only hope that sensible heads will prevail and enough friendly, helpful people such as one finds here and at CTT continue to make it their business to spread the word and encourage the future model train lovers.

-- Mikey Dench

I read on this here site that FasTrack is the worst thing since we stopped manufacturing in the U.S. When I was getting ready to buy track for a layout, first one in 30 years, I checked other sources and found that it is a great product. I didn't have any of the problems mentioned and found it to be a pleasure to work with. Opening the bottom of the switches and seeing the TMCC chip is proof that this IS the track of the future and the possibilities are many.

Curt Wilson

An award for "The company that screwed up on passenger cars the worst" goes to Lionel for their 18" passenger car windows. Also an award goes to Lionel for being "lily-livered" in not admitting a mistake was made and not offering to fix the windows.


-- Jimmy Lisle

I am in agreement about Lionel's Fastrack being a lousy product. I wish that I had never bought as much of it as I have. I hate trying to put it together in any kind of reasonably complicated track plan because the geometry of the track components is never the same in any two pieces of track. I have tried so many track plans that I haven't been able to complete because they don't make pieces that fill in the gaps that I get when trying to build anything more complicated than a oval with a passing siding. Forget about trying to do a reverse loop. Every time I try I lose my religion and I just give up. You can do it but the track is so kinked in some places that the trains will barely stay on the track. I am thinking very seriously of throwing it all in the dumpster and going with Gargraves or one of the other track maker's products.

Now about the PS4 semiscale by Lionel. The one I have is so cantankerous that I hate to even run it. Sometimes I feel like throwing it against the wall. I would like to know if it's just the one I have or if other owners of this engine have problems with theirs too. Thanks for letting me sound off about this but being new to O Gauge trains, I am really wondering if I even want to stay in the hobby what with the problems I am having with the equipment that I have.

-- John Goude

I've been reading the on-line O gauge forums and AOL message boards and there seems to be a some doubt and lack of patience over a revised TMCC system. All I can ask is do we want a perfected system and accept the delays, or do we want a rush job with quirks like we experienced with DCS? Haste makes waste as the old saying goes. Besides, the TMCC outfit I have now suits me fine and does everything I want. Thank-you.

The new CoilPix movie "It's a Fake" got some flack because there was no demonstration of a new TMCC system and it featured "same ole" postwar icons such as a JC Trainmaster and 6464 boxcars. Well, not all of us are gung-ho hi-railers diving into the latest state-of-the-art electronics. Many of us are postwar Lionel collectors who like to dabble with the new stuff. We enjoyed the film very much. Thank-you. I should hope CoilPix ignores the flack from the closed minded, focuses on all eras of Lionel Trains, and continues to consider us postwar fans as you have with this film.


Concerning the recent article on deadening sound of FasTrack, I wonder where have you guys have been? FasTrack has been out for a while and this topic of the noise level has been discussed quite intently on the Classic Toy Trains Forum. Intelligently discussed no less, by some knowledgeable folks. Yes, the over all conclusion of many is that the track is "dang loud," even when running a short train.

The construction and design of the track lends it self to being excessively noisy. Not with just the hollow rail and plastic roadbed, but also with the way the rails are inserted into the molded roadbed and with the plastic guide nubs that stick up into the rail from the roadbed.

I can obviously understand that FasTrack has advantages for the first-time train set customer: ease of immediate floor set up. But I'm certain that Lionel had a larger audience in mind for the new track system. The expansion of the track line in larger diameter curves and switches bears this thought out. One has to ask how many parents of children with their first Lionel train set are going to be interested (or have the room for) 072 curves and switches. Even the scale proportions of the new FasTrack grade crossing bears me out on this, otherwise that section would come with more traditionally over-sized crossing flashers like the #154.

If FasTrack was truly aimed at the starter market, it would be introduced in a tighter radius curve, thus allowing greater layout possibilities on the standard 4'x8' beginner size layout.

Since FasTrack made it's introduction under the Maddox watch at Lionel, it's obvious (to me) to see the connection between FasTrack and Bachmann's E-Z Track. E-Z Track HAS unquestionably revolutionized the HO starter set... now it IS possible to set up the first HO train set under the CHRISTmas tree or on the floor. HO trains being smaller in size, also come with plastic wheels, thus eliminating the possibility of excessive noise from running trains.

Concerning Clyde Coil's suggestion of using upholstery foam below the FasTrack: this and the other ideas were also discussed on the CTT Forum many months ago... you guys should check it out some time. While the foam might help some, using screws into a wood table surface is probably going to increase the noise, thus defeating the benefit of the foam.

It makes more sense in these more unpredictable economic times for folks to use Pink Styrofoam Insulation Board for their layout surface. The pink stuff is more solid than the blue, but might not be available in other areas of the US like it is here in the northeast. The insulation board cuts noise with any track system. Next layout I build will be on Pink Styrofoam Insulation Board... you guys should try it too.

By my take (reading the Lionel promotional material and catalogs), FasTrack was designed for ease and simplicity of set up... eliminating the finger cuts, and the rail crimping that can come with the set-up of traditional tinplate track. Taking the extra time and effort to cut upholstery foam does not really fall in line with the ease of set-up thinking. Switching the wheel sets on your rolling stock from metal to plastic ones (used during the MPC period) will do far more to cut down the noise on FasTrack. Seriously, try it... it works, much better than the upholstery foam! I'm certain even the pink board would make a difference versus plywood and metal screws.

But I can begin to imagine the bloodbath at YORK when Lionel announces they are switching to plastic wheel sets to cut noise on FasTrack. But again, if FasTrack is really intended for serious scale operators who are building layouts, the plastic wheel sets are absolutely the only way to go. Make the wheel set announcement and then run for your lives!!

Of course it is quite easy for a person (like me writing this) to sit in the backseat of the car and tell the driver of the vehicle what to do. But with all due respect, Lionel should have put a lot more thought and effort into the design of FasTrack before it came out, and not let the consumer become the "test lab" as is being done today with so many train products (so it seems). I don't have a degree in engineering, but from being a life-long Lionel train runner (and one who builds and custom designs his own trains and operating cars/accessories) I could see right on the onset that FasTrack was DOOMED to have this problem with noise. My recommendation has been and still is for new train set buyers to go with 027 track and save FasTrack for the holiday layout. Several I know have thanked me for that advice and have taken it.

When you stop and think about it, there are so many simple improvements that could have been made to the existing 027 track line: I could give you a dozen right off the bat. Some of them very simple and others a little more involved, but all probably more cost-effective than introducing a new track line that has designed/built in problems. But again, mention 027 track to many of today's scale oriented operators and they cringe. But I can't see many of those guys switching from Gargraves, Curtis or Atlas O to use FasTrack either. Even the new Atlas O track with roadbed looks to be an improvement over FasTrack, but one would Mr. Maddox learned from the FasTrack design error.

Then there's the other obvious option of Super O track. I know many guys who are scratching the few hairs they have left right off their scalp wondering why the tarnation didn't Lionel bring out the time-tested Super O track, versus trying to come up with what has been (in my eyes and others) an inferior alternative.

If FasTrack is intended to assist in the beginner market, Lionel should start making it in a 27-30 inch diameter. As for me, I'll stick with 027 track even on the next new layout. Like the recording business where everything is digital over analog, new and improved is not always better.

Sincerely, brianel, Agent 027

I'm determined to beat this dead horse for all it is worth! Will somebody that has the ear of Lionel please ask them to provide a fix for the backwards simple/compound sounds on the JLC N&W Y6b!!!

Jimmy Lisle

Here in England Railsounds 4 is a disaster with 50Hz on TMCC. Seems fine for Railsounds 5. I wish they would come up with some mod to sort Railsounds 4.


A few things...

If this is really supposed to be a door to the ear of Lionel here a couple more things to pass along:

4 Chuffs instead of 2 chuffs.
I could care less about this but for some folks who use this as an excuse to not buy Lionel it seems an easy fix. Give the LCRU a switch to go from 2 to 4 chuffs and watch as people make up more reasons not to buy Lionel. This strikes me as something that Lionel should have moved towards a while ago.

Consult the experts.
Get foaming, raging railfans to sign non-disclosure agreements and pick their brains before going to a catalog. I realize you have a research department but use the power of the internet to your advantage. The most particular railfan will be 10 times more motivated than anyone you could ever pay.

Fix up the website.
It's a joke. Whatever pitiful money Lionel has spent on it has gotten Lionel almost universal disdain for what may be one of the most kludged together virtual pains in the backsides.

Let's cover the basics:

  1. I want release information via email on what is shipping every week and what should be in stores that is regularly coupled with a bit of Lionel history or an employee interview. The other guy floods my mailbox regularly for every special release they do. Between those and Tony Lash's postings I have a better idea of what is going on with them than ANYONE ever knows about Lionel. The goal is to drive people to stores to buy. How has that message gotten lost among the people who oversee your electronic affairs?
  2. I want a dealer locator that actually works well map/location wise and gives me an idea of what I will find in the way of product lines, not specific products. (The MTH product locator is an excellent example of how things aren't well maintained.) Starter sets? Yes. Traditional rolling stock? Yes. Track? Yes. Scale Locomotives? Yes. That sort of thing. Again something fairly obvious but seemingly lost on your technical gurus.
  3. I want regular, posted, progress reports on TMCC 2. You're beta testing new LCRU's with more speed steps so why not talk about them? Let's hear something from R&D that exictes the troops and builds some excitement instead of the usual "Um. We'll have something at York. Maybe. Really." You've been ignoring the faithful supporters for long enough. It's time you started giving something back and letting them know that you haven't forgotten them.
  4. Speak to the Lionel heritage as a world industry leader in toy trains. Your history, the very thing that drives the hobby, is squandered on your website. Lionel is 105 years old and yet your recap of its history is a few pages of mostly bad pictures.
  5. Update the front page! The transcript has been up there for how long? Oh look! Its the Acela but IT'S SOLD OUT. Again this is no-brainer stuff but it certainly looks to me that you're on your way to having Weaver look more up to date than Lionel.
  6. Accept articles for publishing after you change your rules that anything submitted becomes Lionel property. Let the hobbyists write the stories and fill your space for you.
  7. Start rewarding people by showcasing their layouts on the website.
  8. If it's in your warehouse it needs to be on your website and on sale. No questions. No complaints from dealers. Sell at MSRP or what your blowouts are priced at. Let stores discount if they want, stick to MSRP and they won't have room to complain.

And another darn thing!
Why hasn't Lionel put up any new Desktop wallpapers of things from their new or old catalogs? This goes to speaking volumes about the company's lack of common sense. You have had the same three wallpapers forever!

* sigh *


Some thoughts on Standard Gauge

Lionel's foundation as a company is in the products that were the hallmark of it's first 40 years of existence. The Postwar period is easy recognized as the era of largest sales and greatest recognition in the minds of hobbyists and non-hobbyists. It's the Prewar period however that established the notion of "trains with Christmas" and visions of layouts on floorboards.

Lionel hasn't actively been in the Standard Gauge area since the Lionel Classics line. The only exceptions, the Hiawatha and Commodore Vanderbilt, were items that, while breathtaking, were completely unlike anything within the gauge. They didn't look like Standard Gauge / Tinplate trains that I think most people associate with the gauge. The resulting clogging of both items at the dealer level led to blowouts of both items and a harsh lesson for Lionel: this gauge has a look and style that should not be tampered with.

Ironically the Lionel Classics line continues to command steady prices on Ebay where as soon as Lionel Classics items come up they are just as quickly purchased. A quick check on Ebay of completed items yields a Blue Comet set sold at $2500 with similar in-demand items demanding top prices. Between that and MTH's Tinplate lines products there is evidence of at least SOME market for Standard gauge.

Lionel manufacturing of some of their historical Standard Gauge items, without using MTH as the subcontractor, is long overdue. A new State Set with TMCC and add-on cars. A new Blue Comet. A new release of the roundhouse, turntable, etc. (It's been a long time since the MTH version which now commands ridiculous amounts.) The path has been laid with the Hellgate Bridge releases, the Power Station and Passenger Station with platform releases.

The model for success seems to lay in preorders a la the Acela. Instead of catalog releases use the brochure method and make to order. "Want a State set? We're only going to make to fill the orders we get." "Yearning for a 444 roundhouse and turntable? We're making a roundhouse set with 3 segments and a turntable for $xxx.xx with the ability to order additional stalls for $xxx.xx" The market will beat a path to your door.

Standard Gauge prices need to be somewhat reasonable. If anything the re-releases need to happen to deflate the value of existing reproductions commanding high prices simply due to they are the only operational equipment available. Just as with O-gauge, the market for Standard has gone from collecting to operating.

Here are two great websites to visit and look at to get a feel for the environment of Standard Gauge: and

Realize that the future doesn't revolve around endless restorations. It's about getting old and new customers to buy additional products. I have enough O-gauge to choke a horse but that isn't going to stop me for one minute from buying Lionel Standard Gauge products. Half of what I want hasn't been new for 15 years and the rest will look much better with "Lionel Lines" on the side.



Ah another Odyssey magnet bites the dust... Why has Lionel opted for this method of speed control when there are better and less expensive options available, i.e. tach tapes. Now it looks like another motor for my T-1. This will be the second flywheel magnet for this one.

Marty Eibeck