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There was a time on this forum when discussions of fantasy trains being made to "O-scale" would bring caustic criticism out from the great and respected rivet-counting model railroading clique, as well from miserly scrooges . And, those who dared to dream would retreat to fight another day. I remember those days well, and while some good friends are dedicated scale model railroaders, I believe that there's plenty of room for everyone in the O-gauge world.

When I thought about writing an article detailing the history of the Polar Express, which after drafting, later appeared in OGR Run 309 and was titled, "Where Life and Art Intersect - The Polar Express" I had concluded that "Lionel's PE journey shows no signs of losing steam" - a small metaphorical attempt at train humor. By the time the article appeared in print ~ late 2019, Lionel was delivering to dealers the fascinating Polar Express BiPolar; a new run of scale PE cars with simulated snow on roofs (and prototypically correct placement of lettering beneath the windows); and, the long asked for Stationsounds Hot Chocolate Diner Car, among other goodies. There were a couple of "hiccups" in the scale cars, but nevertheless fevered PE fans do as all loyal fans do, endure and overcome

Since that article, Lionel has continued with some interesting scale and traditional sized PE items, and with the latest 2021 catalog they have, in my opinion, gone for broke and advertised a PE Acela train. Without getting into the price point of the set and add-on cars which has been covered under other threads, I am interested in other "Christmas Train" and/or other holiday (e.g., Hanukkah) train enthusiast opinions; and, whether you've decided to pre-order them. Considering that the Acela is a "Built-to-Order" item, and since it'll likely be some time before another run of these trains are made, if ever, I am torn on what to do. Like some others, these times have been trying in many respects, not the least of which is financially, and in 2021 I need to factor in some major house repairs among other expenses. I also note that, as I've tried to make my layout late 1930s to early 1940s themed, the PE Acela would be quite out of place...yet with the mysterious character known as Saint Nicholas you never know what can come hi-balling down the mainline on Christmas Eve

So, don't worry about getting chastised, we're in good company here, so please chime in on whether you've decided to "break the bank" as the saying goes and pre-order a PE Acela set. And, if you plan on operating it, displaying, collecting, etc.

Last edited by Paul Kallus
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Well since you asked...

I have ordered the PE Ready to Run set when they first came out and it was the "Under the Tree" go to set.  As time went on and my situation changed tinplate now occupies that place under the tree and the set has been packed away with all of the add on coaches.

The Scale PE Berk and all of the coaches offered thus far in the "white roof" variety now take a place on my basement layout every holiday season along with the Polar Express "Tri-Polar".  The BiPolar, Polar which pulls the scale frieght offerings in the PE scheme.

So I feel I am fairly loyal to the Polar Express theme BUT the Acela will not be on my list.  I'm more traditional, even though the Tri-Polar is nowhere in the movie but the freight cars add a lot to the layout and something had to pull them.  To me the Acela just doesn't seem to fit the mold of the PE so I will pass but I would venture to guess it will probably do OK.

Paul, like you, I really enjoy the Polar Express. My two sons were at the perfect age when the movie came out and it ran non-stop on our DVD player - even outside of Christmas season. Seeing the new PE stuff always reminds me of a great time in the life of our family.

I have the original scale #1225 and all of the black roof cars that have been released (including the RPO).  I was spared preordering the not-so-hot-chocolatey Hot Chocolate car since they didn’t offer it in a black roof version.

I have every piece of scale rolling stock, including six of the coal hoppers (I’ve always told the boys the long coal consist isn’t for hauling heating fuel to the North Pole, but rather for hauling stocking stuffers).

Having said all that (and now to your question), the Acela doesn’t do it for me. At all. Maybe it’s because I’m a lifelong Midwesterner and have no affinity for the Acela. Nor did I bite on the BiPolar. For whatever reason - and despite clamoring for something to haul all those freight cars - the BiPolar just didn’t move the needle.

The flat car with the bell load in the new catalog kinda has the feel like they are running out of ideas. But, I’ll get one because I still believe.

Last edited by Rider Sandman

I have the semi-scale Series II locomotive.  I gave it my full command treatment, cruise, sound, and of course, fan driven smoke.  I added an additional sound module in the baggage car with clips from the movie that I trigger from an RF remote.  Then I picked up a couple more passenger cars to complete the picture, the locomotive and 7 passenger cars makes a nice sized consist.

John, those customized features sound neat. Marty and Rider Sanderman, I didn't go for the diesel PE streamliner set when it came out...but I can see diesel fans liking it. The BiPolar locomotive was and still is one of my all-time favorites...I still the original MTH PS2 Milw. Road version, so the PE version from Lionel was an easy choice for me. Steamers remain my best choice for anything holiday related.

As for the PE Acela, I am guessing the cars come in around 20", and they're plastic but nonetheless look nice, and in fact are the selling point of the set, for me anyway. The "passive" tilt feature sounds neat but I have to wonder will it do anything noticeable. The PE Acela may turn out to be one of those sets that if buyers don't want they can at least sell and get the money back...though that may be rationalization on my part

Last edited by Paul Kallus

fyi, at lunch I studied the new catalog which I just got earlier this week and noticed the Acela is not listed as a "BTO" item, yet in some dealers pre-order lists it is? If not a BTO, then perhaps taking a wait and see approach is doable.

Also, I watched some videos of the first release Acela set and the engine's sounds to me sound like a diesel-electric? I know the Acela is an electric locomotive, am just curious why it sounded like that.

I have a confession.  I can understand why train enthusiasts like PE, but I am one of the few train fans that didn’t care much for the movie.  My son was 10 when the movie came out and he didn’t like it either.  We have plenty of trains, but none of it is PE.  Sometimes think I should buy some so I don’t become an outcast of the hobby.

So far, no one has fessed-up to placing a pre-order. I know that this forum is not a representative sample of the hobby, however.

If not often that technology lives up the hype surrounding it, but I have to admit viewing the Polar Express in IMAX 3D that holiday season 2004 was a feast for the senses. To date, nothing has topped that experience. It came at a sorrowful and downtrodden time, having lost my father and best friend tragically within days of each other, and having lost interest in the hobby.

With that said, Lionel is pushing the licensing of the PE name into uncharted territory with the Acela. It would've been better had they listed more features, such as custom stationsounds, etc. As it is, its hard to justify pre-ordering.

@jstraw124 posted:

I have a confession.  I can understand why train enthusiasts like PE, but I am one of the few train fans that didn’t care much for the movie.  My son was 10 when the movie came out and he didn’t like it either.  We have plenty of trains, but none of it is PE.  Sometimes think I should buy some so I don’t become an outcast of the hobby.

Hey, it's your hobby. Do it so you enjoy it. If you don't like PE, don't get PE. We may not agree on issues like freight or passenger? what scale? Lionel or MTH or Atlas, etc. but we can all enjoy our different branches of the same hobby together!

I don't think you will lose money on it solely because there won't be many produced and so supply and demand will at least allow you to always get your money back.

I, too, am in love with the PE scheme.  There is something about that color combination that does it for me, on top of my love for the movie itself.

The price is too high for me personally to get one right now, but I can understand those who are on the fence.  It's truly on the fringe of what most train enthusiasts would say they have to get.  And it's just a bit too much money for that kind of impulse purchase.

While some may consider any PE items to have "fantasy schemes", I think the berk/heavyweights at least are rooted deeply enough in pop culture to be considered "real" (even though they aren't prototypical). There is a history behind PM 1225 being used for the film a so it simply makes sense to offer a scale version of it in the PE scheme to those of us who want more than just a starter set version.

The PE freight cars are fun playful additions to round out the theme, however I do think that the PE Acela (and even the BiPolar) dives so far into the fantasy realm that it is not appealing to many buyers. There is no story behind these engines being painted in these schemes to make it relevant enough to most in the hobby. If these weren't as expensive as they are, this might not be the case. I think that the GP9 Lionel made in the early 2010s was a different story because that was marketed more as a 'Christmas themed' item than a PE item.

As other's have stated, each person has their own interest and hopefully there is someone getting enjoyment out of each and any PE item that Lionel produces. Personally, I plan on purchasing the PE berk and heavyweights in the future (currently using my train-funds to build a layout and increase my PRR collection first). In the PE line, I think I would be interested in more scale freight cars similar to the previous offerings. On a personal bias, I strongly prefer the black roof heavyweights over the snow covered roofs and hope I can find some when I commit to buying a set.

Although Polar Express (PE) is not something I am inclined to purchase for myself, I would love to go on a PE ride with my wife, adult daughter and granddaughters, and think Lionel PE trains are wonderful for children and others who find them appealing.

Another very good thing is that I understand PE Trains have been very profitable for Lionel, and I believe that is very good for the hobby. It enables Lionel to have more financial resources to manufacture the models that I prefer to purchase.


Last edited by Arnold D. Cribari

Although it's not germane to the Acela question, and as I wrote in Run 309, the 2004 Polar Express movie brought me back to my roots within the hobby. I had been, prior to that, a fairly serious hi-railer, though I had never totally lost my connection with the Christmas element of electric trains around the tree and all. It's been a fun journey.

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