Looking backward it can be very hard to tell how good something was or wasn't. The postwar products were pretty rugged, there is no doubt, maybe in part because they were built as toys, for kids to play with, outside maybe the 700e they weren't worried about scale fidelity, oversized rails, and so forth. The old open frame universal motor was a beast, and because it is relatively simple, it is easy both to maintain and repair. Keep in mind,too, that Lionel in the post war period could afford to use heavier duty components, it could use heavy grade steel and so forth, because they were both popular, and yes, expensive, so they could afford to do that.
The thing about quality looking back, though, is we are seeing things from the perspective of the equipment that has survived, which may in fact reflect seeing the units that were superior coming through. Given how much product Lionel turned out back then, what percentage of them were DOA? What percentage of them died soon after being bought? What percentage simply fell apart? We don't know that, there isn't really any way to tell other than apocryphal stories ("you couldn't kill those things"). I am not saying they weren't well made or different than what we have today, I am saying we don't really know how good or bad they were, I don't know if old lionel records are available, what percent came back for warranty work or DOA.....to be honest, given the size of lionel back then, it could be that their quality control was very poor, as it was for many things back then, they could potentially have what was common, that 50% of the product coming off the assembly line was DOE or needed rebuilding (to give you an idea, auto makers like GM spent 50% of their floor space and time rebuilding cars that came off the lines, and that kept up well into the late 70's)..when you are a big, profitable company, as many businesses were back then, it would be the cost of doing business.
I am not saying post war was bad, just trying to put perspective on what they were. Are modern trains better made? Some of that is in the eye of beholder, we hear stories, for every person who says how bad modern trains are, there are others saying they have had a great experience. When we are talking engines especially, with the complicated electronics flaws in quality will be a lot more evident then with the more simple engines and such of the post war period. I do think the post war stuff was rugged and reliable, and it is pretty evident when you compare that stuff to the items built in the MPC era, especially the early one, where they were using cheaper materials with the same technology , there is no comparison, the PW was more rugged and reliable.
The thing is that modern technology in of itself doesn't have to make something less reliable, cars today are infinitely more reliable than anything back in the good old days, and a lot of that is because of the complex systems that control it, the thing with cars is that people have come to expect them to be reliable and last, which wasn't true back in the day, and with Lionel, MTH et al, we would wish they would last, but given the nature of the market, its size specifically, they have a captive audience so the same kind of thing you see with cars is not going to happen.