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Hello, 

I'm new to the hobby. I'm trying to figure out if I'm just unlucky or if what I have experienced is a symptom of larger quality control issues at Lionel.  I'm creating my first 4 1/2 x 8ft (more on the size later) layout using mostly Lionel and Dept. 56 products. I have to say that I am shocked by the utter lack of quality control with the Lionel products. Everything had an issue right out of the box. I don't think anything was tested. Everything arrived well packaged with no damage. The Polar Express set was missing two figures and instructions. The fireman figure didn't have a beard (how do you miss that in production given that is his most noticeable characteristic?). Also the plug and play expansion port didn't work. I purchased a power block and conductor gateman and he gets stuck on the door and doesn't come out. I purchased a train station and it didn't light up and had glue on the base. I called and emailed Lionel and have received no response (one week). The 4 1/2 x 8ft layout choice from Lionel actually doesn't fit in a 4 1/2 x 8ft space. The track runs over the edge of the board about 3 inches on each side. No one actually thought to measure the size I guess. All in all I feel like sending the $800 plus track, accessories, and set back and calling it quits. Not sure what Lionel is doing but this is not how you keep customers.

Andrew

Last edited by New guy
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Well, my experience with Lionel, MTH, and WBB entry-level products is that all manufacturers have taken cost out of their entry-level products to the point that quality is often missing, particularly with regard to ther RTR (Ready to Run) sets, a very cost-competitive starter market they all try to sell to.  My experience with RTR sets and entry level products made by all three companies includes those my kids bought for my grandkids, as well as two RTR sets I bought two years ago for a layout I made for my grandkids.  All thosesets had issues - several per set, and I was frankly disgusted with them.  

Lionel has had quality issues over the past five years but seems to have them under control for the last year, at least with their more premium Legacy and Vision product, and particularly with their mid-level products.  I've had one issue with Lionel in the last year (about fifteen purchases) which the dealder quickly fixed.   I'd recommend paying a bit more for Lionchief Plus locos rather the RTR or Lionchief (no plus) locos if you want locos that run with a kid-easy remote, and buying scale cars and such and staying away from the RTR and lower cost products.  MTH Railking, particularly Railking Scale, are good locos and I have never had any problems with them, and they run well in conventional.   

Lionel has been hit or miss over the last five years or so.  Some products great, some not so great.  Simple issue like wrong engine color, to the Mogul fiasco.  the Latest tank engine from Lionel seems to be a home run, lets hope it continues.

MTH engines are bullet proof mechanically, the PS3 boards can be problematic from time to time.  I don't have any experience with the ready to run sets/starter sets from either MTH or Lionel.  I mostly don't hear good things about them.

3rdrail while pricey, are backed up with great customer service.

No experience with AtlasO engines.  They don't get product to market, seems to be the issue these days.

"All in all I feel like sending the $800 plus track, accessories, and set back and calling it quits. Not sure what Lionel is doing but this is not how you keep customers."

Before you do that, I suggest you discuss return of the unsatisfactory or malfunctioning products for exchange with your dealer.  If your dealer isn't co-operative, it might be time to find a new dealer for any future purchases. Lionel has a good track record of making good on products that fail but haven't been abused, and that seems to be the case for you.  I've never had a product missing instructions or key parts, so I wonder if you've been provided with returned products that aren't, strictly speaking, in new condition.  As for the missing beard, well that's a separate issue you can take up with Lionel.

I began in the hobby in 2014 buying only new Lionel engines and the Polar Express set (no issues).  I saw from the forum that a new purchase could have issues; made the decision that it is what it is; liked the new electronic technology anyway.

Out of 15 locomotives, I've had to send 4 locomotives back to Lionel service for smoke unit failures (my inexperience with either starving them or overfilling them - that's another story), 1 for a short in the trucks.  In all cases, Lionel service was great - no charges, engines were fixed, no damage to them.

You ain't lived until you see a Big Boy and its whistle in a video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2ap0c6DWCM

 

@Landsteiner posted:

 E"All in all I feel like sending the $800 plus track, accessories, and set back and calling it quits. Not sure what Lionel is doing but this is not how you keep customers."

Before you do that, I suggest you discuss return of the unsatisfactory or malfunctioning products for exchange with your dealer.  If your dealer isn't co-operative, it might be time to find a new dealer for any future purchases. Lionel has a good track record of making good on products that fail but haven't been abused, and that seems to be the case for you.  I've never had a product missing instructions or key parts, so I wonder if you've been provided with returned products that aren't, strictly speaking, in new condition.  As for the missing beard, well that's a separate issue you can take up with Lionel.

I got them through Amazon so I'm good on the return. Just a lot of work for nothing...

Last edited by New guy

I understand your frustration.  When I first got back into the hobby I was initially taken back that the local dealer directed me to deal directly with MTH and would not solve my issue on the spot.  I had gotten so use to dealing with Home Depot and Lowe’s.

There are no dealers with in a few hours of me so I am forced to purchase on line or when I visit my father in law in Daytona I try and visit a nice dealer in that area who is great about running on his track before I take it home.

In my opinion it is worth the extra effort this hobby sometimes requires.  I have had good experiences with MTH over the years and have a preorder in place for my first Lionel engine.  I hope you get everything taken care of.

 

Well, this may spark some outrage, but I would send the entire thing back.  The more you tinker with it, the unhappier you will be.

I just recently got into O gauge trains, and I have not had any problems because I only buy, piece by piece, the used, old school, post war engines and cars, plus the best, new or close to new, 3 rail tubular track I can find, but only Lionel and K-Line.     It is a really cheap way to get into this hobby slowly, and you learn as you go.

By studying each piece in advance, asking questions from the many helpful people on this board in advance, and then asking detailed questions from the Seller in advance, I have avoided having any real problems with anything I have purchased, save for a few standard old-type mechanical repairs that took only minutes to fix.

You may think that this would take months and months to get a complete train set, including engines, track, switches etc., but I was able to acquire everything, including two good working engines, a good transformer, tracks and switches, and a dozen nice cars, in about 4 and half weeks, for around $400.  The vast amount of it was bought on Ebay.

My layout is large, it is 9.5 feet by 5 feet, and has three separate train routes on it.   (The cost of the lumber was an extra $90 or so.)        I just bought the Lionel Gateman and Shack accessory, which was old but works fine, in the original box, for $5.00 plus $10.00 shipping on Ebay.   (New ones go for as high as $50.)

The engines I bought were a 1950s, cast iron, Scout locomotive, for around $55.00, which works great, and a 1970s, plastic Lionel Diesel, for around $10, which also works great.  (I got the second engine for a steal, but you can find them online for as little as $25.)

If you are paying primo dollars just to get a cartoon character train such as the Polar Express, just for you kids, then you may consider rethinking that a little.  The "cartoon" attraction of the train will very soon fade with the kids, and they will very quickly move onto other cartoon type things.  With my grandchildren, I am going to buy each of them a cheap 1960s or 1970s, plastic Lionel diesel engine, and then let them paint it any color they want, including putting their names on it in decals.  They can each run their train any time they visit, and assuming they don't burn them up, they will all have keepsakes for the future.

Go slowly, check Ebay every day, ask lots of basic questions on this board, use the free subject search feature on this board if you are a member, and you will soon have a great set, low frustration, and few problems.

Mannyrock

 

 

"Well, this may spark some outrage, but I would send the entire thing back.  The more you tinker with it, the unhappier you will be."

Can't imagine why anyone would be outraged with your approach.  Sounds like it works for you very well.  That's all that matters.

I agree that messing with newly purchased defective or otherwise unsatisfactory purchases is likely to be frustrating and disappointing.  Dealers of any repute, and certainly Amazon,  will take stuff back for a refund or exchange.  I have not been impressed with Amazon prices on Lionel stuff by and large. I think they are representing independent Lionel dealers and thus you are thus relying on whoever that is to provide new and quality product at a reasonable price.  But Amazon takes stuff back no questions asked and usually ships for free, so there's only the disappointment and inconvenience of packing up the stuff, slapping on the return label and running down to the UPS or Fedex facility.

I would return the items and possibly order similar stuff from Charles Ro or another reputable dealer (Nicholas Smith, Trainworld, Nassau Hobby, etc.)  if you don't have one locally. The price will be more favorable than Amazon in most cases,  and Ro stands behind their products.  Just one person's experiences over the last 30+ years.

I agree that it takes broad shoulders and patience to be in this hobby today.  I also agree that it takes cubic dollars (and a fair amount of square feet!) to build something complex enough to make things interesting for you and your kids.  Compared to video games, touch-screen tablets etc., the entertainment value for the dollar is low.   But it's a real, hands-on 3D pursuit.  It's your money and you should be satisfied.  But before I shipped back $800 worth of merchandise, I would just draw the beard on the fireman with a brown marker!

If you can live without the latest features, Lionel made some very high-quality trains in the early 1950s which are well-adapted to sharp curves.  Diesels run better than steam locos, and there's even an inexpensive and straightforward way to run two trains on the same track which can make for real excitement!  It comes down to expectations, and how well the various approaches to this hobby fulfill those expectations.

@Landsteiner posted:
But Amazon takes stuff back no questions asked and usually ships for free, so there's only the disappointment and inconvenience of packing up the stuff, slapping on the return label and running down to the UPS or Fedex facility.

Actually, Amazon will arrange pickup right at the house as a rule, I just print their label and slap it on the box and wait for the pickup.

@Ted S posted:

I agree that it takes broad shoulders and patience to be in this hobby today.  I also agree that it takes cubic dollars (and a fair amount of square feet!) to build something complex enough to make things interesting for you and your kids.  Compared to video games, touch-screen tablets etc., the entertainment value for the dollar is low.   But it's a real, hands-on 3D pursuit.  It's your money and you should be satisfied.  But before I shipped back $800 worth of merchandise, I would just draw the beard on the fireman with a brown marker!

If you can live without the latest features, Lionel made some very high-quality trains in the early 1950s which are well-adapted to sharp curves.  Diesels run better than steam locos, and there's even an inexpensive and straightforward way to run two trains on the same track which can make for real excitement!  It comes down to expectations, and how well the various approaches to this hobby fulfill those expectations.

I really don't mind putting in the work.  I just wish the folks at Lionel didn't cut from QC and customer service.  Take 40 seconds and plug things in and run them.  If you are selling a $1000 locomotive run it for 5 minutes and double check all of the screws.  Its not an added cost long term.  You will gain a lot on the backend with WAY less returns (shipping, man hours, parts) and more customer satisfaction.  This feels like GM and Ford in the 1980's.  Willing to jeopardize their brand image to save $0.50 on an inferior part. 

It is frustrating. Amazon's prices can be all over the place...personally I'd be weary buying any mechanical items such as engines and operating accessories from them. Rolling stock and figures, may be a safer bet. I'll second that finding a reputable dealer that doesn't get miffed when you return a defective train is key. 

Years ago one of my family's young ones opened up a brand new Lionel starter set, a gift from their grandfather at Christmas, only to find the engine defective. I messed around with it for a while, took it apart, and eventually got it to run, albeit in reverse only. I don't know what percentage of starter sets have major or minor QC issues, however I cringe on how many toy trains must get returned or simply thrown-out, and that youngster and his/her parents never consider electric toy trains again. 

Last edited by Paul Kallus

New Guy,

Hold up a bit on deciding on the simple two-oval layout.    4.5 ft x 8.5 ft is a pretty large space, and you can, with very little extra cost, do a layout that is more versatile that the one you have shown.   Especially if you are willing to add just two more switches, and really especially if you are willing to use the old school 1950s hand throw switches, with the little upright red handles, positioned fairly close to your control panel.  (Throwing those switches by hand is lots  of fun.)    Those switches only cost about $20 each.

I had to pull my layout of track apart temporarily, to do some painting and begin screwing sections of track down, but I should have it put back together in a couple of days.  I can send you a picture of it if you would like.   I am sure other members would be willing to show you more complicated (but basic) layouts in a similar space size.

I know that you are trying to keep it basic and simple, but I think you can do that easily and on a more versatile basis, with very little extra cost and effort.

Mannyrock

 

 

New Guy,

You won't  need a computer application.  I sure didn't.   (And, for 80 years, nobody building O gauge layouts ever felt the need for one.)

Only use 031 curved pieces, and 10 inch straight pieces, and just fit them together like you want, just like LEGOS.  It is extremely easy.   The worst that happens is that in hooking the major sections together, you find that a 10 inch straight pieces is too long to join the sections together, in which case you just cut the straight piece shorter to make the fit. 

Or, if the end of a completed half curve (i.e., 4 curved pieces hooked together creating the end of a loop)   does not come down far enough to hook into a  particular straight run of track (i.e., the end of the curve needs to  extend down further to make the connection) then you just cut a short piece of straight track, and insert it into the center of the half curve  (i.e., between the first section of two curved pieces comprising the first a quarter of the turn, and the second section of two curved pieces comprising the second quarter of the turn), to  bring the end of the curve down longer (vertically) so it hooks into your long section of track.   Just measure how far you need to bring the end of the turn down to match up, and cut a short piece of straight section to that length, and put it into the mid point of the half curve.

Often, because of the mathematics of the ordinary 10 inch straight and O31 curved sections, the shorter straight pieces you will need are just the standard "half-length" sections, which are 5.5 inches and readily for sale.  (I discovered this by accident after hand cutting some short pieces to make the fit.)  So, I would recommend buying at least four of the half sections when you build your layout.  Believe me, you will need them.

I will be glad to send you the picture of my layout, and when you see it, you will know that every curve on the end of a loop is just 4 pieces of O31 curved track, hooked together, but often will a short piece cut to be inserted in the center of the loop),  and every straight run of track is just several standard 10" straights hooked together, with an occasional short straight piece in it to make things fit.

I think that in total, I only have about 6 pieces of short-cut straights in my entire layout.  Pretty easy to do, but you must have a good steel ruler with precise markings, and not a flexible tape measure or child's one foot ruler, which is often "off" by an eighth of any inch.  And, sometimes you just "blow" the cut, and have to recut a section.

You must also absolutely have a set of O-Gauge track adjustment pliers, which are pretty cheap.  That are precisely made to match the tops of the steel rails so that you can re-crimp the ends of the track when you put the pins in and hook the track sections together.  Try using any other type of plier, and you will damage the ends of the track, really for no reason.  You can find these plyers for sale on Ebay, Amazon, and also the sponser companies of these boards.

 As others will tell you, for any given layout configuration, the length of your short cuts will vary, because your short sections must be cut so that the length and width of the layout configuration will fit on your board.  (And in some cases, you will need to omit an entire 10" straight piece, to get things to fit on your board.)

My layout is a variation of the simple classic "figure 8 inside of a large oval" layout.   Take a look on google, for images of train layouts, and you will probably see several of these.  I am sure that other members here can post a diagram of this classic configuration as well.   By using 4 switches in the layout, you will be able to have one train running inside the oval, on the figure 8 section, and another train running on the outside oval, at the same time, without running into each other.  Or, you can run one train, and have it travel the outside oval, and then turn inside to run on the figure 8 section, and then out again to the outside oval, in one long travel route, by just properly setting the four switches for the trip and leaving them alone.

Another advantage of this classic layout, is that it leaves two large circles inside of your layout, to set up little scenes.

I know that all of this may seem complicated at first, but it is really very simple.

Mannyrock

 

 

 

 

 

@New guy posted:

Hi Manny, 

Let me know the size and the parts. I was going to use https://www.scarm.info/ application. 

Thank you, 

Welcome New Guy:

Please don't become disheartened.  These things can be ironed out, with either help from your seller and/or Lionel customer service.   I have two things to note:

1) Lionel does offer Fasttrack curves in 031.  If you want your layout to fit on a 4x8 table, you can special order them for use in place of the 036 curves provided with your Lionel set.

2) Regarding the Polar Express engineer:  If the image you provided is the product photo from Lionel's catalog, which it seems to be, it looks as if you shouldn't have expected the engineer to have a beard since the one pictured does not. 

Good luck and have fun in getting established.  Don't give up the ship, or in this case, the train!

Last edited by RadioRon
@New guy posted:

Missing as in the production people missed it and it was designed flawed.434-624203__70119.1542576377.jpeg Of course my 4 year old spotted it. "Where is his beard?"

I understand the frustration with purchasing something new, and it failing to meet quality expectations.  There is no excuse for missing pieces, figures, etc.  Lionel and/or the distributor should (and typically does in my experience) take care of problems like this.  Covid has impacted most all businesses and small companies, such as Lionel with small staffs, are not different.  I think we need to give a little bit of leeway to get issues sorted out.

My friendly suggestion: While the cleanly shaven fireman isn't correct, it is an opportunity to make it right alongside your 4 year old.  Get some cotton balls, some orange spray paint (or food coloring), some hot glue, and make the fireman right together.  This is where the magic of the hobby happens.  Getting to spend time with your child, identifying problems, formulating solutions, and executing them.  I guarantee your child will always have a sense of pride when looking at that fireman years down the road.

 

New Guy, 

As promised, here are some simple layout ideas.

First, here is a crude hand-drawn sketch of a classic figure 8 in oval layout.  The sections marked in dark are especially important places where straight pieces must be used.  This can be built with all standard 031 curves standard straights. No cutting.

P1010945

 

Here are two pictures of the core part of my layout, which is a variation.  Note that there are four hand switches, right up front, within easy reach.  The length of the track of the layout (not the table) is 8ft 5inch, and the wide of the track is 3 ft  8 inches.  You could fit this layout on your table, but you would only have one-half inch of table left on each side of the outer ends of the large oval.     If you have already built your table, this could be remedied by just tacking an additional 2x4 to each of the table, small edge up.

P1010938P1010939

There are only five custom cut pieces in the layout, and I have marked them with white paper.  On each end of the layout ,there is an inserted short section of 3 inches.  In the center of the layout, there are three cuts, from left to right, being 6 inches, four inches, and one inch.

You could modify this layout, to fit better on your table, by simply reducing the 6 inch cut piece to 2 inches (or eliminating the piece altogether, but this would mean having the two center switches hook end to end, which may be a rough ride on any train leaving the center and going out to the big oval.   If you change the 6 inch cut to a 2 inch piece, then you can slide the right hand side of the figure eight, and the right half of the big oval, a distance of 4 inches  towards the left, which would mean that you would have 2.25 inches of table edge on the outside edge of each end of the layout.  (If you do this, then you would have to change the switch handle mechanism on the fourth switch, so that it is on the outside of the track, so that the right hand circle of the figure 8 will have room to move down.

Note in the pictures, that if you use any of these layouts, you will have alot of table room left on the back of the layout, about 16 inches, which you can use to build a little town, or to lay yet another long track which will be a long siding track, with an exit off on and off, from the long straight away at the back of the layout.

I made my layout for very young kids to use, so I kept it simple.   What you will find is that designing the layout and laying the track, LEGO style, is very simple and quick.   It is the design, creation and execution of fantastic, realistic scenery, that takes super skill and really long periods of time.  I just don't the talent for it, so I will just go with some brush and buildings.  (Not to mention a circle of cowboys sitting on a fence, watching two gladiators fight!)

Mannyrock

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