A reader writes:
I came across your page while researching toy/model trains to buy for my son. He's 5 years old and handicapped, he can't walk, but trains are just something that makes him light up. His interest stemmed from the Thomas The Train shows.. Anyway when checking out the reviews on Amazon it seems that the Lionel trains are plagued with defects/engine issues. I really hadn't expected to pay more than a little over 100 dollars or so for something that could be counted on to circle our tree while he watched. If he could interact using a remote that would be great too.
Can you recommend a train that would meet our needs and could be counted on to be reliable? It would be nice if I could set it up with him, but if I have a good chance of it not working I'd rather test it on my own before he sees it. He doesn't have the strength or ability to be rough with it, if he could sit and watch it circle our tree that would be enough. Its the holiday season and I imagine you're busy, but if you have the time to respond we'd greatly appreciate it. Thank you.
Thanks for getting in touch. A lot of the complaints about Lionel stem from when they first moved production to China. A friend who has the old stuff tells me that the new stuff has weaker motors in the locomotive, which is likely true. That said, the quality of the Chinese-built Lionel HAS improved over the last several years, so your chances of getting a Lionel O-gauge train with bad problems are pretty low.
For this age, I would be inclined to prefer the Bachmann Li'l Big Haulers. They're shown near the bottom of this page:http://garden-train-store.com/begin/kids_trains.htm
The trains are sturdy and more age-appropriate (although you'd have to put the track together and put the train on the track). The downside is that, to keep the price down, the track they add is relatively flimsy - it doesn't sit right on carpet, for example. IF you have a hardwood or tile floor it should be fine.
I wish I had more choices to offer you, but the recent recession was brutal to model train companies, even those that survived cut way back.
If you're thinking about one of those battery-powered trains like Lionel's "G Gauge trains" or the EZ-Tec trains that are sold in department stores, be sure and buy two sets of replacement alkaline batteries at the same time - the batteries that come with them are always cheap, and sometimes dead when the train arrives. Also they have fairly flimsy track, so if you don't have hardwood floors, you'll have to cut a piece of 5'x5' plywood or something to set the track on. Of the two, the Lionel toys are better than the EZ-Tec toys, but if you're really thinking about something that might develop into a longterm interest, I'd shell out a little more cash for Lionel O gauge or Bachmann Li'l Big Hauler.
Hope this helps - Paul