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Not long after we published the first article on Garden Railroading with Toy Trains, two common sources of toy trains - New Bright and Scientific Toys Ez-Tec - all but disappeared from the shelves of department stores that typically carry toy trains at Christmas. When these trains largely displaced New Bright and Scientific Toys from the store shelves, I thought I should review them for our readers, just in case. The locomotive is roughly patterned after a Pere Marquette 2-8-4 Berkshire-style locomotive, the inspiration for the Polar Express movie locomotive. Of course, being way undersized isn't necessarily bad, as long as customers are aware that they are buying a toy train.
One of the unnerving things, if you're used to model trains, is how lightweight the locomotive is, even with batteries installed. As is typical in toy trains, the coaches are even more "underscaled" than the rest of the train. By the way, though it almost looks like the coaches are lit, the windows just contain stickers and a vinyl strip that does a nice job of imitating a lit coach seen at night. While I had both cabooses out, I thought I'd check to see how compatible the couplers were.
Unlike the remote control on the original Bachmann Big Hauler, when the locomotive gets out of range (about 15 feet in my back yard), it stops and goes into "blow-down" mode. Back to the grand-children - with this train, you can set the train on the tracks and let them operate it without ever having to touch it - usually a good thing.
I took the freight set outside and put it on my upper loop, about 180' of fairly level track. One thing to note is that the "pilot" wheels (the first two), come off the track far more often than they should.
The photo below should give you an idea of how this train looks next to popular garden train accessories.

Alternatively, if the buildings and accessories sit away from the train a bit, they can look fine on the same railroad. I subsequently put the train on a temporary loop that I usually use for Thomas during clinics and open houses.
The current (2009-2010) freight sets have some crates that go into the gondola (shown at the right). In addition, you can always make your own indoor buildings using our Building Product Ideas articles.
If you want to create some backgrounds in a hurry and you have a color printer, check out our Building Fronts page for indoor trains.
Here's something I didn't expect - based on experience with all kinds and brands of trains. If I wanted to use these more than once a week, though, I'd still consider coming up with a couple yards of fine bubble-wrap, and one of those clear 58-quart containers. But as I ran the freight train through its paces on two different outdoor railroads, getting a sense of what it could and couldn't do, I realized that, no matter how "toylike" it was compared to my model trains, it was still fun to run. In fact, when we have our open houses, one of the big attractions for children has always been having a train the kids could run.
If you're thinking about starting a garden railroad, and you're wondering whether these could be used in a pinch, to keep the kids interested while you're making the bigger choices, the answer is that they can, as long as you store them properly in a way that the kids can still access them easily, and keep spare alkaline batteries onhand.
If you have any comments, corrections, additions, or tips about these trains that you would like to share with our readers, please contact us, and we promise to get back to you. Starting in about 2007, Lionel also marketed an old-timey battery set with a 4-4-0 locomotive that they call the "General" style (because that wheel arrangement vastly dominated the Civil War-era trains). Lionel first started dabbling in battery-powered "G gauge" trains in the 1990s, by marketing a set that looked like it was made by Scientific Toys.

Lionel has released several other versions of the 2-8-2 freight train reviewed above, including one marked for the Christmas Story movie and one marked for Hallmark(r).
In addition, Lionel briefly marketed a couple battery-powered sets with 4-4-2 locomotives (not to be confused with the relatively nice track-powered 4-4-2 locomotive they made in the 1980s). To me, each of these trains is worth owning if you can get it for half price after Christmas. It ran fine except where the track was very uneven, and it derailed on one of the turnouts (switches) every time. It's worth noting that for most of Lionel train's "golden era" Lionel catalogs surrounded their trains with realistic scenery. It ran fairly smoothly, reflecting the fact that I always have to get this "railroad" quite smooth to run Thomas and James on it for hours without supervision. With these trains, I could afford to set up a railroad anywhere flat and give the kids even more opportunities for fun. That said, I know many readers will want one before Christmas, so I'm putting a few Amazon links below for your convenience. All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 by Paul D. This does tell me that these trains could be used on a display or temporary garden railroad as long as the track is smooth.

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