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PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2021 12:07 pm 
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I started this thread because so many UK readers were delighted that Lionel's Hogwarts Express became available through UK providers like Hornby. Then they were disappointed to find out that "Ready-to-Play" means "Not ready for your railroad." Though Lionel's first battery-powered Hogwarts Express (and Polar Express) ran on 45mm ("G gauge," or Gauge 1, about 1.775") track, the "Ready to Play" versions run on 2" track.

Countless UK modelers have already regauged their "Ready-to-Play" Hogwarts Express trains to run on 45mm track. A few have experimented with the 2-8-2 that pulls the Polar Express and numerous other trains.

At least one other UK modeler just went ahead and bought another "Ready-to-Play" train, painted the track with UV-resistant paint, and set up a 2"-gauge RR in the corner of their 45mm outdoor railroad.

For my part, here in the US, it's still very easy to come by used G Gauge Polar Expresses, and I have tracked down a couple G-gauge Hogwarts Expresses, so I'm good on that score. But the 2" versions have some advantages.

The Ready-to-Play locomotives have the batteries in the locomotive, not the tender. This is especially an advantage with the 2-8-2 that pulls the Polar Express. It tends to "pop wheelies" on the curves, even on wide curves, especially if you attach more than two cars. The Ready-to-Play version sits squarely on the rails all the time, and will allow you to attach a couple extra cars.

The Ready-to-Play locomotives also have the ability to run in proximity without the remote controls interfering. In the past, when I set up multiple Lionel G gauge trains for kids to run, I had to separate them by 30' or more to keep them from interfering. The controls for the Lionel RTP Polar Express, Thomas, and Disney sets are more or less interchangeable, but you can run those trains side by side without interfering if you turn them on in the right sequence. The Lionel RTP Hogwarts Express seems to run on a different set of frequencies or commands altogether - I can't get it to interfere with the other trains.

Also, the RTP trains use 48" track circles, so if you build a railroad for them and later on want to use the same roadbed for a Piko or LGB starter set, it's a piece of cake.

That said, some folks think all of these trains are too cheap to even buy for their kids to play with. Some folks let their kids play with them but would never dream of putting them on their garden railroad, some folks will use them on their garden railroad after making enhancements (like repainting the Hogwarts Express to its original forest green), some folks who would like to get an outdoor railroad started right now, but don't want to spend a fortune on trains and track at the beginning, have happily incorporated them into fully-functional, attractive garden railroads. And some folks who have big elaborate railroads and lot of expensive trains find that playing with these things is also fun.

Please feel free to ignore this section if it offends you to see people having fun with toy trains that aren't nearly as nice as the models you prefer.

PostPosted: Wed Jan 27, 2021 12:12 pm 
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A reader writes:

I've been browsing through your fascinating site, mainly for info about the Lionel Ready To Play/ Hogwarts Express sets... I've bought one of the recent sets (Hornby here in the UK have just started acting as the official importers), and I'm doing a piece on it for Garden Rail Magazine; I got pointed in your direction by someone when I asked about the history of the garden scale versions of the Hogwarts set. Reading all the info you've gathered has been of great help as I try and wrap my head around the history of these models.
Being as you've got experience with the Lionel Ready to Play range, I wondered if I could ask for some advice? Can you run multiple sets at the same time, or do the controllers all operate on the same frequencies? I'm re-gauging the Hogwarts set for G scale track, and whilst it obviously has its limitations, it's also terrific fun (and my youngest loves it).
I'm tempted into getting another set, to convert a locomotive both to G and as a basic representation of my youngest daughters favourite locomotive. The chunky, basic but very robust "Berkshire" could probably be bashed into an S160 (wartime loco, our local preserved line, the Keighley and Worth Valley, has one in US Army livery). If they all work on the same frequency I'd be a bit hesitant though, I think my kids having a pair of locomotives they could run at the same time would be more fun.

Thanks, and any advice would be gratefully received
I just got a Lionel Ready-to-Play Polar Express that I ordered some time back and am happy to report that the batteries go in the locomotive, which means it will likely stay on track much better than the older 45mm-track version.

It looks at first glance like the wheels have the same kind of fat bushings forcing them to 2" gauge as the Hogwarts. I won't swear to it, but . . . . . .

Best of luck with your projects.



The reader responded:

Cheers for the information- very useful to know the batteries are indeed in the loco. Based off this I found a second-hand Berkshire loco on which was very reasonable with shipping and import, so I've ordered one to have a crack at converting. I'll let you know how I get on.

I managed to re-gauge the Hogwarts Express set; UK retailers seem to have finally cottoned on the fact it isn't actually G-gauge at least. Not the easiest conversion I've done, and took a bit of bodging, but it's working now anyway!


The bad news is that the chassis of the new locomotive is 1/4" wider than the chassis of the G gauge version. I don't know if there is enough "wiggle room" to reduce the track gauge without rebuilding the chassis. Also the trucks on the tender and cars now seem to be glued, not screwed together. And the boxes between the wheels are 1/4" wider, too. . . .

The truck problem isn't as bad as the locomotive problem, though. So may of the G gauge Lionel Polar Express trains have been broken and discarded that the cars appear on eBay all the time. If you could regauge the locomotive, you could just put the G gauge cars behind it.

Here's what I've discovered so far: ... arison.htm

If you do take on a conversion, please take lots of photos and let me know how it goes.



The reader responded:

Thanks for that extra info- I'm kind of looking forward to the challenge! I can't say I'm surprised; when I was doing the Hogwarts Express set I thought they'd left it just a little too easy to re-gauge, and speculated they'd eventually move to making the frames thicker. I noticed the wheels were very tightly fit onto the axles of my loco and stock, and tricky to move (I've ended up just purchasing for about 10 quid replacement wheels and axles for the coaches, I couldn't face sorting all 16 wheelsets).
The more I've worked on the re-gauging, the more wound-up I've become with Lionel over this matter though... surely the whole point of a starter/junior set is that it leads someone into modelling with the main range by expanding the set, and moving onto bigger and better locomotives and such whilst building brand loyalty. I know they're trying to stop their trains from being operated on competitors tracks, but it seems counter-productive to make something just that bit over-gauge, with no hope of expanding a set beyond the basic few locomotives and passenger/goods items. That's something the likes of LGB or even Playmobil got right, with their junior/starter trains still being compatible with their main ranges.

I'll be sure to document and rebuilding work I do!

Thirty-plus years ago when Lionel started making track-powered G-gauge trains, I had some interesting conversations with their PR guy when I contacted him to complain about Lionel's lack of support for their own trains (two of which I had bought for my kids).

According to the PR guy, they didn't really care about garden trains. They only made them to get people who would otherwise be dragged into LGB-land familiar enough with Lionel products to bail on G gauge and migrate into Lionel's O-gauge world.

Maybe they're doing the same sort of thing with their battery-powered toy trains. They could be hoping you have so much fun with these "Lionel" trains that you'll decide to start buying 3-rail electric trains to use indoors.

The other thing to consider is that Lionel invented O gauge JUST to lock customers into using their trains exclusively. So this is the sort of thing they've done before.

That said, there aren't a bunch of Ives, American Flyer, and Marx train manufacturers who will jump onto the 2" band wagon to stay competitive.

Sorry if I've written or said anything that made your life more complicated.


The reader responded:

Don't worry about making life complicated, it isn't at all- the info you've provided is incredibly helpful, and the background to it all is fascinating! Lionel isn't really a force over here, in fact the whole coarse-scale O gauge thing isn't a major factor- your information about Lionel and the ranges of models is something I'd have struggled to research adequately without your help. The most popular scale is 00, then N... 0 has only started a resurgence recently with the increase in ready-to-run models to decent prices. We don't really have as big an equivalent of the three rail scene (though that said, I know a couple of modellers who do have some very nice layouts running a variety of vintage and reproduction/modern 0 items). The attitude you describe though by Lionel is perhaps understandable, but a bit of a shame really from a modellers point of view.

Thanks again for the info- all the best!

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