Either passenger or freight cars
- The passenger trains have either 2 US-style or UK-style passenger cars.
- The Polar Express and a couple other special issues that were never widely available are modeled after late-era US heavyweights. A coach and an observation car with a disappering "ghost hobo" figure built into the roof. One broad curves and flat surfaces, the locomotive will pull three cars just fine, so if you have a chance to pick up an extra coach without having to buy an extra observation car at the same time, go for it.
- The Hogwarts Express coaches are based on Great Western Railway coaches. The first one is called the "brake car" in UK railroading terms. It serves similar functions to a "combine" car on US railroads. The second is an ordinary coach. In the early Harry Potter movies, the train pulls one brake car and three coaches. In later movies, it pulls one brake car and four coaches. The Lionel G gauge Hogwarts Express locomotive will pull 4 cars easily. Again, it may be "bad form" to put two brake cars in a single train but nobody on this side of the Atlantic will know the difference.
- The freight trains have a caboose and one freight car, either a boxcar or a gondola with three crates.
Most of the lower cost sets include just the train, the remote, and a circle or oval of track.
However, there are a couple exceptions, which are always missing when you buy the set used.
- The Polar Express set comes with a Conductor and "Boy" figure.
- The "Christmas Story" set comes with a little crate that contains a leg lamp.
If anything else pops up, I'll add it to this list.
What they have in common:
- Rugged - All of the locomotives are rugged enough for kids over the age of six to handle without danger of serious damage (the box says "4 and over").
- Undersized - They are all undersized compared to scale models of the same locomotive, with the "Berkshire" probably being the worst offender.
- Batteries - They all take six C-cells in the tender and two AA cells in the remotes.
- Remotes - The remotes all operate on the same frequence, so the remotes are interchangeable (except you can't hear the special sounds some of the tenders have if you're using a remote without that button).
- Traction Tires - Though the different locomotives take different size traction tires, each locomotive depends on them to run properly, much less pull a train.
- Attention to Detail - As a scale model railroader most of my life, I tend to judge products like these in comparison to scale models (you'll see some examples below). However, if you compare even the most toylike trains in this line to the vast majority of battery-powered toy train on the market, you'll see that Lionel at least started out by looking at real trains.
And for the most part, they've incorporated a reasonable amount of detail. In comparison, the average battery-powered toy train sold in department stores at Christmas bears no more resemblance to any real train than the average 8-year-old's drawing. Lionel's G gauge battery-powered trains are also substantially more rugged and dependable than those sets.
The "Berkshire" locomotive is by far the most available locomotive in this series. It came in at least the following sets: 7-11022, 7-11097, 11177, 7-11182 7-11191, 7-11193, 7-11352 7-11399, 7-11485, 7-11489, and 7-11556. Any other numbers you encounter are probably for "Ready to Play" sets, which are cheaper, smaller, and won't run on G gauge track.
The Berkshire is roughly patterned after a Pere Marquette 2-8-4 Berkshire-style locomotive, the inspiration for the Polar Express movie locomotive. However, Lionel has removed one pair of wheels and downsized the locomotive in all directions. The photo below shows the Lionel 2-8-2 locomotive next to a scale 2-8-2 locomotive (which is actually a model of a SMALLER locomotive than the Berkshire. The Lionel 2-8-2 is about 2/3 the length, and 3/4 as wide and tall as it "should be" to be considered a "model train." In fact, Lionel labels the train "G gauge," which simply means it runs on track that has the rails 45mm apart, and says nothing about scale whatsoever.
Of course, being way undersized isn't necessarily bad, as long as customers are aware that they are buying a toy train.
Probably the main reason I found this disappointing back in 2007 is that that the O27 and S gauge version are much more realistic representations of the original Berkshire. (Lionel makes a semiscale "O" version of the Berkshire that is even better than their O27 version, but a lot more money.) For a comparison of Lionel's S scale and O27 Polar Express trains click here.)
One of the unnerving things, if you're used to model trains, is how lightweight the locomotive is, even with batteries installed. If nothing else, I'm used to the drivers being made of metal, and the motor weighing something. But in this case, the wheels are all plastic, and lightweight plastic as well.
Operationally, the "Berkshire" struggles to stay on 4'-diameter curves. When we've set it on 4'-diameter curves for children's railroads, it has been known to set some sort of record for the number of times it can make it completely around the circle with the front drive wheels hanging off the track. This is especially true if you try to add an extra car or two - the additional drag keeps the thing "wanting" to veer outside of the tight curve.
On 5'-diameter or wider curves on a very flat surface, the "Berkshire" does just fine, hauling more cars and staying on track until the batteries run out.
The "Berkshire" was by far the most popular locomotive, appearing in any number of freight sets as well as the Polar Express passenger set it started out with. Because so many sets were sold, it's relatively easy to find in one paint job or another for a reasonable price (often as part of a well-used set that is missing the remote - go figure).
The "General" ("American 4-4-0")
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). The first version had a red and green locomotive, but most sets spotted have a red locomotive.
The General was included in at least these sets: 7-11089, 7-11488, 7-11498, and 7-11548. Any other numbers you encounter are probably for "Ready to Play" sets, which are cheaper, smaller, and won't run on G gauge track.
Strangely, the most common versions are both numbered "1225," the number of the Berkshire that pulls the Polar Express. Not that anyone would confuse these with that locomotive.
A Coca Cola version, almost all red and white, was also made.
The General's track, remote, and couplers are the same as the 2-8-2 sets, so the set is very compatible with them. In fact the freight cars drawn by various versions of the General are exactly the same as the freight cars drawn by various versions of the "Berkshire," except for the paint jobs.
Because of the shorter wheelbase, the "General" runs better on tight radius curves than the "Berkshire," so it may be a better choice for tight curves or less-than-smooth right-of-ways.
This locomotive isn't nearly as common as the "Berkshire," as it was used in only a few sets. It will be harder to find. On the other hand, to amateurs, it looks more toylike than the other locomotives, so sometimes folks resell them cheap.
Hogwarts Express ("Hall" Class)
The "Hogwarts Express" locomotive has only been used with one train in this series (#7-11808), and it was only manufactured for a very short time. This 4-6-0 is inspired the the very real "Hall class" locomotives that ran on the Great Western Railway in the UK from the 1920s to the mid-1960s. One of them was restored and running on an excursion railroad in Scotland when the director of the first two Harry Potter movies selected it to be repainted and used in the movies.
As mentioned earlier, the Hogwarts Express locomotive has no trouble pulling four coaches in warm weather on level track (in chillier weather or rough track situations, we've had to go down to three).
To be honest, getting one of these sets (and a couple extra cars) actually revived my interest in this line of trains. Of course a trip to the Orlando Universal, where I spent a lot of time studying the full-sized Hogwarts Express trains didn't hurt either.
For more details about the real Hall class locomotives that have been repurposed to serve as the Hogwarts Express, as well as other information related to modeling these trains, please click here.
The photo to the right shows the caboose from the freight set. It's just over 2/3 as wide and tall as it "should be" to be considered a model. (Length isn't as important, since cabooses came in all kinds of lengths.) To save money, the windows are blacked out instead of molded in, but it is reasonably solid for a toy. In fact, I suspect the caboose will outlast the rest of the set.
As is typical in toy trains, the coaches are even more "underscaled" than the rest of the train. The first photo above shows the Lionel coach next to a popular "shorty" scale coach. The next photo shows the Lionel coach next to a heavyweight coach - a 1:29 model of the same class of car that the Lionel coaches are based on. Looking only at the width and height difference, the coach seems to be as close to O scale (1:48) as it is to Large Scale (1:32 and larger).
That said, the overall effect when the train is coupled together is still quite nice, especially if you can come up with an extra coach as shown in the outdoor shot above.
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. As a person who enjoys seeing lit coaches running in dim lighting, this is a bit disappointing, but for running in sunlight or medium-lit rooms it serves just fine.
While I had both cabooses out, I thought I'd check to see how compatible the couplers were. The Lionel caboose's coupler wasn't nearly as tall as the AristoCraft's coupler. In addition, it doesn't couple and uncouple either, so you have to manually link them up. But it is mounted near the vertical center of the AristoCraft's coupler height, and, when attached manually, DOES hook up. So it is possible that you could pull Large Scale model cars with the toy locomotive or vice versa.
Sets I've Come Across
A few pieces have turned up that seem to be one-offs, or limited runs, without enough information to catalog the sets (or in some cases, even individual pieces). I'm listing the sets that I've owned or seen enough of to be certain they weren't custom or "one-off" sets. If you come across one I don't have listed here, please let me know, and I'll add it.
Also, I am not implying that these are collectibles or collectors' items - as far as I'm concerned the only reason to buy these is to run, or to let kids run. That said, a lot eBay sellers and the like are selling the new "Ready-to-Play" trains as "G Gauge," and I would like to help fellow G-gaugers avoid confusion by publishing the correct information about the ones that are the "real thing." Pay attention to the product numbers, folks!
In addition, lots of folks who think anything labeled Lionel that is hard to find is necessarily a "collectors' item" are claiming their sets are worth up to $600 or individual hard-to-find cars are worth $150. Don't buy their claims and don't buy their merchandise.
|Product Number||Train Name or Theme||Locomotive||Cars||Accessories||Box Cover Link|
|7-11022||Polar Express (passenger)||"Berkshire"||Coach and Observation Car||Conductor and "Boy" figure, bell||Box Image|
|7-11485/ 7-11556||Polar Express Freight||"Berkshire"||Gondola and Caboose||Gondola contains "hot chocolate" containers||Box Image|
|7-11191||Pennsylvania Flyer||"Berkshire"||Gondola with boxes and Caboose||NA||Box Image|
|7-11193||Santa Fe||"Berkshire"||Gondola with boxes and Caboose||NA||Box Image|
|7-11399||Canadian Pacific||"Berkshire"||Gondola with boxes and Caboose||NA||Box Image|
|7-11489||Snoopy Railways||"Berkshire"||Boxcar and Caboose||NA||Box Image|
|7-11177||A Christmas Story||"Berkshire"||Boxcar and Caboose||Small crate with leg lamp||Box Image|
|7-11352||Hersheys||"Berkshire"||Boxcar and Caboose||NA||Box Image|
|7-11097||Crown Express||"Berkshire"||Gondola and Caboose||Christmas Trees in the Gondola||Box Image|
|7-11182||Lionel Lines*||"Berkshire"||Gondola and Caboose||NA||Box Image|
|7-11548||Crayola||"General"||Boxcar and Caboose||NA||Box Image|
|7-11089||Holiday Central||"General"||Gondola and Caboose||NA||Box Image|
|7-11488||Coca Cola||"General"||Boxcar and Caboose||NA||Box Image|
|7-1498||Frosty the Snowman||"General"||Boxcar and Caboose||NA||Box Image|
|7-11808||Hogwarts Express||"Hogwarts Express" (Hall class)||Brake Car (Combine) and Coach ||NA||Box Image|
*Note - Most sets labeled "Lionel Lines" are made by New Bright, Scientific Toys/Ez-Tec, or other toy companies, so don't buy them until you compare them to the photos of these trains. See the Appendix to this article for more information.
Operation on a Garden Railroad
Back when I bought my first set - the Santa Fe freight train, I had to throw away the batteries that came with it and replace them with new ones. Then I took the set outside and put it on my upper loop, about 180' of fairly level track. It ran fine except where the track was very uneven, and it derailed on one of the turnouts (switches) every time. With alkaline batteries, it still ran a bit slower than I expected, even with the "speed" on the remote control set all the way up. On the other hand, it DID keep running even when it hit dirty track, something my track-powered trains don't always do.
One thing to note is that on the narrow 48" curves that come in the box, the "pilot" wheels (the first two), come off the track far more often than they should. If you want to use this outside for long periods of time, consider using wider curves. That works for me as long as the track is completely level. If you need more, you could possibly try gluing a couple tiny weights on the pilot truck, or replacing the pilot wheels with metal wheels. If I was going to try to use it outside often, I might consider weighting the locomotive a bit, too. It doesn't take much for a locomotive that weighs only a pound or so to come off the track.
The photo below should give you an idea of how this train looks next to popular garden train accessories. The station is a 1:24 model that was once available from AristoCraft. Compared to the station, the Lionel train is a bit small, but it doesn't look outright silly. If you were starting out with things like wooden bird-houses, etc. that are a bit small anyway, this train would look right at home.
Alternatively, if the buildings and accessories sit away from the train a bit, they can look fine on the same railroad. It's worth noting that for most of Lionel train's "golden era" Lionel catalogs surrounded their trains with realistic scenery. There's no reason you can't do the same thing if you start out with one or more of these.
Operationally, the Hogwarts Express runs very well on tight radius curves. In warm weather on broader curves, it has no trouble pulling four of its passenger cars around a garden railroad right-of-way. (It only comes with two cars, but I've picked up some extras.)
Shopping for Lionel's Battery-Powered "G" Trains
On Paying a Premium for a "New In Box" Set - A few of these are still hiding out brand new in "mom and pop" stores around the country, but when they come to light, folks tend to ask a premium for them. Remember, the most expensive sets cost only about $100 when they were new - people asking $200-$400 because they're hard to find are looking for suckers. Watch some of those if you have any questions and see if they ever really sell.
What You Actually NeedThe minimum you need is the locomotive, the cars and the remote. If you already have G gauge track from a garden railroad or from another train set, do you really need that extra plastic? Or styrofoam and cardboard?
eBbay Specifics - You can look for these sets all over the Internet, but the vast majority turn up on eBay. If you're looking for a particular set, go to the G scale page then type "Lionel" and the model # from the table. If that doesn't bring anything up you want, try a search like "Lionel G gauge battery" with the train name or road name. Chances are a broader search will bring up several pages' worth of irrelevant information (including "Ready to Play" sets that won't run on 45mm track, the old 1980s track-powered sets, which will, and the Scientific Toys/Ez-tec and New Bright trains that were sold as Lionel in the 1990s - see the appendix). But it will get you started.
Note: Since I published the last update to this page, I have added an "RSS feed" of "Lionel G Gauge Battery Trains" on the right side of this section. I set it up to specifically exclude "ready to play" trains, though some will still get through because the vendors sometimes leave that phrase out. It's not a perfect search, but should give you some idea.
Check the shipping costs before you bid or buy. A set without the box or track can ship for between $15 and $25 depending on distance, but some sellers embed their "reserve" price into the shipping. In some cases, the shipping cost is more than the product itself is worth.
Only shop from sellers who say the train is tested and working or who accept returns. In my experience, most eBay sellers who sell toy or model trains as "untested" and who don't accept returns know perfectly well that the trains they're selling you as "untested" don't work period.
True, used sets are almost always missing any little extras like the Polar Express' Conductor and "Boy" figures and bell. The sets with gondolas are almost always missing the little crates, and so on. But most of the sets don't have such extras anyway, and the ability to get a working set for a quarter of what the scalpers are charging isn't all bad.
You MUST Have the Remote - Don't buy any of these trains without the remote unless you already have at least one remote already. The trains with special sounds, like the Polar Express, Holiday Central, and Frosty trains will run with any of the remotes, but they'll only play music or shout "All Aboard" with the remote that has the little note button. If you're buying a spare or backup set and already have one remote, that's your call. Just keep in mind that you can't run more trains at one time than you have remotes (unless you want them all doing exactly the same thing at the same time). On the other hand, if you can't set them up over 20 feet apart, that's academic anyway.
In most cases, you should avoid paying "real money" for the individual cars, especially if they are the ones that come with the sets. Lots of vendors have bought sets on closeout and are piecing them out, so spending $40 on a car that would come with a set you could get used for $50 is probably a mistake.
On the other hand, if your kids are in love with, say the Crayola set and you see the add-on tank car or whatever, that's your choice. ALL the cars are interchangeable with ALL the sets, although some of the US-style cars will look pretty goofy with the Hogwarts Express coaches and vice versa.
Avoid Overpaying - If you're in no hurry, or you're buying the most common sets, put a "watch" on a few you like and see what they actually sell for. Often the same set will be listed at $20 starting bid and at a $200 "buy now" price. The actual selling point is always somewhere in between.
Several extra cars were made in the road names for some of the sets. For example, the Pennsylvania Flyer series had a separate boxcar, the Crayola set had a separate tank car, etc. Most of those are pretty hard to find today, but they do turn up on eBay once in a while. If you're tempted to buy a car from this series, make certain you don't already own it, because you're likely to pay as much in shipping these lightweight toys as you pay for the car.
In addition, there was a sort of catch-as-catch can availability of accessories. For example, there's a set of figures labeled for the Pennsylvania Flyer, but most other sets don't have any add-on figures. Again, these are pretty hard to find, and there's no particular reward for using these versus any other suitable figures.
Since these sets are somewhere between Large Scale (1:32 and larger) and O scale (1:48), you'll discover that many of the figures and accessories made to go with Dept. 56 and Lemax Christmas villages are a pretty good match. So if you're going to be running your Lionel "G gauge" train indoors, consider shopping for Dept. 56 and Lemax figures and accessories (especially at thrift shops and garage sales and on sale after Christmas).
In addition, you can always make your own indoor buildings using our Building Product Ideas articles. Or make old-fashioned toy-like buildings and accessories using our Tribute to Tinplate articles.
For the Hogwarts Express, I considered making or purchasing some sort of representation of Hogwarts for a recent open railway, but my time and budget were somewhat limited, so I opted to "trashbash (or repurpose) some toy castles to set the scene.
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. The O scale building fronts should look pretty good with your trains. If you would rather go toward large scales, the Large Scale Building Fronts page has buildings in scales from 1:43 to 1:20.3.
Here's something I didn't expect - based on experience with all kinds and brands of trains. Once you get the train out of the box, it's easy to get back in. (The track is a bit trickier - I might recommend just keeping it in a shoebox-sized storage container or some such.) This is more important than it sounds. Often, model and toy train packaging, meant to keep the trains safe for a bumpy journey across the Pacific ocean, etc., is designed in such a way that you either pull the packaging apart getting the train out, or you pull bits off the train. True, these toys don't have many fragile bits, but they come out and go back into the packaging easily, which means that you can actually use the box for storage, something that is a huge hassle with many other brands, including some other Lionel 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. Cut pieces of the bubble-wrap to wrap the train pieces in before you put them in the container, and the rest will fit nicely. Since I usually accumulate a few extra cars for each of these trains, I put the extras in the same containers.
Because these trains aren't made to be used outside, you can't store them outside, either. Keep them someplace safe from temperature extremes. And keep the batteries stored separately so if the kids forget about the train for six months, you won't come back to find something disgusting leaking out of the tender or remote control.
When I bought the first set just to review, I didn't expect to find them as useful as I have. The Santa Fe freight set and the Polar Express passenger set both made several appearances during our open railroads. In fact, the Polar Express has run every time.
When I tracked down and bought a used Hogwarts Express set, I was even more delighted with the series - glad enough to repurpose a couple toy castles for a display at our November, 2019 open railroad.
Because these trains aren't made any more, if you really really want to have one of these to use for a long time, you might try to get a spare working locomotive - the cars will be fine. Of course, if you can buy a whole set cheap, that will give you one extra coach or freight car to run.
Regarding extra cars, I've actually picked up extra cars for $3-$5 at train shows from folks who got them in a box with something else and had no idea what they were. Don't get carried away and buy a cheap used set just to get an extra car, though. Who needs two or three identical cabooses?
Traction Tire Questions Still Outstanding - That said, Lionel is claiming that they don't have replacement traction tires for these trains, even though several of the trains are still listed on their web page. So the jury's still out on that score. If you buy a used set, look at the traction tires to see if they're getting dried out-looking.
If you JUST need a battery-powered train for the kids to run, you might still consider a "Ready to Play" set. It won't run on your garden railroad, the track is chintzy, extra track is way over priced, and the trains are a little more toylike than these trains, but they're pretty robust and a lot less expensive at this point.
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.
Appendix: Scientific Toys/Ez-tec and New Bright Trains Labeled Lionel
Lionel first started dabbling in battery-powered "G gauge" trains in the 1990s, by contracting with third parties like Scientific Toys to built trains with the name "Lionel Lines" on the box. #62134, shown to the right is a very common example. If they were Scientific Toys/Eztec trains, chances are they're fairly solid for a toy train. However, they are not in the same class as the trains described in the body of this article.
Another probable Ez-tec set featured a more modern-looking (but still way undersized) 4-4-2 locomotive. (not to be confused with the relatively nice track-powered 4-4-2 locomotive they made in the 1980s)
The locomotive pulled only one car. I haven't had my hands on one, so I don't know how sturdy it might be. I'm told the locomotive by itself is about 16" long, so that's not too bad by toy train standards. The boxcar is undersized, even compared to the locomotive, though.
Several other sets that were obviously made by New Bright or Ez-tec have turned up. If you see one of those you like and want to try it, you're on your own. Just remember that most of those sets cost between $50 and $100 new, all of them went on sale for half-price after Christmas. On top of that, they have even less manufacturer support than the trains described in the body of this article, which is hard to imagine, I know.
If you have any questions about a set that turns up, compare the locomotive to the three locomotives in the photos in the main part of the article (the "Berkshire," the "General," or the "Hogwarts Express"). If the locomotive in the set you're looking at isn't identical to one of those (excepting the paint job), realize that nothing in this article applies, and try not to pay more than you'd pay for a similar New Bright set in questionable condition.
Here are other articles with tips and tricks about running battery-powered toy trains outside.
Garden Railroading on a Shoe String - Our lead article on "Shoe-String Garden Railroads," with many ideas and links to helpful articles.
Garden Railroading with Toy Trains - For more information about garden railroading with toy trains, including brand descriptions, buying advice, etc., click on the little picture to the right.
Budgeting for a Shoe-String Garden Railroad - Lists potential expenses most folks don't think about ahead of time, along with ways to reduce or skirt them with planning.
Evan Morse's Shoestring Railroading Tips - Things that work for one Shoestring Railroader, mostly about track.
Converting Lionel's "Ready to Play" Trains to 45mm - Lionel's current line of battery-powered toy trains run on 2" track. But they don't have to.
Lionel's G Gauge Toy Trains - All about the battery-powered G gauge toy trains Lionel made in the 2011-2015 period. Most are a great choice for a "shoe-string" railroad.
Comparing Lionel's Hogwarts Express Versions - Click for a 'hands-on" comparison of Lionel's two battery-powered Hogwarts Express trains. Here's a quick summary: the passenger car molds are the same; the locomotive molds are different.
New Life for a Battery-Powered Bachmann Ten-Wheeler - Lose the remote?
You can use these tips to add directional switching to battery-powered locomotives.
Into the Woods - a Geo-cacher builds an elaborate trestle-based dogbone railroad in a forest, then locks up a Scientific Toys/Ez-Tec train set with clues that fellow geocachers can use to get the train out and run it.