Price: $159 Features: The kit includes 677 pieces for a locomotive, two passenger cars, a passenger platform kiosk, decorative stickers, and track. Set includes a battery-powered motor and handheld wireless remote controller (10 AAA batteries not included). Assembly is required.
What I missed entirely was the development of countless structure kits, movie and TV tie-ins, specialty items (Imperial Star destroyer, anyone?), motion pictures and YouTube videos, and of course, the rise of a model railroading segment catering to kids as well as adults. Some LEGO structure kits would look outstanding on a model railroad!
LEGO originated as a line of construction toys in Denmark in 1932. Originally made of wood, the product had some shortcomings, so in the early 1960s the company changed the toys to plastic. The first LEGO trains were introduced in 1966 (first with a 4.5-volt motor and later a 12-volt system). In the 1980s the train line evolved with more realistic operation to include uncoupling and remote-control switches. The fact that the proportions of the trains are close to O gauge always makes me stop and ponder them. When I had a chance to assemble a set, I jumped at the opportunity.
Opening the box
The LEGO no. 60197 City Passenger Train contains 677 pieces that combine to form a battery-powered electric locomotive of European appearance, two cars, and a trackside passenger platform. Decorative stickers are included for application to the completed train. An oval of LEGO track is included, as is a Bluetooth 10-speed wireless remote controller.
Pouring out the contents onto a conference room table gave me an “Oh my goodness” moment. There were six instruction manuals (six!) plus bags and bags and bags
containing the hundreds of small pieces in assorted shapes, sizes, and colors.
I took a deep breath, sipped some coffee, and read through all the manuals before beginning. I know, most unmanly!
Each manual focused on a specific element of the kit, such as the locomotive. The level of detail included in the models suggested the designers of the set had actually looked at some real trains.
The manuals all had clear step-by-step diagrams of assembly. I guess a 10-year-old could glance at the pieces and then slap them together like a boot camp trainee assembling an M-1 rifle. Not me. In my day, LEGO bricks pretty much consisted of four-and eight-nub blocks and that was that!
The variety of colors, shapes, angles, and novelties (there are four LEGO figures and a number of detail pieces, such as muffins and coffee cups in the dining car) was more than I anticipated.
Opening the parts bags and spreading the parts on a big surface, like a dining room table, is the best way to accomplish this job. The sequence begins with assembly of the trucks and the floors of the rolling stock. You build up the sides and then the interior and eventually the roofs.
Connecting the bricks
I decided not to worry about the trackside platform and started with the locomotive.
The unit has a single powered truck (on the rear) and an unpowered truck up front. The motor rides below the floor, and a connection is fed through the deck to a battery box.
I kept trying to get ahead of myself, reasoning (incorrectly) that the motor had to go in first. The LEGO designers knew what they were doing. Most of your time will be spent building up the shell the battery unit goes in, and you’ll connect the motor before you begin to fret about the roof.
The set requires six AAA batteries to power the locomotive and four AAA batteries for the handheld controller. That’s a lot of batteries! I suggest buying rechargeable batteries and a charger. You’ll need to do some minor disassembly every time you swap out the batteries, but hey, everything snaps back into place.
There is a square green button on the battery box. This turns the power on. When the unit is installed, you press down on a levered section of the roof, which contacts the switch and turns the power on. If you walk away and forget to turn it off with the remote controller, it will power down on its own after two hours.
The passenger cars are fun. The café car has neat interior decoration like a kitchenette and a customer being served a beverage and tasty treats. There is even a coffee pot! The coach has seats for passengers. Both cars have smoke-gray tinted windows for you to look in.
As I put the locomotive together, there were a few instances I had to take apart and reassemble a section because I misunderstood the instructions. By the time I was ready for the coaches, I had figured out the error of my ways. It took me two hours to complete the locomotive and about an hour to do each of the cars. The more familiar I became with the shapes and colors, the easier it was to progress. Heck, I’d have set up an assembly line if there had been a third car!
I had a moment of panic with one of the passenger cars. The manual clearly called for two black sections that were simply not there. I was able to substitute four shorter black sections for them. These pieces were not required elsewhere, so I wrote it off as a design change not reflected in the instructions.
When the train and tracks were finally assembled after five hours, I felt I had accomplished something. Starting with a vast number of tiny plastic squares and windows, and seats, and pantographs, I had built a fully functioning train!
The wireless remote can control two different locomotives, and the instructions cover how to sync locomotives. Once you have that connection established, turn the locomotive on and hit the controls. After all, the proof is in the pudding (or running) of the train.
On the test track
Let me say this is a toy, so I did not do the usual drawbar pull and speed testing. This is a whimsical train; no rivet counters need to apply their standards to it!
The track is plastic and snaps together. Don’t use too much force connecting and disconnecting it, and it should last a while. The set includes 16 curved sections and four straights. You can buy extra track in bulk, and LEGO makes switches for complex station or industry operations.
Set the train up as you would your O or S gauge set. Looking at the couplers offered no clues as to how they worked. There were no knuckles, loops, or hooks to connect. To my surprise the couplers are magnetic and hold together well. I didn’t experience any unintended separations of cars. I was impressed!
The low speeds are good, and the controls make gentle starts or stops easy. The short loop of track prohibits fast running.
I had no derailments, and the wheelsets rolled smoothly and quietly. Motor noise wasn’t noticeable.
The LEGO City Passenger Train set is well made and satisfying to assemble. I won’t say you can’t destroy or damage it, but the components are quite durable. If you do manage to break something, you can probably get a replacement quickly, thanks to the Internet.
When I started this project, I thought it would make a great introduction to model trains for a child. I’m not quite sure that is true. I now think this set is a great intro for anyone!