I feel that it’s important that I discuss the core of this project, the Lionel Hogwarts Express O-gauge train set, before the project truly launches in earnest in order to share with everyone the details of what is essentially the core of the project. For some this might not be important, but I know that for myself, design choices I will be making will rely and reflect heavily upon the nature and details of the train set itself. Equally, perhaps someone might want to find a set themselves, either for a loved one or out of nostalgia for the Harry Potter series, both book and movie.
There’s a lot that can be said about the Hogwarts Express and I really can’t showcase the train set without also talking about its history and nature in the narrative itself. However, discussing both within this single post would be a tad bit overwhelming, so I’ll split this into two posts: this post and a second post that will recount its history as well as other important or interesting facts. This post will deal exclusively with the actual set, what comes in it and some of the features that it includes.
The Hogwarts Express features a die-cast steam locomotive train that is highly detailed with retro styling, including separately applied metal handrails and two passenger coaches and a single combination car all of which have interior lighting, operating couplers, and soft molded diaphragms between the cars. Notable features include puffing smoke, an operational headlight and an air whistle on the tender to complete the authentic look and feel of a powerful O-gauge locomotive on its way to the magic and mayhem at Hogwarts School for Wizards & Witches. In addition to the air whistle, a number of recordings from can also be played. These feature quotes from Harry, Hermione, and Hagrid. These add an authentic flavor to the set, although I found them somewhat distracting. However, children would no doubt love them.
Designed for easy use, the Harry Potter train set features a powerful, maintenance-free engine and comes with a CW-80 transformer to control forward, reverse, and neutral operation. The eight curved and three straight FasTrack track pieces, along with a FasTrack terminal section, fit together to create a 40-by-60-inch oval. When you’re done, they pack up quickly and easily for storage.
As I’ve mentioned previously, the set is a handsome one and obviously easy enough for children or beginners to use, so it does not present any obstacles to my project. However, as with any ‘toy’ train set, it is quite compact and self-contained in terms of track footprint. This isn’t a criticism, as its marketed as being WYSIWYG and easy to use so that generally also means ‘simple’. That simplicity is what birthed this project after all, but new buyers would be advised that this is not going to be an overly complex or breath-taking model train setup ‘out-of-the-box’.
That being said, the set is quite attractive and an excellent facsimile of the cinematic version of the Hogwarts Express. With the locomotive, tender, and three coaches, you also start out with a reasonably sized train. Obviously, if you are purchasing this set, you’re doing so as a fan of the Harry Potter series and most likely are wanting to be as true as possible to the lore of the series and are unlikely to be wanting to add cattle carriers, mobile gun emplacements or NASCAR-branded flatbeds to your train. More than likely, you are going to have as much ‘train’ as you want to have included in the box, at least in terms of the available train cars, which is called ‘rolling stock’. For myself, simplicity is best, both for appearance and for functionality.
I purchased my Lionel Hogwarts Express (O Gauge) through Amazon, so it was a reasonably easy process. On the whole, there’s not much peripheral content in the series to better describe the train (a topic I’ll discuss later in depth) beyond what we see in the movies and is described in the books. Pottermore and the Harry Potter wiki both provided a significant amount of historical information about the train’s origin, but even is limited. A disappointing fact that I learned as I was doing research for this project and for this blog was that in September of 2016, Lionel’s license for the Hogwarts Express expired. While there is no doubt that there are still existing copies of the set available for purchase, this means that they are now considered collector’s items and 3rd party vendors and auction site are already responding aggressively to the newly limited availability. Worse than the possible price increase and limited availability, it means that Lionel will not be creating any additional train cars or scenery for the Hogwarts Express, which clearly could have proved incredibly beneficial to my project.
While I’d normally attribute this loss of the license to the Harry Potter series having ended several years ago, I know that this is simply not the case: beyond the five-movie cycle that started this last holiday season with Fantastic Beasts – a series we know will delve deeper into Dumbledore and Grindelwald’s friendship and eventual, infamous duel – we also have the newly opened Hogwarts and Diagon Alley attractions in both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure Florida, attractions connected by a real train ride in the Hogwarts Express. This suggested Warner Bros. is simply bringing their license back under their direct control and I have no doubt that we’ll eventually see a new iteration (hopefully produced through Lionel and hopefully O gauge) of the Hogwarts Express.
I hope this has given you a good idea about the train set and has provided you with a general idea of the actual train that this project will be constructed around and that is will accentuate. If you’d like to learn more about the fictional Hogwarts Express, I encourage you to read my second post, which discusses the history of the train.
Finally, I’ve created a YouTube channel for the Burnesyd Magical Muggle Railway and have done a short video of the train, both as an introduction and to provide some eye candy to what is by now an enormous wall of text. Enjoy!