One thing I think that bears mentioning, especially given the purpose of this blog, is that the Lionel Polar Express set got a disproportionate amount of love from Lionel in comparison to the Hogwarts Express. As I began researching available products and resources for this project, naturally existing model train sets and landscapes were the first things I checked.
Although I cannot set the date precisely, most sources suggested that Lionel licensed both the Hogwarts Express and the Polar Express and produced corresponding train sets at roughly the same time, around 10 years ago. However, The Polar Express has a substantially and -given the disparate popularity between the two intellectual properties- unwarranted superior catalog of available landscape sets and accessories. Between miniatures, train stations and add-on cars, the Polar Express seems to have gotten far more love and attention than the Hogwarts Express.
I doubt anyone would fail to understand why I would find that perplexing or why I would question that as a business decision on the part of Lionel. I’m sure this has more to do with what Warner Brothers was willing to license and less what Lionel was looking to sell, but it’s still very confusing and frustrating. Lionel was able to produce a few additional Hogwarts Express products, but they are exclusively additional train cars. The most interesting one would be the Dementor Coach, which features a flicking interior light that casts Dementor shadows upon the windows. That’s very cool and exceptionally spooky, but better suited to a Halloween-themed display.
By contrast, the Polar Express has far more that can be added to the base set. The base set itself is virtually identical to that of the Hogwarts Express: Train engine and tender, two coaches, an observation car, 8 pieces of FasTrak, controller and power supply. The one difference is that the Polar Express also includes a four piece figurine set. However, the full catalog on Lionel is far more extensive than that of the Hogwarts Express. The Lionel site even advertises for something called the ‘Polar Express Dream Kit’, but could find nothing on their site for it (although a quick Google search yielded this cornucopia of goodies for a sum of $1199.00).
I suppose the Polar Express has the clear advantage of being a Christmas-themed set as well as a less expensive IP to license. This would make it easier to sell to customers, pretty much for the exact reason that I’m creating the Burnesyd Magical Muggle Railways: trains and Christmas have a special, quintessential American, relationship. It could almost be considered a part of our collective vision of Christmas, along with Santa, elves, and the Nativity scene.
The Polar Express might make an excellent core set to purchase if you would like to create a alternatively-themed display using my efforts as a base. Both sets are roughly the same size and parts and – aside from Harry Potter specific locations – the set itself could easily be modified to take advantage of any of the individual components that I plan to add. That’s an important concept to keep in mind as I move forward, especially if the Harry Potter wizarding world is not your cup of tea. I know that Lionel offers a variety a starter sets, like the Hogwarts Express and Polar Express, including Peanut and Mickey Mouse themes, both of which might offer even further options. As I move forward and start posting my work featuring individual locations, I might also offer suggestions concerning how it might be adapted for a different theme. For now, just allow this information to give you some other ideas outside of the Harry Potter ‘box’.