Category Archives: LEGO® News

News about LEGO® sets, set reviews, and other stuff from the company

LDraw Parts Update Released

On December 30th, the team at LDraw.org released the newest parts update, 2017-01.  According to the website, the new release adds 717 new files to the library, which includes 509 new parts and 33 new primitives.  There are also updates to the configuration files for colors.

LDraw

For those not familiar with LDraw, it is an open standard for defining parts used by a number of LEGO CAD programs.  The open nature of the standard allows for numerous parts authors, including those who model 3rd party parts such as Big Ben Bricks wheels.  Parts are reviewed before release to ensure compatibility with the standard and conformance to the actual part.  CAD programs using the LDraw format are used by many modelers to create virtual MOCs and instruction sets.  Having been around for over a decade, the LDraw library contains many parts not found other virtual building platforms, including parts that have been long retired, but that may be available to builders via BrickLink or other 3rd party sources.

Check out the LDraw.org website for more information, and enjoy the New Year!

Third party track – A review of the options

Evolving your home layout beyond LEGO’s standard track elements has never been easier. First there was ME Models and now with companies such as BrickTracks, 4D Brix, and TrixBrix, competition is fierce. Even home 3D printing can offer decent results as long your machine has a large enough print area. With that in mind, I’d like to go over a few more recent entrants to the LEGO track world.

In addition to the companies listed above, there are also several companies in China that have been producing what I would consider knock-offs. These brands include Leipin, Ausini, Banbao, and Enlighten and can be found on sites like eBay and Aliexpress. I have actually ordered some just to see what the quality is like. Honestly, they’re not bad, I just don’t like buying what is obviously meant to rip-off LEGO track. Besides, once you factor in shipping, they’re not really much cheaper than the real thing. Anyway, none of the Chinese companies are being creative with track geometry or producing anything other than R40 curves, switches, and straights.

With that out of the way, even though they are not exactly new to the game, I’d like to first go over ME Models. Unfortunately, it appears as though ME has exited the track business. As per the thread on Eurobrick forums, there are still many original Kickstarter backers who have not received their pledges from several years ago. There are many other reviews out there of ME Models, so I will try to be brief. I myself received my Kickstarter pledge fairly early. Once the metal track was released, additional orders of metal track showed up without delay.

I have a few gripes with ME track. First, it requires gluing. I tried using it without glue at first, but after the track randomly exploded for the umpteenth time, I bit the bullet and glued it all together.  Secondly, rather than the “tire” of the wheel riding on the top of the rail, the outer diameter of the wheel flange rides on the top of the lower part of the rail. This causes every wheel-set to bump up when transitioning from OG LEGO track to ME track. If your train is going fast enough, this can cause derailments. And my last gripe is specific to the metal track, that the metal inserts are not pre-bent. The tension causes the inner rail of the track to bow up. Also, while mostly only noticeable on r56 and r72, the joints between rails are straight, causing the train to wobble through the curves similar to as if you had single R40 curves spaced with straight sections.

ME Models R104 on the left, BrickTracks R120 on the right

Next up, BrickTracks! BrickTracks’ initial release of R120 and R104 curves was intended to continue where ME Models left off. Now with ME Models seemingly going dark, I believe it is their intent to start working backwards by releasing R88, R72, and perhaps even R56 and to also release 9V versions if there is enough interest. Additionally, they are in the prototyping stage of R104 switches. I myself have only used their R120 curves and some 3D printed prototypes of wide radius switches.

Suffice to say, the R120 curves are essentially indistinguishable from LEGO’s own R40. Solid, crisp, injection molded single piece curves. Quality comes at a slightly steep price, but the product speaks for itself. Each stud even has “BT” embossed on its surface. My 3D printed prototype R104 switches and R104 double crossover are available to anyone willing to pay the steep price that Shapeways charges. Functionally, they are superior to LEGO; the throw requires rotating the knob 90 degrees, making motorization easy, and the throw and be moved to either side of the track. Will these ever see mass production?  We can only hope.

Sweet R120 goodness.

Having never used TrixBrix, my first hand experience ends with 4D Brix (what’s with the X’s?). Besides the regular R56, R72, and R88 (no R104, you’ll have to stick with BrickTracks for that!), 4D Brix also offers some very interesting switch configurations. You can purchase R40 ladders, double crossovers, wyes, and a very recent addition, R148 crossovers and double crossovers. A huge plus of 3D printing is rapid, cheap prototyping and a low upfront cost. 4D Brix (and TrixBrix) prove this by offering a large range of interesting track geometries without having to pay the high costs of having a tool machined for injection molding.

4DBrix R148 crossover on the bottom, BrickTracks R104 3D printed prototype up top. Someone needs to come over and ballast these monsters.
4DBrix R40 crossover

4D Brix (and TrixBrix) are both 3D printed products, so the quality, strength and surface finish are not quite as good as ME Models or BrickTracks. However, the clutch of both the anti studs and the regular studs are excellent. Usability-wise, I’ve had no issues. One quirk of 4D Brix is that each switch is broken in to different sections, each about 16 studs long. For example, the R148 crossover is 8 separate pieces. I imagine this is a size limit imposed by the particular 3D printers they use.  My guess is that the size limit is also why they do not offer R104 curves. Once assembled, this isn’t really an issue though. The color matching is excellent, and if the surface finish was as smooth as LEGO, it’d be hard to distinguish. I recommend taking some sand paper to the top rail surface to smooth it out.

And although I’ve never used their product, TrixBrix has some wild cross track products. Check them out.

Switches my locomotives can actually go through!

How do the prices of all these products compare? ME Models doesn’t have any product listed on their site anymore, so my comparison will be with product currently for sale.

Updated to correct TrixBrix prices.

Prices are for a full circle of track. TrixBrix prices were converted to USD at 1€ = $1.17USD.  When viewed this way, BrickTracks investment into injection molding really shows. I can’t wait for them to begin production of smaller radii and switches.

Expert Rebuilder Contest!

Ready for another contest?

The LEGO company is sponsoring a new contest, BE AN EXPERT REBUILDER.  Each contest participant must create a short 15 to 30 second stop-motion film, featuring an original model built using parts from the Creator Expert Modular, Holiday, or Fairgrounds sets.

How does this appeal to us train fans?  Two of the three Holiday sets have train themes!  Check out the LEGO Creator Expert sets online at the U.S. Shop at Home site: https://shop.lego.com/en-US/Creator-Expert-Sets

For complete rules, see the LEGO Rebrick “Be an Expert Rebuilder” contest website: https://www.lego.com/en-us/rebrick/contest-page/contests/expert-rebuilder

Let’s show the world what train builders can do!

OcTRAINber: A Short Service Announcement

This is a short service announcement for everybody that is eagerly waiting for the final results of the first season of OcTRAINber. We would like to tell of you you that we apologize for the silence from our side, but we are working on the judging as we speak. It has been some busy times for all of us after OcTRAINber ended, which kind of derailed our schedule when it comes to the judging.

We however would like to stress that this has been a great OcTRAINber and we are happy to see so many high quality entries! This obviously makes it even more difficult for us to judge, but it is a price we are more than willing to pay!

So, to keep this service announcement as short as possible: Thanks again for participating and for making OcTRAINber a succes. Our four judges (including myself) are busy judging the entries and hope to finish this as soon as possible. When we have the final results in, we will ofcourse communicate it immediately!

The Lego Trains Book by Holger Matthes: A Review

No Starch Press reached out to Brick Model Railroader recently and offered an advance copy of The Lego Trains Book by Holger Matthes. We graciously accepted the offer, and have decided to write and share some of our thoughts on it.

A very attractive book cover.

Before even opening the book, I’m reminded of the (former?) comprehensive resource book for those looking to get started in the hobby. Perhaps some of the older train builders are familiar with “Getting Started with Lego Trains” by Jake McKee, also published by No Starch Press, as far back as 2004. I remember buying that book online and reading it cover to cover more times than I can count. This book predates the end of the 9-volt era, so a new book for Lego trains has been long overdue, and there were certainly some big shoes to fill.

My own tattered copy of Jake McKee’s Getting Started With LEGO Trains.

The Getting Stated book included a solid introduction and a great review of the current market for Lego trains. At that time, the Santa Fe, My Own Train line, and more was available. There was also plenty of information on effective use and operating tips for the old 9 volt system, as well as a comprehensive list of equipment needed to start running a 9 volt layout.

There were also some instructions for those looking for an instant way to jump into 6-wide 9 volt building. While I never actually built any of the models, I definitely wanted to. They were good models because they were appealing to look at, easy enough for a beginner but complex enough to learn real techniques.

As I’m writing the introduction and background information about Jake McKee’s book, I haven’t looked through the book, save for a relatively brief skim and a glance at the instructions included. So without much more delay, let’s dive right in.

First off, I have to say the photography quality is amazing, so big points to photographer Andy Bahler. Following acknowledgements, Michael Gale (of the PFx Brick team) offers a well-written foreword, briefly discussing his lifelong fascination with trains, and growing more and more into modeling them in Lego. The introduction is also very well-laid out, allowing the reader to become familiar with the official Lego website, as well as Bricklink and Brickset. Nomenclature (set numbers, part numbers according to Bricklink, etc.) is also discussed before moving into the real content.

Holger does an amazing job describing the history of Lego trains in vivid detail, from #182 to #10233 Horizon Express, and everything in between. Train operation, track availability, parts, wheels, and more are covered for each train system. I feel the Getting Started book did not do enough of this. Holger certainly has not missed a detail, even including a summary and a look at each system from a current perspective.

An example of the Blue Rail era history.

Moving into the Power Functions era (current), each component which may be used in train building is laid out and described, even shortly describing the possibilities of building your own drive trains. Monorail and even narrow gauge is covered. In all, awesome history.

Next is a section titled “Basic Principles.” I love this section, as it contains a lot of information I wish I had several years ago. Holger describes basic part naming and shows numerous examples of each type, and also describes the studs and anti-studs system (which gives Lego the clutch power, for those unaware). He also details technic connections, and legal vs. illegal connections. SNOT techniques are covered with convenient color-coded diagrams. All of this information gives the reader a great foundation for diving right into building their own MOCs. Other cool techniques demonstrated in this section include brick-built striping and using parts to simulate different textures.

There’s even a Reverse Engineering Challenge!

The next section is titled “Designing Your Own Models,” and gives plenty of thoughtful content regarding various building scales, including the old 6 wide – 8 wide debate (as well as 7 wide, to make Andy Mollmann happy), and designing locomotives and cars to run on the track geometries on the current market.

This section also includes some hardcore Lego train engineering practices, such as trucks, couplings, pivot points, and more. There is also information regarding effective steam locomotive techniques! For those of you who have been pulling your hair out with failed steam locomotives, I recommend this section. I often describe building steam as a dark art, and it sure can be sometimes, but Holger has done a great job making a lot of potentially difficult information easy to read. Concepts like wheel quartering and basic steam locomotive components are covered here. One of the things I particularly like about the steam locomotive section is that Holger lists a few key design points to consider before or while building.

Showing the custom rods from TrainedBricks, and some good points to consider when building a steam locomotive.

Power Functions drive train basics, along with use of train motors, is included here as well. From there, the Holger moves into modeling details and key features of a particular prototype, such as colors, doors, windows, roof design, and more. Further still, track and layout design is discussed, explaining the differences in curve radius, and BlueBrick (a Lego track software).

The next section dives into case studies with very specific techniques and features. Those of you interested in reverse-engineering Holger’s Vectron electric locomotive, this section is for you. The BR10 model is also discussed in detail, and there is a link to Holger’s website for instructions.

Speaking of instructions, that’s the final section! There are instructions for five of Holger’s AWESOME models, with links to his website for his BR80 locomotive. Sorry North American builders, nothing on our side of the pond in this book. (Maybe Cale and I can fill the void sometime…?)

In all, I have to give this book a 10/10 score. There was not a detail that was skipped over. This is certainly the new Getting Started With LGEO Trains, without any doubt. The instructions may be for foreign (to me) models, but they offer a lot, not to mention the countless other photos and well-written paragraphs full of useful stuff. I would recommend this book to anyone, even myself. There’s plenty in here I haven’t even thought of.

Well done, Holger. Thank you for your amazing new contribution to the amazing LEGO train hobby. I’m confident this will be the go-to book for a long time.

Coming Soon – Winter Village Station!

The LEGO Group released an announcement today that should please fans of official LEGO train sets.  As an addition to the popular Winter Village series, the Winter Village Station will be available October 1st!The set looks like it will have tons of playability, especially when combined with the Winter Holiday Train (10254).

Winter Village Station Photo Gallery

The official press release:

10259 Winter Village Station
Ages 12+. 902 pieces.

US $79.99 – CA $99.99 – DE 69.99€ – UK £74.99 – DK 649.00 DKK

*Euro pricing varies by country. Please visit shop.LEGO.com for regional pricing.

Head home for the holidays with the Winter Village Station!

Head for home with the festive Winter Village Station holiday set, featuring a snowy railroad station with wreath adorned lampposts and clock tower, platform, mailbox, green trees, snowy grade crossing with twin barriers and lights, and a beautiful, festively decorated bus with opening doors and a luggage rack with removable luggage and gift wrapped packages. This LEGO® Creator Expert model also includes a ticket counter with a timetable and a transaction counter window with room for sliding out tickets to travelers, plus a coffee shop with a serving hatch and a detailed interior with an espresso machine, cups, cash register and a menu. Includes 5 minifigures.

Includes 5 minifigures: a bus driver, barista, grandmother, child and a ticket agent.

The festively adorned Winter Village Station features a snowy train station with a clock tower, platform, coffee shop, ticket counter, grade crossing with twin barriers and lights, lampposts, mailbox and green trees, plus a bus.

Ticket counter features a timetable and a transaction counter window with room for sliding out tickets.

Coffee shop features a serving hatch and a detailed interior with espresso machine, cups, cash register and a menu.

Bus features festive decoration, opening doors, luggage rack with removable luggage and gift wrapped packages, and a removable roof for accessing the detailed interior.

Drive the happy passengers to the station.

Raise the barriers to cross the track.

Grab a newspaper and relax with a warm espresso from the cozy coffee shop.

Man the ticket booth, serve the travelers and slide the tickets under the serving window.

Gather the family for some festive LEGO® building!

Accessories elements include buildable wreaths and wrapped gifts, plus 2 mugs, ticket, newspaper and an envelope.

Special elements include new 1×1 round plate with horizontal shaft, 4×6 roof element in dark blue, gray microphone element, printed ticket element and shield elements with printed clock-faces.

Includes 4 straight track pieces to connect with the LEGO® Creator Expert 10254 Winter Holiday Train.

Winter Village Station measures over 7” (19cm) high, 11” (28cm) wide and 5” (14cm) deep.

Grade Crossing when closed measures over 2” (6cm) high, 5” (13cm) wide and 5” (14cm) deep.

Bus measures over 3” (9cm) high, 5” (15cm) long and 2” (7cm) wide.

Available for sale directly through LEGO® beginning
October 1, 2017 via shop.LEGO.com, LEGO® Stores or via phone:

US Contact Center 1-800-453-4652

CA (English) Contact Center 1-800-453-4652

CA (French) Contact Center 1-877-518-5346

European Contact Center 00-800-5346-1111

LEGO, the LEGO logo and the Minifigure are trademarks of the LEGO Group. ©2017 The LEGO Group. All rights reserved.

BrickFair Virginia 2017

BrickFair Virginia 2017 was the last of the big AFOL convention I was planing to attend this year. Taking place last weekend, August 2nd to 6th, it was an awesome event filled with trains and fun. Though BrickFair may sometimes seem a little less prestigious compared to Brickworld when it comes to LEGO trains, BrickFair can no doubt draw a wonderful and diverse train presence with no less than seven clubs displaying train and monorail layouts, as well as  numerous models from individual builders. BrickFair was also host to a Train Olympics competition, run by Adny Mollmann and Nick O’Donell from OKILUG. And there were a few fan voted trains awards given out too. So let’s recap the fun.

Doug Forman’s, Vincent Hills Medical Center on the WamaLTC train layout.

Continue reading BrickFair Virginia 2017

Trains in BrickJournal Magazine

Brick Model Railroader is in issue 46 of BrickJournal magazine.

Issue 46 cover of BrickJournal. Cover photo by Cale Leiphart.

For those of you not familiar with BrickJournal, BrickJournal magazine is the ultimate resource for LEGO® enthusiasts of all ages. It spotlights all aspects of the building community, showcasing events, people, and models in every issue, with contributions and how-to articles by top builders worldwide, new product intros, and more!

For issue 46 myself and BMR contributors Glenn Holland, and Matt Hocker team up to write several articles for this LEGO train themed issue. Inside you’ll find articles on the creation of BMR, PennLUG’s train layouts, the story behind my building of Norfolk & Western steam locomotives, adding sound to your trains, and a history of LEGO train advertising. Also you’ll find instructions for building a small RR hand car. You can purchase the issue, in print or digital download, through TwoMorrows Publishing or better yet, subscribe and get all the great LEGO fan content that BrickJournal provides, delivered to your door bimonthly.

Buy BrickJournal issue 46 here

BrickJournal issue 24. Cover photo by Cale Leiphart.

While your buying BrickJournal issue 46, you can also still pick up issue 24. BrickJournal 24 is also a LEGO train themed issue. And though it predates the birth of Brick Model Railroader, a few us here at BMR, including myself, can be found within either authoring articles, or the subject of them.

Buy BrickJournal issue 24 here.

PFx Brick Returns!

The PFx Brick is back on Kickstarter!

After an unfortunate end to the previous Kickstarter campaign, the PFx Brick is back, and they’re already more than halfway there! The new goal is $50,000. The new model has bluetooth compatibility for use on devices, and is also easily customizable from the computer program. As before, the brick supports light, sound, and motor controls with ease, with a WIDE range of options and cool features. The new Kickstarter campaign also has a wider selection of backer rewards.

Long story short, the community gave their opinions, and the PFx guys listened.

Hopefully you’ll consider supporting the campaign!

Duluth, Missabe, & Iron Range “Yellowstone”

It been a while since we’ve seen a big articulated steam locomotive from LEGO® train builder Anthony Sava. But the wait is over as Anthony’s long planed model of the Duluth, Missabe, & Iron Range class M4 “Yellowstone” is finally completed.

Powerful Brute

Continue reading Duluth, Missabe, & Iron Range “Yellowstone”