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Fx Bricks (Michael Gale) announces Fx Track system

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Hi all, 

at Brickworld Michael Gale, known for the PFx brick, gave us a first impression of his plans for the upcoming Fx Track system. Now his website is also updated: https://www.fxbricks.com/

You can find all his information in his preliminary information about Fx Brick Track system at https://www.fxbricks.com/downloads/FxTrackPreReleaseJun2019.pdf

The plan is to mold all track elements and add the metal on the rails as LEGO did for the 9 V system. Later power pickups and further power related elements are planned.

Hopefully there is still the change for ABS only 104 switches by BrickTracks!? 

Holger

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I noticed that earlier as well. I’m very excited and I wish the team all the best. I can’t wait to replace my ME Models tracks, and get some larger radius tracks.

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Correct me if I am wrong, as I sadly was not able to attend the talk that night, are the switches R40 or R104?

-Jeffinslaw

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So stoked about this! Btw they also released a blog post with some extra insights and explanations why they have decided to go this way. 

Knowing a bit Micheals background and his love for model railways, I'm pretty sure this system will, if it goes to market, make a huge impact on the hobby. While reading the documents I realized he is totally right, the reason L-Gauge is being percieved as a toy and not as a proper railway gauge that modellers can play around with are exactly because the catalogue of parts doesn't make sense from a model railroaders perspective. It's the lack of ecosystem that's currently holding us back. In the past I had several of these discussions within the topic "Bring back 9V", all of them boiled down to one thing: Yes, 9V track is nice, but as longs as there aren't any pherificals like 9V motors and transformers availble on the first hand market anymore, it will stay a niche and thus isn't profitable. Because who would invest in 9V track if the motors they rely on are a dying breed? No ecosystem means no future. Adding these different types of radii, lengths, switches, and new motors + power pickups would finally give the one-stop-shop that regular model railroad companies like Fleischmann and Roco are famous for.

In that sense I also do see a future for Bricktracks; In H0 for example there are also almost 10 worldwide companies that produce those tracks, and at least two systems, AC (Marklink) vs DC (the rest). So for L-gauge I think the same would be true; Plastic (Bricktracks + 3D printed) vs metal (FX bricks). 

I'm glad they are going to produce it (partly) in China (or so I read it at least) to keep costs down. I'm a big fan of schemes like Buy America of Buy EU, but let's be honest, that's just way too expensive. Producing in China makes your product a lot more competitieve from a price point of view, which in turn gives FX Bricks a larger audience and thus more chance for a profit. I don't know of any big model railroad company that doens't produce in China at the moment. The idea that China still produces crappy quality just isn't right, almost everything that is injection molded comes from China nowadays! 

Also, I'm excited by the fact that this indeed seems to be the next 'logical' step after bringing the PFx Brick to market (which will get a injection molded casing in the second run!!).

 

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The switches are labeled as P40, not R40. The drawings also indicate much wider radius, closer to R104 than R40.

I’m optimistic. R40 switches are useless from practical and prototypical view point.

 

 

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8 hours ago, Henry 991 said:

The switches are labeled as P40, not R40.

I think that's P for Point and 40 because the straight section is 40 studs long. The crossings are 'X' and straights are 'S'.

This is all good news but with all their focus on this track system the development of the Android app for the PFx brick seems to suffer...

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24 minutes ago, Duq said:

 

I think that's P for Point and 40 because the straight section is 40 studs long. The crossings are 'X' and straights are 'S'.

This is all good news but with all their focus on this track system the development of the Android app for the PFx brick seems to suffer...

I really like the ambition level of the project: it’s amazing if this happens.

A couple of concerns:

- the size of the investment must the large. Can they really finance this?

- I’d really like to see the entire LEGO train ecosystem do well. I’m going to purchase Bricktracks’ R104 switches when they become available - but are enough people going to do so or will the sales suffer?

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I think this is great news! If this system comes to life I hope the release order is somewhat logical.  I believe ME models really messed up by going right for the track first.  They talked about a whole system but started off by depending on discontinued motors by the Lego group.

Releasing a solid pickup/motor system relatively early on would be a good idea in my opinion. It would give people a reason to buy into the system. Quite frankly we already know how track works, especially if it's identical to what Lego made in the past. 

Overall I'm definitely excited for more details and the prospect of 9v living on.

Unfinished_Projects

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4 hours ago, Duq said:

This is all good news but with all their focus on this track system the development of the Android app for the PFx brick seems to suffer...

True that. I hope that the second production run also means creating a better app for Android. Because this one is pretty laggy indeed. At one point I did by the way understand from Michael that this is indeed in the works, so fingers crossed.

Aldo, they do have an API available but unfortunately I don't have a win10 pc so I can't use that unified control app (that uses their API) either...

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1 hour ago, Unfinished_Projects said:

I think this is great news! If this system comes to life I hope the release order is somewhat logical.  I believe ME models really messed up by going right for the track first.  They talked about a whole system but started off by depending on discontinued motors by the Lego group.

Releasing a solid pickup/motor system relatively early on would be a good idea in my opinion. It would give people a reason to buy into the system. Quite frankly we already know how track works, especially if it's identical to what Lego made in the past. 

Overall I'm definitely excited for more details and the prospect of 9v living on.

Unfinished_Projects

The launching sequence is indeed a good point.

The product value proposition document has two very compelling elements:

- Better motors. It’s ridiculous to have to use multiple motors in LEGO trains when a single, small, RC brushless motor would  indeed provide 5-10x the torque in a L-sized packaging. E.g. geared inrunnners. Of course LEGO motors are made super cheap and geared brushless motors aren't

- Possibility to eliminate the battery with conductive rails and pickup wheels

Both 1 and 2 bring great packaging benefits and make the locomotives more compact and capable.

However, and here comes the tricky part, in reality most users will have hybrid tracks in the beginning where a fair share of the track will be plastic LEGO track and only a part will be from FX Track.

I’d therefore suggest following launch order:

1. Controller: FX Brick Pro, and the new wiring, Android app etc. This is a stand-alone product that sells well and keeps the revenue coming

2. New, stronger and higher quality motors. Also, works stand alone and has a larger target AFOL group than just the train hobbyist. Good for funding.

3. Battery box that can be charged with pickup wheels

4. Power pickup wheels

That would create the installed base so that users can benefit from the new metal track.

I’d thereafter start launching the track sections. Switches are obvious ones to begin with, as well as double straights - however, Bricktracks’ switch might reduce the demand for switches first.

Just my thoughts.

 

Edited by Henry 991

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Wow, two announcements within a few hours. I'm excited. 

I'm now thinking about the different concepts of BrickTrack and FxTrack and the future of my layout (I'm close to building a large one). What is affordable, what is future proof, what is innovative?

There is an obvious huge advantage for BrickTrack's switches. They are 100% Lego-compatible, cheaper to manufacture than metal ones and the product range can be extended step by step. Investing in FxTracks is a bet on the future of the company, there is no alternative if their plans fail. And the elements cannot be introduced gradually, the curves do not make sense without switches.

From my pre-Lego era I have some experience with analog and DCC controlled H0 and N trains. One of the reasons (beside robustness) why I switched to Lego is the simplicity of the PF and PU systems. No cables, no layout restrictions, no limitations regarding tracks and train control. The freedom to 3D-print track elements, build tracks from bricks or to do handicrafts opens up so many opportunities. I see no reason or advantage in going back to an old-school metal track system for private use.

Metal tracks and DCC have their strengths in large, automated layouts for exhibitions, when replacing the batteries of permanently running trains becomes a severe issue.

I wonder why FxTrack sticks to the original Lego track design so closely. The necessity to produce all elements instead of extending the current Lego product range provides the opportunity to fix all the issues of the Lego tracks. Why not make the track distance smaller? Why not make 1-wide sleepers? Why not use highly conductible nickel silver or brass rail profiles and joiners? Why not improve the appearance to make ballasting the track cheaper?

In summary, I don't see any advantage of FxTrack over other products for the majority of customers. Can a product range that requires investments over a million USD be successful if the customer base is limited to a few LUGs. I say no.

I'd rather see a market for innovative wireless recharging systems, alternative rechargeable battery boxes, stronger motors with more weight. Or what about small battery-powered Bluetooth-controlled switch drives? There are so many opportunities to improve the Lego train ecosystem. Going back to the old metal track system is certainly not a very smart one.

Edited by legotownlinz

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I was at the talk.  It's ambitious.  

I own a small fortune in 9v equipment.  25+ motors, switches, meters of track.  So getting that out of the way, I do not anticipate me buying these products.  My reasons are legion.

I wish no ill will on Michael.  He seems very sincere in his desire to help.  But I don't see this as helping.

--Tony

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8 hours ago, legotownlinz said:

Going back to the old metal track system is certainly not a very smart one.

And I take the freedom (no offense please - in too many EB forums way too much heat is created because people have different perspectives - and this is >no< reason to  heat) to "counter" that. Or much better: To view this from my perspective. Much better. My "counter" is stupid.

I believe that one pivotal point is: Where does the power come from?. Batteries? For me, no way. As far as I am concerned, it does not make much sense. For one, no real train runs off from batteries, much more importantly though, a powered track is a means of power delivery to any devices present on the setup. You mentioned really nifty devices and solutions, but they need power. Sure we can wire unlimited meters/yards of wires through the layout, but it is so much easier to pull-off 9V/12V/15V (whatever) directly from the track in close vicinity to the device needing power, e.g. the intelligent switch drives you proposed. I am doing exactly that on my layout. There is power everywhere due to the metal track system.

Now, another thing, which is very closely tied to the metal track, is the power pickup. The moment you have that installed in an "intelligent" (oh my ... big word for "bridge rectifier") way on your engine, things become entirely in line with all past (I don't like using the word "old" - it always implies "out of order" or "not being compatible with 'now' ") and current devices, be that PF, PuP or even 9V. The 9V system is not old; it is an alternative. 

Plus, there should be no worries about insulating track segments (e.g., reversing loops as a measure of freedom to lay track) - look at what @coaster has announced, these pieces are perfectly suited for that purpose when you don't want to take the invasive route.

So, IMHO and only in that, I believe what Michael is trying to create (and pull off) makes not only sense, but is a big step forward.

What you are proposing is in full accord with that.

All the best
Thorsten

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43 minutes ago, Toastie said:

And I take the freedom (no offense please - in too many EB forums way too much heat is created because people have different perspectives - and this is >no< reason to  heat) to "counter" that. Or much better: To view this from my perspective. Much better. My "counter" is stupid.

No problem, I'm fine with your opinion. In the end its neither you nor me but the market that decides if FxTracks will be succesful.

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I’ll definitely be buying new 9v motor bogies (please make a center hole for a 3rd axle), metal wheel pickups, better designed 9v switches and the very much needed R64 track.

Picking up power from 9v rails is overall so much simpler than batteries in larger layouts at home and especially at events. This power can also easily be transferred to PF components as my group does in our shared layout. Metal wheel pickups would also make small shunters easier to build.

The control components look interesting but as our group uses a GPS control system called GamesOnTrack, I probably won’t buy much into this. We’ll see though.

Overall this is a step forward, not backward. I’m all in 🙂

 

Edited by dtomsen

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(For me) the compelling part is, it’s a more complete ‘system’. More curve options, more switches, more straights, etc. I can’t wait.

An added bonus is that it uses metal rails. I can use these for backward compatibility, power pickup for PF models (and save the battery space) or just because I like the look! 

Is there a significant cost difference between quality injection molded tracks with metal and the same tracks without metal? I have no idea (although I don’t see a big RRP difference  between the versions Lego sold.) I’m sure Michael has done his research on the pros and cons of metal before making his choice.

Was there any mention of crowd funding, or is he just going ahead?

Edited by cptkent
Grammer

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This project is very ambitious and I fear it's going to be a hard sell to most, especially with the "All-or-nothing" nature of powered rail meaning that person or LUG who's become invested in the plastic PF track over the last 10+ years is going to be really in for it, cost-wise.

I think that, for me personally at the very least, two things would have to be true to make this something I could even consider:

1. There needs to be a way to charge the locomotive's battery from powered rail. This almost entirely removes the "All-or-nothing" strain of switching to metal rail, since it can then be done gradually and have some immediate benefits.

2. For me at least, the power pickup needs to be divorced from the 9v Wheelset design entirely. For serious train modeling, which this is clearly aimed at, the 9v wheelset is clunky to work around and entirely inaccurate for most places I could think of that I would need a power pickup. Perhaps one could be hidden on the trailing truck of a very large steamer, but for smaller locomotives it's nearly unusable. Smaller locomotives, and especially small steam engines, are held back the most by LEGO because of either the large battery box (PF) or the single solitary 9v motor choice being a huge block that in no way resembles steam drivers and is unable to be customized. These are the engines I'd most want a power pickup for, and unfortunately I just could never use one as large and unsightly as the 9v Wheelset.

 

Sort of as an aside, I don't believe that pushing the hobby forward is really equivalent to gaining the respect of the traditional model railroaders. Traditional Model Railroaders, especially the ones that are still stubborn and disgruntled about LEGO trains, are likely not going to change their minds easily about the "legitimacy" of LEGO Model Railroading; and even if they do, they're probably not going to switch over. The traditional model railroading scene is fading out. I was at a local Model Railroaders meeting a few years ago and they themselves acknowledged the fact that the average age of their membership was over 60 years old, and they were losing members due to just old age. To push the hobby forward, we need to grow our audience, we need to make it more accessible to new people who aren't already interested; or, to people who ARE interested, sometimes desperately so, but kept out by high costs or a lack of a good introduction point.

LEGO Model Railroading is already a legitimate hobby. We can see that it can be a serious art form, and it's one that's being pushed forward already. We don't need to scramble after the approval of the traditionalists, and that approval has nothing to do with the legitimacy of our hobby. We should still strive to push our hobby forward, to grow and expand, these 3rd party products and ideas and approaches are all great and certainly do help to enrich what we can do and where we can go. I'm in love with the new options available to us, and I do really look forward to seeing what comes of the FX Track systems - but no matter what happens, no matter whether the traditionalists are convinced, LEGO Model Railroading is a fantastic hobby, and there are already people who've proven it's a valid form of art.

Best of luck to the FX Bricks team on their endeavor!

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7 hours ago, Daedalus304 said:

This project is very ambitious and I fear it's going to be a hard sell to most, especially with the "All-or-nothing" nature of powered rail meaning that person or LUG who's become invested in the plastic PF track over the last 10+ years is going to be really in for it, cost-wise.

I think that, for me personally at the very least, two things would have to be true to make this something I could even consider:

1. There needs to be a way to charge the locomotive's battery from powered rail. This almost entirely removes the "All-or-nothing" strain of switching to metal rail, since it can then be done gradually and have some immediate benefits.

2. For me at least, the power pickup needs to be divorced from the 9v Wheelset design entirely. For serious train modeling, which this is clearly aimed at, the 9v wheelset is clunky to work around and entirely inaccurate for most places I could think of that I would need a power pickup. Perhaps one could be hidden on the trailing truck of a very large steamer, but for smaller locomotives it's nearly unusable. Smaller locomotives, and especially small steam engines, are held back the most by LEGO because of either the large battery box (PF) or the single solitary 9v motor choice being a huge block that in no way resembles steam drivers and is unable to be customized. These are the engines I'd most want a power pickup for, and unfortunately I just could never use one as large and unsightly as the 9v Wheelset.

 

Sort of as an aside, I don't believe that pushing the hobby forward is really equivalent to gaining the respect of the traditional model railroaders. Traditional Model Railroaders, especially the ones that are still stubborn and disgruntled about LEGO trains, are likely not going to change their minds easily about the "legitimacy" of LEGO Model Railroading; and even if they do, they're probably not going to switch over. The traditional model railroading scene is fading out. I was at a local Model Railroaders meeting a few years ago and they themselves acknowledged the fact that the average age of their membership was over 60 years old, and they were losing members due to just old age. To push the hobby forward, we need to grow our audience, we need to make it more accessible to new people who aren't already interested; or, to people who ARE interested, sometimes desperately so, but kept out by high costs or a lack of a good introduction point.

LEGO Model Railroading is already a legitimate hobby. We can see that it can be a serious art form, and it's one that's being pushed forward already. We don't need to scramble after the approval of the traditionalists, and that approval has nothing to do with the legitimacy of our hobby. We should still strive to push our hobby forward, to grow and expand, these 3rd party products and ideas and approaches are all great and certainly do help to enrich what we can do and where we can go. I'm in love with the new options available to us, and I do really look forward to seeing what comes of the FX Track systems - but no matter what happens, no matter whether the traditionalists are convinced, LEGO Model Railroading is a fantastic hobby, and there are already people who've proven it's a valid form of art.

Best of luck to the FX Bricks team on their endeavor!

Good points throughout.

To make this hobby more popular, a couple of suggestions:

- improve “kits” availability. Having started this hobby less than 12 months ago, I found that finding prototypical-enough train model instructions and getting familiar with Bricklink were the big hurdles. Brickmoderailroader and Bricktraindepot etc. are doing fantastic job

- the driveline tech requires improvement. I’m thinking of both the motors (which are both low-torque and unnecessarily large) and controllers. It’s rather pathetic that even my 2-year-old son’s Brio train (wooden Swedish model) has RFID based action modules and smarter electronics that we do ...

- ... which takes me to another opportunity: smart switches. Those would be real cool. Ability to create automation systems by embedding the intelligence into the switches to make them smart rather than having to control entire layouts with software

- the chargeable battery with powered rail would be real nice certainly but I’m afraid that the market would be smallish compared to the Capex required for the injection molding tooling of all the rails etc.

Needless to say, I’m very excited about this concept introduction and I will spend a small fortune on the track components when the stuff comes available to buy.

best

Henry

Edited by Henry 991

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Fiar points about some of us as current trainheads who have already invested heavily in PF, plastic track, 3D printed track etc. not going to invest again in a system like FX Bricks. However, when reading the pressrelease + blog and seeing the video, I have the feeling that their business model isn't just about us as current Lego Trainheads. What I think is so exciting about this system is the chance to really attract people who want to enter the L-gauge hobby, like Michael himself once did for example. I know from the Dutch model railway shows that a lot of railway modellers tend to look in awe at Lego models, only then to say "yeah but this is a toy, you cannot even control the trains digitally, there is no uniform track system, blablabla". The plans as FX Bricks have revealed them seems to hint at those people; younger and older adults with enthousiasm for model railways, who have always been intruiged by Lego, but didn't want to make the step into L-gauge because of the steep entry grade when it comes to the system of L-gauge. 

This does however mean a totally different target audience, and I'm sincerely interested in how Micheal and Jason are going to pull that one off. However, if you do manage to attract this audience, I'm pretty sure that the investments they are making now will be earned back in no time. Just think about the potential... 

/edit: I agree with @Daedalus304, the traditional railway modeller is a dying breed. However, I also see in our own hobby the tremendous ammount of young kids coming into the hobby. For example, in the LTC part of my LUG, most of the guys are age 18-25. Those youngsters have had far less of a Dark Age, have been interested in trains their whole life, and think traditional railway modellers are absolutely boring, but love to spend the equivalent of a LGB train as long as they can build it themselves. If FX Bricks is able to tap into those wallets (and the ones that still are hesistant to enter the hobby due to the above talk about the lack of a system) I'm pretty sure you can make a succesfull business out of selling this system. 

Edited by raised

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7 hours ago, Daedalus304 said:

1. There needs to be a way to charge the locomotive's battery from powered rail. This almost entirely removes the "All-or-nothing" strain of switching to metal rail, since it can then be done gradually and have some immediate benefits.

For such an approach, Lego's straight 9V track used in stations and sidings would be sufficient.

 

8 hours ago, cptkent said:

I’m sure Michael has done his research on the pros and cons of metal before making his choice.

I had a look at this website and it seems the FxBricks are 3D-printed. I'm afraid he underestimates the costs for molds and the tooling for the metal parts. And it requires a few employees to turn the idea into products within a reasonable mount of time.

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13 minutes ago, legotownlinz said:

I had a look at this website and it seems the FxBricks are 3D-printed. I'm afraid he underestimates the costs for molds and the tooling for the metal parts. And it requires a few employees to turn the idea into products within a reasonable mount of time.

No worries, those guys know exactly how much injection molding costs. For their first kickstarter they actually had this in mind, but in the end it turned out the investment was way too high. That's why for the final product they switched to 3D printed. Now that the whole run has been sold, they are actually going to change again to injection molding, but manfuctured Asia. As per their blog:

 

Quote

"We are very close to selling out our initial production batch of 800 PFx Bricks. In anticipation, we have been working closely with Asian manufacturing partners to commission the manufacturing of 1000-2000 PFx Bricks with final assembly and test performed in Canada. These PFx Bricks will be electrically identical to the current generation bricks; however, we are excited to announce that they will be made with a new two-tone injection molded ABS enclosure! To reduce assembly cost and complexity, all PFx Bricks will be the 16 MB Bluetooth version, i.e. our top specification. Despite the new ABS enclosure, we are pleased to say that the cost of the PFx Brick will remain more or less the same with an estimated retail price of $129 CAD or approximately $98 USD. Furthermore, we are also investigating the manufacturing of the XL and M Speaker Bricks with injection molded ABS enclosures."

 

Edited by raised

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Unpopular opinion: I think I prefer the RC system used on CITY Trains better. Don't ask me why, but I just do. 

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I would not say it is an unpopular opinion, merely a different one.  I have mostly 9V and PF trains, and recently acquired a PUP train too.  As I only got into Lego Trains as an adult & near the end of the 9V era, I usually run my PF trains at LUG events. This is mostly because we haven't enough 9V track to make multiple loops, and my train cohorts have mostly 9V trains. whereas I have both types.  Because plastic track is what is currently produced, it is obviously easier to buy and also maintain - our LUG has recently run only battery-operated trains because something is wrong with the electrical connections of the 9V track.  :sceptic:

I am most looking forward to the PFx Power System components, because they are items that need eventual replacement in the 9V trains community.  Alternate 9V track lengths, radii & switches will be useful, but if 9V trains cannot run due to dead motors or dead wires, there's no point in getting more track - just my opinion.

One other item I might suggest - someone bring back the 9V-style magnets & coupler parts? These are another combo that needs doing without being attached to the buffer beam part. Although Lego makes new sealed-magnet versions which are safer for children (no eating the magnets!), the fact that they are permanently attached to the European-style buffer beams makes them unsuitable for U.S. trans at the least. I've seen coaster's knuckle coupler prototype posts & they look promising, but everything in its time - he's got lots on his plate!

All this being said, I always look forward to more "stuff" coming out for the 9V trains community - because more options meas more 9V trains out there being built, displayed, and just plain enjoyed!

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13 minutes ago, weeble1688 said:

I would not say it is an unpopular opinion, merely a different one.  I have mostly 9V and PF trains, and recently acquired a PUP train too.  As I only got into Lego Trains as an adult & near the end of the 9V era, I usually run my PF trains at LUG events. This is mostly because we haven't enough 9V track to make multiple loops, and my train cohorts have mostly 9V trains. whereas I have both types.  Because plastic track is what is currently produced, it is obviously easier to buy and also maintain - our LUG has recently run only battery-operated trains because something is wrong with the electrical connections of the 9V track.  :sceptic:

I am most looking forward to the PFx Power System components, because they are items that need eventual replacement in the 9V trains community.  Alternate 9V track lengths, radii & switches will be useful, but if 9V trains cannot run due to dead motors or dead wires, there's no point in getting more track - just my opinion.

One other item I might suggest - someone bring back the 9V-style magnets & coupler parts? These are another combo that needs doing without being attached to the buffer beam part. Although Lego makes new sealed-magnet versions which are safer for children (no eating the magnets!), the fact that they are permanently attached to the European-style buffer beams makes them unsuitable for U.S. trans at the least. I've seen coaster's knuckle coupler prototype posts & they look promising, but everything in its time - he's got lots on his plate!

All this being said, I always look forward to more "stuff" coming out for the 9V trains community - because more options meas more 9V trains out there being built, displayed, and just plain enjoyed!

Ok! One 9V train I do miss is that blue one that was made. I don't recall the name of it, but I had gotten it for my 7th birthday back in 1999. It was blue and you could put cars in it. It was numbered 4561. I hope they'll bring that feature back to Lego trains. 

 

Edited by pooda

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