SteamSewnEmpire

Increasingly losing patience with Lego

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Posted (edited)

I love designing models - in addition to trains, I dabble in castle and pirates now and again. But with the passage of time, the more let down I feel by Lego with regards to trains - particularly as more and more (IMO in many cases completely stupid, such as the Big Bang Theory and Flintstones sets [though YMMV]) Ideas adoptions roll across the finish line. And that frustration is gradually metastasizing into despair and anger. 

The first Lego train set debuted, I want to say, in 1966? And yet, in that span of time - over half a century - we have received:

  • A grand total of two - TWO! - sets of steam driving wheels (the current iteration, and those from this set). 
  • No specific part or even satisfying substitute for 1910s-1960s US/European steam locomotive stacks (like, a piece to be this simply does not exist).
  • No driving rods (except those married permanently to 7760, as mentioned above). Third party and homemade rods rule the roost if you want something mechanically reliable and aesthetically pleasing.
  • No wide radius curved track. Lego just punts on this market entirely, despite the fact that aftermarket track sellers routinely run out of stock.
  • A completely insufficient supply of magnetic couplers. The part exists, and, in its scarcity, it is insanely expensive.
  • One cow-catcher, suitable only for 1860s-1880s-era prototypes, despite the fact that locomotives built into the 60s continued to mount catchers (of much-reduced size/profile).
  • No decent way to model small-diameter grab rails. MOCers have to literally break Lego pieces to get these.
  • Very poor tools to produce boiler shapes. Yes, we absolutely improvise, but these shapes are not truly circular, and - while I totally applaud the methods that the pioneers on this forum and elsewhere established - let's be honest here: we're doing the best we can with very little.
  • Enormously user-unfriendly battery options. Most of us have to conduct surgery (in varying degrees of difficulty) to get at our PF/PU battery packs. We live in a golden age of rechargeable EVERYTHING, and Lego has released (correct me if I am wrong) a single plug-in battery pack, which was in incredibly limited supply, and quickly phased out (so it is now ultra expensive and very difficult to find).

And then, regarding the parts that we do have, nits still remains to be picked:

  • The profiles of all flanges are comical. I get that this is a toy, but they don't have to be 1 and a half plates in depth. That's silly, and it just complicates everything.
  • The forced incorporation of powered trucks of one size for people who want to run on electric track. This is the primary reason I have zero interest in the effort to bring back 9v - because you have to shove that obnoxious bogie into every trainset. 
  • Restrictive power cord lengths/the unnecessary bulk of the connecting wires themselves.
  • Constantly shifting priorities when it comes to power sources, with no clear upgrade or improvement in performance/features. They got people to invest hundreds - even thousands - of dollars in electric track, just to pull the rug out from under the entire market; modelers gradually figured out PF, only for Lego to release PU, a product that is arguably less robust and flexible.
  • Lego track is, just in general, dumb. To be honest, given the scale of minifigures (and yes, I know that this is a slippery slope) and the fact that most of the world's railroad tracks are between 3-foot and 4 ft 8 1⁄2 inches, Lego's track probably should have been 5w, and not 6w. It's too late now, of course, but it's dumb that their own preferred model scale of 6w has the same width as the track. 
  • One utterly unsatisfactory lighting option.  

I could probably name more.

I get it - Lego is about improvisation and working with what you have. But I cannot think of a single theme that is suffering from this degree of inadequacy on so many different levels. And all it does is hurt the hobby; make it more difficult and costly to access. Almost every time I design a Lego locomotive, I'm looking at a good 150-200 dollar investment up front in custom wheels, rods, power options, and - most insultingly - couplers. We are absolutely buried as AFOL train modelers by the sheer breadth of Lego's parts paucity, yet, meanwhile, every few years they release a newly-molded floating boat hull, or a new set of aircraft wings... as if - forget adults - children don't like trains anymore (they like ships, but not trains? How many children routinely see ships? You cannot tell me that the number exceeds that of those who are obliged to stop and watch a train. I knew teenagers living in Illinois who had never even seen the sea, much less a larger watercraft than a Mississippi barge).

I'm sorry. I'm not mad at anyone on this forum, and I speak for nobody but myself. But if someone at Lego is reading this: you're doing a bad job when it comes to trains. And no, the derailment-prone, obscure-prototype alligator (which managed to introduce nothing new when it comes to parts that we so desperately need) really isn't a good first step. Show me something fresh; actually invest in this theme, if only slightly (is it too much to ask for driving rods on the locomotive wheels? You put the friggin' holes in the things for rods and then half the time just leave them empty! C'MON, MAN!) - it's only been close to sixty years.

uNneMT2.gif

 

Edited by SteamSewnEmpire

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The reason for all this has been highlighted many times before: just not enough market for a company that focuses on mass production for a broad audience.

They made attempts, several times even, but none of them brought in returns that justified the cost of creating the (often complex and expensive) parts. See the 12V system, the My Own Train line and anything containing non-plastic components.

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Posted (edited)
28 minutes ago, Phil B said:

The reason for all this has been highlighted many times before: just not enough market for a company that focuses on mass production for a broad audience.

They made attempts, several times even, but none of them brought in returns that justified the cost of creating the (often complex and expensive) parts. See the 12V system, the My Own Train line and anything containing non-plastic components.

I'm not sure I one-hundred percent buy this excuse, though. Because they're constantly making one-off pieces (not just hair, but, like, accessories and such) for the minifigures rollouts.

The other thing is, I don't know that they're really trying that hard, or marketing Lego trains in a way that might work for children. And what I mean by this is: a better way to approach selling railroad stuff might be to just sell 'an engine' or 'a car,' and then sell kits for track and motors, etc. separately, rather than the current approach of $110-$160 train sets, which are a massive single-ticket outlay for a child's toy. If parents could buy, like, a coach, or a boxcar, or a caboose for a kid in a month at $25-30 a pop, it probably would be a lot easier to get people to buy in. The Thomas the Tank Engine toys took this approach, and seemed to be successful for a really long run there. I just think Lego's tactic of 'you need everything in one set' stifles the potential market for trains before it can ever get going. 

Edited by SteamSewnEmpire

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I just find the colour availability of Lego parts to be utterly demoralising before I even get to thinking about train parts. Even not-so-exotic parts (clips, windows and headlights) in not-so-exotic colours (dark green or dark red) can have crippling rarity or outright gaps. I don't particularly want to spend the rest of my life building in the basic garish colours (red, yellow, green, blue) or boring tan, reddish brown, bluish grey, black and white, but what else can be done?

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Just now, Tube Map Central said:

I just find the colour availability of Lego parts to be utterly demoralising before I even get to thinking about train parts. Even not-so-exotic parts (clips, windows and headlights) in not-so-exotic colours (dark green or dark red) can have crippling rarity or outright gaps. I don't particularly want to spend the rest of my life building in the basic garish colours (red, yellow, green, blue) or boring tan, reddish brown, bluish grey, black and white, but what else can be done?

Dye.

And I'm not talking about RIT - I mean like automotive upholstery dye. It works really, really well on Lego.

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30 minutes ago, SteamSewnEmpire said:

Dye.

And I'm not talking about RIT - I mean like automotive upholstery dye. It works really, really well on Lego.

Got any more info on this?

And just because you belong to a SUBSET of a board LEGO forum that loves trains, please understand that we are in the minority of a minority. I'd say there are probably between 500 and 1000 people who may be seriously interested in LEGO trains. That market might as well be non-existent as far as TLG is concerned. 

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39 minutes ago, Jeffinslaw said:

Got any more info on this?

And just because you belong to a SUBSET of a board LEGO forum that loves trains, please understand that we are in the minority of a minority. I'd say there are probably between 500 and 1000 people who may be seriously interested in LEGO trains. That market might as well be non-existent as far as TLG is concerned. 

I've used this method myself and can confirm his results. Provided you give it time to cure, you basically cannot tell the difference between a dyed and a normal Lego brick. 

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10 hours ago, SteamSewnEmpire said:

Dye.

And I'm not talking about RIT - I mean like automotive upholstery dye. It works really, really well on Lego.

Nope, BlueBrixx.

I'm not particular a fan of the company but their train parts are too hard to resist for a train builder first and collector dead last.

What a sad hobby are we when it's more accepted to paint LEGO parts than just buy those rare or unavailable parts from another brand :sceptic:

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13 hours ago, SteamSewnEmpire said:

 

I'm sorry. I'm not mad at anyone on this forum, and I speak for nobody but myself. But if someone at Lego is reading this: you're doing a bad job when it comes to trains. And no, the derailment-prone, obscure-prototype alligator (which managed to introduce nothing new when it comes to parts that we so desperately need) really isn't a good first step. Show me something fresh; actually invest in this theme, if only slightly (is it too much to ask for driving rods on the locomotive wheels?

Given the brief of evidence you’ve assembled to argue the case that LEGO does such a crap job with trains, I’m not sure I’d like to see them increase their commitment to the theme. Surly it would just be a continuation of the downward spiral 12v / 9v / PF / PU etc etc...

 

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Dude... you need a chill pill.

Let's start with the basics. Lego is a toy. The Lego Company may not have shareholders but they aim to make a profit.

As others have said, Lego Trains as a hobby is a niche within a niche. Model trains as a hobby is a dead end. Whatever the reason, kids just don't get into the hobby anymore. Go to a local model train event: the average age will be 65+. Lego do make some sets aimed at adults, but they need to sell volume. And you sell a lot more Porsches than steam trains. Simple as that.

Why did you get into this hobby? If you want to build highly realistic train models then you should look at a different material. Buy a kit from the likes of Revell or build from scratch from metal or plastic.

For me the challenge is to make something as realistic as possible with the available parts. Yes, I cheat a little. I buy different sized wheels from Big Ben and rods from the other Benn. Those are parts you can not improvise from other parts. So my boiler may be a little too fat because I need to hide a motor in it. It may not be perfectly round. The hand rails are too fat and not close enough to the body. So what? I enjoy the process, the tinkering and if I come out with a model that people recognise that's a bonus.

Lego track is not dumb. It's well designed and fit for purpose: children's toy trains run reliably on it and you can fit a loop of track on the dinner table or on the floor in a child's bedroom. As more people join the Lego train hobby they start producing extra parts to extend the possibilities, in production runs that would never be viable for Lego.

So take a breather and decide for yourself what you want. The challenge of modelling trains with the parts and colour palette offered by Lego, or create more detailed and more realistic train models from other materials/ sources. There's no shame in deciding that this hobby is not for you. Complaining that Lego won't produce exactly the parts you want won't get you anywhere and won't make you any happier.

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16 hours ago, SteamSewnEmpire said:

The other thing is, I don't know that they're really trying that hard, or marketing Lego trains in a way that might work for children. And what I mean by this is: a better way to approach selling railroad stuff might be to just sell 'an engine' or 'a car,' and then sell kits for track and motors, etc. separately, rather than the current approach of $110-$160 train sets, which are a massive single-ticket outlay for a child's toy. If parents could buy, like, a coach, or a boxcar, or a caboose for a kid in a month at $25-30 a pop, it probably would be a lot easier to get people to buy in. The Thomas the Tank Engine toys took this approach, and seemed to be successful for a really long run there. I just think Lego's tactic of 'you need everything in one set' stifles the potential market for trains before it can ever get going. 

The modern Lego company views every set they release as an opportunity cost for a different set they could have released. So if a single AFOL train set would sell well, but an extra Ninjago set would sell better, they go with the Ninjago set. However, Lego has long recognized the spending power of the train heads (one train backed by thousands of dollars in town on a display, and the marketing power of a lego train layout they did not have to pay for... who could ask for more) so they toss us bones like the occasional new part (cowcatcher). I have long believed they are moving slowly towards being able to produce small run sets and the slow increase in the annual number of Ideas and Creator Expert sets (not to mention the small bonus sets at S@H) suggest they are moving in that direction... it should only be another 10-20 yrs for them to get there (meanwhile the clone brands seem to be there already)

There were two times where Lego trains bloomed- the 1980's, and they started to do so again around 2001 with the MOT and Super Chief lines. They were even poised to have a booth at NMRA NTS in 2005. But that was the end of "only the best is good enough" as they were slipping into bankruptcy. Since then they've gotten lean and mean, and have come to dominate the toy world.

 

 

16 hours ago, Tube Map Central said:

I just find the colour availability of Lego parts to be utterly demoralising before I even get to thinking about train parts. Even not-so-exotic parts (clips, windows and headlights) in not-so-exotic colours (dark green or dark red) can have crippling rarity or outright gaps. I don't particularly want to spend the rest of my life building in the basic garish colours (red, yellow, green, blue) or boring tan, reddish brown, bluish grey, black and white, but what else can be done?

Indeed, the color availability is quite the challenge, but I like working around the limited pallet of various colors (e.g., before there were dark green 1x1's I'd use 1x6's across the inside when needed). But that is unavoidable- take the number of parts multiplied by the number of colors and you get some huge number.

 

 

4 hours ago, Duq said:

Model trains as a hobby is a dead end. Whatever the reason, kids just don't get into the hobby anymore. Go to a local model train event: the average age will be 65+.

Not so, it is a bimodal distribution, with one peak at 68 and a second peak at 4. Major marketing has put trains somewhere between dinosaurs and superheros in the development of boys. (Maybe there's a third peak at 30 of the parents sitting there on their smart phones). That's why NMRA and other train shows love Lego trains, we bring in the 5-14 yr olds.

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22 minutes ago, zephyr1934 said:

Not so, it is a bimodal distribution, with one peak at 68 and a second peak at 4. Major marketing has put trains somewhere between dinosaurs and superheros in the development of boys. (Maybe there's a third peak at 30 of the parents sitting there on their smart phones). That's why NMRA and other train shows love Lego trains, we bring in the 5-14 yr olds.

Yup, we're the ones with the colorful layout and toy trains in the sea of gray hair and drab colored layouts at train shows.  It seems to pull in the young families with kids.  My target audience is kids 5-10 or so.  Hopefully spark a life long train interest in a few of them.

If momma LEGO doesn't provide, I make do or make my own.  CAD and 3D printer seem to be a good enabler for DIY custom parts.

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The reason the age demographics at a train show are like that is that after 5 no one is interested in something that they can't afford until they're 65... As much as lego trains are a poor substitute compared to actual model trains, I wouldn't want the "museum-ification" that model trains have gone through to happen to Lego. I ditched HO because I didn't want to spend $300 on each engine. Now I can get a an engine and a few cars for that, and if my kids kick it across the room, I can put it back together.

On the other hand, with the amount of small and unique pieces that go into each Lego Friends set, I don't think the "It's not worth it for Lego to make more train parts" argument holds up anymore. Even an 11 long (?) technic half width liftarm would be an improvement.

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Posted (edited)
7 hours ago, Duq said:

Dude... you need a chill pill.

It's a forum. I'm talking. I didn't threaten anyone; I didn't attack anyone personally. I complained about the practices of a company. As long as I am acting within the constraints of the rules here, you do you, and I'll do me.

Edited by SteamSewnEmpire

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It makes sense to me LEGO not wanting to invest a lot in a very niche market.  It does seem, though, that there are a few simple things they could do (albeit these things might not be as simple as I think they are :classic:.)

They already have the molds for wheels.  Doing a run in different colors seems like it would be easy.  For example, I believe LEGO no longer own the rights to Thomas the Tank Engine but a release of blue, green, & yellow wheels seems simple enough, and then let MOCers do their thing.

Another area would be rods.  I don't think LEGO would ever do the cool contours and shapings you get with third-party rods, but I do think they could make a few rods in the Technic arena that would be useful for both Technic and train builders.  Specifically, make a "Liftarm Thin 1x9".  That alone would eliminate a lot of the bulk in what LEGO uses for rods.  And better yet, make 1x9 & 1x5 Thin Liftarms with 3 inner studs worth of holes being Solid.  I would think just those pieces alone would get cross-platform support by Technic builders too.

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I very much share your point of view @SteamSewnEmpire, indeed the points of view!

Every time I start thinking about a brand new locomotive, I have to deal with the wheels, the customized pistons, the old magnets or the numerous pieces to make a pleasant pantograph; and if the wagons are to be added, ball bearings are needed to improve traction, windows and glass (the correct ones for trains) are expensive and limited on the market.

All to run the train on a 40° radius! :ugh:

Perhaps the truth is that we expect a level of detail for the trains that is too high compared to what Lego will ever give, but definitely a nice crane wagon with a whole service convoy would be more fun than the usual high-speed passenger set (made with just a few pieces, similar to each other) ...it would be enough to dare and try something new! :excited:

Even the Lego Idea platform could give indications on preferences, but investments in trains will always be considered too little profitable. The fact, that you underline, remains : we see more trains in the real world than ships and planes ... amen!

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1 hour ago, SteamSewnEmpire said:

It's a forum. I'm talking. I didn't threaten anyone; I didn't attack anyone personally. I complained about the practices of a company. As long as I am acting within the constraints of the rules here, you do you, and I'll do me.

I never said you threatened anyone or broke any rules. Like you say, it's a forum, so I can give my opinion, and I think you are asking the wrong question, getting yourself all worked up over something unrealistic.

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Posted (edited)
54 minutes ago, LEGO Train 12 Volts said:

I very much share your point of view @SteamSewnEmpire, indeed the points of view!

Every time I start thinking about a brand new locomotive, I have to deal with the wheels, the customized pistons, the old magnets or the numerous pieces to make a pleasant pantograph; and if the wagons are to be added, ball bearings are needed to improve traction, windows and glass (the correct ones for trains) are expensive and limited on the market.

All to run the train on a 40° radius! :ugh:

Perhaps the truth is that we expect a level of detail for the trains that is too high compared to what Lego will ever give, but definitely a nice crane wagon with a whole service convoy would be more fun than the usual high-speed passenger set (made with just a few pieces, similar to each other) ...it would be enough to dare and try something new! :excited:

Even the Lego Idea platform could give indications on preferences, but investments in trains will always be considered too little profitable. The fact, that you underline, remains : we see more trains in the real world than ships and planes ... amen!

Some of the things I mentioned in the OP I can make do with. I don't, for example, love the fact that we cannot make truly circular boilers, but I simultaneously get that it's the nature of the beast. Other things, such as Lego's unwillingness to release pieces that could be used effectively as driving rods (but might have utility in technic or elsewhere beyond that capacity) are borderline infuriating. Another one is the couplers issue. How about, the next time they release, say, a semi truck, they use magnetic couplers to connect the cab to the trailer? There's at least one truck like that every year. Even doing it for just 2 years would resolve our couplers shortage. It would be a small effort to do, and yet it would have massive benefits for those of us who model trains. 

The problem is that - taken as a whole - I feel like they come up really, really short. And only a few, small changes - really, just a fragment of effort on Lego's part - would alter that situation. My original post is a list of gripes. I never - ever - expect all, or most, or even half of those complaints to be answered satisfactorily. But seeing Lego address even a couple would just be a massive QOL improvement. 

Edited by SteamSewnEmpire

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Not only do LEGO not give us train builders enough new train sets or parts, they often retire some of our most beloved evergreen parts, like train windows  train doors, old magnets, old buffers, rechargable battery boxes etc. replacing them with lesser parts and sometimes not even replacing them at all.

The problem isn't so much indifference and status que but actively destroying LEGO as a viable option for us train builders imo.

So I reluctantly look elsewhere but for every step it gets easier and easier :sceptic:

 

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I do wish people would stop being so downtrodden: trains are the nichiest niche, so we can't expect anything at all. 

Trains came fourth in the Ideas anniversary vote, remember, almost 15,000 votes, that's a lot more people than just readers of this Eurobricks forum. I certainly cried foul when Lego reran the vote with trains removed, it was clear what they wanted the result to be.

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

 

19 hours ago, SD100 said:

The reason the age demographics at a train show are like that is that after 5 no one is interested in something that they can't afford until they're 65... As much as lego trains are a poor substitute compared to actual model trains, I wouldn't want the "museum-ification" that model trains have gone through to happen to Lego. I ditched HO because I didn't want to spend $300 on each engine. Now I can get a an engine and a few cars for that, and if my kids kick it across the room, I can put it back together.

On the other hand, with the amount of small and unique pieces that go into each Lego Friends set, I don't think the "It's not worth it for Lego to make more train parts" argument holds up anymore. Even an 11 long (?) technic half width liftarm would be an improvement.

Interesting thought on the "museumification" of train sets (H0 and general). I can certainly relate to this. Good quality H0 locos, train sets and rails are crazy expensive. So expensive in fact, that I'm afraid of handling them and I have a feeling that I should just lock them away to safety. A single good quality switch costs like 20-30 Euros, a coach like 30 Euros, a basic loco 120 Euros. WTF, is that thing made of Unobtanium with Unicorn blood sprinkled over it or what? Even chinese knockoffs are expensive.

The problem is, this defeats the purpose. You have something to use it. If it is a toy, to play with it. If I'm afraid to do that, and I don't even dare to give it to my kid, the whole thing serves no purpose, therefore worthless. Someone said a few years ago that Minecraft is the train modelling for the current young generation and it kinda holds true. It is cheaper, easier and more accessible to the current generation.

My issue with the Lego trains is that they are even more expensive than H0 sets. Meanwhile, they are bigger, bulkier and less well rendered. And if you want something that is pretty accurate, it costs an absolute fortune. Also, the scale is a bit off. You can't sit four minifigs in a coach in a row. Even two is pushing it. They are also enormous if you want to create anything other than a simple oval with some details. Really bad if you have limited space available. The positive part is that I can rebuild it if broken by kids. Even the rebuilding can be daunting because of the size of the set. Unfortunately, for me that is not enough pro and a lot of con to get into Lego trains.     

Edited by Pendra37

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Posted (edited)

I wouldn't compare LEGO trains with H0 but 0 - and then LEGO trains becomes very much the cheaper option at the same size and can be rebuilt.
More pros and less cons :classic:

Edited by dtomsen

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Since I like to build 1:38, I compare them to LGB.  I'm way ahead then!

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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, dtomsen said:

I wouldn't compare LEGO trains with H0 but 0 - and then LEGO trains becomes very much the cheaper option at the same size and can be rebuilt.
More pros and less cons :classic:

Lego is in the middle between O and G. I think G is a better equivalent if you try to scale it for the minifigs.

Edited by Pendra37

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