The Dept 56 Village Express electric train set was a train set made by Bachmann for Department 56. It was available from 1998 to 2006.
A train is a natural fit for Dept 56, which is meant to evoke a romanticized past. Today’s megastores have displaced those downtown shops that Dept 56 represent, and the automobile has displaced the passenger train has a favored means of travel. A passenger train and a few recognizable cars are a good way to firmly set the time period for your Dept 56 village.
Dept 56 sold two different versions of the Village Express electric train set. The smaller set, catalog #5980-3, was HO scale and has the scale printed pretty clearly on the box. The other distinguishing feature of the HO scale set was that the track did not have gray plastic road bed. It was just bare train track, and it’s a bit tricky to put together because you have to slide the small rail joiners onto each rail individually to hold the track together.
These two types of track are fully compatible, however. Even though the On30 train is bigger, it represents a train running on narrower than standard track, such as what you find in mountainous areas. This is called narrow gauge.
Dept 56 discontinued the Village Express electric train in 2006. But you don’t have to buy discontinued Dept 56 brand track to expand your set. You can buy Bachmann EZ-Track in HO scale for either set. It is completely interchangeable with the track that comes with the larger On30 set, and works just fine as replacement track for the older HO scale set. It looks better and is much easier to assemble and disassemble.
If the transformer or power pack has gone out, any HO scale power pack from a hobby shop will work fine to power the Dept 56 train.
Connecting the set
When you go to set up the train, set up the track in a closed loop. You don’t have to make it a perfectly symmetrical circle or oval, you can vary the turns to make it irregular. An asymmetric loop makes the train more interesting to watch.
The set will come with wires and a section of track with terminals for the wires. Connect the wires to the track and to the terminals on the power pack labeled train. If there is a second set of terminals labeled accessories, ignore that. Using that second set of terminals causes the train to not move. If the train runs backwards when you turn up the throttle, flip the direction switch on the power pack. You can change the direction of the train anytime by flipping the switch again.
If you don’t want to pay a collectible price for a discontinued Dept 56 train set, you have two options. The first is to look for them in the off-season. They sell for a lot more as Christmas approaches than they do during the rest of the year.
But another option is to just buy a Bachmann train set. They are not expensive, and if you buy a new one, it will have a warranty. Which size is appropriate depends on the size of the buildings you use. If you generally have two story Dept 56 buildings, the On30 set is a closer match, size and scale wise. If you have the larger buildings, such as Christmas in the City, an HO scale set will be a closer match.
For era appropriateness, get a set with a steam locomotive. The brightly colored steam locomotives were common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where a mostly black steam locomotive would be appropriate for any decade from 1900 to the late 1950s.
And if you have a vintage Lionel train in the family, Lionel trains go very well with Dept 56.