Tomy Tomica Plarail & Thomas & Friends plastic trainset

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This is intended to assist those interested in buying the toy trainsets made by Tomy which also include their Tomica car range when used in conjunction with the road and rail tracks.

There are basically two seperate ranges. The earlier one was marketed under the Tomy name and the track pieces are dark blue in colour. The trains, trucks and rail-side accessories are more 'toy' like in appearance, and often have the little Lego style studs on them, which allows interchanging of truck bodies and also the figures can be stood up or sat on them and so held in place.

  old style

The newer range is marketed under the 'Tomy Thomas & Friends' label or the 'Tomica World road & rail system'. This range is much more realistic in appearance throughout, including the trains, trucks, carriages and rail-side accessories and stations. The rails are of light blue colour and there is a much greater range of track pieces and types. The whole range of Thomas the Tank Engine characters are present, including the road vehicles too, which will run on the road pieces which often connect with the rail via special crossings, bridges and stations.

  new style

The two ranges are mostly compatible and can be used together. The track sections certainly all work together, being basically just different colours, except for the sloping rail sections and their accompanying high supports. The older range have higher red supports, whilst the newer range have lower mostly yellow but other colours too supports. Consequently the long sloping rails need to be used with their correct range of supports. The old range sloping rails also have a set of teeth on the sides of the track, which engage in toothed wheels on the engines. this was probably done to assist trains climbing the high level and also to help brake them when running down the down-slope. The new range of engines do not have these toothed cogs on their wheels, so although they can climb the older slopes, may come into difficulties, and will have no braking effect on the downward slope, so may gather speed quickly when pushed by a long train and could leave the tracks if a curve is encountered quite soon after the plunge to ground level.

   old and new...Gordon,Thomas and Bullet trains (showing size difference)

The other main differences are that the older range uses magnetic couplings whereas the newer use a Hook&loop type. I find the magnetic ones much easier to use, and I'm sure children do too. The older range engines and trucks or carriages are of a larger size than the newer ones and they will not go under the bridges or flyovers from the new range without hitting their heads!

 an old style engine and trucks on the high red supports.

Also, the old range engines had a reverse switch under their bodies which can be made to work by special rails and so put the locomotive into reverse....... sadly not available on the new range.

Some items from the old series have no equivalent in the new range, such as the crane which is on two high supports which have little wheels underneath. Its bucket can be raised and lowered and is especially designed to grab the brown plastic logs, and also has a magnet to lift metal objects.

The Freight station set which has a special truck and lorry is very good fun for the kids who like to see working accessories. The lorry dumps a log into a scoop on the main building which is then raised by pulling on a lever, once at the top it rolls down to a trap which is released automatically when the special truck goes by into which it falls, then there is a receiving bin which can be attached beside the track anywhere and upon being passed by the truck will cause the truck to tilt and release its load into the bin. This set has been replaced by the Terence and Thomas activity set which does something similar using a more complicated but more automated set-up with Terence the Tractor using his shovel to collect the logs which are about half the length of the old ones.

There are many nice accessories available which enable the kids to reproduce the stories from the TV and DVD Thomas the Tank Engine series. Cranky the crane at the docks with Bulstrode the Barge; the large four lane Knapford Station with its transparent over-roof; the large Turntable and Engine sheds; a Coaling and watering station........... the list is almost endless.

For the really keen, since Tomy is a Japanese company and trains are popular there too, there are many different types of the high-speed trains in use in Japan. There are also a few sets and accessories which are aimed at the Japanese market so do not find their way into the shops in Europe or USA. These can still be obtained from some ebay dealers who operate from Hong Kong or Thailand.

The older range is no longer on sale so you will only find second-hand used items, but there are some bargains to be had on ebay especially if you buy big sets. Due to the robustness of the rails, these are rarely damaged and most of the other items stand up well to years of use and abuse by little hands. Even if the battery driven engines no longer work they can still be pushed around for no loss of fun (and a lot less cost in batteries!) Some parents find their children get more involved in the stories invented in their heads or seen on TV when using the 'hands-on' approach, instead of merely watching the trains go around. Mentioning batteries..... I would suggest getting the rechargeable type with a quick 1 hour charger which recoup their cost in no time.

Before bidding on the new range make sure you know the price isn't better at Amazon/Toys-r-us  and several of the other on-line stores. Sometimes free postage is given in the UK too. Woolworths often have good price reductions and sometimes special sets which aren't available elsewhere. Also look in the Argos catalogues. Large sets like the 'Ultimate' set which costs about GBP.100-120 in the UK and US$100-120 in the USA (half the price!) are often snapped up by ebay dealers who like to then split them up into smaller bits for sale at great profit. If you can get one they are very good value (considering the prices of all the seperate parts.)

Now (Oct) toysrus have cut their price for the Ultimate set to 59.99!!!!



old and new Ultimate sets shown above...

I also have a Group on ebay called 'Tomy Tomica Thomas Trainsets' so if you need answers to questions please try there. My blog on the subject (the web address of which is given in my Group as outside links are not allowed here) is where there are photos of some of my layouts too. Once you have collected a lot of rails and stuff it is interesting trying to design layouts which will use it all and not take up too much room in the process. A bare loft is obviously the best area although the younger kids will be excluded from them until older.

To sum up..... I think the older system is more suitable for 3 year olds, being easier to handle and more robust in construction, and they will learn how to handle the trains so that by 5 years the newer more fragile system will be suitable and their system will be able to expand into it using much stuff from the old sets. If you wish to combine the old set with the new, then to allow for the height difference with the older items, run the older trains/trucks/carriages on a seperate circuit from the new, making sure they don't have to go under any low bridges from the newer sets.

Some of the newer trains and working stations take the 'C' size batteries.... but the smaller 'AA' are the same length and can often be used instead.

 These are useful.... search ebay for 'battery holder'


If you want to see some of these things working... there are many nice video clips on youtube.... search for the following names... tomy .... TomTomica ... fabianfred537 ... kei1805 ... KCR58


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