Train buffs can now celebrate a very big anniversary for the Long Island Rail Road in a very small way, as renowned model train maker Lionel releases a scale replica of an LIRR train.
The 1/48 scale model of the LIRR's M7 trains, in the traditional O gauge, commemorates the railroad's 175th anniversary this year. During the last several weeks, Lionel began shipping the train sets to hobby shops, which had been taking orders since last year.
"Millions of people ride and have ridden the LIRR, so it's a big part of their life on a daily basis," said Lionel chief executive Jerry Calabrese. "So there's a certain kind of connectivity. People who ride the LIRR want these. People who work for the LIRR want these - just because it is their railroad."
Lionel train makers toiled for more than a year to design and build the intricately detailed set. The process included studying original plans by the LIRR, walking through and photographing the trains, and even having an audio crew record and mix the sound of the trains' unique air horn. The ones on the models can be activated with a push of the button.
Among the model train's other features are working headlights and interior lights, tiny passenger seats, and yes, even "Watch The Gap" decals on all the train doors, which open and close manually.
"They are in every way the image of a real [LIRR] car," Calabrese said. "It's not just a car that we slap a logo on."
The set, which also comes with stickers for every LIRR train station, retails for about $300.
"We're delighted Lionel has honored the LIRR's 175 years of service to our customers by creating this train set," said LIRR president and interim MTA chief Helena Williams. "The LIRR is part of Long Island's culture and history and this set is a great keepsake."
Lionel secured the exclusive licensing rights for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in 2005 and since then has also released replica New York City Transit subway trains and Metro-North Railroad trains.
The Chesterfield, Mich.-based model maker created only about 1,000 LIRR 175th Anniversary sets and does not plan to make any more. However, Calabrese said, with the LIRR's rich history, it is likely Lionel will release other models of its trains.
Ken Bianco, owner of Trainland in Lynbrook, said all the MTA models have been big hits with collectors. For Long Islanders, the LIRR set is sure to be a "home run," he said. He had "hundreds" of orders months ahead of time and expects to completely sell out by Christmas, he said. "A big buzz was out there about it," said Bianco, whose store was made famous as the setting for the on-screen death of train buff Bobby Baccalieri on "The Sopranos."