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My son received some Thomas Take and Play sets for his second birthday and we have been adding to his collection ever since to build it up. The Take and Play set is a railway set based on the Thomas The Tank Engine series. The idea of it is that the track can be made up of various different sets, each can be folded up to make them convenient for the child to 'take and play' wherever they go. This around the rails set was one of the original pieces that we bought for my son and one that we have been using ever since.
The set is designed for children aged 3 years plus but I had no hesitation in letting my two year old son have it as there are no small parts and we play together with this so he is always fully supervised.
The Around the Rails Playset cost us £19.99 (it currently retails at £20.45 on Amazon, November 2013). It is a grey plastic track that fits together with other pieces from the range to make a larger track. This particular set is three circles set together like a figure of eight (but with an extra circle to it!). They slope gently upwards so that the top circle is higher than the middle one which, in turn, is higher than the bottom one. There is over two foot (60cm) of track in this set. The three circles fold on top of one another and are hinged so that this can be stored and transported easily. There is a red plastic carry handle attached for this purpose too.
In the middle of the top two circular tracks, there are stickers attached of construction sites, with cranes and tracks pictured. Around the outside of the track, the grey plastic is moulded to look like rubble and there are various circular attachment points for the attachment of various plastic accessories that come with the sets. With this set, there are various plastic accessories that can be stood on these attachments - a yellow crane, a green house shape with a sticker on the front that pictures a building, a yellow signpost to Knapford and Tidmouth, a yellow crossing signal and two brown crates for the crane to lift. Also provided is a diecast Thomas engine for use on the track. The Thomas engine, like all trains from the set, has a magnet integrated into the train at the front and back so that other trains can be attached and pulled along the tracks in a big line. The magnets work both ways so the trains never repel each other but attach together either way.
As I say, this was one of the first bits of track we got for my son. This was for a number of reasons. Firstly, I wanted to make sure that it was something that my son liked and would enjoy playing with and this is one of the cheaper sets available from the range. Secondly, it came with Thomas - his favourite character - included. Lastly, the shape of the track was appealing as I thought this was quite a 'smooth' flowing track and that my son would enjoy the slight slope to it. As my son was two when he received this, and below the recommended age limit, I did remove some of the smaller parts included in the set - the crates etc - but this did not really detract from the set at all. He is now 2 and a half and I have reintegrated them into the set but it has not made much difference to him!
My son likes this bit of track and loves his Thomas train too. He has accumulated a few Thomas trains as this seems to be the train that comes included in sets most often, but when he first had this set it was the only one he had and it was instantly his favourite. The trains do drive around the track quite easily and pushing the train around has helped my son's manipulation skills as he changes his grip to move it up and down. He can also let go of the train at the top of the track and it will move down independently due to the slight slope and this aspect appeals to my son too. This track does frustrate my son when he plays with the trains in his set all together and has them in a long line. This is something that he likes to do and it works well on straight bits of track or on gentle bends. However, on the circular tracks here, they come apart easily or fall on their side and this annoys my son profusely. This is not really something that can be helped, by the sheer nature of the track and, hopefully, as my son gets older and his manipulation skills improve further he will have greater control here and it won't be quite such an issue.
The track is nice to pack up and take to a friend's house or on holiday etc as it folds up easily and neatly and just simply unfolds to play - so the child can set this up independently. However, the track does not hold in place well when folded, as I had hoped it would, meaning that the small parts that come with it cannot be contained within it easily.
I do think that the set is expensive for what it is - but that is true of the whole Thomas Take and Play range and Thomas toys in general. You don't actually get a lot for your money - the track is plastic and all the accessories too so you can't help but think that these were quite cheap to produce. The train included with it is of good quality though, being made of diecast metal, and this retails at around £5 individually so this goes some way to explaining the price tag.
As far as the track goes in relation to other track parts we have or that my son's friends have, it is probably not one of their favourites. Whilst the circular shapes are different to anything on the other tracks, there is not a lot to do here. Other sections of track have places to park the trains, turn them or another part to play with (e.g. a crane) and these prove infinitely more popular - although they are more costly to purchase too so you need to balance this up when deciding what set to purchase.
The track is of good quality though and the attachment parts where it slots together with other parts of the track are strong and durable. The tracks fit together well and the train glides over the connections easily and smoothly. The trains also stay on the track well (when used singularly!) and the stickers on the track have stayed in place well too.
Overall, this track is a nice addition to our set or good for use singularly when visiting friends etc - it is one of the easiest pieces of track to fold up for 'take and play' purposes. It is not one of the most exciting sections of track and not my son's favourite but it is nice to have and I would recommend it for Thomas fans.