My Lionel Polar Express locomotive and tender have had some quirks since unboxing it last Christmas.
You have to take the throttle nearly to 100% to get the locomotive to move. Sometimes a gentle push is needed to get it going. My 6 year old loves starting and stopping the train so this is a bit annoying and I'm worried we might be damaging the motor.
Also the whistle in the tender only works with the bell button on the CW-80 transformer, rather than the whistle button.
Is the connection to the track from the transformer wired wrong or is the transformer wired wrong?
If you've hooked it the same as in prior years, then the problem is mechanical. I suspect that
a) the grease and oil in the mechanism has turned into gunk (greases and oils oxidise, which means they turn into jelly and varnish like stuff); and/or b if you ran the train on the floor (carpet), a good deal of hair and other nasty things have been sucked into the gears etc. This not only slows things down, it can have amusing effects on the current pickup by providing current paths that weren't intended by the designers.
Cleaning the engine etc requires disassembly, so if you feel daunted by that task, take the whole thing to a your nearest friendly hobby shop, and pay them to do the job for you. If you have a kind-hearted model railroad friend, he may do it for free.
A light grease such as for fishing reels will do nicely. The oil should also be light, and it would help if it's loaded with Teflon or graphite. Clean up as much as possible first, in fact the best thing would be to remove all old grease and oil, which is not a job for the fainthearted. Apply lubrication in very small quantities. Over-lubing tends to worsen any dirt problems. And don't lay the track directly on the floor or carpet.
With all due respect to others who answered here, they missed the most likely cause: dirty track or wheels. It's that simple.
Since the loco depends on an electrical connection between the wheels that pick up power and the track, any dirt or corrosion is going to cause problems like the ones you're experiencing. So the first and easiest thing to do is to simply clean them.
I assume the track is either nickel silver or brass. If it's nickel, it will be silver colored (it's not actually silver), and will be easier to clean. If it's brass (looks like brass), then you may have corrosion you'll have to remove.
So assuming it's nickel silver, take a clean cloth and some solvent and clean the track. I recommend alcohol (denatured alcohol, shellac thinner, methanol, methylated spirits, stove fuel: all the same stuff; NOT rubbing alcohol, which contains a lot of water). You should see black gunk on the cloth.
Clean the wheels too with a Q-tip or similar device and the same cleaner. You should notice a marked improvement in performance.
I seriously doubt that the lubricants in your loco have gunked up in such a short time, at least enough to slow it down that much. Clean the track first; if that doesn't work, then you can start looking at lubing the loco.
- The full brightness headlamp and lack of motion indicates that track power is reaching the loco, but not the motor.
- If the headlamp dimmed and the motor hummed then power would be reaching both the headlamp and the motor but the problem would almost certainly be mechanical. (binding of the mechanisim)
- if the headlamp is at full brightness without motor hum but the loco starts with a push then the problem is _probably_ in the motor, with suspicion falling on the brush/commutator or one pole of the armature windings.
If you unboxed it last Christmas, it may still be under warranty. If there is an Authorized Lionel Service Station near you, bring the loco and transformer in and let them take a look at them, as there are several things that could be causing your problem.
Worst case, the smoke unit was allowed to run dry with the "Smoke On/Off" switch in the "On" position. This can lead to the E-unit/Power Supply PC board being damaged due excessive current draw.
Another possibility is one of the valve gear support bracket screws has come loose. This can lead to the valve gear binding, and hard starts.
Or the problem may not be the loco at all, as there have been a number of issues with the CW-80 transformers over the last few years. And with most of them there's no warning it's coming. It's like the CW-80 just decides a particular day is a good day to go bad. If you check this yourself with a multimeter make sure you put a load across the CW-80 outputs during your test. Putting a lighted car on the track will do.
Or it could be simple things like dirty track/wheels, or a loose connection on the FasTrack power terminal section. If your PE is just a year old, gummy lube shouldn't be a problem. A drop of Labelle 107 or sewing maching oil on the axle bearings wouldn't hurt. 3-in-1 oil is really too heaving for this mechanism, and has additives that can actually lead to gummy build ups over time in locos stored most of the year. The motor should only have to be pulled and the worm given a shot of light grease (Labelle 106 or LubriPlate) every 3 years or so if you only run at Chistmas.