Thomas the Tank Engine has been popular with children for many many years. The phenomenon began as a way to teach children important lessons about character and growth, not necessarily to create a new generation of railfans. Yet many in the hobby have looked to make such a connection and the debate rages on as to whether Thomas is making a lasting impact.
On the one hand, it is logical that a favorite childhood toy can create happy memories and invoke an interest and curiosity that will remain through adulthood. After all, many "pre-Thomas" model railroaders today credit a first train set for their interests.
Others ask where are all these new railroaders? And do the cartoonish characters actually forge a connection with "real trains?"
This poll is hardly scientific, but it's a fun question to debate. Please add your thoughts. You'll notice that third option, "Too soon to tell." Don't give up on all those teenagers who are "too cool to play with trains anymore." Thomas or not, the hobby has always seen its lowest numbers in this age group.
Personally, I fell in love with trains before the craze began, and my own children show little interest in Thomas although Daddy's trains are always fun. But every day I see dozens of kids dressed in blue, and who knows where they'll be in twenty or thirty years? Besides, if kids learn more important lessons about sharing, working hard and being kind from a locomotive then the little blue engine has made a lasting impact after all.