Model trains have been a favorite pastime of train enthusiasts for nearly a century. Creating a miniature railroad is one of the most engaging hobbies around that offers endless hours of entertainment and enjoyment. However, selecting the best train set can be a bit daunting, as there are thousands of options available in the market.
The ideal choice depends entirely on your interests, budget, and layout size. Some of the most popular model railroad brands include Bachmann, Lionel, Hornby, and Walthers. Each of these companies offers a wide range of options suitable for both beginners and veteran hobbyists.
Bachmann is an excellent choice for those looking for an affordable and reliable train set, while Lionel trains are famous for producing high-quality, feature-rich model trains. On the other hand, Hornby and Walthers offer an extensive collection of accessories, tracks, and locomotives that cater to the needs of serious enthusiasts.
Understanding your requirements and the primary purpose behind starting this hobby will help you choose the best model train set and brand for you. Whatever your preference may be, there’s something for everyone when it comes to the world of model trains – and with the right equipment, the possibilities are endless.
This is why we have done the research and produced a list of the best model trains out there that will not break the bank. We have also put together a Buying Guide and an FAQ to help you in selecting the model train that is most suitable to your needs.
#1.Bachmann Trains – Rail Chief Ready To Run – Best Overall
For those who are interested in the best model train set, we think you would be interested in the Bachmann Trains Rail Chief Ready To Run. It is a solidly built model train set that has the right combination of quality, performance, and price point. It looks stunning, is easy to assemble and never really breaks down on you.
Best model train brands
A lot of companies are in the business of manufacturing model trains. And these companies and their sub-contractor also provide add-on, rolling stock, railroad sets, and accessories. Some of these companies have been manufacturing model trains for over a century. This shows how much passion people still have for trains.
However, with so many manufacturers, it is very challenging to choose the best model train brands. Below are a few that should be at the top of your list.
Bachmann is a highly affordable choice that specializes in HO scale model trains. Lionel, on the other hand, offers an impressive array of both highly detailed (high-end) and more budget-friendly options. MTH is known for its impressive attention to detail, with models that include lighting and sound effects. Between Athearn and Williams, the former is known for its highly realistic models while the latter offers a wide variety of sizes and styles. Meanwhile, Walthers, Kato, LGB, Marklin, Atlas, and Piko all offer unique features and specialties, such as Walthers’ realistic weathering techniques and LGB’s focus on garden railways. Ultimately, the best model train brand for you depends on your particular interests and budget.
10 Best Model Train Brands and Sets Reviews in 2023
This article is a complete guide to the best model brands and train sets. As a result, there is a lot of quality information provided and the article is a little long. You can navigate to the different reviews using the following quick links. Or you can go down the page and find the buyer’s guide and FAQ for your perusal.
- #1. Bachmann Trains – Rail Chief Ready To Run – Best Overall
- #2. Lionel Pennsylvania O Gauge Model Train – Best Realistic
- #3. Kato USA Model Train Set – Best Starter
- #4. Temi Electric Classic Model Train Set – Best Value
- #5. Lionel The Polar Express Model Train Set – Best Premium
- #6. Hornby Hobbies Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Hogwarts Express train Set HO – Best All Round Model
- #7. Hornby R1270M Valley Drifter – Best Value
- #8. Hornby Eurostar Beatles Yellow Submarine train set – Best For Adults
- #9. The Playtrains Flash the Local Express – Best Electric Train Set for Kids
- #10. The Lego City Passenger Train Kit – Best Lego Train Set for Kids
#1. Bachmann Trains – Rail Chief Ready To Run – Best Overall
When it comes to the best model train set, we highly recommend that you try out the Bachmann Trains Rail Chief Set. The Bachmann set is certainly a name brand in this industry and a name we all know. This is a beautiful electric train set and is certainly a popular one as it strikes the right balance between quality and price. It is a HO scale train set and is powered by an EMD GP40 Diesel Locomotive.
It is also nice to know that this is a completely ready-to-run 130-piece freight train set that is quite easy to assemble. The power supply and connections are all plug-and-play. The track assembly is also pretty much straightforward, as long as you are aware of how much spacing you are using.
- Great starter model train
- Affordable price
- Great details
- Could do with more tracks
#2. Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer O Gauge Model Train – Best Realistic
Next up, we have the Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer O Gauge Model Train, which is the best model train set for those who want a premium brand with Bluetooth and remote capabilities. Lionel is definitely one of the more expensive brands out there for model trains and the quality certainly shows. This is an electric train controlled by a remote or smartphone app.
The standout feature is definitely just the level of detail and the realistic sounds that it makes. It will fascinate pretty much any kid and is even a nice decorative house item. We think that Lionel really just stands above the rest of the crowd when it comes to details and quality. You get a train set that is easy to assemble, sounds and looks amazing, and won’t fall off the tracks.
- Well designed
- Great details
- Remote control a little difficult to set up if you are not a DIY person
#3. Kato USA Model Train Set – Best Starter
Another really nice option when it comes to the best model train set is the Kato USA Model Train Set. It is the perfect N-scale starter pack that comes with everything you need if you are a beginner. First and foremost, we just want to point out that the detailing on the locomotive is pretty on point it looks like it is definitely built to last. We also really like the easy storage case it comes with.
Next, we just want to point out that the Unitrack system is really easy to use and gets you up and running with an easy setup within a few minutes. Our only real complaint is that we feel it is a bit overpriced for what it is, but sometimes you have to overpay a little to get something truly luxurious.
- Build to last
- Great locomotives
- Top brand
- Some feel that the tracks look like a toy
#4. Temi Electric Classic Model Train Set – Best Value
Ok, so we’ve covered quite a few premium brands for model train sets, but what if you just want something dirt cheap? This is where the Temi Electric Classic Model Train Set comes in. Sure there are plenty of budget-friendly cheap model train sets out there but there are very few of them that actually work well. The TEMI set is definitely an exception and a best seller.
This set comes with a classic Christmas steam (perfect as a Christmas train set gift) and tender, a 3-passenger coach, a coal car, a cargo vehicle, 10 pcs curved tracks, 8 straight tracks, 5 cross tracks, traffic signs, and much more. With this, you’ll have plenty of track configurations.
Note that this is not the top-of-the-range track but for the price, it is a nice gift and a nice train set to play with. So not the most powerful train set, but it will do for most people.
- Very cheap
- Great Started
- Good details
- Not known brand
#5. Lionel The Polar Express Model Train Set – Best Premium
Wow, what a premium model train set! The Lionel Polar Express Train is everything that you can ever imagine in a model train set and more as long as you can pay for it. We know that this is a cheap trick but we are so gullible for a few iconic train sounds like “Tickets Please” and “All aboard The Polar Express.”
There are also smoke and sound on-and-off switches in case some of the live-action gets a little too loud or annoying. Everything just looks incredibly realistic here and the trains are high quality. All in all, if you are looking to splurge a bit and want a premium model train set that has all of the “bells and whistles” of a real train.
- An easy-to-use train that’s perfect for kids
- Great Brand
- Great remote
- If you choose the Xmas version, then the train may not be for everyday use
#6. Hornby Hobbies Warner Brother’s Harry Potter Hogwarts Express Electric Model Train Set HO – Best All Round Model
The Hornby Hobbies Harry Potter Hogwarts Express Electric Model Train Set is simply the Best All Round Model available in the market. It is also one of the best train sets for kids, especially if they are fans of the Harry Potter series.
This train set is the perfect gift for any Harry Potter fan as it comes equipped with a DCC Ready 5972 locomotive that has a working headlight, as well as two coaches. Additionally, this train set comes with everything needed to run the train right out of the box, making it perfect to run around the base of a Christmas tree or collectibles.
The train set is an OO scale, while the track can also run the HO scale, which ensures that it is versatile and can be used in a variety of settings. It is electric and comes with a US Transformer that plugs directly into the wall, so you don’t have to worry about purchasing any additional equipment. The Hornby Hobbies Harry Potter Hogwarts Express also comes with a 3rd Radius Starter Oval Track, which is perfect for beginners, and a Hornby R8250 standard train controller. All of these features make it one of the best train sets for kids, and a great choice for anyone who loves the Harry Potter series.
- Great value
- High build quality
- Fantastic for fans of Harry Potter
- You need more tracks to have more fun
#7. Hornby R1270M Valley Drifter – Best Value
The Hornby R1270M Valley Drifter is the perfect train set for those looking for the best value – offering a high level of quality for a reasonable price. The set is designed to a 1:76 scale and features a Gauge – OO.
The package includes an 0-4-0 Steam Loco, Open Wagon, 4 Wheel Coach, Oval of Track, and Controller. The livery of the train set is in a stunning Crimson, with the operator being BR Black. The wheel configuration is 0-4-0T, providing for a smooth and steady ride around the track.
This Hornby set is perfect for beginners as a simple plug-and-play system. The best part about this item is the level of quality you get for such a good price. Not only is it great as a gift for a child interested in trains, but it’s also perfect for those just starting out in the world of model train sets. This set is easy to operate and great for anyone who wants to have a little bit of fun with their model trains.
- Great price
- Good starter kit
- Simple to setup and use
- Easily expandable
- Need more tracks to have more fun
#8. Hornby Eurostar Beatles Yellow Submarine train set – Best For Adult Hobbyists
The Hornby Eurostar Beatles Yellow Submarine train set is definitely Best For Adults Hobbyists. The set features the Eurostar Class 373 Power Driving Car as well as 2 x Eurostar Class 373 Passenger Saloons and comes with a 3rd Radius Starter Oval, complete with Track Pack A.
This exquisite set is in OO gauge and comes with a Hornby R8250 Train Controller, making it easy to get started right out of the box. The Eurostar Class 373 was famously used in the marketing campaign for The Beatles film ‘Yellow Submarine’ in September 1999.
Now, this iconic train has been immortalized in the form of a beautifully detailed train set from Hornby. Beatles fans and model train enthusiasts alike will love the attention to detail that has been given to every aspect of this set. The realism of the rolling stock and track will transport you back in time to the 60s, to the days of Beatlemania and the Yellow Submarine.
If you are a fan of The Beatles or just love beautifully crafted model trains, The Hornby Eurostar Beatles Yellow Submarine train set is an absolute must-have for your collection.
- Detailed colorful livery
- Excellent value for money
- Compatible with existing OO gauge equipment
- Not be suitable for highly experienced model train hobbyists
- Not steam train
#9. The Playtrains Flash the Local Express Model Train – Best Electric Train Set for Kids
The Playtrains Flash the Local Express is considered one of the Best Electric Train Set for Kids. This set is perfect for children (from 3 years old) who love trains and want to experience the joy of taking control of their very own train set.
The set includes Flash, the local express train, an oval of track, a TrakMat, a handheld remote control, and a cardboard station and tunnel. One of the best things about this train set is that it is incredibly easy to assemble. The track pieces clip together easily, making it simple for children to set up and use the train set.
This set features multiple sounds and working lights, including 3 forward and reverse speeds, adding to the excitement of the experience. The OO gauge, Flash the Local Express rolling stock, starter oval track, and battery-powered remote control make this set even more enticing for children. Train sets are a great way to encourage imaginative play, improve hand-eye coordination, and enhance problem-solving skills. The Playtrains Flash the Local Express train set is an investment in your child’s development and an opportunity for them to explore the fascinating world of trains.
- Solidly built
- Specifically designed for younger children
- Great first model train set
- Batteries aren’t included – you need 2 x AAA and 4 x AA batteries
- The track is unique to Hornby Playtrains – Not compatible with other brands
#10. The Lego City Passenger Train Kit – Best Lego Train Set for Kids
The Lego City Passenger Train Kit is the best Lego train set for kids aged 6-12. This affordable set comes with a Lego motorized train that can be operated with either a remote control or a mobile app.
The motorized train is equipped with infrared remote control capabilities, enabling children to operate the train on its Lego circle track easily. This feature allows children to learn about remote-controlling objects. When the child has learned the remote control, then children can move onto the mobile app. The app allows children to control the train’s direction and speed with ease.
As they adjust the track’s route and send the train to glide down the curved and straight tracks, their engineering skills will be put to the test. The train set also features signature sounds, including engine noises and whistling, to enhance the play experience.
This train set is not only educational but also tons of fun for children as they embrace their inner conductor. The Lego City Passenger Train Kit’s rolling stock, Lego circle track, and remote control or mobile app controller make for endless hours of imaginative play. This is a great gift for any child interested in trains, and the kit can be a perfect family activity that encourages creativity, imagination, and coordination.
- High-quality LEGO build
- Easy to setup and operate
- Suitable for a wide range of kid’s age groups
- Integrates with other Lego train sets
- Lack tracks
Features you want to consider when buying the best train set – A Buyer’s Guide
There are many different features you want to consider before buying a model train. The most important are summarized below.
- Accessories and customization
1. Brand of best model train set
It is important to consider the brand you want before buying a model train. Some are widely known brand and others less so. The best way to select your train is to first identify the brand you want. Then select the type of model train (HO, O, OO gauge model train, ,etc.). Finally shortlist the sort train (Christmas train, wooden train set, beginner starter train, etc).
Choosing the right brand involves identifying your preferences and choosing a brand that best suits your needs. Once you’ve identified the brand of your choice, then it’s time to select the type of train and shortlist the specific train you want. Whether you are looking for a Christmas train, Wooden train set (toy train), beginner starter train, or any other train type, you can be sure to find the best model train if you choose the right brand.
2. How Much Do Model Trains Cost?
The cost of model trains depends on several factors, such as the complexity of the train set and the quality of the materials used. For those who are just starting out with model trains, a simple model train set may cost around $100-$400, depending on the features included. However, it’s important to keep in mind that cheaper sets may not come with electrical tracks or locomotion, which could limit the fun and enjoyment of using the train set.
On the other hand, high-quality train sets that come with advanced features could cost upwards of $10,000 or even more. Some people may choose to invest in a quality train set because they have a passion for model railroads, while others may view them as valuable collectors’ items. While the cost of model trains can vary widely, it’s important to do your research and buy a train set that suits your interests and budget. Whether you’re buying your first train set or looking to upgrade to a new train, there are many options available at various price points.
3. Choose the scale of the model train
Deciding on the scale of the train can help you select the train you want. There are several options available, including N, HO, O, and G – going from smallest to largest. N scale has a ratio of 1:160, meaning that a one-inch train would be equivalent to 160 inches on the real train. The HO scale is 1:87:1, while the O scale is 1:48, and the G scale is 1:22.5 or larger. For those who want something small, “On 30” is also an option, with a ratio of 1:48 but appears smaller due to thinner tracks.
It’s essential to pick a scale that suits your needs, as the smaller scales can become quite delicate and may not be suitable for children. In such cases, the larger O scale may be a better option as it is more robust and can handle rough handling from children. Ultimately, choosing the perfect scale depends on your preferences, budget, and available space. Whatever scale you choose, experimenting with different setups can be an exciting and rewarding experience for model enthusiasts everywhere.
When considering purchasing a model cute train set, one important factor to decide on is whether it is intended for adults or children. Safety is always a concern, especially when it comes to small parts. If younger children have access to the trains and parts, parents need to be vigilant because the small parts can be a choking hazard (chosen a train with big pieces). Another area of concern is the use of batteries in the train. Fitting and removing batteries can also be hazardous to younger children as they may be tempted to put them in their mouths.
Electric trains can spark off the track, so it is paramount to remove or cover nearby materials that could catch light before setting up the train set. Parents should always make sure that the train set and its components are age-appropriate and childproof. It is also important to stress the importance of adult supervision during train set playtime, as accidents can still occur no matter how safe the train set is designed to be. Prioritizing safety when setting up a train set will ensure that everyone can enjoy the fun that the train set brings without any incidents.
5. Accessories and customization of your model railroad trains
One of the most fun aspects of model train hobby is the ability to accessorize and customize your train setup. The first step towards personalization is painting the trains and scenery to your taste. You can use paint stripper to remove any existing colors and an airbrush to give them a new livery that matches your taste. You might also want to invest in small brushes, which can come in handy for more intricate detailing work.
Regardless of how good your trains look, the overall layout can be enhanced with the addition of stores, foliage, buildings, signs and other accessories that are readily available for purchase. Furthermore, track switches can help expand your train world and provide an added level of complexity to the setup. Some enthusiasts may also find it rewarding to create DIY accessories and make use of used parts and trains to personalize their layout. Trading with fellow enthusiasts can help build up a collection for your set up. The options are endless, and with a little creativity and effort, you can create a personalized world to reflect any era or theme you choose.
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions
Which is better HO or O model scale trains?
The age-old debate over which model scale train is better, HO or O, is a dilemma that has plagued hobbyists for years. O-scale model trains are a much larger commitment. What you need to know is that an HO scale is half the size of an O model. And the HO train is one of the most popular scales due to its relatively easy entry point.
As such, smaller scales are excellent for beginners, who are perhaps not yet ready to make an initial large investment in the hobby. This is why many starter sets are geared towards HO models, and there are plenty of train sets on the market to choose from.
On the other hand, larger scales allow you to create much more detail and authenticity in your layouts. For those with a larger budget and a desire to create a truly impressive model rail system, O scale might be the better choice. One of the drawbacks of O scale is the large track required to create realistic layouts, which requires plenty of space. HO scale, on the other hand, is much more manageable in terms of space needed and can be easier to set up and maintain.
Are N scale electric train set popular?
N-scale trains are extremely popular among model train enthusiasts. They are electric model trains that are built on a smaller scale than many other types of model trains, making them perfect for people who have limited space to devote to a model railway. Experienced model train enthusiasts often favor N scale trains because they provide a greater level of detail, realism, and accuracy than other types of model trains.
Some of the top names in the industry, such as Atlas, Kato, and Bachmann, are known for their high-quality N scale trains. Additionally, you can find all kinds of N scale locomotives, rolling stock, and track equipment at Midwest Model Railroad and other similar hobby shops.
Overall, if you’re looking for an exciting and rewarding new hobby, exploring the world of model trains could be the perfect choice. And if you’re short on space or just looking for a more compact model railway, N scale trains are definitely worth considering.
Which is better N scale or HO scale model train set?
If you have limited space, the N scale is a better choice. This is because it allows for longer trains, larger yards and industries, and a better scenery-to-track layout all within a limited space. It is worth noting that some of the N scale locomotives tend to be more detailed (though this is changing).
However, if you have plenty of space available, HO scale is the better option. HO scale is larger and generally easier to detail, making it a good choice if you have poor eyesight or dexterity. There is a wide selection of both kit and ready-to-run models available for HO and N scale enthusiasts. Ultimately, the choice between N scale and HO scale is a matter of personal choice. Whichever scale you choose, there are plenty of reputable model train manufacturers to choose from, and both scales offer a wide range of model locomotives and accessories to suit any taste. Ultimately, the most important thing is to have fun and enjoy your model train hobby.
Are model trains toys?
While some may consider them toys, model trains are in fact, for the purists, scale models rather than mere playthings. They are geared towards scale modelers and serious model train hobbyists and boast highly accurate liveries, small and detailed components, and provide exceptional realism. Manufacturers often use complex manufacturing methods when producing model trains, making them more expensive than their toy counterparts.
For parents looking to introduce their children to the world of model trains, the best train sets for kids are typically ready-to-play sets or ready-to-run electric trains. These sets are designed to be easy to use, with simple-to-assemble tracks and trains that are ready to go straight out of the box.
For those who have a more serious interest in the hobby, there are more advanced options available that offer greater authenticity and complexity. Eventually, whether you consider model trains as toys or not will depend on your perspective, and it is up to each individual to decide whether they want to use them as playthings or as scale models.
How fast does the best electric train set model go?
The speed of model trains can vary greatly depending on different factors. The vast majority of model trains can have speeds of anywhere between 1 to 150 mph (1.6 – 241.4 kph). Achieving any of these speeds depend on the type, brand, production method, and how it’s being operated. However, it’s worth noting that these high speeds are typically only achievable by professional model train operators who have the necessary skills and equipment to control the train safely at such high speeds.
For most hobbyists, most trains have a maximum speed of around 15 mph (24.1 kph), which is much more achievable and realistic. The best electric train sets usually come with speed control functionality, allowing the operator to easily adjust the speed of their trains as desired. It is important to note that safety should always be a top priority when operating model trains, especially when working with high-speed trains such as the express train. Overall, the speed of model trains depends on various factors and can range from slow and steady to lightning-fast; it is up to the operator to determine the suitable speed for their specific setup and skill level.
What does Ballast mean for the best model train set?
To be honest, ballast does not mean much for a model train for children. It is only there as a cosmetic feature. However, in real life, ballast refers to the material that is applied underneath the track. This is generally a layer of large crushed stone. The stones act as a stable roadbed that supports the track. The main aim is to distribute the weight across the stone (the ballast) and avoid pieces of track getting buried in the mud in winter months.
In other words, the aim of ballasting track in a model railroad is to make it look more realistic by adding the missing roadbed under the track.
Overall, a ballast is essential in creating the illusion of an actual rail line, as it provides the necessary support for the tracks, and ensures that they stay in place. Without ballast, the tracks would simply lay flat on the surface, and would not have the proper depth or dimensionality needed to create an authentic train model scene.