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Model trains are a classic childhood toy. Whether you played with a wooden or plastic set growing up, you probably have fond memories of zooming these cars along their tracks. Dig into our list of the best model train sets for kids and adults so your child can have the same fun experiences, and you can continue to have them too!
Our best overall pick is the Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer Battery-Powered Model Train. Lionel is one of the top model train makers, which means this set is high quality. Additionally, it’s ready to play right out of the box and has a slightly more affordable price point, so it’s an easily accessible way to start you or your child on your model train journeys.
- Our Top Picks for Best Model Train Sets
- Best Overall – Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer Model Train Set
- Best Model Train Sets for Kids
- Best for LEGO Lovers – LEGO City Cargo Train Toy
- Best Budget Option – BRIO My First Railway Wooden Toy Train Set
- Best for Toddlers – KidKraft Ride Around Set and Table
- Best for Ages 4+ – Lionel Thomas & Friends Battery-Powered Model Train Set
- Best for Harry Potter Fans – Lionel Hogwarts Express Electric O Gauge Model Train Set
- Best Model Train Sets for Teens & Adults
- Best for Older Beginners – Bachmann Rail Chief Ready to Run Electric Train Set
- Best for Small Spaces – Kato Santa Fe Super Chief N Scale Starter Set
- Best for More Space – Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer O-Gauge Train Set
- Best for Christmas Lovers – Lionel Polar Express O Gauge Model Train Set
- Best for History Buffs – Bachmann White Pass & Yukon Passenger Ready to Run Electric Train Set
- What to Consider When Buying a Model Train Set
- Frequently Asked Questions
Related post: The Best Model Steam Engines for Fun and Learning
Our Top Picks for Best Model Train Sets
The Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer Battery-Powered Model Train Set is our best overall pick. With more than 100 years in business, Lionel is literally the professionals at making quality, fun model trains.
This complete set is no exception. It comes with a steam locomotive, a tender (coal car), a gondola car, and a caboose. It also contains twenty-four curved and eight straight plastic tracks for a variety of building options. You can purchase extra tracks later on for expanded layouts. The cars are sturdy and painted with dark primary colors, making the train visually appealing.
The locomotive makes authentic train sounds, including a bell and whistle effect. It also has a working headlight which adds realism and joy to its use. The tracks work on carpet, which can be a challenge for some model trains, so this set also adds options in terms of setup placement.
This may seem like a train for older children; however, Amazon reviews from parents have said they’ve given it to their kids as young as three years old, and its durability means it stands up to little ones’ attention. If you’re letting a younger child play with this set, make sure to keep an extra eye on them.
Model trains can be expensive, so this set is a solid choice to get a quality train at a more affordable price.
Best Model Train Sets for Kids
Fans of LEGOs will love the LEGO City Cargo Train Toy. With 888 pieces, this intricate toy lets kids move animals and other heavy cargo through a modern-looking city.
The set comes with a motorized locomotive, a cattle wagon, a fuel wagon, a cable drum wagon, a truck, a train station, four minifigures, and a full track with twenty curved and eight straight pieces. A forklift enables kids to lift goods from the wagons to the truck and back. The wide variety of pieces means kids who love LEGOs will have almost endless options for play.
The locomotive has an eight-channel, seven-speed infrared remote control. Kids will love zooming the cars along the track, delivering goods and cargo as they go. LEGO recommends this kit for kids ages six and up. The best part is it’s compatible with all LEGO construction sets, so if your little one already has others or has dreams to continue to build, they can put them together for expanded play.
If you have a younger child or a very beginner, the BRIO My First Railway Wooden Toy Train Set is for you. This set is more basic than the others on our list, but the simplicity of it makes it vastly more affordable. It comes with a dozen track pieces and two train cars.
The set includes a colorful train, wooden railway tracks, a rainbow bridge, and guiding ramp tracks. The cars stay together with magnets, meaning they’re easy to attach and detach. Perfect for a creative toddler, BRIO’s My First Railway is designed for kids eighteen months and up. This beginner set is also compatible with other BRIO railway toys and packs, so it can grow with your budding conductor.
Using bright colors, simple shapes, and frustration-free tracks, your child can learn the beginnings of model trains in a fun and easy fashion. This set also helps your youngster develop fine motor skills while they play. Additionally, BRIO tests their products thoroughly and uses only kid-friendly materials, so you can rest assured your child can play safely.
The KidKraft Ride Around Train Set and Table is a perfect wooden train set for slightly older toddlers. It comes with brilliantly colorful and detailed pieces and a durable play surface. It also comes with storage bins so the pieces stay organized and in one place when not in use.
With 100 pieces and a detailed instruction manual, this set is easy to set up and use. As a bonus, it comes with an airport, a farm, and a hospital so your child has a complete world at their fingertips. The track pieces come in a variety of straight, curved, and even incline options so children can design a path with multiple levels.
The large table means playtime is lifted 16 inches off the ground, helping kids get closer to the fun. The table is sturdy, so it can withstand even the most rambunctious toddlers. Conveniently, the included storage bins fit beneath the table when not in use, so this set is useful and compact.
Kids can also build their own tracks, which means this table train set is completely customizable. Encourage your child’s imagination and engineering skills by having them branch out and create their own designs. The set is also compatible with other wooden trains like Thomas and Friends and BRIO, so if you already own those, this one will fit right in.
For a youngster who’s too old for the BRIO My First Railway or the KidKraft Ride Around Set, but too young for a more mature train, the Lionel Thomas & Friends Battery-Powered Model Train Set might just do the trick. This is especially true if they’re already a fan of Thomas & Friends.
This fun little kit includes a battery-powered Thomas steam engine (though it doesn’t puff real steam like some of the others on this list), Annie and Clarabel passenger cars, 32 track pieces, and remote control. The steam engine makes bell and whistle sounds as well as other Thomas sounds, and his eyes move. It also comes with interchangeable Thomas faces.
Reviews say the remote control is perfect for little hands and is easy for kids to understand. However, they also caution parents that the required C cell and AAA batteries are not included, so be sure to factor that into your budget if purchasing this kit.
The track can make a variety of shapes, including an oval, circle, or rounded square. For added fun, the tops of the passenger cars come off, so your child can stash passengers, goods, or anything else they’d like as they play.
If your little one dreamed of receiving their Hogwarts acceptance letter on their tenth birthday (or is still dreaming!) the Lionel Hogwarts Express Electric O Gauge Model Train Set is the perfect way to bring a little magic to their lives.
The kit comes with a 4-6-0 locomotive (that’s a specific configuration of wheels popular on steam trains in the 1800s), two passenger cars, one combination car, and enough track to make a 40 x 60-inch oval. The track system is easy to connect, so children can get imagining right away.
Additionally, the train is controlled by a Bluetooth remote to activate the authentic movie clips, functional headlight, and puffing smoke, making this set a realistic replica of the famous Hogwarts Express.
There really is no better gift for a child with a love for Harry Potter and toy trains. Your youngster will love climbing aboard the Hogwarts Express and getting whisked away to the best wizarding school in the world.
Best Model Train Sets for Teens & Adults
Model train sets aren’t just for kids! You can dig into the fun too with these kits meant for teens and adults.
Bachmann is known for making quality train sets, and the Bachmann Rail Chief Ready to Run Electric Train Set does not disappoint. With 180 years of train building under their belt, it’s no wonder Bachmann produces award-winning lines of products. Whether you’re purchasing this set for your teen or yourself, it’s an excellent starting point for new conductors.
The kit comes with a diesel locomotive with operating headlight; quad hopper, gondola, and steel reefer cars; and a caboose. It also has various environmental pieces like railroad signs, a signal bridge, miniature figures, and more. If you’re looking to build a total, immersive railroad as a beginner in your home, this kit has everything you need.
If you have a smaller living space, like an apartment or small home, the Kato Santa Fe Super Chief is a good choice. Model trains come in sizes, with Z scale as the smallest and G scale as the largest. N scale is right above Z scale.
An N scale train means it’s 1:160 the size of a real train, measuring about 9mm tall. The track and accompanying accessories will be of similar size, so if you don’t have much space to play with a model train, this is a good option that should work well. While all model trains are pretty small, sometimes you need to fit your train on a table or other tiny surface, instead of the floor, and that’s where this scale comes in handy.
This set comes with one Santa Fe war bonnet locomotive and three Super Chief corrugated passenger cars. The locomotive has a set of operational directional headlights as well as lighted number boxes. Kato is famous for their attention to detail, and this set is no exception — it’s interiors are delightfully painted.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you have more space, you can use the Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer Train Set. At O gauge, this set is one below the biggest model train size available, making it an attractive and functional option. Place this set on a permanent large table or set it up on the floor or around your Christmas tree.
Included with the set is a remote-controlled locomotive, a tender, a boxcar, a tank car, and a caboose. The locomotive has an operational headlight, a user-activated whistle, and can make bell sounds and announcements. Also included are enough pieces of track to make a 40- or 50-inch oval.
Perhaps the coolest feature of all on this train is the locomotive actually makes puffs of smoke you can see, controlled by the remote. Some users on Amazon commented the smoke is best seen when the train is operating at slower speeds, so to use this cool feature, keep the train running calmly.
Christmas is one of the most popular holidays of the year, so the Lionel Polar Express O Gauge Model Train Set is perfect for those who can’t get enough of this sparkling season. As an O gauge, this train is big enough to draw attention under the tree or as a centrepiece on a table.
Including a locomotive and tender, two coach cars, an observation car, four movie characters, and enough track to make a 40 x 60-inch oval, this model train is controlled by remote or Bluetooth for a smooth experience. It also plays sound clips from the movie and has bell and whistle effects. Plus it’s another set with functioning puffing smoke and a headlight.
The detail Lionel put into this set makes it a wonderful addition to any home. The passenger cars have interior lighting and silhouettes in the windows. The observation car has a rounded platform and a decorated drumhead. If you have any fondness for the movie, this train set is sure to delight you.
The Bachmann White Pass & Yukon Passenger Ready to Run Electric Train Set takes you back to the Gold Rush in 1896. Construction on the real-world version of this train began two years later, in 1898, to help ease the burden of all the gold miners flocking to the Klondike to try their hand at prospecting. It took two more years and more than 30,000 men, but the White Pass & Yukon Route was completed. The train still runs today, functioning as a heritage railway, servicing hikers, tourists, and more.
The model of this historic train does not disappoint. The steam era locomotive is highly detailed, painted for the original, and contains a coal tender and working headlight. Coupled to the engine are a combine car, coach car, and observation car. Finishing out the set is enough track to make a 56 x 38-inch oval.
If you or your teen have an interest in the Gold Rush and the history behind this iconic railway, this train set is the perfect way to get a hands-on, miniature look at what such a journey would have been like.
What to Consider When Buying a Model Train Set
Your child’s age is perhaps the most important factor when purchasing a model train set. If your child is on the younger side, like a toddler, a set more like the BRIO My First Railway or the KidKraft Ride Around set is a better choice. As your little one ages, they can graduate to more sophisticated train sets, like the Lionel Pennsylvania Flyers or the Kato Santa Fe Super Chief.
As stated above, space is a key factor when choosing model trains. If you have a lot of space, especially on a hard floor rather than carpet, you can potentially purchase a set that’s all the way up at G scale. On the other hand, if the train set has to live a bedroom or other smaller space, for example, a smaller N or even Z scale train would be better. See the FAQ section below for more information on sizing.
Battery-Powered vs. Electric
These are the two main ways model trains are powered, and which one is best for you will depend on your preferences. If you have a younger child, or just want to snap together your rails and be on your merry model train way, a battery-powered set will be simpler to set up and get going. If you don’t want to contribute to battery waste, wait for batteries to charge, or feel comfortable doing a little bit of wiring, electric trains may be a better fit.
Model train sets are not for the faint of wallet. Consider your budget and your child’s interest before sinking hundreds of dollars into a set they may not play with very much. You can try them out with a more affordable option or even a used version of a higher-end set first. Then, if their passion for trains seems like it will last, you can invest in a more expensive option.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are model trains?
Model trains are quite simply smaller model versions of real trains. Most model trains are highly detailed, run smoothly, and require electricity or batteries to operate. A lot of people collect these trains, while a lot of others have a single one they place around their Christmas tree each season. Model train sets can be a fun collector’s hobby or a child’s favorite toy.
What’s with the sizing?
We discussed it briefly above in the Kato Santa Fe section, but model trains come in scales that refer to their gauges. The gauge is the distance between the two outer rails of the track. Here’s a brief rundown of what those scales mean:
- Z scale = 6.5mm track gauge (width)
- N scale = 9.0mm track gauge
- HO scale = 16.5mm track gauge
- S scale = ⅞” track gauge
- O scale = 1 ¼” track gauge
- G scale = 1 ¾” track gauge
Should I get a model train set for my child?
That depends completely on you and your child! If they love trains, a model set could be the perfect gift. If you have the space and the budget, you can find very high quality, durable trains for your child to play with. However, if their only interest is in the Thomas the Tank Engine TV show, a model train might not be the best idea. Talk with your child, gauge their interest, and snag them a fun model train set if it seems right for you.
Are model train sets educational?
They can be. While not necessarily designed with education in mind, you’re more than able to turn a model train set into a teachable moment. You can use it to talk about science concepts with your child like combustion, Newton’s Laws of Motion, or how steam trains work using pressure. You can talk about engineering concepts as you dig into how rail lines are constructed. You can even address historical modes of transportation and how trains are used today. It’s entirely up to you!
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Last update on 2020-10-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API