Best Model Train Sets – Top 5 Picks for 2018

This is our official list in search of the best model train sets on the market today. Scroll further down for full details on each product and a handy guide to model trains.

Quick Look:

  1. Bachmann Rail Chief Ready to Run Electric Train Set
  2. Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer Train Set – O-Gauge
  3. Bachmann Trains Thoroughbred Ready-to-Run HO Scale Train Set
  4. Lionel Polar Express Remote Train Set – O-Gauge
  5. Kato USA Model Train Products N Scale Santa Fe Super Chief Starter Set

We know time is of the essence, so the above is a cheat sheet of what’s ahead, just in case your’re in a hurry. Otherwise, keep scrolling down for more detailed and constructive info on each item.

5 Highest Reviewed Model Train Sets to Consider

The best model train set can provide countless hours of entertainment, but the problem that most people have is knowing what to look for. Every model train set is a fraction of the size of the real thing, and when shopping for these products, you’ll notice there are several different scales.

Several high-end sets from Bachmann come with a high-end power source, and Lionel is also known for some of the best model train sets available. The track is another important component, and the newest track is perfect for beginners because it has a raised plastic bottom. Below, you’ll find reviews for five of the top model train sets available.

1.) Bachmann Rail Chief Ready to Run Electric Train Set

Bachmann Trains Thoroughbred Ready-to-Run HO Scale Train Set
The Bachmann Rail Chief is a popular train set, and since it comes with all required components, it’s ready to run. This particular set is powered by an EMD GP40 diesel locomotive, and for a realistic effect, it comes with an operating headlight.

The Bachmann Rail Chief is designed with HO scale, and it comes with steel roadbed track. If you’re looking for a beginner set, this is one of the best products available.

The Bachmann Rail Chief set is comprised of five cars, and it even has an open quad hopper. Some other great features are the gondola, steel reefer, E-Z Mate couplers and signal bridge.

A model train set wouldn’t be complete without a realistic scene, and to create the scene, this set comes with 36 people figures, 48 street signs and 24 telephone poles. You’ll also get a plug-in terminal, speed controller and power rack, and the controller plugs into a standard AC outlet.

PROS

  •  Great for younger kids
  •  Special track prevents derailments
  •  Easy to assemble
  •  Perfect for beginners

CONS

  •  Track can be very sensitive

($) Check price on Amazon

2.) Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer Train Set – O-Gauge

Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer Train Set - O-Gauge
When it comes to model train sets, Lionel is a well-known brand, and this set is an example of what the company offers. This set comes with a three-dome tank car, caboose and boxcar, and for convenience, it can be operated with the included remote control.

The Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer train set comes with a powerful locomotive, and it gives you a string of cars to attach to the back of the engine. All of the components can be controlled with the remote control, and to make the experience much more realistic, the locomotive is very detailed.

The engine features bell sounds and special announcements, and it even comes with a user-activated whistle. The freight cars are decorated, and the track consists of eight curved O36 FasTrack pieces. You’ll have trouble finding a single part of this set that doesn’t feature exquisite detail.

PROS

  •  Designed to prevent locomotive derailment
  •  Excellent starter kit for beginners
  •  Remote is responsive and convenient
  •  Every piece made with solid build quality

CONS

  •  Sound effects don’t sound the best

($) Check price on Amazon

3.) Bachmann Trains Thoroughbred Ready-to-Run HO Scale Train Set

Bachmann Trains Thoroughbred Ready-to-Run HO Scale Train Set
Here we have another popular set from Bachmann Trains, and it’s the Thoroughbred Ready-to-Run HO Scale Train Set. This set features an F7 diesel locomotive, which has an operating headlight. The Thoroughbred train set also comes with two freight cars, and it has a wide-vision caboose.

For realistic motion, the set comes with a speed controller and power pack, and the illustrated instruction manual makes assembly quick and easy. The Bachmann Trains Thoroughbred set can be set up and used right out of the box, and it includes 12 curved track pieces.

The recommended age range for this product is between eight to 12, but it’s also a popular product for older hobbyists. If you’re looking for a great beginner set, this is one of the best products from Bachmann, and it comes with every component needed to set up and run the train.

PROS

  •  Well-built locomotive
  •  Great for under the Christmas tree
  •  Perfect for beginners and young children
  •  Realistic pieces

CONS

  • Train should be easier to set on track

($) Check price on Amazon

4.) Lionel Polar Express Remote Train Set – O-Gauge

Lionel Polar Express Remote Train Set - O-Gauge

If you enjoyed the movie, you’ll love the Lionel Polar Express remote train set, and to help you relieve your experience with the movie, this train set comes with sound clips from the movie, and the engine comes with an operating headlight.

There is even a unit that produces little puffs of smoke, and the Lionel Polar Express set comes with four character figures. Before purchasing this product, you should know that it’s a hobby-grade electric train, so the tracks must be properly connected to supply power to the locomotive engine.

You also need to make sure the engine is correctly attached to the track, or it won’t complete the circuit and accept electricity from the power source.

For anyone who enjoyed the movie, the Lionel Polar Express model train set makes it easy to experience the magic and relieve memories associated with the movie.

PROS

  •  The engine is almost identical to the movie
  •  Passenger cars made from high-quality materials
  •  Comes with 12 pieces of track
  •  Great for serious hobbyists and beginners

CONS

  •  Not the best choice for younger children

($) Check price on Amazon

5.)  Kato USA Model Train Products N Scale Santa Fe Super Chief Starter Set

Kato USA Model Train Products N Scale Santa Fe Super Chief Starter Set
If you’re looking for the best model train set, the Kato USA Model Train Products N Scale Santa Fe Super Chief starter set is worth considering, and it comes with several different passenger cars. Every hobby starts with the first step, and this product will serve as a great first step for most hobbyists.

The Santa Fe Super Chief starter set comes with a complete oval of track, three passenger cars and a locomotive, and the included instruction manual makes everything easy to assemble.

Most beginners will find this set to be very affordable, and since it comes with everything you need to get started, it’s perfect for people who’re new to the hobby.

PROS

  •  Snaps together easily
  •  Track can be assembled and taken apart quickly
  •  One of the best starter sets available
  • Locomotive runs smoothly

CONS

  • Track could use more detail

($) Check price on Amazon

Brief Beginner’s Guide to Model Train Sets

It’s also important to know that some manufacturers create proprietary track systems, and these tracks cannot connect to tracks from other manufacturers. Many model train sets are decorated for Christmas, and others are decorated for general use.

If you’d like to give a train set as a gift, it’s better to stick to a general style. Model trains that move require a power source, and for quite some time, most products came with a standard transformer, which can power a single train.

Over time, power sources have improved, and some of the best power sources offer precise speed control, and they’re great for hobbyists who want a realistic experience.

What Are They?

Model Train Sets are like railways in a miniature version. They are usually powered, so that they can run around the track by themselves and provide hours of fun. The engines are modelled off real locomotives, either steam or diesel engines, and the carriages or freight cars are models of real life versions.

They are made to different scales, so as long as they are the same scale they can often be mixed and matched. In the kit there is also track which is ready made and can be assembled however you like. Some sets also come with a remote control so you don’t even need to touch the train to make it stop and go.

Model trains are different from toy trains, because toy trains are made to be fun, durable and easy to use. Model trains on the other hand are designed to be as much like the real thing as possible, so are often a choice for rail enthusiasts. However children will still love model trains and will grow to appreciate them more as they get older. They are also less likely to grow out of them than Thomas the Tank Engine!

Some model trains plug into a power socket, whereas others run off batteries. Some are even gas and steam powered, although these are rarer. You can buy lots of different types of scenery to make your railway lifelike, such as tunnels, bridges, trees and rocks. You can also buy people, cars and stations to add a human element and make it look realistic.

They most commonly work by a transformer that is plugged into a power socket. The transformer is then connected to the railway track which conducts the electricity through the rail, to the wheel and up through the locomotive and then back down the other side to the rail to make the circuit.

Who Can Benefit?

Model trains are wonderful toys to play with for both children and adults. Do you kids love Thomas the Tank Engine but are maybe a bit old for it now? They are sure to love an electric model train where they can set up their own landscape of trees and signals and stations, and see it run around the track all by itself without being pushed.

If you are looking for a fun hobby to spend some time on and de-stress after work, then this might be something to look into. It has endless potential for creativity and imagination, and you can also charm your friends and family with the results.

Or maybe you have a friend or family member who is a railway enthusiast? This would make a great gift – just make sure that if they already have a model railway that you find out what gauge they have so you can match it.

You can also introduce a whole new element to your back yard with a model train, and landscape the bushes, grass and trees to match.

What To Look For?

There are several different gauges of model trains available. The largest model trains are G scale and usually run outdoors on a gauge 1 track. O is a popular scale which is 1 1/4” between the rails. Then there is S scale which is a bit smaller, where the rails are 7/8” apart.

HO scale is also very popular – they are half the size of the O scale, and since they are smaller it means that you can get quite a big layout in a small space. N scale is even smaller, and measures 9mm between the rails, and then the smallest is Z, where the rails are 6.5mm apart.

To decide which scale to use, look at how much space you have available, as a smaller scale might be better in a small space, and give you a longer railway to run on. It is easier to hide things and make your railway look more realistic with a smaller scale.

However you also want to think about what you prefer to work with. If you like to paint your locomotives and carriages but you don’t have very good dexterity, then larger models might be easier for you. Children will find larger scales easier, from HO upwards, as they are harder to derail and easier to pick up and move around. Ladies tend to prefer smaller scales.

If you want to buy a wide range of accessories and landscapes, then you might prefer to go with a popular gauge. HO is generally the most popular, so would have the widest choice of availability. If you have your eye on one particular style or locomotive then you might prefer to find that first, and see which manufacturer stocks it, and in which gauges.

Integrated road bed track is durable and looks realistic, with the rails raised above the floor. However be aware that different manufacturers might not produce track that works with that of other manufacturers. If you want to expand your set later you might prefer to either get track from a very reputable company so that you know you can buy more in the future, or track that conforms to the National Model Railroad Association standards.

If you want to run a model train in your backyard, look for a version that is durable and weatherproof. Generally G scale models have more items that are made for outdoors.

What To Avoid?

Avoid getting too cheap of a power supply, as if you have a good quality power supply it should last for years.

FAQ

Can the engine make noises?

It depends on the manufacturer and the specifications. Some don’t make any noises, whereas others have whistles and special announcements.

Can you get a shock from the railway track?

You can, if you touch both rails at the same time. But it will only be a very small shock and you probably won’t feel it since it is so small.

Do model trains work on carpet?

It depends on the gauge and also the pile of the carpet. Bigger models often will work on carpet, but smaller models usually need a very short pile carpet or hard floor or board to run on.

Wrapping Up

The best model train set could be the start to an amazing journey, and to find out where it will take you, it’s important to start off with a great set.

Model trains can provide unlimited entertainment for everyone, and they’re even great for young children. A high-quality model train set can go under the tree and serve as a brilliant Christmas decoration.

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Written by Chris Crisostomo

Chris is a straight up lifelong self-described tech nerd. He's one of e-Ranker's technology and electronics experts.