What to Consider When Buying Model Trains

Model trains constructed by hobbyists who have been designing model train sets for decades are breathtaking. Some of these model train sets are so lifelike that you may mistake the diorama’s train riders for real people.

If you want to become one of the top model train designers or builders, you may need years of experience and practice. If you are a newcomer to the hobby, you should focus on the fundamentals for the time being. To obtain the best model train set as a beginner, you must comprehend the various aspects and characteristics of model trains. Consider the following factors when purchasing your first model train.



model train enthusiasts

Model trains can range in price from 55 dollars for a used electric-powered train to several thousand dollars for a genuine steam-powered garden train. It depends on the scale, quality, and features of the model trains.

Consider the following factors when determining the cost of model trains:

Size. The model train will be more expensive the larger it is.

Detail. A model train of higher quality will cost more than one with fewer details.

Features. A model train with more features will be more expensive than one with fewer.

When beginning from scratch, a train set may be the most affordable option. Set in mind the budget you have for your model train to avoid overspending and getting your money’s worth. 

A model train set consists of the model train, model rolling stock, the necessary track, and the controller. A model train set is an excellent way to get started and typically offers an excellent price. 

A typical Hornby model train set costs between $80 and $220 and is based on the Hornby Railroad specification. Bachmann model train sets cost approximately $300.


black model train

Scales are ratios or percentages used to proportionally measure models to their real-world counterparts.

HO scale is by far the most popular scale for model trains in the United States and Canada. The 1:87.1 HO scale ratio. HO scale modelers typically have the largest selection of rolling stock, locomotives, and buildings. For a simple and satisfying display, or layout, many modelers begin with this model train scale’s equipment and a flat sheet of plywood.

The HO trains, which are 16.51 mm wide and 12.95 mm tall and represent US standard gauge trains, are a representation of standard gauge trains. HO scale models are half the size of O scale trains, which were once the most popular type of model railroad. Because 16.5mm Gauge is identical to OO Gauge, HO Scale models can utilize the same track as 4mm scale models. However, because 4mm scale models are slightly larger than HO scale models, HO scale accessories will appear too small.

N scale is the second most popular scale in North America, after HO. At a ratio of 1:160, N scale is roughly half the size of HO scale. N scale layouts are typically more intricate and occupy smaller spaces than HO scale layouts. Or, they can use large spaces, such as garages or basements, to create lifelike, yet miniature N scale empires.

O scale, with a ratio of 1:48, is another common scale. It was one of the original model train scales and was utilized by historic toy train manufacturers, such as Lionel, from the late 1800s to the present. Many toy trains are O-gauge, which indicates they can operate on O-scale tracks, but they are not typically true scale models. Modelers with expansive spaces may use O scale to create intricate and regal scenes. Frequently, narrow-gauge (On30) versions are used to model industries such as logging railroads.

G Scale is 1:22.5 and utilizes a 1.75-inch gauge. This is the largest scale available, making it suitable for use in your garden and large indoor areas. G Scale model trains are also great toys for younger children due to their durability and sturdiness. USA Trains, Bachmann, and Lionel Large Scale are among the well-known manufacturers.

S Scale model trains, also known as American Flyer, have a gauge of 0.88 inches and a scale ratio of 1:64. The S Gauge trains are of superior quality, with intricate details proportional to actual trains. Our hobby train store has one of the nation’s largest selections of “S” Gauge trains.

Z scale is typically the smallest model train scale commercially available. This scale is 1:220, which is 220 times smaller than life-size objects. Z scale layouts are uncommon and are frequently displayed in suitcases or other everyday objects at shows and conventions to emphasize the scale’s extreme diminutiveness.

OO gauge is the most common model train gauge. The track gauge for OO is 16.5mm, and the scale is 1:76.2 or 4mm per foot. OO gauge represents the full-size Standard gauge prototype. Due to the confusion between scale and gauge, OO gauge is occasionally referred to incorrectly as OO scale. The dimensions of OO gauge track vary based on the length of the track unit or the radius of the curve, but the gauge remains constant.

Power Source

model train cars

AC, DC, and DCC are the power source used for model trains. The propulsion of model trains falls into one of three categories. AC is the preferred power source for the majority of O Gauge three-rail trains and some two-rail systems in smaller scales. The outer rails in three-rail systems are both grounded, while the middle rail is “hot.”

Previously, model train sets typically included a basic power pack. Typically, these transformers provide sufficient power for a train and a few accessories. One can control the train’s speed and direction. However, the speed control is frequently inaccurate.

Currently, we have comparatively more options. The majority of high-end model train sets include a more powerful and dependable power supply from an electrical grid. For example, a basic power supply includes the most basic sets which has a radio control with multiple sound controls. The benefit of a superior power supply is its ability to operate reliably for years and to support larger layouts. With conventional control, they will continue to operate only one train at a time.

Similar to O Gauge DCS system, offers a comparable system in O Gauge. DCS provides command control similar to DCC, but it is only compatible with MTH locomotives. The majority of two-rail systems use direct current (DC). One rail has a positive charge, while the other has a negative charge. The polarities can be reversed to alter the train’s direction.

Digital command control systems (DCC) utilize digital information to regulate the train’s electrical power. Less often, DCC is included in starter sets, but some do have it. Impulses sent along the rails control trains, and most control systems use a constant source of AC power. Even though these systems still need a power supply, it only needs to keep the rail voltage constant.

Other Things to Consider

model train with miniature crowd

There are so many different model trains on the market that it can be difficult to determine whether you are purchasing a high-quality model or a cheap imitation. With proper care, a quality model will last for years, if not generations, and can form the basis of a lifetime hobby. But if you’ve never looked for a model train before, distinguishing between the two can be quite difficult. Model trains are chosen based on the quality of their tracks, power supply, wheels, and couplers, as well as their scale. While some stores are more likely to sell high-quality hobbyist supplies, others are more likely to sell toys.

Typically, a poorly performing model train is a sign that it requires a service and cleaning. However, if your locos run fine but lack the power to climb an incline or to pull the number of wagons and coaches you desire, there is another option you can try. Investing in quality locomotives is well worth the cost; even if the other cars are subpar, locomotives are the most important – quality trumps quantity.

Frequently, the best way to ensure you are purchasing a high-quality set is to go to the proper location. A hobby shop that specializes in trains is significantly more likely to have a selection of dependable products than department or discount stores that only sell trains during the holiday season. Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule, and there are also numerous good sets available online.

When you buy from a local store, you will be able to discuss the purchase with a knowledgeable employee, see additional items to expand the set, and develop a rapport with someone who can provide guidance if something goes wrong in the future.

When choosing model trains, make sure replacement parts are easy to find in case you need to fix something. It would be a waste of resources to dispose of an entire model train because some components cannot be replaced.

In conclusion

Creating a model train layout is a “family-friendly” hobby because everyone can take part and contribute. Not only have they moved away from television, but model trains have also proven to be quite educational. Building a model train will give knowledge of railroading history, basic carpentry, electrical and artistic skills, as well as engineering and problem-solving techniques. But, as with the majority of things in life, you only truly learn when you begin applying what you have learned. Visiting model train shows and conversing with other railroaders will also provide additional inspiration.