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Best Train Sets

Updated July 2023
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Best of the Best
LEGO City Cargo Train
City Cargo Train
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Best for Kids
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A set from a trusted brand that lets kids build the scene and comes with remote control for moving the train.


Comes with 1,226 LEGO parts to make a tower, track, trains, crane, truck, and other vehicles. Includes LEGO people and a battery-powered remote that works with Bluetooth to control the train. For ages 6 to 12.


On the high end of the price range for a kids’ train set.

Best Bang for the Buck
SainSmart Jr. Wooden Train Set for Toddler
Jr. Wooden Train Set for Toddler
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Best for Toddlers
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A wooden toy train set for kids that is compatible with similar sets from Brio and Melissa & Doug.


Enjoy this set on its own or in combination with existing sets. This set is made of beech and birch wood, and it creates a figure-8 track with a little bridge. Little wooden people, trees, road signs, and buildings.


The tracks can break and create sharp edges. The train cars may need some help to roll smoothly.

Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer
Pennsylvania Flyer
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Most Stylish
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Detailed and authentic train set that serves as a quality starter for beginners or addition for enthusiasts.


Set includes a 4-piece train including tender, gondola, and caboose. Twenty-four track pieces made up of straight and curved options. Authentic whistle and bell. Remote control operation. Features working headlight.


A relatively small set. Batteries not included.

Lionel North Pole Central Model Train Set
North Pole Central Model Train Set
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Customer Favourite
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If you are looking for a cleverly engineered train set that is fun for kids of all ages, this is worth considering.


A new model by a top name in train sets. Features an attractive holiday theme with lots of attention to detail. Components are well-made, and the track pieces are easy to put together. Looks great around the Christmas tree.


Batteries don't last long. Some owners found the "train" sounds it makes to be annoying.

Bachmann Chattanooga Ready to Run Electric Train Set - HO Scale
Bachmann Trains
Chattanooga Ready to Run Electric Train Set - HO Scale
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Most Nostalgic
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If stepping back in time is your goal, this is the train set for you.


A comprehensive kit with buildings, people, and all the needed items to recreate the train era. The 155-piece set is ready to run almost immediately. Great price point for those who don't want to spend a lot.


A lot of pieces to keep track of and some users have trouble connecting the various train cars.

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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. About BestReviews  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.About BestReviews 

We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for Best train sets

Even if you're not an aficionado, there's just something magical about a train set. It can be rather mesmerizing watching that little engine race round and round through miniature mountains and the countryside to get back to its tiny hometown. But are you aware of the different features that could make a specific train set the ideal choice for you?

If you want something realistic looking, get a model train set in a scale you have room for – HO is the smallest while G is the largest. Electric trains are typically preferred over battery powered, especially if they will be running for long periods of time. You also want a track that is easy to set up, yet won't loosen and come apart as the train races past.

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If you wish to enhance a collector’s experience or a child’s imagination with a new train set, look for cars with lots of interior detail. Box and freight cars have unique characteristics, but ultimately, they have little interior detail and are shaped like boxes. Passenger cars and dining cars are designed with details like seats and tables to bring a sense of reality to the toy.

Model trains vs. toy trains

The first thing you should know as you embark on your shopping journey is that two types of trains exist: model trains and toy trains. There is a bit of overlap between the two, but the design and function of each is unique. Here are some standout characteristics of model and toy trains.

Model trains

  • Model trains are miniature copies of real-life trains. Accuracy is a major focus.
  • Model trains are usually built to scale to look as much like real trains as possible.
  • Model trains are favored by collectors and historical train lovers.

Toy trains

  • Toy trains are often built from cheaper materials, but because they’re meant to be played with, they tend to be more durable than model trains.
  • Toy trains are not as realistic as model trains, but they retain a basic resemblance.
  • Wooden trains and toddler pull-toys fall under this category, as do products like the Thomas and Friends line.

Age ranges

Both model and toy trains are designed for fun, but the type of fun is different. To get an idea of whether a train set is designed for collection or play, take a look at the manufacturer’s prescribed age range. For example, you'll find some themed train sets that are suitable for children aged eight and up. You'll find some toy-like train sets that should only be used by kids age 14 and up due to certain features, such as "real smoke" and delicate detailing.

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Some model trains include tiny breakable parts that could pose a choking hazard for younger kids.


At the front of every train is the engine. Just like real life, this is where the train gets its energy. Some engines run on battery power; others must be plugged into the wall.

Battery-powered engines

Battery-operated engines have a small compartment underneath where you load the batteries. To turn them on and off, you must manipulate a switch on the engine.

Electrically powered engines

Electrically powered engines run on an electric current in the track itself. The current is harmless and only activates when the metal of the engine’s wheels touches the metal of the rails. You activate them from a transformer box with a switch that plugs into a wall socket or with a remote control.

A remote-controlled train operates using the same principles as an RC car. You can control the speed of the train going both forward and backward. You also have the ability to blow the whistle and make other sound effects.


A train just isn’t a train without a full complement of cars trailing behind it. Each set comes with at least two specific types of cars, and it’s possible to purchase additional cars beyond what’s in the box. Here’s a brief list of car types you’ll encounter in the world of trains.

  • Coal car: This car is designed to look like it has a full load of coal to fuel the burner.
  • Gondola: This is an open-top storage car. It usually comes with plastic or wooden logs to give the appearance of wood storage.
  • Box car: This is a side-opening container designed to carry food or livestock.
  • Quadhopper: This car is designed like a gondola but made to carry coal.
  • Passenger/dining car: The most common structural design in this category features two rows of passenger seats with an aisle down the middle. Some have an “Orient Express” design with private cabins. The dining car usually features a single drinking bar and eating tables along the floor.
  • Tank car: This is a long, black, cylindrical car used to transport oil and other liquids.
  • Freight car: This is a side-opening container holding cargo and bigger luggage.
  • Off-center caboose: In real life, the caboose was traditionally used as a place for the train’s staff to sleep and for the storage of broken or used equipment.
"A box car with a ventilated top is designed to carry livestock."

Car materials

Once upon a time, most train sets were made of metal in order to accurately exude the look of a real train. Nowadays, plastic is the preferred material. It’s cheaper to manufacture, and it makes the trains lighter and the parts easier to replace. However, you can still find some trains that are made at least partially of die-cast metal.


The most common track designs are a circle or an oval. This simplicity allows you to easily set up the train straight out of the box.

Tracks are generally plastic, but the rails are made from one of four materials: brass, steel, zinc-coated steel, and nickel silver. Brass conducts electricity the best and is the most common.

Each track connects to the next using a T-slot formation. One piece will have two rods that stick out and fit into the T-shaped slots of the next piece. When track pieces are connected, the metal track aligns perfectly so the train runs smoothly without falling off or bumping into an off-center rail.

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Did you know?
Quadhoppers and gondolas come in various designs, but only a gondola has movable parts that can be placed in or around the car. A quadhopper, much like a coal car, has a plastic mold of “decorative” coal that’s cemented inside the car itself.

Track types

  • Straight track: This is the name given to a piece of track that forms a straight line.
  • Curved track: This is a piece of track that bends to form a curve, giving you the option to sway the train’s path in various directions.
  • Switches/crossings: These pieces are designed to integrate roads as scenery. They also serve as a point where you can change travel directions by flipping a switch.
  • Split track: Shaped like a Y, this is a piece that connects to a nearby switch track so you can control/alter the direction of the train.
  • Flex track: Made from flexible plastic and metal, these pieces can accommodate bumps in terrain much easier than straight track can.
  • Bridges: These pieces are designed to lift the train over rivers, gullies, and other deep areas. Some designs include plastic supports.

Other components

Earlier we mentioned Thomas & Friends, the beloved TV show about Thomas the train and his buddies. Indeed, this TV show (as well as the books that preceded it) have inspired many folks to get into train play and train collecting.

Who could forget the lush scenery and stations that Thomas and his friends would visit? Much like that beloved story, you can add accessories and other components to your train set to create a lush environment.

Below is a list of common items you could purchase to enhance your train set:

  • Scenery: This includes trees, shrubbery, fake bodies of water, hills, and other pieces of land.
  • Train stations: A play “train station” is a neat spot for a train to stop and take a rest.
  • Signals and signs: This includes authentic-looking railroad crossing and stop signs.
  • Lights: Some trains come with brown powerlines to feed the lampposts that light their way.
  • Buildings and figures: This includes construction workers, station attendants, conductors, passengers, and, of course, buildings.
  • Tunnels: Some mountains can’t be scaled; you must tunnel through them. What fun!
"Track pieces generally snap together and hold themselves firmly in place, but they’re also designed to pull apart easily."


The world of model trains has a lot of its own terminology. These words describe what different parts are and how they function. The list of terms is expansive, but here are some of the most common.

  • Cab: This is the cabin where the conductor handles the engine.
  • Backdrop: This scenic picture is used to create an image of the train in a specific location.
  • Combine: This is a passenger car that serves more than one purpose, such as holding postal bags and carrying passengers.
  • Fine scale: In this type of train design, modelers tighten up the standard designs to be even more accurate.
  • Coupler: This term refers to the hardware used to join trains and cars together.
  • Kitbash: This is a practice in which designers alter parts of a set to create a unique car or structure.
  • Points: These are the movable rails of a turnout or switch.
  • Scale: This refers to the ratio of the size of a model train to the size of a real-life train.
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Expert Tip
You can purchase additional tracks to expand your collection. The more tracks you own, the more different paths your train can take.

Train scales

Each train set falls under a specific design lettering which primarily defines its size but is also used to classify the purpose of the set. These three happen to be the ones most frequently used by manufacturers.

  • HO scale: This is the most commonly used scale. By definition, it’s a reduction in size (the scale per inch compared to a real train) of 1:87.1.
  • O scale: The O scale employs a reduction size of 1:48. 
  • G scale: The G scale has a reduction size of 1:22.5, but more importantly, the design is suited to being outdoors and withstanding the elements.

Attention to detail

Die-hard train collectors tend to pay attention to fine details. It’s one thing to say your model looks kind of like the Union Pacific engine; it’s another to say your model looks precisely like the Union Pacific.

If you’re interested in trains with realistic details, there are some areas you should check to make sure what you’re purchasing looks, sounds, and acts like the genuine article. For example, you might want to pay close attention to the following.

  • The sounds of the car, bell, whistle, and wheels
  • The amount of smoke that comes out of engines with a smokestack
  • The headlights (do they work?) as well as the caution lights on the side
  • Logos and decals from companies operating at the time of service
  • The paint scheme, branding, and numbering on the train
  • The shape and design of the cow catcher
"It’s possible to glue track pieces together. However, without solvent, you wouldn’t be able to reconfigure the tracks later."

Setting up

Most train sets are fairly easy to set up straight out of the box. Here’s a summary of the general guidelines offered by most manufacturers.

  • Unpack everything.
  • Lay down the track in the design you wish. Keep in mind that the tracks need to connect from start to finish.
  • Load the batteries (if needed) into the engine.
  • Connect the power box or transformer to the track as indicated. Keep the switch in the “off” position as you plug it in.
  • Place the engine on the track first. Then, connect the remaining cars in the order you wish them to follow.
  • Turn on your train and play.

Train set prices

Price is one of the hardest things to gauge when it comes to a train set because companies put different values on different aspects.

However, we can apply a general segmentation of the pricing into 2 sections — around $75 and around $100.

Around $75

You'll find some great choices for kids in this price range, including character sets and trains that emit "real" smoke and/or run with the help of a remote control.

Around $100

You'll find more detail-oriented train sets in this price range. You're also more likely to find train sets from highly respected manufacturers here. Keep in mind that it may be easier to buy additional pieces and accessories down the line if your original train set hails from a well-known maker.

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Once upon a time, every major city was connected by the railway. For an exciting life-like display, have your train pull into a town populated by buildings and figures.


Q. How can I change the shape of my track?

A. The easy answer is to experiment and get creative. But if you don’t quite know where to start, there are dozens of online guides that can show you different shapes to make with what you have.

Q. My train set has plastic rods. What are these?

A. These accessories are called track clips. They’re an optional addition that helps ensure the tracks don’t slip apart after frequent use.

Q. Can I mix and match train sets?

A. Only if they’re from the same company. Train manufacturers don’t generally allow you to mix and match brands. Your particular model probably wouldn’t work with a different brand.

Q. How can I get mountains and other massive pieces of scenery?

A. You can either purchase pre-made models from a hobby store or research online DIY guides that will show you how to make them.