The 10 Best Train Sets

Updated November 30, 2017 by Chase Brush

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We spent 42 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top options for this wiki. There is a very good reason why train sets have been a staple in the toy boxes of children around the world for generations. They are fascinating to play with, inspire imaginative games and tend to keep young minds occupied for years before they move on to toys for older kids. Check out our selection to find the perfect gift for your youngster. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best train set on Amazon.

10. Pennsylvania Flyer Ready To Play

9. Mota Classic Toy Train

8. Lego Duplo My First Train Set

7. Lionel Trains Mickey Mouse Disney

6. Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden Railway

5. Bachmann Trains Thoroughbred

4. WolVol Big Train Tracks

3. Lionel Polar Express Remote

2. KidKraft Waterfall Mountain

1. Bachmann Rail Chief Ready To Run

Choo-Choo Choosing A Great Train Set

Miniature train sets (much like their full-sized, real world counterparts) have an almost universal appeal. The right train set can amuse an adult modeling and engineering enthusiast for hours on end just as a toy train set can envelop a child in a whole afternoon of engaged, imaginative play. Whether you appreciate a train set that is designed to resemble a scaled down version of a real locomotive and cars in every minute detail, or if you just want to find a great, wholesome activity your kids can enjoy when it's cold or rainy outside, you can surely find the right set to match your needs and budget.

And regardless of whether you are an appreciator of fine model trains or you're in the market for a kid's toy train set, budget is a good place to start your research. You can easily spend hundreds of dollars on a top-of-the-line adult train set, or you can get a fine, realistic looking set for closer to fifty dollars. As for toy trains, you can get a huge play set complete with tracks, a table, and accessories for well over a hundred dollars, or you can acquire a more basic but still enjoyable toy for around around thirty.

One of the more common uses for an adult's train set is as a decoration that circles the Christmas tree. If you are looking for a train that will serve in this purpose, make sure you first measure the approximate circumference of your tree stand and tree skirt. Then, compare that size to the perimeter of the track that your set can create. If you are considering a train set that uses a common track gauge (often called track scale as well), then acquiring additional track should be easy, but confirm that before you commit to a set. It's also important you confirm that any trains and tracks you already own are of the same gauge/scale of a new train, if you hope to merge the sets.

When buying a children's toy train set, make sure you know where the child will play with the trains (if possible) and take his or her age, coordination, and temperament into consideration. Some sets come complete with their own table and can be easily enjoyed on any surface; others can prove frustrating to use on carpets or uneven floors, or simply when used by younger hands with poor fine motor skills. For the toddler or pre-school aged child, train set with tracks that firmly click together and stay in place is a good choice. For slightly older children, or if playtime often involves an adult on hand to facilitate construction and "repairs," then almost any train set will serve a child fine.

Note that several children's brands of toy train use the same wooden track size. You can use trains and tracks from the celebrated companies Brio and Melissa & Doug interchangeably, so don't worry if your kids already have a few pieces from one company when considering another brand.

Ideal Accessories For Your Train Set

Perhaps the best accessory you can get for a train set is simply additional sections of track. The more track you have, the larger and more elaborate routes you can craft for your trains. Once you have lots of track, you need a place to create your rail yard and to lay out the rails for the train's journey. A tried and true option is a single sheet of plywood supported on a pair (or set of four) solid sawhorses.

To create an instant and easy replaceable feel of either a rural or urban setting, cover the plywood in either a green or a gray sheet. (Or use a white sheet for the appearance of snow.) Natural rocks can create the feel and appearance of mountains and hills, and artificial geological and flora features are available in abundance from hobby shops or online retailers. Another natural accessory widely available in many parts of the country is moss, which tends to stay green long after it is plucked from the ground and placed near your trains. Also look for railroad crossing signs and signals that often feature actual working lights.

For the children's set, or for the playful adult modeling enthusiast, building block sets such as those offered by LEGO can make the ideal accompaniment to your trains. Not only are there many pre-fabricated LEGO sets that look great with trains (such as their City Builder series or their Wild West themed sets), but you can also use LEGO bricks, Lincoln Logs, or a host of other building toys to create your own structures from scratch.

The History Of The Model Train

Many diehard train set enthusiasts will take umbrage with the term "toy trains," instead insisting that these items should be referred to as "model trains" exclusively. And indeed there is an argument to be made there when discussing the finest, most detailed train sets available. For when well designed and built, a miniature train set is almost indistinguishable from a full sized train, save for the fact that it is at a 1:76.2 size ration, to name one common scale example.

As the first working locomotive driven train was not invented until the year 1804, and as a practical train was not in service until 1812, it will of course come as no surprise that model train sets have existed for less than two centuries. It only took two decades following the first use of trains and railroads for craftsman to begin creating model trains, though.

German toymakers began producing simple toy trains in the 1830s. These first little trains were usually made out of solid brass or tin that was melted and poured into molds. Wooden wheels were sometimes attached and many models had simple moving parts, though at the time model tracks had yet to be developed.

One popular early toy train was the Birmingham Dribbler, a toy train with a tiny functioning boiler that was heated by a small onboard burner and that could actually roll forward under its own power.

The first electric train was released in 1897 and soon these ever more elaborate sets were sprawled out across living rooms floors and in garaged all around America and around the world.


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Last updated on November 30, 2017 by Chase Brush

Chase is a freelance journalist with experience working in the areas of politics and public policy. Currently based in Brooklyn, NY, he is also a hopeless itinerant continually awaiting his next Great Escape.


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