How to Choose a Model Train Set

How to Choose a Model Train Set

Most people get started with the model railroading hobby by receiving a train set as a gift for their birthday or Christmas. While choosing a model train set can be difficult, many of the train sets do not include high end components, so you get everything you need to start in one box and you know it will all work together.

When first starting into the hobby (or picking a set as a gift for someone else), you need to decide on a scale to buy. The scale models that are available are N, O, HO, and G. There are others, but, trying to find accessories for the T and Z scale models may be difficult.  The most popular size is the HO scale model. Once you have made your decision on which scale to choose, there are some other things you will need to consider:

  • Do you want a steam or diesel locomotive?
  • Do you want the train to consist of passenger or freight cars? Here is a tip: Children seem to enjoy freight train cars as they appear more varied in styles then passenger cars.
  • What railroad name do you want? Many like to model trains they see in real life. It is common to select a railroad that runs in their area. If you live in an area where there are none, than you will need to choose one from the many options available.

Specific Things to Consider

If you selected an HO Scale set, you should consider the coupler style that is included. Couplers are the parts that actually connect, or couple, the cars together. Some of Life-Like's standard sets come with horn-hook style couplers, but they are transitioning to knuckle-couplers. Some of their newer sets do come with knuckle-couplers. Most other sets (Athearn, Atlas, Bachmann, and Walthers) now come with the more standard knuckle style. Please keep in mind that you can change couplers if needed. The plus side of the standard Life-Like sets is that they tend to come with more accessories, which appeals to children.

Most beginner sets come with steel track. The better sets, including Athearn, Atlas, Bachmann's Spectrum series, and Walthers sets come with the better Nickel-Silver (NS) track. Nickel-Silver does not rust and therefore requires less maintenance. The bottom line here is that it may cost you more but in the end you will be saving money on the maintenance costs later.

Many sets come with Bachmann EZ Track, which can be easily expanded by purchasing additional track. Life-Like sets can be expanded using their Power Loc track. Some Walthers sets come with Atlas code 100 tracks. Read the train set descriptions for information on the type of track that is included in the package.


How to choose a model train set is very important. Once a set is selected, it will be difficult for you to change later to a different one. However, you can change to a different scale model at the cost of starting over. Model railroading is helpful to the extent that it gets the individual to learn about railroading and its history. This is true when you begin to add scenery to your layout. You may have to do a lot of reading in books, going to library, or surfing on the internet, to learn more about the railroad you selected for your layout.

Modeling railroading helps develop your child's skills, imagination and in other areas which will help him/her as they grow older. Go back to the home page.