The article was updated in October 2023 with the latest information and new train sets for the first train models for 2023.
What is a model railway?
If you are on this site, chances are you already have a global view of the available train models and model trains. But for the uninitiated these are reduced and realistic versions of real trains, for which amateurs build detailed tracks.
Then why are they doing this? It’s the same reason as any other hobby. That feels good!
People have different reasons to get carried away by the railway model; some like it because they are railway or locomotive enthusiasts. Others fall for the structural aspect and enjoy creating fantastic dioramas. And others get involved in this social aspect when they meet like-minded people, brag about their locomotives and become part of the group.
Train models come in all shapes, sizes, brands and styles. So it is a very good hobby, because there are so many possibilities. There are also models that cost $20 and models that cost $1,200, so it’s a user-friendly model for beginners, advanced and advanced! Although money does not determine the skill level, this is true for model trains: The more you pay, the more details you get. For a beginner, $100 to $200 is kind of a starting price!
Would you like to proceed directly to the purchase? Check out our best guide to model railways!
What is the history of model railways?
The first model trains existed since the 1840s, with the invention of the carpet train. So model trains last longer than anyone else! They were primitive brass rails that ran in pairs and had no tracks to run over. They only walked on the carpet or the floor, hence their name.
In 1891, the Marklin company brought the first version of a series of trains into circulation, which can be considered exemplary from today. There was a set of tracks, several locomotives, as well as accessories like tunnels and buildings to be erected, everything was ready for use.
And it wasn’t until the 1920s that modelling became a real hobby for everyone, not just rich enthusiasts. It was also at this time that most manufacturers switched from steam trains to electric trains.
Over the next 100 years, model rail transport will be further improved through the introduction of improved production methods. And as various companies grew and declined, so did the arrival of certain scales and sensors throughout the industry, until you see what we have today.
In recent years new standards have been set again and again, for example for large G-format locomotives and small N or Z-format trains, but HO and O-format trains remain the most important standards.
What are the general dimensions and dimensions of model railways?
Measuring and scaling instruments are an industrial method to determine the size of model railways and model tracks. There is still a slight incompatibility between British and American models, so always double check with the company you are buying from.
The scale is normally defined as a number comparable to 1:87 for trains on the HO scale or 1:22.5 for trains on the G scale.
But what does that actually mean?
Well, 1 is a normal-sized train, and the second number, like 87, means it’s 87 times smaller.
So in the case of the N 1:160 scale it is a tiny train because it is 160 times smaller than a normal size locomotive. That means they’re as big as your finger! While the G-scale trains, which are only 22 times smaller, are considered garden trains because they are generally too large to be used indoors.
What kind of fucking caliber are you asking?
The track gauge is a nice gauge for the track gauge of a train. For example, trains on the scale of 1:87 HO generally run on a track gauge of 1.75 inches. Some companies and railway production are slightly different and will be reflected in their specifications. A good example of this are trains that follow a tight loop to reflect their true brothers. While O-trains run on 1:48 and 1.25 inch track, narrow gauge O-trains still run on 1:48 track, but on about half of the track, which means they normally run on O track.
Would you like to know more about the different sizes? View our model train models Posts explained! Or, if you’re a rookie, take a look at our best intern on the ladder.
How do model railways work?
How do model trains work exactly? Well, again, it’s very simple and very complicated. Most of today’s model trains are powered by electricity. In an electric train, for example, a drive unit is attached to the rails, which sends a negative or positive number of amplifiers or current to the train. From there the locomotive of the train interprets it and moves it forwards or backwards and can adjust the speed to the number of amplifiers it receives.
It’s a simple version! So all you need to know is the length of the rails, the trains and the powertrain to move around.
From there you can get really complex, especially with DCC’s train control systems that make it possible to get more input data. You can drive forwards and backwards, start multiple trains, accelerate or slow down, signal or whistle and operate each light.
Other trains run with things like steam that run like a real train. The wires add fuel as special stones that burn and heat the engine. It produces the steam that keeps the engine running. The trick is to keep the temperature constant. It’s too cold and slow moving, too hot, and you could damage the engine!
What are the different types of model railways?
There are different categories of model trains, which we have already mentioned.
The types of trains differ from each other, the type of fuel used, the model of the train and the way they arrive.
- We have already covered the scales above, but all your model trains will be delivered in one of these scales. The HO and O scales are the most popular, so they are an excellent starting point, but this of course depends on the available space.
- The fuel or power that runs through your train also varies. Nowadays most trains are electrified for their ease of use and are better suited for newcomers. Next in line for popularity: Live trains. They use heat to generate steam, which then uses this pressure to drive the wheels and move the train forward. They can be a bit tricky and are best reserved for advanced and advanced amateurs.
Other, slightly more eclectic types are internal combustion engines that use petrol to simulate diesel trains. And the first trains were equipped with a clock mechanism. The movement of the wind using gears and levers would drive the model train and would be picked up from model train enthusiasts.
- There are hundreds of different train models, and there is now a market where you can choose what you want. Whether you’re looking for the classic American Amtrack passenger trains you use every day to get to work, old school British locomotives or Australian-style freight trains, you’ll find almost anything, no matter the scale. It is clear that the more popular the scale is, the more models there are, so CU and O will have a wider range than all the others.
- Finally, your model train usually arrives in one of two ways. Finished models arrive in a box and can be sent to the track within minutes. This is how most model trains are presented, and this is the preferred method. For those who like difficult tasks, you can also buy kits or scratch models, which means you have to assemble the train yourself before it works. Some people like this challenge, but it is certainly a more advanced and longer alternative. So you know what you’re getting into!
What are the best brands of model railways?
There are many excellent brands of model trains, some do everything, others are specialized. There are also brands that are cheap, and others that cost you your kidney. It all depends on the passion with which you practice your hobby and your disposable income. (Of course it also depends on the size and model of the train you want to buy, the manufacturer). Here are some of the most popular:
- Atlas: Atlas Model Railroad Co. is one of the oldest and best-known companies in the industry. Their inventions have helped to facilitate railway modelling and promote this hobby. At this moment the HO, O, N and Z gauge trains are offered in different details; Master, Classic and Trainman, which all differ in price, detail and complexity. They also offer ready-made accessories such as buildings, cars and other stickers.
- Lionel: This brand is the largest manufacturer in the world. They represent about 60% of all O-trains produced and sold per year! They offer some of the nicest and most detailed trains and kits in the industry, but it also makes them a bit more expensive than others, but if you can afford it, it’s worth it!
- Hornby: The British company Hornby Railways began operations in 1901 and today produces almost everything you need to build a model railway and much more. They offer locomotives in electric, steam and diesel versions, in various sizes and of all types, from buildings to railway accessories to tunnels and bridges. They’ll have a hard time finding out what they’re not producing!
- Bachmann: Bachmann is one of the oldest train manufacturers in the world. Founded in Philadelphia in 1833, they are today the largest seller of model trains in terms of volume. They mainly produce HO and O gauge trains and some others. They simulate almost all popular trains that have been built, so it’s a good start if you have a hobby.
There are lots of other surprisingly different brands like Peco, Athearn and Kato, so you don’t feel like you have to stick with a particular brand. Some of them are amazing in the production of G-format trains (such as LGB trains), while others are excellent in the production of HO or N-format trains. As long as you build on the same scale, your locomotive models will work under any brand from which you buy them.
Follow this link to find out more about the best train models of the brand! Or read our best train guide 2023!
How to start with therailway model
So now you’ve got a good idea about model trains and you’re ready to dive in, right? You still don’t know where to start? Here’s a little list:
- Find the right place to design your model railway. Usually this is a place in your house, basement or garage that you can leave open for a certain period of time.
- Use this knowledge to determine the size you want to build. In your garden, think of a plan with a G scale. If you have 6 × 4 feet, don’t forget the HO scale, because it is the most popular and you have space. There is only one coffee table size, with N or Z you can get the most punch.
- Then think about what you’d like to see. It’s a matter of knowing which trains you want to run, in which year, which landscapes you want to use, etc.
- Go buy everything now! If you’re still not 100% sure what you want, try visiting a local hobby shop and chat. They are always very helpful and have seen it all before. If you know what you want, try Amazon or that specific brand’s website.
- And finally, start building! That’s the fun part. There is nothing to add for this step, as the layout will be different for each person. If you are a beginner, accept the small mistakes you make earlier, because you will only get better. And if you don’t know how to do something specific, Google, YouTube and the forums are your best friends!
What voltage is normally applied on model railways?
When driving an electric train, the most common installation is to connect two wires to your track. Reproduction of current from a wire and track to the train and back to the other side to form a loop.
The voltage varies slightly depending on the scale and model, so it is best to check the specifications of each train before you start. On average, bowls like O and G revolve around 18 V, while small ones like N and Z revolve around 12 V. If you run multiple trains with the DCC train control set, most people will tell you to use about 22-25V to make sure everything works properly.
What does CDC stand for?
DCC stands for Digital Command Control. If laying two wires on a track is considered an analog method, this is the digital version. It’s even in the title!
The DCC train control kit is located between your power supply unit and the track and sends signals to small decoders or brains of each train. These decoders interpret the digital message and force the train to do the right things, such as accelerating, decelerating, braking, reversing, beeping or whistling and even switching the lights on or off. This is a big difference with a simple switch, like with the analog method. The only problem with DCC devices is that they can be quite expensive and quite fast, so it is best to wait until you are past the beginner stage.
Read our article if you want to know how to set up your own DCC train control!
What are good train models for small spaces?
Here are our top 3 choices for a model railway for small spaces. They are all designed with SCARM (Simple Computer Aided Railroad Modeller). This is a kind of industry standard programmer who can input your own tracks and create a layout. This means that if you have pieces of Bahman and Kato rails, you can make exactly one model of those pieces.
For these 3 small shots they are all about 2×1 meter or 6×3 feet, which should be small enough for your research or a little space.
- The super clean oval shape is something you can’t go wrong. The central bifurcation section allows multiple trains to run on the same line and gives you the space to keep an eye on things while you do the rest. A perfect layout for beginners.
- This is essentially the same track as above, but an intermediate version. It is still in its oval shape, but it has more loops and different curves for an interesting experience. This certainly works well if you still have a few parts of the track lying around and are ready to move on!
- This is probably the most complicated of all the small layouts that we have here, and it has a more advanced version, again compared to the previous one. This line extends over two main lines, has two stations and a central station for the storage of trains.
What are good train attendants for large halls?
The same rules as above apply to our major developments, although in this case we have defined our 3 major developments as something larger than 2×1 meter or 6×3 feet and probably requires our own basement or garage.
- This L-shaped hinge is a good layout for beginners on a long journey. It allows two or more trains to move around the hinge at the same time without getting stuck at the right time, and a yard in the middle for easy storage when the train is not moving. A large area means a lot of landscape possibilities in this painting.
- More complex, this double L loop is an intermediate version of the loop above. A larger yard and more lanes means that you already have several sets and want something more and better. It will be! The two main lines and the two loops make it possible to run several locomotives at the same time if you wish.
- The advanced version n°2 is another L-track with interesting hinges, simply because there are crossings you have to watch out for when driving more than one train. The beauty of the L-track, as it will be in the future, if you want to expand, you can easily mark the empty space down there and fill it with your own loop or in the yard!
Where is the best place to buy railroad models and accessories?
There are amazing places where you can buy model railways and their accessories. Physically, you should always start with your local hobby shop. Not only are they rich in information about many tasks, but it wouldn’t hurt to support people on the spot! It also means you can see the train in person before you buy it if you’re not sure what you want exactly. Other good shopping opportunities arise at local gatherings or events. People often go there to show off their collections, and there are often trains that collect the dust they want to unload.
There are many great shops on the internet, the biggest and best of which is Amazon. Most major brands are sold by Amazon, so it’s a good way to check everything on one site without having a million sites open.
If you know exactly what you need, you can always visit the websites of these brands to see what they have to offer.
Even online you should definitely take a look at websites like Ebay.com. Not only do they hold auctions, but they also have stores that sell through their website and are often more competitive than Amazon.
Where should train number one start?
So this issue can be a bit complicated again, depending on what people want. This can involve different scales, themes and train preferences. Just enough room for the N-meter and only like British trains, well, your first set shouldn’t be the G-meter of an American freight train, even if it’s good for beginners. If you don’t like your first experience with a locomotive, you probably won’t devote yourself to a hobby and never see how good it really is!
But what if you don’t know what you want? You just know you want a model railroad. Well, here’s our choice!
Bahman Trains – Head of the Rail Transport Department, ready for the commissioning of 130 electric trains – HO scale
- A series of 130 freight trains is ready to go.
- Working on an EMD GP40 diesel locomotive with running lights.
- Copy that: Four-seater outdoor filling wagon, gondola, steel refrigerator, offset cupola, signal bridge, miniature figures, railway signs, road signs and telephone poles
- 47 x 38 E-Z-rail oval with lock, power supply and cruise control
- scale 1:87
Why do you ask?
Well, Bachmann is the leading brand in the industry. As we’ve said, they’re the biggest model train manufacturer in the world, so they know how to do it.
This set is also the most popular HO scale, which means you can easily and inexpensively find any type of accessory.
The Bachmann Rail Chief Kit contains everything you need for your initial installation. It comes with 5 different cars and a range of different accessories:
- EMD GP40 diesel locomotive (with working lights)
- External four-person bunker
- Steel fridge
- quirky galley
- Straight and curved tracks
- Power supplies, a quick stop coil and connectors for everything.
- There is also a road bridge, 36 people, 24 telephone poles and 48 railway and traffic signs.
Because it’s so complex, you can really get a good idea of how the model train will feel in your environment, and it’s the perfect platform for future growth and expansion!
The only real advantage of this kit is that it is slightly cheaper. You may need to make a small hole in some plastic gaskets to make it look smooth. Unfortunately it is only a byproduct of a cheaper form and can easily be repaired with a nail file or scalpel.
You want a train, but not this one? More information can be found here in our guide to the best train models for 2023.
How do you build these mountains, bridges and cool landscapes?
So there is nothing better than a complete adaptation of the model railway network. That is, until you want to make your layout more complex, cooler and more attractive. Details of the landscape, such as bridges and tunnels, appear there.
You can buy both tunnels and bridges, which is probably advisable for beginners instead of trying to scratch them yourself! At least you know that the bridge you bought from a famous brand doesn’t break in two when your train crosses it!
In both cases, in order to be able to work, it contains some landscapes and sculptures. Most developments use hard foam or polystyrene to create the floor. They are easy to cut, and after a bit of Parisian plaster you can paint them to look like stones, or sprinkle them with grass or mud!
The first thing you have to do is roughly determine where you want to go with a tunnel or a bridge. It’s always a good step in your original layout ideas, but if you only think about it now, you might have to move some things around.
Then buy the model that is the most economical/suitable size/nearst to your needs! From there, cut the ground in front of your bridge or add moss to the top of the tunnel and continue the landscape from there.
It’s not much different than building mountains, valleys or rivers on your stage. All you have to think about is making sure that your train has enough space to go through a tunnel and that the tracks on your bridge are aligned with the rest of your train!
What are the common definitions of railways?
So there are tons of different words you might not know when you start your model railway journey and we would be here forever if we were to delete them all. But here’s a collection of some of the most popular ones you need to know first:
- Code: The height of the tracks to one thousandth of an inch – code 70 will be 0.70 inches, etc..
- All-in-one job: The track, which includes the carriageway and the ballast. So it’s a whole thing, say.
- Fractional Channel: Pieces of a short, straight path. Same as the All-in-One with no track and no ballast.
- becomes: Holes are sometimes referred to as switches because they are the part that goes from one track to another. They are usually called switches because the switch is also used by electricians to prevent confusion.
- Flexitrak: Flexitrak is exactly what it looks like. It is almost like a strip that can be stacked or folded, similar to a part of the track, but of course flexible.
- Ballast: Gravel is all the stone or gravel you see between the tracks.
- Blocking: Units are electrically isolated sections of track that are often used to drive a train. Sometimes they make them break or turn around or something else that doesn’t interfere with the main line.
- Intersection: You have to know him in your daily life. These are the pieces of road that cross the road with another piece of road.
- Glove track: These are overlapping rails that have the same track and are used to run the train through something narrower, such as a bridge, a tunnel or a valley.
- Platform: This is an accumulation of dirt under the tracks to keep them above the ground.
- Yard: The marshalling yard is a place with many different track ends where you can store and sort all your trains.
What are the common definitions of train models?
As with railway definitions, there are hundreds of different words and definitions.
- Cabos: A caboose is a wagon, usually in the back of a train, in which all the train crew is located. They are sometimes called prams, sedans, trams and many other names.
- Classification lights: It’s the lights at the front of the train that tell you what kind of train it is. White means an extra train on the track, and green means another part of the train. There are many different color codes, so take your time to search them if you want to be super accurate!
- Clutch: This is the part that connects the different trains, wagons and locomotives.
- Dead head: Usually it is a passenger coach that is attached to the train, but runs empty.
- Trolley with headpiece: Mail, luggage and express cars pass in front of the car.
- Assistant: Aids are locomotives that are added to the train to help him climb a rank.
- Points: Weighted locomotive with traction motors that give the locomotive extra traction in case of a slip.
- Throttle valve: It is a control unit that controls the speed and direction of a train.
- Unit of measurement: A block is only a locomotive (usually a diesel locomotive).
How fast should I install the layout?
It’s a very personal preference. The good thing about model railways is that you have the situation under control and that you can do whatever you want! But that doesn’t answer your question.
So what’s the design scheme for your model railway?
Well, the general rule is to make it a neutral, slightly modern or completely thematic course, as in the Wild West of the 1800s.
Then why a more modern layout? Well, a lot of old trains are still running, and they don’t look out of place. So for a 50s or 60s train decorated in the 80s, 90s or 00s, the buildings and accessories will look great. But if you’re trying to run a modern Amtrack freight train in the British 1920s, it will stand out like a sore thumb!
So don’t forget that old trains can run in the new area, but not the other way around. Unless you’re trying to recreate the Doc Brownes Back to the Future train in the Wild West!
If you make a thematic classification, like the Wild West in the 19th century, you can make a thematic classification. Whether it’s the 19th century route or the route of a British train from World War I, every detail has to be right to connect everything together. Of course it is much more work and can be more expensive, depending on the quality of the niche, but they are really great.
In this area it is up to you, although we recommend a neutral setup for beginners. This way you can have the feeling that you are in different trains, such as freight or passenger cars, and even in locomotives of different nationalities, without having to look too far.
How to clean and maintain your trains
The maintenance of train models is a fairly important part of model ownership, and it is a very important part. Fortunately, it is often not difficult if you do it half regularly! There are many ways to clean locomotives and rolling stock because there are many moving parts.
- Your wheels will be one of the dirtiest parts of the whole. If over time dust gets on your model railway and your locomotive runs over it, it piles up in dirt and dust.
To clean, take a towel, moisten it with isopropyl alcohol and place it on part of the walkway. Then just hold it tight and roll the train over if it looks like you’re going to push it on the rails. The alcohol will stick to the dirt and they will be clean in no time!
- Fix those tracks! Just like on the rail, dirt and debris accumulates over time between the connections of the rail components. This can make your trains dirty and at worst confusing.
The solution is simple: take a pair of pliers and pull out all that dirt and mud. If the tops of your splints are slightly worn, you can use cotton swabs or cotton swabs soaked in isopropyl alcohol to let them slide over the top.
- Your locomotives, cabins and units also need regular maintenance. Hornby recommends lubrication every 100 hours or about every 6 months. Although, if he makes louder noise than usual, oil at will. Just take as much oil or grease as possible (make sure it’s for engines and moving parts) and apply it to wheels and gears, provided it works properly and makes little or no noise.
- Other types of services can be found in your layout, and for some things you will need to search the forums to find someone with a similar problem. Things like falling static grass or moving parts are easy to repair with common sense, but for a strange whistle from your expensive locomotive that you can’t get past quickly a trip to a local hobby shop is necessary!
- Your wheels will be one of the dirtiest parts of the whole. If over time dust gets on your model railway and your locomotive runs over it, it piles up in dirt and dust.
Model rails – a dying hobby?
No, not at all, that’s a short answer! In general, the hobby of model railroad driving fits with the old demography of model railroad enthusiasts and is not as cheap as other hobbies.
Like all current trends, their passion comes and goes. Although the appeal of the hobby of collecting model trains has diminished somewhat in recent years, it has certainly not disappeared. And the cyclicality can be seen in the popular dioramas of train models such as Luke Towen on YouTube!
For each hobby, the younger generation should pursue it after the veterans have shared the experience and found the time. But when it comes to model trains, the hobby itself is quite long and expensive.
In this rapidly changing modern world, people simply don’t have the time or the resources to invest in such a big hobby. They are usually attracted to short, affordable forms of entertainment.
For example, an annual subscription to Netflix, which is now cheaper than setting up a model train. So there are certainly a number of factors that need to be taken into account to explain why a hobby is no longer as popular as it used to be.
Yet the model train community remains incredibly strong, with regular meetings, events and a thriving online community. Many hobbies are cyclical in nature, and I bet you’re going to see a renaissance in the next ten years.
Tips for the best model railroad experience
- Voltage drop: What’s a voltage drop? You’ve taken your new track, but your trains are super slow and the lights seem very dim? It must be a voltage drop! This is a nice way of saying that too many things are trying to consume energy, so you might need to pick something up or get a bigger energy reserve!
- Keeping tracks on the ground: In most cases, somehow. Of course, if you play with children on the floor or make a floor plan, go ahead!
But if it’s a model you want to work on forever, put it on the table. You stand on it less often or ask children to spill the pieces, or ask your dog to turn the bowl over, etc. It’s not what everyone thinks, and it hurts to go on cautiously.
- Train remains on track: So your train keeps derailing? Well, it’s one of two things. It’s either your train or your route. Easiest way to find out: If this particular train repeatedly runs off the rails at random locations, the wheels may twist and the train may bend. If several trains depart from the same point, it may be that your turn is too steep and you just need to get out of the way a little.
- KISS (Keep it just stupid): This note is in the title. Start with a simple one, and then make it even more complicated. This is not the first time you have built a multi-level bridge/tunnel combination with a $1000 DCC train control unit with all the frills. Install a basic schedule and make sure your train turns around. Then add some buildings and landscapes. If you want, you can now move in a circle. Start with a simple solution and you’ll work your way to the top!
- Monitoring – Execution: Do you know the easiest way to distinguish one model railway from another? Attention to detail. I’m not just talking about a complex of beautiful buildings and a few detailed luxury trains. I’m talking about taking a marker and painting graffiti on the back of the barn, or modeling a newspaper and some trash that piled up in a corner of the yard, or a small mud slide off your rock, or the eroded rust you painted on your old model cabin. Next time, actively look around and see what small details you can add to give your layout a sense of realism.
- This is your model railway, do what you want. It’s important, and remember, no matter what you’re told, it’s your trains, your factory, your locomotives, your environment and your hard work. If you want to take an airbrush and make your Lionel train in neon pink, go ahead. If you only want to do the Christmas models in June, go ahead. This is a hobby, and it is meant to give you pleasure. Do what makes you happy!
Now that you’re all up to speed on electric trains, what’s next?
Well, take a look at our Top Electric Trains Review Post to get started!
Or, conversely, read articles about some of the best models of train brands to deepen your knowledge.
Peter has been building model trains for longer than he can remember. An ardent fan of size HO and O. This blog is a creative way to delve into other scales and aspects of the model railway community and its hobbies.
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