How to choo, choo, choose the right train!

If you are new to the world of Model Railroading, you may feel a bit overwhelmed by the wide selection of models and accessories that are available to our hobby. In addition to the many different scales (sizes), there are other considerations to keep in mind when choosing an appropriate train set for you or your children, such as which type of set is appropriate for a given age range, how much space you will need to devote to the layout, how much you would like to spend, and the overall durability of the models, etc. Here at Trainworld, many of our employees are also modelers who have been active in the hobby for years and are always excited to help newcomers navigate the many options available to find the right set for them. It has been our experience that most people begin with a simple starter set, and continue to expand and add on to it over time by purchasing additional track, locomotives, rolling stock, buildings, scenery etc. While there are no hard and fast rules to choosing a starter set, you will want to consider a couple of factors before purchasing, especially if the set is for a young child, such as how carefully they treat their other playthings and their overall level of dexterity when handling objects with small delicate pieces that can break easily. Starter sets typically come with everything you need to get a train running right out of the box, including the train itself (locomotive and cars, whether freight or passenger), track (usually an oval or a circle), and a transformer/controller which determines that speed and direction of travel and provides power to the track. Below are some basic guidelines that will help you narrow down which set might be appropriate for you or a loved one – while there are other scales available, the following three are the most popular and are listed in order from largest to smallest:

O Scale – These starter sets produced by brands such as Lionel, MTH, and Williams are 1:48 scale, and are quite a bit more durable than some of the smaller scales. While smaller scale starter sets typically include locomotives and cars that have delicate plastic couplers (which are used to connect the cars to each other) and other fine scale detail pieces that can break easily if mishandled, O scale sets usually have all-metal couplers and trucks that will stand up to a bit more abuse. Also, since O scale is one of the larger scales available, it is generally easier for small hands to properly line up the wheels on the track and couple the cars together. The standard size for the track layout included in most O scale starter sets is about 40” x 60”, in the shape of an oval. They can range pretty widely in price, although most of the sets at Trainworld are in the $200-$400 range. The manufacturers recommend these sets for ages 8 to adult, however many people buy them for children much younger – if the play is going to be supervised by an adult or if the child is generally pretty careful with things, then O scale may be the way to go.

HO Scale – HO scale is half the size of O scale (HO is actually an acronym for “Half O”) and at 1:87 is the most popular scale for model railroaders in the US and around the world. This scale has the widest variety of models available, and also the widest selection as far as price and quality are concerned. Many hobbyists who had O scale as a child move on to HO scale as they get older and more serious about the hobby, as the models are generally more prototypically accurate and much more detailed. Trainworld has many HO starter sets available from manufacturers such as Bachmann, Athearn, Kato, LifeLike, etc. These sets usually come with a 36” circle of track, or a larger oval which can range in size depending on the rolling stock included in the set. The price range for HO scale starter sets at Trainworld is approximately $50-$300. Manufacturers recommend these sets for ages 14 and up because of the small fine scale detail pieces that can become a choking hazard if broken off, and also because these models are smaller and need to be handled with a bit more care than the larger, more toy-like O scale models. Again, most people tend to use their own discretion as to whether they think their child will be able to handle HO scale models responsibly, and here at Trainworld we have many young hobbyists that have been modeling in HO since they were 7 or 8 with no issue.

N Scale – N Scale is the smallest of the 3 scales we are discussing at 1:160, and is roughly half the size of HO Scale. This scale is very popular where space is an issue, as you can accomplish quite a lot in a relatively small area. These smaller models have been growing steadily in popularity over the last few years, especially after the introduction of Digital Command Control and sound functions to the scale. Trainworld stocks N scale starter sets from manufacturers such as Bachmann and Kato which range in price from about $100-300. These sets usually have a 24” circle or larger oval of track – the largest track layout we currently have in an N scale starter set is a 24” x 44” oval. Manufacturers recommended N scale for ages 14 and up due to the size and delicate nature of such a small model.

We here at Trainworld hope this will be helpful to anyone looking to get started in the great hobby of Model Railroading, and specifically to those trying to determine which starter set they should begin with. Please keep in mind that the above is just a basic overview on choosing a starter set, and we are always available to answer any questions or address any concerns you may have before purchasing. Please feel free to visit our website at or call us at 718-436-7072 and we will be glad to help you in any way we can!


Your Friends at Trainworld


This video features the setup of a Lionel O scale Lionchief Remote set:

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