Model Train Sets for Kids: Bachmann Model Trains and Lionel Train Sets
As a kid I grew up around model trains, both my father and my maternal grandfather owned a few model trains. My grandfather had one of the original G scale model train set by Lionel, complete with very realistic scenery. My cousins and I spent hours fighting over who would get to power it up! In our attic, my father also owned a slightly smaller O scale train that I still proudly own to this day. We always had one circling the Christmas tree, a family tradition I really wanted to continue when I had my own children. My Lionel train is still in tip top shape and I really wanted to keep it that way. So, I began looking into investing into model train sets for my kids.
If you are interested in purchasing a model train, read Model Train Sets: Understanding Gauges and Scales. It's a primer on understanding the various gauge and scale sizes, an important aid in helping you determine how much space you will need for your new model train.
Some train scales are better suited for kids than others. A super small Z scale is tricky for tiny fingers to manipulate. I'd recommend sticking with a G, O, S, HO or N scale. Generally speaking, the smaller the train, the more likely it is to derail, which can be overly frustrating for an impatient child. If you do opt for a smaller Z model (which I'd personally hesitate to do) and find it has trouble with derailing, it helps to put a bit of weight into the cars.
Alright, let me get back on topic- model train sets for kids. Not to yank my own chain, but I do consider myself quite a pro on the topic. I have not only done a lot of research, but I've also not only purchased a few for my own gaggle of kids, but have also had first-hand experience playing with the following train models (I know, oh woe is me!). I have nephews (plenty of them) as well as friends' kids coming out of my ears. I am only going to recommend the following: Bachmann model trains and Lionel train sets. Both manufacturers have been around for many years, have excellent reputations for a reason, and I've yet to be disappointed.
Just one word, some of the following trains are for children 8 years of age and above, while others are for children 4 years of age and above.
Best Bargain and First Model Train: Bachmann Model Trains Thomas Fun with Freight Set Ready - To - Run Ho Scale Train Set
Finding a quality train set for under $100 is rare, trust me. This is about the least amount of money you can spend and still get a quality train. Bachmann model trains have been around for ages and deserve to have the reputation they've rightly owned.
The last thing you want to be doing Christmas morning is trouble-shooting your model train's malfunctions, putting little wheels back on the cars and mopping up your child's tears.
This hobby grade HO Bachmann model offers good quality for a small price tag. The tracks are unbelievable simple to put together. This is a nice investment for the future, since HO scales are ubiquitous and Thomas the Tank can be replaced with something a bit more mature.
- Thomas the Tank engine with an eye that moves.
- 4 freight cars
- International couplers that hook and loop
- Power pack
- Speed controller
- 56" X 38" oval snap, E-Z fit track
HO scales don't have the same weight as some of the larger models, weight that prevents them from derailing. With all hobby grade trains, you will need to put in a bit of work and tweaking to properly set up your train. These tracks are supposed to just be placed on any floor with the expectation your train is good to go. Please note that tracks are supposed to be affixed to a flat surface, like a board or proper layout. If you have trouble with derailment, add a little weight to the lowest point (and most central) part of the cars.
Recommended for children 8 and up
Best Budget, Low Price G Train: Lionel Trains Polar Express Train Set - G Gauge
This quality Lionel train set gives you quality while simultaneously not breaking the bank. It has all the bells and whistles (literally!) that your children will love. Its larger size is just perfect for small hands to manipulate.
This set is a no fuss, easy to set up beginner electric train for a child. It's ready to run straight out of the box with batteries included. It's also a fantastic starter train for an adult who has little experience assembling trains and their tracks. Plus, it's very nice to be able to have it up and running quickly on Christmas morning... we all know how impatient an excited kid can be!
The RC (remote control) controller that powers the train is simple to operate. The G-gauge 55" X 72" oval track is a snap to assemble.
- Berkshire steam locomotive
- Passenger car with fixed knuckle couplers
- Observation car with a "disappearing hobo"
- Remote control
- A bell and a whistle
- "All aboard for the Polar Express" sound with a button push
- 3 Polar Express figures: hobo, boy and conductor
Ages 4 and up.
Best Mid-Priced AND BEST OVERALLTrain for Daily Use: Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer O Gauge
This is my all time favorite model train and is bar none the coolest present I've ever received. My family knows well my train fascination, so I was given this gift as a token of nostalgia and my love for this rapidly growing hobby. As a personal preference, I enjoy the fact this train is not battery operated and is powered by a transformer. I've never had a power issue with this train, it's definitely the little engine that could! It stays on track, doesn't jump tracks and is made of durable, high quality parts. The locomotive is a sturdy die cast metal and Lione's FastTrack system makes set up an absolute breeze.
This is a great train for anyone who is trying to stay away from "character" trains, meaning trains with character themes like Harry Potter or Thomas the Tank. It's great for all ages, but may specifically appeal to slightly older kids.
Over time, I've added track, car and accessories to this train. I've enjoyed watching my baby grow!
- Transformer with forward, reverse and neutral capabilities
- Die cast locomotive that puffs smoke and has an operating headlight
- Illuminated searchlight car
- A boxcar
- A caboose
- Air whistle in the tender (coal car)
- Couplers on the back of the tender and rolling stock car
- 40” x 60” oval track
- Billboard and telephone poles
Recommended age is 8 years and up
Highly Recommended Upper Range O Train: Lionel Harry Potter Hogwarts Express O-Gauge Set
My nephews are die hard Harry Potter fans and had been begging for a model train set after playing with the ones we own. So, they received this Hogwarts Express train a couple of Christmases ago. I must say, I do enjoy the Harry Potter series, but am far from a huge fan. However, this train is just downright cool no matter what your stance on J.K. Rowling's work! One benefit of this train is its appropriateness for year-round use since it's not strictly a Christmas theme. It's the perfect next step after the Thomas and Friends train, when you and the kids are ready for a more realistic, detailed and higher quality train.
This is a great replication of the train Harry Potter rode to get to Hogwarts. Fans of British trains will appreciate the amazing detail and Lionel's first foray into British trains.
The only feature that's missing are sound effects.
- 4-6-0 die cast steam locomotive with puffing smoke, working headlight and an air whistle
- One tender with coupler on the end
- Two passenger coaches
- One combination car
- Lit interior
- 40" X 80" oval Lionel FastTrack layout
Lionel recommends this train for five years and up. Honestly, I think 8 and up is a more appropriate range.
Best Christmas Train Set for Kids: Lionel Trains Polar Express Train Set - O Gauge
A powerful and durable transformer powers the train, which has forward, backward and neutral operations. The locomotive and its frame are made of die cast metal, which is a good thing in the hands of kids. The locomotive has a working headlight, an air whistle and it actually blows smoke! The passenger cars are made to look very lifelike and have silhouettes of passengers, as well as an observation deck. They also have working interior lights. It has two traction tires to help keep it from derailing, although the hefty weight of the locomotive and cars alone aids in keeping this train on the tracks.
This is a newer addition to our household and I can't imagine Christmas without it! It has literally entertained our kids for hours on end and is the perfect train to go around the Christmas tree.
The set comes with:
- a CW-80 transformer
- a die-cast steam engine
- a coal tender
- two coach passenger cars
- one observation car
- a 40" X 60" oval track pieces
- four characters from The Polar Express movie
- a bottle of fluid that creates the smoke
Recommended for children 8 years and up.