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A Lionel Christmas Train for All Year

Updated on February 25, 2014

A Christmas-Themed Lionel Train Layout

Toy trains at Christmas are awesome, but it's a pain to store them away every year after the holidays. They're also expensive, and if you're on a budget it's hard to justify spending so much money on a Christmas Train set that's only used a few weeks out of the year. So why not build a Christmas layout that can be used all year long? That's what I decided to do. How do you make a Christmas layout that doesn't look out of place in, say, July? It's easier than it sounds (I think...). This is an ongoing project for me, so check back often. I hope to have updates at least a couple of times every month.

(Image: Lionel Trains)

Start With a Train Set - The Lionel O Gauge Polar Express is a good choice...

Big Book of Lionel - Perfect if you're just getting started with Lionel...

The Big Book of Lionel: The Complete Guide to Owning and Running America's Favorite Toy Trains, Second Edition
The Big Book of Lionel: The Complete Guide to Owning and Running America's Favorite Toy Trains, Second Edition

Everything you need to know to build a fun and satisfying Lionel train layout. Includes track plans for the floor, track plans for tabletop layouts, history of Lionel, steam vs. diesel locomotives, how to operate your model like a real railroad, and sections on Lionel's Legacy and Fastrack systems.


I started with a Lionel Polar Express train set in O Scale (for more on model train scales, see model train scales explained). My son wanted a train to run under the Christmas tree and I thought it was a great idea. I decided on the Polar Express set because it had a nice Christmas look to it without going overboard, the reviews I read on Amazon mostly rated it very high, and it came with everything I needed to get a train running under our tree. I ordered the set and it's awesome - except for two things. First, it's a big train and the box is huge - I wondered where I was going to store it the rest of the year. Second, my wife wasn't too happy that I'd spent almost $300 on something that's only going to be used a few weeks out of the year. What to do? I thought about it and decided that building a permanent layout would solve both problems...

Picking a Layout - I want to run 2 trains and have some operation potential...

(Image: Thor Trains)

I decided on a 4x8 layout. O Scale trains are big and 4x8 is about the smallest practical layout size. I like watching the trains run, so whatever I build has to have a loop of track for continuous running. I also wanted some industrial spurs so I could do a little operating, and I wanted to be able to have two trains on the layout. Did I mention I also wanted room for some scenery? I found this track plan on Thor trains and I think it will meet my needs (I may modify it a bit). My Polar Express can run on the outside loop. When it's stopped at the station on the lower left corner, my freight engine can switch the spur tracks and inner loop.

Building the Table (part 1) - An easy-to-build table for your train layout...

This train table is really easy to build, and the video does a great job of explaining the construction. About the only change I'll be making will be to use wood screws to hold everything together instead of nails. I'll also probably use Homosote instead of blue foam for the table top.

Building the Table (part 2) - Finishing up your train table...

Laying the Track - Putting together a Fastrack layout is easy...

Lionel Fastrack
Lionel Fastrack

(Image: Lionel Trains)

And it better be!!! I just ordered track for the layout I showed above and it cost almost $600. OUCH!!! I could have saved around $200 by using manual switches instead of remote control ones, but what fun is an O Scale layout with manual switches? I also could have saved money by using a different track system - say MTH RealTrack - but that isn't compatible with the Fastrack that was included with my train set. Any way you look at it, O Scale track is expensive, so it pays to shop around. The Fastrack switches I bought were $68 from Wholesale Trains. Other online vendors were selling them from $74 to $109(!!!) each.

Buildings and Scenery - Bringing your Christmas train layout to life...

Plasticville O/S Scale passenger station
Plasticville O/S Scale passenger station

(Image: Me)

My original plan was to use Department 56 Snow Village buildings on my layout. They're sized just about right for O Scale, they're already "built" and painted, and they look awesome. Some people even say they have collector value:) Unfortunately they're also a bit expensive and I just blew all my money on track. Now my plan is to use cheaper buildings from Clever Models and Plasticville at first, then replace them with Department 56 buildings as money becomes available.

How About Some Action? - Operating accessories for your Lionel layout...

(Image: MTH Trains)

Nothing livens up an O Scale layout like some operating accessories:) My layout is small, but I should have room for at least a few. My first will probably be an operating crossing gate, and after that I'd sure like to get an MTH operating Gas Station. Beyond that, I'll have to wait until the layout is finished to see what I have room for and what i can afford...

Please Sign my Guestbook - I'd love to see what you think about this...

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    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Great lens good job!

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      We used to have a cheap set that went around our tree. This looks like a lot of fun, and like it would hold up much better.


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