The idea of a train set and the holiday season go hand in hand nicely. Having a toy train set running during the holidays provides a feeling of nostalgia. But train sets can be fun to use at other times of the year, too. Some people will spend a lot of time constructing various scenes around the train set, using impressive levels of detail.
If you're looking for an enjoyable hobby for a child or adult, building and designing the scene and train is a lot of fun. Read through our buying guide to find the perfect train set for your creative needs. If you're seeking a classic train set, our favorite is the Lionel Polar Express Train Set, which is made to last for years.
Considerations when choosing train sets
The biggest consideration in a train set is whether you want a model train or a toy train. Although a lot of similarities exist between these two categories, some significant differences exist, too.
The model train attempts to be a miniature version of an actual train design. These are scale models where accuracy is important. People who want to be collectors will be more likely to select a model train set. A model train is likely to run from automatic power; although, some are not made to move.
Unlike a model train, which is meant more for display, a toy train set is made for play time. Toy trains will have details designed to make them fun to use, rather than for being the most accurate representation of an actual train. Some toy trains will run from automatic power, and some will be hand-push toys. A simple toy train set may be made of wood.
Train sets consist of a number of different parts. You don't have to have all of these parts to have a set, but it helps to understand what's available when you're putting together a set.
Just as with an actual train, the engine of the train set provides the power to move the entire train. Some train set engines run from battery power. Others pull power through a metal piece that makes a connection with the electrically powered track. Many engines have the ability to produce a whistle or to make it appear as though smoke is coming from the smokestack.
With a train set, dozens of different car designs are available. Each car in the set likely will be modeled after an actual train car function, like a dining car, a box car, or a caboose.
A train set will ship with track pieces of varying shapes. This allows you to create a circle or oval shape that the train can follow in a loop. If you purchase extra track pieces in the future, be sure they're compatible.
Buildings, farm scenes, mountains, and trees all can finish off the perfect look in your train set scene.
Inexpensive train sets will cost $25 to $75, some of which are automatically powered. Other low-priced sets are primarily toys. For $75 to $200, you'll find sets with impressive details.
Q. How do I ensure my track doesn't pop apart while using the train set?
A. It's important to select a high-quality train set to ensure the parts will stay together. Some sets even include plastic rods that clip to the track to hold the pieces tightly in place.
Q. Can I add pieces to my train set in the future?
A. Yes. If you want to add extra track or cars to the train set, they must be compatible with your current set. But to add scenery, like trees or buildings, items from any manufacturer will work. No compatibility issues exist.
Train sets we recommend
Best of the best: Lionel's Polar Express Train Set
Our take: Delivers the look and build quality that you'd expect for a train set, meaning it will last year after year.
What we like: Gives you all the parts you need to create a beautiful train set. Contains specific design details that you'll greatly appreciate.
What we dislike: You'll end up paying a bit more for the extra detail this set has.
Best bang for your buck: Lionel's North Pole Central Ready-to-Play Train Set
Our take: Creates a perfect finishing touch for your holiday décor, all at a reasonable price.
What we like: Trusted brand name in train sets, and the build quality and attention to detail are what you'd expect.
What we dislike: Uses a battery-powered design, and the battery life is not as good as we'd like to see.
Choice 3: Melissa & Doug's Deluxe Wooden Railway Train Set
Our take: Fun option as a first train set for a small child because it consists of high-quality all-wooden parts.
What we like: Gives kids multiple options for laying out the track, so they can spark their imaginations.
What we dislike: Doesn't run from automatic power, so some older kids will be disappointed.
Kyle Schurman is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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