Getting Started in Model Trains

A portion of my train layout
As many readers of this blog know, I love trains – the big ones and the model ones. I have found that model trains help children with imagination...something that is important for success later in life. 

I am occasionally asked how people can get started in model railroading.  So, since I’ve been posting about Christmas gift ideas that might be beneficial for children, here are some tips. 

I recommend O Gauge ("Lionel-size") trains for kids. The smaller scales, while very nice for adults, are often too small and fragile for children.  

Start by taking a look at some of the manufacturers' web sites. Lionel has a good “getting started” section on their web site: www.lionel.com/GettingStarted/   MTH’s getting started section is not as comprehensive but worth a look: www.mthtrains.com/start/main .

While I like sets (packages with locomotive, cars, transformers, track, etc.) as a fairly economical way to get started, they usually have one serious flaw: lack of track. Kids quickly get bored watching trains simply going in a circle.  Add enough track to have at least a layout like this and maybe add a siding to it as well along with some sort of industrial building. Make sure the set has a locomotive horn and bell effects. 
Take a layout like this and add a spur track with a toy factory (below)

The photo at the top of this post shows an industrial siding on my layout. You can make a game out of transferring cars from one industrial siding to another.


Lionel has a couple of especially nice sets this year:  CSX and BNSF. I've done a little shopping and some retailers are selling those sets for well under $300. Considering that everything you need is included (but, I would add track as outlined above) that is a great price. 

If you want more information visit your local train store or hobby shop. There are two good magazines to help you get started: Classic Toy Trains and O Gauge Railroading. They are usually available at Barnes & Noble or a hobby shop. 

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