Best Model Train Manufacturers and Brands

Considering picking up a new model train and looking to find out who the best model train manufacturer and brands are? You’ve come to the right place!

In truth, there aren’t a lot of model train brands around these days, so the list of ‘best’ is definitely pretty small. It’s not a bad thing though, it does mean that you can really narrow down your search and be safe in the knowledge some of these brands have been at it for hundreds of years!



Atlas

Atlas Model Railroad Company make scale models in N, HO and O scale, as well as a collection of accessories.

Based out of New Jersey in the United States, they’ve been in business since 1924, so you know they’ve been doing something right! In the early years, all they did was make rail, track and switches for them, before importing O scale trains in the early 70’s. Now, they make their own, and in a variety of different sizes. To this day, they’re still a family owned and operated business!

Atlas are famous for their exceptional flexitrack and rail lines in codes 55, 80 and 100, so if you’re looking for some extra pieces to expand your line, start here!

All of their products come in 3 variations – Master, Classic and Trainmaster. Each one varies in price and quality, so there’s something for everyone.


Athearn Trains

Athearn Trains are a post-war company established in 1946. They specialize in HO and N scale locomotives and accessories for the hobby enthusiast. They became so good at producing HO scale trains, that when Lionel Trains (the biggest manufacturer in the world now) wanted to get into it, Athearn made HO model locomotives for them!

Athearn runs a set of HO trains in two categories, Ready-to-Run and Genesis. Genesis is their top of the line HO train sets, so if you’re a serious collector, you can’t go wrong with these! Because they specialize in HO trains, they make more than 100 different types of locomotives in that scale, so you’ll always be able to find something you need.


Walthers

Walthers is a model train company started in 1932. Within 5 years of their founding, their product catalogue went from 5 pages to 80, based solely on customer demand. These days, they’re one of the largest HO scale locomotive manufacturers in the world. They’re considered the main manufacturer of passenger cars in that scale worldwide.

These days, their product line numbers in the tens of thousands. They manufacture everything now from G scale trains through to N scale locomotives, buildings, cars, accessories, DCC packs, and modelling tools and finishes.

They’re really your one-stop shop as a beginner to get everything you need to start off with.


Bachmann

Bachmann Trains are one of the best model train brands out there! They’ve been around forever and are really grandfathered into the industry. They got their start more than 180 years ago, in 1833! Although technically they didn’t get into train making until 1966, with the sudden burst of popularity in N scale trains.

They currently turn over more than $100 million dollars a year in revenue and are continuing to grow. Bachmann currently makes trains in every popular scale, as well as a few niche markets.

On top of that, they also create other scale models, including planes and cars, so if you’re looking for something special to add to your layout, this might be the brand for you.


MTH Electric Trains

MTH Electric Train have been around for more than 35 years, first beginning as toy train mail-order business out of the founder’s bedroom. Since founding, they have specialized in O gauge trains, and now make a variety of different products. 

Despite having the word ‘electric’ in the title, they create a variety of lines, including steam trains and diesel trains. They also offer a variety of DCC, transformers, and track parts. 

If you’re looking for a good, electric set up that can still simulate steam and diesel, MTH Electric Trains are an amazing brand to start with.


Kato

Kato Precision Railroad Models are a Japanese manufacturer of N and HO scale trains. Founded in 1958, they tend to specialize in N scale productions of both American trains as well as Japanese locomotives like bullet trains. They’ve also made a move into manufacturing high-speed European locomotives as well.

They’re perfect if you’re looking to get into something a little different and don’t want the same thing as every other person.


Intermountain

Intermountain Railway Company is a small manufacturer located in Colorado, USA. They predominantly make locomotives and freight cars in HO, N and Z scale. They’re one of the better Z scale brands on the market, so they’re worth looking into for a small layout.

All of their prices are incredibly reasonable, so they’re a great beginner brand!


Lionel

The Lionel Corporation are the second on this list that we’d put in the top two pace for best model train brands in this list! They were originally founded in 1900 as a toy and novelties company. Their claim to fame was their immaculately designed trains, and soon that’s all they focussed on. They were one of the biggest manufacturers in the world for model trains throughout the 50’s and 60’s although these days they’re “technically” out of business.

Why technically? Well, they went into liquidation in 1995, and have shut down all their stores, however, they restructured as Lionel LLC, and continue to make new models and railroad kits. In 2007, it was announced they made 60% of all O scale trains on the market.

They’re a bit of a legacy brand and make locomotives so they can be a bit pricey, however, you definitely get what you pay for. So if you want an attention-grabbing showstopper, look into Lionel Trains.


Menards Trains

Menards might seem like an odd choice considering they’re a hardware store, but Menards Trains make a variety of rolling stock that is incredibly affordable and can also be a one stop shop for buildings, landscaping and tools needed to build your model train layout. 

Menards began in 1958 as a hardware store and now have more than 300 home improvement stores across America. The best part about that means that you can find one locally as the need arises. 


Bowser

Bowser Manufacturing was founded in 1946 and produce primarily HO scale trains although they also make N and O scale trains. They had a bit of a tumultuous history, with Bill Bowser, the founder, eventually being forced out of the company.

Bowser, under Bill, was the first company to make a truly accurate scale representation of a train in HO scale, as other brands were doing it “as close as possible”. This was such a big deal, that Bill was eventually inducted into the Model Railroading Industry Association Hall of Fame in the early 2000’s.

They produce amazingly detailed trains that run quietly and smoothly and are a great choice no matter what level of enthusiast you are.


Brooklyn Locomotive Works – blwnscale

Brooklyn Locomotive Works or blwnscale as they used to be known, are a supplier of trains, rolling stock and other model train parts. Not only do they stock a variety of other brands like Atlas, Bachmann and Kato, but also stock a number of exclusive pieces that can only be purchased through their website.
They’re a nice option, although getting around blwnscale’s website can be a bit of a challenge.


 Check out our post here to learn more about other scales of model trains and everything else you need to know!

35 thoughts on “Best Model Train Manufacturers and Brands”

    • BLI as the name implies do not actually make model trains in as much as they source manufacturers to commission builds for them

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    • I know right? They have epic quality details compared to Bachmann, which is stuck making toyish looking garbage half the time. Their steam releases are a joke given the fact of how much they make in this guy’s quote (100 million!? Spend some dang money on detailing Bachmann!).

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  1. Dear Sirs, I am presently designing a portable layout in ON30 scale. I started purchasing Bachmann trains since late 1999’s or about? Now, I looking at today’s prices? I am shocked by what train enthusiast are paying for rolling stock and
    locomotives? Are any other train manufactures out there who model in ON30 and sell off the shelf products?
    (ready to run trains). no kits.

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  2. Don’t forget about Walthers Proto locomotives. I have a few as well as Athearn Genesis models. Both have the same motor and transmission and all that life-like detail. Super Duty Heavy Haulers is what I call them!!! 🙂

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  3. Wow !!! I’d like to know who came up with this list ? Where is Micro-Trains and Scale Trains on this list ? Please, if you’re going to write an article about something, gather all the facts first before stating who’s best in your words and opinion. Personally I have a large collection of model trains and rolling stock, all of which I have run over at least a decade or more. I have a large selection from many manufacturers, most of which I have been very pleased with right out of the box, while other required a bit of my own TLC to get them up to speed.

    I have never had an issue with anything from Micro Trains, Scale Trains, and others,including those on your list, right out of the box. What I will comment on though from all manufacturers are the prices. Is it truly necessary to charge $100 or more for an engine and $20, $30 or more for a single piece of rolling stock ? Yes, all manufacturers have made leaps and bounds over the years in terms of quality and so forth, but prices are getting increasingly higher year after year. It won’t be long before those of us who don’t have particularly deep pockets will be forced to rethink any thoughts of upgrading or adding to our interests in favor of ordinary and basic necessities. I’m all for new technology and so forth, but please keep those of us who may have limited financial resources in mind when it comes to pricing.
    Model Railroading is a great hobby and pastime, from buying your first engine to adding to your empire. Please do your best to control pricing, otherwise the fan base will keep on shrinking.

    V/r,

    Joe Champlin

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    • Hey Joe,
      They’re both great suggestions, I just havent had the time lately to be able to sit down and add them to this list, but I’ll be doing it this weekend for sure!

      Thank you!

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        • Hornby are purely for the British outline in “oo”scale although they did buy out a few European companies but they still retain their own brand names such as Jouef(French HO) Lima,HO and N scales of many countries,Rivarossi. Italian,French German and American outline mostly and Finally Electrotren mostly Spanish outline.

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  4. You forgot to mention Marklin which is a big daddy in the world of model railroad. they have HO AND Z scales and a huge catalog

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    • Not only HO and Z,Marklin bought Trix,LGB and has also N scale and Scale 1.
      Prices are for the high end engines high but you get good quality.There are analog enginesfor sale that fits the smaller pockets.My oldest engines are more than 50 years old and run well.Only american engines I can’t run on my layout because of the 3 rail system.But Marklin sell some,too.

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  5. What the hobby needs are AFFORDABLE trains if the hobby is going to grow or even continue to exist. Right now, the prices of model railroad prtoducts are just too high and certainly discourage any new entrants into the hobby.

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    • I do european passenger trains. So I am a Roco, Sudexpress, and Electrotren fan. Never cared for Märklin. I don’t like the middle pickup and their passenger cars are not exact HO scale lengthwise. They should be 30.3 cm and are only about 28 cm. That looks unrealistic when next to HO exact scale cars.

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  6. You also failed to mention 3rd Rail and GGD trains out if CA !! That’s a huge error. And you need to remember that it was MTH which introduced the most advanced and awesome O. Gauge trains ever seen and they were light years ahead of Lionel at a time when L was still making a lot of substandard kiddie toys. At that time MTH became the greatest innovator of all time after which L played catch up.

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  7. I cannot believe you don’t even mention Roco Fleischmann Trix esu which are superior than the ones you mentioned. I guess you don’t want people to know brands other than american made brands.

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  8. Fox valley model trains , our they out of business? Also where and how did john menards get in the train business. Your right about prices. I remember life like we could sell it so the average person could afford it. Thank you Peter ttfn chris

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  9. My favorite is the G scale trains from LGB in Germany. I wish the trains, snow plows, etc., were all synchronized, so you could run more than one train on the same track. I built a train room with the train running around the ceiling … so I only have the one track. Is there anyway to slow the engine down to try to make them run at the same speed?

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    • Hi,you can upgrade your engines with an digital decoder. With a decoder in each engine you can run several engines on one track and you have the choice of some functions like smoke,light and sound.Also the engine keeps the same speed doesen’t mather going up or down.And at that size of trains you get a nice wireless remote to control your engines.LGB has it and there is another German company called Piko they have them ,too with good prices.

      Reply

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