Best Beginner Model Train Sets of 2020 – Review and Guide

This post has been updated in March of 2020 to include the most up to date information and new train sets about beginner model trains for 2020. 

So you’re thinking about getting into model trains, but have no idea where to start with as a beginner? Well, there’s a number of awesome beginner model train sets out there, and each one does something a little different.

Or, love train sets, or have someone in your family that does? Electric train sets are the perfect gift for yourself or a loved one!

Model train sets are an awesome beginner hobby to help you relax after work, or even to help you socialize more in local clubs if that’s your thing.

The problem is, where do you start? There are hundreds of different models, sizes and brands out there, so it can be a bit overwhelming sometimes.

Well, that all depends on what you’re after! Do you already have a small model train set that you were given, or is this your first foray into the hobby?

First, start with size – If you’ve got a big layout, you can opt for an O or HO (half O) scale size train. if you’re in an apartment, or just don’t have a lot of room, consider an HO, N or even a Z scale train.

Once you’ve picked a model train scale, you’re kind of locked into it, as much like a puzzle, these pieces will only fit with each other.

So this is our list of the top 6 best beginner train sets for adults or young children, beginner or advanced.

Bachmann Chief Ready-to-Run Electric Train

Best Starter Train Set

Bachmann Trains - Rail Chief Ready To Run 130 Piece Electric Train Set - HO Scale
  • Complete Ready To Run 130 Piece Freight Train Set
  • Powered by a EMD GP40 Diesel Locomotive with Operating Headlight
  • Includes; Open Quad Hopper Car, Gondola Car, Steel Reefer Car, Off-Set Cupola Caboose, Signal Bridge, Miniature Figures, Railroad Signs, Street Signs, and Telephone Poles
  • 47" x 38" Oval of Snap-Fit E-Z Track, Power Pack and Speed Controller
  • HO Scale 1:87

The Bachmann Chief Ready-to-Run Electric Train is the standard in model trains. Bachmann is known for being one of the best model train manufacturer’s in the world, and this could be considered their best train set.

This set includes a number of different products to help you get started, or add flair to an existing set:

  • EMD GP40 diesel locomotive with operating headlight
  • An open quad hopper car
  • Gondola car
  • Steel reefer car
  • Off-centre caboose
  • 47″ x 38″ oval of snap-fit E-Z Track, including 12 pieces curved track, 1 piece straight track, and 1 plug-in terminal rerailer, signal bridge
  • 36 miniature people, 24 telephone poles, 48 railroad and street signs
  • Power pack and speed controller.

It’s the perfect set for someone looking to get started. Veteran modellers might not be as satisfied with some of the pieces as they’re primarily made of plastic, despite their high-quality look. Apart from that, the people themselves are a single pink colour. So it’s a good excuse to bust out some paint and have a go at adding some clothes to them!

Overall, this is our best pick for the price!

Bachmann Santa Fey Flyer Train

Bachmann Trains - Santa Fe Flyer Ready To Run Electric Train Set - HO Scale Multicolor, 19.50 x 3.00 x 13.25 Inches
  • Complete Ready To Run Freight Train Set
  • Powered by a EMD FT Diesel Locomotive with Operating Headlight
  • Includes; Open Quad Hopper Car, Gondola Car, and Off-Set Cupola Caboose
  • 36" Circle of Snap-Fit E-Z Track, Power Pack and Speed Controller
  • HO Scale 1:87

Another really nice Bachmann set that is cheaper than it should be. The Santa Fey Flyer set comes with a variety of HO scale products that will interlink with other Bachmann or HO scale train kits. This model train set includes:

  • EMD FT diesel locomotive with operating headlight
  • Open quad hopper
  • Gondola
  • Off-centre caboose
  • Body-mounted E-Z Mate couplers
  • 36″ circle of snap-fit E-Z Track

This is a slightly less high-quality set than others, so it’s really aimed at teenagers or adults getting dipping their toes into model railroading. The best part about it, however, is because of this it comes Ready-to-Run. That means there’s nearly no set up and you can have a train heading around your track in 5 minutes or less.

This is a nice train set if you’ve already purchased the Bachmann Chief set or want to add another locomotive to your HO scale train track.

Lionel Polar Express Remote Train

Best Beginner Holiday Themed Train Set

Lionel The Polar Express LionChief 2-8-4 Set with Bluetooth Capability, Electric O Gauge Model Train Set with Remote
  • A CHRISTMAS SPIRIT SHOWSTOPPER – All aboard The Polar Express Lionchief train set; This highly-detailed set is equipped with Bluetooth technology; Operate your train via a smart device; Great...
  • SET INCLUDES – 2-8-4 locomotive and tender, 2 coach cars, Observation car and 4 movie figurines; FasTrack sections: 8 curved 036 tracks, two 10” straight tracks, terminal, 10”...
  • TRAIN SET FEATURES – Die-cast metal body, controlled by remote, cellphone or any Bluetooth device; Puffing smoke unit, engine, whistle, bell, customized announcements; RailSounds RC sound...
  • PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS – 40” x 60” oval track; O Gauge compatible; Bluetooth compatible
  • BATTERY REQUIREMENTS - Requires three AAA batteries to operate the LionChief remote control; Batteries are not included with purchase of train set

The Polar Express Remote by Lionel trains is a classic train that any and all adults will find joy in. Especially when they show it off to younger to nieces, nephews or their own kids!

Modeled after the Polar Express train from the classic movie of the same name, it’s not an overly “ ” looking train, so it’ll still run nicely on a layout with a normal looking layout.

Lionel is renown for making high-quality trains, and this is no exception. This train set includes:

  • 2-8-4 Berkshire-style locomotive and tender
  • 2 coach cars and 1 observation car
  • Polar Express decorative bell
  • 4 Polar Express character figures
  • 8 curved O36 FasTrack sections, 1 straight track section, and 1 terminal wall pack section
  • LionChief Remote Control
  • Wall pack power supply

There are no real cons to this train set, although some people have noted that if left unattended, it might need to be unplugged/plugged back in at the wall to get it to start turning over again.

An awesome Lionel train that is perfect for any time of year, but is also one of the best Christmas train sets around. 

Kato USA Union Pacific FEF-3

Kato USA Model Train Products 1260401 N Scale Union Pacific FEF-3 Steam Locomotive Train 844
  • N Scale
  • Special cross-braced shock absorbers equalize the pressure on the locomotive drivers to maximize traction
  • Illuminated headlight and locomotive number boards
  • DCC friendly design, allowing for easy drop-in installation of DCC. All detail parts installed and ready-to-run
  • 11" (282mm) minimum turning radius on ground level track, 15" (381mm) minimum turning radius on Viaduct track.

There’s something about a Kato train that just makes people gaze in wonder. They’re meticulously crafted, and in the USA Union Pacific FEF-3 Steam train it’s no exception. Kato is one of the biggest names in the industry, and have been making trains for years! This train kit comes with the following:

  • Kato USA Union Pacific FEF-3 Steam Locomotive #844
  • Power Supply unit

This is a little more expensive than something like the Bachmann sets that come with the track as well, but you definitely get what you pay for with this locomotive. It’s going to be a train you run for years to come with very little problems or maintenance. Genuinely can’t come up with a single con for this locomotive.

Lionel Southern Pacific Rising Sun 0-8-0 Rising Chief train

Lionel Southern Pacific Rising Sun 0-8-0 Electric O Gauge, LionChief Bluetooth Train Set
  • Set Includes: 0-8-0 locomotive and tender, Flatcar with two removable piggy back trailers, Boxcar, Caboose, Eight curved O36 Fast rack track sections, 54W wall-pack power supply.
  • Locomotive Features: Electric locomotive controlled by remote or Bluetooth Lion Chief app, Operating headlight, On/Off switches for smoke and sound, Rail Sounds RC sound system.
  • Lion chief Remote Features: Forward and reverse speed control knob, Three buttons to activate whistle, bell, and special announcements, Requires three AAA alkaline batteries not included.

There’s a reason this Lionel train has nothing but 5-star reviews. The Lionel Southern Pacific Rising Sun 0-8-0 Rising Chief train is a complete Ready-to-Run model that is perfect if you want to really bring something special to your railroad. It comes complete with a number of different features that can also be controlled from your phone, including things like lights, smoke and sounds. This set includes:

  • 0-8-0 locomotive and tender
  • Flatcar with two removable piggyback trailers
  • Boxcar
  • Caboose
  • Eight curved O36 Fast rack track sections
  • 54W wall-pack power supply

When you’re finally ready to step up the quality of your model train layout and have been at it for a while, this is the set you should purchase. It adds a real professional look to any layout and will be something you run for a really long time to come.

Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer Battery Powered Ready-to-Play Model

Best Beginner Train Sets for Young Children

Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer Freight Ready-to-Play Set, Battery-powered Model Train with Remote
  • A LOCOMOTIVE SHOWSTOPER – Checkout the Pennsylvania Flyer Freight Ready-to-Play train set; This iconic model train makes a great gift for kids and train hobbyists
  • SET INCLUDES – Battery-powered steam locomotive and tender; Gondola with crate load; Center cupola caboose; 24 curved and 8 straight plastic track pieces; User-friendly remote control
  • TRAIN SET FEATURES – Battery powered Berkshire-style locomotive; Authentic trains sounds, including bell and whistle; Working headlight; Fixed knuckle couplers
  • PRODUCT SPECIFICATIONS – 50” x 73” Ready-to-Play track; This set is not compatible with Lionel G Gauge or any other G Gauge track systems
  • BATTERY REQUIREMENTS - Requires six C cell batteries to operate train; Requires three AAA batteries to operate remote control; Batteries are not included with purchase of train set

This Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer is great because it comes in a couple different models. This one we’re recommending is the battery powered option, because it’s a little cheaper and will give you an idea if this is a hobby for you! If you do like it, you can upgrade to the O scale version that’s a pure electric operated one to save yourself on battery costs. This cool little model train set includes:

  • A steam locomotive and tender
  • Gondola with crate load
  • Center cupola caboose
  • 24 curved and 8 straight pieces of track
  • an RC remote control

What else to consider when buying a model train?

When considering buying a model train set, there are a few different things you should take into account. Firstly, what scale train do you want to run? This will determine what you can buy. If you’re already running an HO scale train set, there is no point buying an N scale train, because it won’t fit. (unless you want to start a new layout).
Alternatively, if this is your first purchase, work out what size scale you want to run. You can read more about the best beginner scales in this post.

Next, it’s mostly a matter of working out what kind of train you want to run. These 5 are our top picks, but there are hundreds of both good and bad trains out there to buy. So make sure you do some proper research on the best model brands before buying, so you end up with a quality train.

We hope that helped, and if you have a recommendation, please leave a comment below with your favorite train!

And if this is your first time reading about the best model trains, have a look at our Ultimate Model Train Guide to learn more about the hobby!