When trying to decide on an electric model train there are a lot of options out there!
Two of the oldest and most established brands are Lionel vs Bachmann. These two brands have been making hobby model trains for around 100 years.
The competition between the two has risen them both up to be the standard of excellence for model electric trains.
When trying to decide between the two there are so many factors to consider, and the task can be quite monumental. Each brand does have specific attributes that can help you differentiate and decide between the two relatively easily.
So let’s take a look and find out which one suits you best!
History of Lionel Vs Bachmann
Starting with the first major point of difference let’s look at their history. Some may prefer a brand with more experience and a greater name in the market.
Looking at Bachmann first, it is clear to see that they have a deep history with electric model trains. Their company began to make and sell them in the ’60s and have continued to ever since.
Bachmann specialized in highly accurate to-scale trains. As they diversified they began to create a broader and broader catalogue.
They focus on fine craftsmanship and affordable prices.
Taking a look at Lionel, on the other hand, they’re a slightly older company by a number of years! They were founded in 1900. They created a number of model trains that were following the wave of locomotive industrialization.
As their business grew over the years, they eventually moved into producing electric model trains as opposed to diesel-run models. Lionel is well known for working in conjunction with many large corporations like CocaCola, Crayola, etc. This means that you can often find limited edition models that reflect both the company’s histories.
Bachmann was known for coming into a Lionel dominated market and focused on expanding into more than just trains. They also focused on entire model cities and developed a catalogue of immaculate prop products to combine with the trains they sell.
Both brands have a clear history and a sense of prestige. With similar amounts of success, there are plenty of other factors to consider about them before purchasing, especially regarding the model trains themselves. Numerous factors will be addressed below such as scale, resell price, collectability, craftsmanship quality, and uniqueness.
Lionel and Bachmann Scale and Gauge
Starting first with scale, there is a lot of often confusing information out there.
It can almost seem like an alphabet soup of different scales!
Starting with the definition of scales and gauges – Scale in model trains probably means what you think it does. It references the scale between the model train, and the real one it is designed after.
However, gauges in model trains (and real trains) refer instead to the distance between the outermost parts of a piece of track. Bigger trains need a larger gauge typically.
- G gauge and G scale are typically trains that are around 1:24 scale, they are closer to a larger toy. These trains are often able to be controlled by remote, like many of the other scales.
- S gauge trains are typically only sold by Lionel. They are 1:64 based scale and are under one brand name.
- HO gauge trains and HO scale trains are one of, if not the most, common scales out there. They are typically a 1:87 scale model, however, on occasion they can vary slightly. They are also child-friendly, just avoid getting them for kids under 6. Both Bachmann and Lionel have a very large catalogue of HO scale trains.
- The last scaler gauge we are going to cover is O scale trains. These are most frequently known as being distinctly a Lionel type model. They are around 1:64 scale.
Lionel vs Bachmann Price and Quality
Moving beyond scale, price is often the most important factor to consider for people who haven’t ever bought one, and sometimes can even continue to be important for collectors.
However, most collectors are looking for the highest quality, so it’s a bit of a balancing act between price and quality in that instance.
There’s a relatively clear difference between Lionel trains and Bachmann trains in this regard.
Bachmann focused on being an affordable brand for all. They have less emphasis on collectability but do have more some premium trains for sale as well.
Lionel, on the other hand, has a strong focus on craftsmanship and collectability, making them more of a premium brand.
Bachmann has a few obstacles to overcome with regards to quality, however. While some trains are much more durable than others, sometimes you can get a model that doesn’t last nearly as long as you’d hoped for. This can be attributed to the inexpensive nature of the trains themselves. Lionel, on the other hand, comes exactly as expected for being the more premium brand of the two. Quality is rarely an issue here.
So it depends on what you’re looking for. Even if you’re a collector, Bachmann might be the only company that produces a particular model of the train that you’re after.
Despite Lionel trains being classified as a ‘more premium’ brand, don’t assume that Bachmann does bad work. They’re both the number 1 and 2 model train manufacturers in the world for a reason.
Vintage models of both these trains are great as collectables. Each having a line of one of a kind trains.
However, both do not typically have a high resale value. In this instance, these vintage trains are only worth collecting if you’re a fan and not a reseller.
Final Thoughts on Lionel Vs Bachmann Trains
Overall it really can depend on what you are looking for.
For example, if you are setting up a display and want more than one train to be featured, Bachmann trains probably have the best selection for you.
As you could get multiple low price moderate-quality electric trains and have a really full display.
On the other hand, if you are searching for a more premium product that will last a very long time -perhaps to be stored on a shelf or in a model in your home, Lionel may be the perfect choice for you.
Both of these companies offer some great products.
Personally, if I were to pick one I would choose Bachmann, as I personally like to own many different sets, and don’t always have the money to go with a more directly premium brand.
It is definitely easier to start a model layout project because Bachmann is often more affordable and readily available. However, if you want a more permanent display, Lionel is definitely worth the investment.
Want to find out more about some other great model train brands, take a look at our model train brands and manufacturers guide!
Alternatively, jump straight into our electric train guide to take a look at some more amazing electric train sets for purchase
Peter has been building model trains for longer than he can remember. An avid fan of HO and O scale this blog is a creative outlet to allow him to dive further into other scales and aspects of the model train community and hobby.