The best electric train sets can make wonderful gifts, and can also be an enjoyable hobby for people of all ages. There are various types of train sets available, from O-gauge sets with authentic sounds and decorations to the renowned Lionel Polar Express and even motorized Lego locomotives. With such a variety of options, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
If you're new to train sets, there are various aspects that you need to consider before making a purchase. However, we have taken the hard work out of it for you by compiling a list of the best electric train sets that cater to different preferences and skill levels. Our guide includes models from top brands like Lionel, LEGO, Hornby, and others, and we have evaluated each set based on several factors, including whether you prefer a classic or modern look, want British or American style with intricate details, and are seeking an affordable loop track.
It's important to consider how much space you have available before making a purchase, as some train sets can be quite large. Durability is another crucial factor, especially if you have pets or small children. Train sets also come in different track gauges, so be sure to choose the one that best suits your needs. If you purchase an HO set and later decide to pick up an O-gauge locomotive, you'll need to start a whole new set, as the two are not compatible.
And, with the biggest sales events of the year on the horizon, there are a number of great deals on the best electric train sets that mean you can collect and play without breaking the bank. We're keeping our eyes open for the most exciting Amazon Prime Day deals, and you can head to our Black Friday deals page for everything you need.
There's not much about model trains that Mike Harris doesn't know. Having written and worked for the UK magazine Model Rail for three years, he's a whizz at everything model railroad-related. However, his love for toys doesn't stop there – he also writes Lego reviews for our sister website Space.com.
The best electric train sets we recommend in 2023
Why you can trust Top Ten Reviews Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.
We've rounded up the best train sets you can buy now. Whether you're looking for a festive-themed locomotive to delight your kids over the holidays or you're simply looking for a new addition to your model railroad, we've got a great selection below.
The best electric train set overall
The Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer has five cars total and a steam engine that runs on a 60 x 40-inch track when set up in an oval. You can make other track shapes using only some of the 12 track pieces with the set, or you can purchase more to make a large track around your whole room. This train has all the best features: smoke, audio, an illuminated headlamp, and detailed small moving parts that make for a realistic experience.
The Pennsylvania Flyer has an average rating of 4.8/8 on Amazon, with users praising its realism and flawless build quality. Negative reviews are few and far between and are often regarding a faulty unit or easily fixable problems such as a misaligned track.
Liquid smoke comes with the Pennsylvania Flyer, so add a few drops to the smoke stack to see the train spring to life. The stack even emits smoke in time with the chuffing sounds, a detail that we thoroughly enjoyed during our testing process. All 11 of our testers gave the Pennsylvania Flyer the highest marks, earning an A+ in detail and design. The speed control is responsive, and the train stopped at 2.17 feet per second, making it the fastest model on our list. We also derailed it off a desk four times to test durability, and the train showed no signs of physical or performance damage at all.
Despite how (almost) perfect the train is, it did have some flaws. You'll need three AAA batteries to operate the remote, and while it's supposed to also run via a Bluetooth smartphone app, this feature did not work during our testing process. The engine also chirps loudly if the model is plugged in, but the remote is off, which can be annoying.
The best electric train set to gift
The Lionel Polar Express is a perfect Christmas train for play and decoration - it will take your Christmas decor to the next level and impress any guests.
Its large O Scale size makes it stand out greatly, but it is also fun to play with. You'll need AAA batteries for the remote and C batteries for the locomotive, but putting everything together is relatively quick and easy. You can activate both bell and whistle sounds via the remote and audio from the movie, with Tom Hanks calling out, "All aboard!" It will stay on the track without derailing even at full speed, around 1.33 feet per second. The track is 73.2 x 50 inches, so its size will draw attention to your living room and decorations.
The Lionel Polar Express has an average rating of 4.2/5 stars on Amazon, with users praising its build quality and flawless mobility. The small number of negative reviews are generally critical of the tracks, stating that there is a potential for the train to jam at top speed.
This train is reasonably expensive directly from the manufacturer, but we were able to find much more affordable deals on websites like Amazon, so we would recommend scouting around for some good prices. If you decide to splurge on this fun, festive four-car train, you can rest easy knowing it will work for a long time thanks to its tremendous build quality and design. It passed all of our durability tests with an A.
The best electric train set for Harry Potter fans
The Hogwarts Express chuffing across Scotland's Glenfinnan Viaduct on its way to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is an iconic railroad movie scene. This Harry Potter-themed train set from British toy manufacturer Hornby will impress Harry Potter fans of all ages. It comes with everything you need to start immediately, including a US power supply, and the OO-gauge code 100 track should accommodate any HO rolling stock you may have, too.
The Hornby Hogwarts Express has an average rating of 4.3/5 stars on Amazon, with users praising its impeccable attention to detail and durability. Negative reviews are critical of its controller, stating that it has trouble communicating with the model and can be prone to breaking.
The star of the show is the amazingly detailed GWR Hall 4-6-0 locomotive, dressed up and designed like the fictional Hogwarts Castle. It features a working headlight, separately fitted details, and the beautiful Hogwarts Railways Red livery. The set also contains two Hogwarts Mk I coaches, the Hogwarts Express composite and break coaches, a third radius oval of track with a point buffer stop to create a siding, Hornby's R8250 Train Controller, and a power supply.
While there is plenty here to satisfy a Harry Potter fan looking for their first electric train set, experienced engineers can look to expand the set with Hornby's range of resin thematic structures, including Hogsmeade Station and Platform 9 ¾. This locomotive is DCC ready, meaning the DC-powered locomotive can be upgraded to DCC by installing a compatible DCC encoder. It's not something you need to worry about as a beginner, but it does add an extra layer of functionality for the more experienced model train enthusiasts.
The best electric train set for youngsters
If you're looking for a first-time train set for young children of over four years, then Lionel Thomas & Friends Train Set could be the perfect introduction to the world of model railroads. The set features Thomas the Tank Engine himself and his faithful pair of passenger cars, Annie and Clarabel. The rest of the set comprises 32 track pieces (eight straights and 24 curves), a wireless remote controller, and three interchangeable faces for Thomas.
The Lionel Thomas & Friends Ready-to-Play set has an average rating of 4.7/5 stars on Amazon, with users praising its suitability for small children and its attention to detail. Very few negative reviews are often about faulty models or damage during the delivery process.
On the track, Thomas will make a wide array of locomotive sounds, such as chuffs, bells, and whistles, giving a great ambient feel to the set. He also recites a few lines of dialogue. Young Thomas fans will be delighted by his eyes, which move from side to side as he trundles around the track. The interchangeable faces add additional playability and price to Thomas with a determined side smile, raised eyebrow, laughing expression, and adorable grin.
The controller is vibrant with large, clearly made buttons and a big command dial that helps smaller hands operate the set, and Lionel's large Ready-to-Play scale provides Thomas with an impressive on-track presence.
While the train's form and vibrant blue livery resemble the titular character, the nature of Thomas' charming, simplistic design means there are few fine details to break off, further supporting the suitability of this particular set for children.
The best LEGO electric train set
Forget everything you know about Lego sets because the Lego City Express Passenger Train (60337) is a proper train set that comes with a 24-piece oval of track and a dedicated remote control. Unlike other train sets, it boasts additional playability thanks to a small platform build, carriages with full interiors, and six minifigures. As expected from a Lego set, the train comes completely unassembled. It comprises 764 pieces and is rated for children ages seven plus, although adult assistance may be required during the build.
The Lego City Express Passenger Train has an average rating of 4.8/5 stars on Amazon, with users praising its playability and fun construction experience. The very small number of negative reviews are usually regarding missing parts or problems with construction.
The train features dimmable headlights and runs under its power, which can be operated via the included controller or Lego's Powered Up app. While the locomotive and the long nose certainly bear some resemblance to a Japanese bullet train. The train comprises a single locomotive, two carriages, a dining car, and a passenger car.
This set doesn't have the smooth running or accuracy of some other sets on our list, but it does boast the best playability thanks to its minifigures and additional platform building, along with beautiful carriage interiors.
The best electric train set add-on
Lionel’s Lionchief sets are a step up from the model railroad manufacturer’s charming Ready-to-Play toy trains, offering greater realism at a smaller, yet more refined, O gauge. This Union Pacific Flyer set comes with an imposing 0-8-0 steam locomotive and tender, a boxcar, tank car, and caboose to haul around an oval of Lionel’s FastTrack track. Unlike the manufacturer’s Ready-to-Play offerings, this set is powered via an included power supply.
The Lionel Union Pacific Flyer LionChief Train Set has an average rating of 4.7/5 stars on Amazon, with happy users praising its incredible build quality and attention to detail. The small number of negative reviews are critical of the tracks, claiming that the train can get jammed at top speed.
Many train sets aimed at young children are expected to trundle around on the floor, but we’d suggest running more delicate models on a hard surface or, better yet, fixing them to a proper model railroad baseboard. This is because thread and hairs from carpet can clog up mechanisms over time. Lionel’s FasTrack has a roadbed, which helps mitigate this by elevating the track off the floor.
While this set comes with a Union Pacific-branded remote, you can also control the train using the Lionel LionChief app (available on Android and iOS). As you’d expect from a Lionel set, you also get on-board ambient train sounds and dialogue via a RailSounds RC sound system. And if that wasn’t enough, the locomotive puffs smoke from its chimney.
The best British-outline electric train set
Flying Scotsman is arguably the most famous locomotive in the world, which hauled one of the most famous trains in the world. It’s immortalized in the annals of railroad history as the first locomotive to officially hit 100mph. This OO-gauge train set from Hornby includes everything you need to run the train straight from the box. It features the LNER Pacific 4-6-2 No 4472 Flying Scotsman (in its A1 guise), and it’s nice to see a trio of LNER composite coaches so that you can run a decent rake.
Alongside the train, you also get a third-radius oval of track, a point and buffer to make a siding, the controller, a US transformer, and Hornby’s Re-railer. The latter makes placing rolling stock on the tracks easier, which is ideal for youngsters. Also included is a 63in x 46in Hornby MidiMat, a full-color, top-down track plan, which can be set underneath the tracks to instantly mimic a scenic model railroad layout.
The standout feature of this set is Hornby’s legendary attention to detail. Regarding starter train sets, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better model than this Flying Scotsman. This does, of course, mean that the set is best suited for older children and adults.
The best electric train set for Christmas trees
When most people think of a Christmas-themed train set, they’ll probably conjure up an image akin to Lionel’s North Pole Central Ready-to-Play Freight Set. The iconic 19th century 4-4-0 design, with its huge chimney, prominent headlamp, and tapered cowcatcher, is just begging to be set off on a ‘roundy-round’ nostalgia trip beneath the Christmas tree.
As with Lionel’s other Ready-to-Play sets, the North Pole Central features a variety of onboard sounds and even includes lines of festive dialogue. Along with the locomotive and tender, the train consists of a seasonal gondola with a trio of crates and a merry-looking caboose.
The Lionel North Pole Central has an average rating of 4.5/5 stars on Amazon. Users are pleased with this train set's aesthetics and ambient feel, praising its attention to detail and visuals. A small number of negative reviews are from users who have received defective models and are unhappy with the replacements that they have received.
There’s enough track to make a 50in x 73in oval, but you can also make a square layout or ditch the straights entirely to make a perfect circle for operation around the Christmas tree. The large Ready-to-Play scale means the set should stand out – even amongst mountains of presents – and battery operation means you won’t have to worry about finding a socket that’s not already powering Christmas lights.
The best branded electric train set
Hornby’s website calls this set an “officially licensed train set for the adult collector,” but little 0-4-0 locomotives are usually marketed towards younger audiences or newcomers to the hobby. With that in mind, if you’re buying for an older child who’s outgrown their first train set and is ready to move up to a slightly more delicate OO/HO-gauge set, then Hornby’s Coca-Cola Summertime Train Set could fill that gap.
The Hornby Coca-Cola Summertime averages 4.4/5 stars on Amazon, with positive reviews praising its build quality and visual aesthetics. Users are particularly fond of the classic Christmas theme. Critical reviews are often from users who have received defective units that don't run, which unfortunately seems to be a somewhat common problem.
It may also prove tempting if you’re not willing to stretch your budget towards a larger train set, such as the Flying Scotsman (also on this list), but still want to experience Hornby’s excellent products. The summertime theme is presumably to differentiate this set from Hornby’s The Coca-Cola Christmas Train Set, but with the beverage’s synonymy with the festive season, it still wouldn’t look out of place trundling around a Christmas tree.
While this set only comes with two wagons, it’s a nice departure from the usual tank wagon, box van, and private owner wagon arrangement. Instead, you get a long flat wagon carrying three shipping containers, each with a different Coca-Cola beverage and a Diet Coke tank wagon. The set also has the usual components: an oval of track, a US transformer, a controller, and Hornby’s Rerailer.
How to choose the best electric train set
Start by deciding the scale of the setup you need. Everything else will follow this first decision. N, G, and O are going from smallest to largest. HO is a middle-size option. Essentially, the smaller you go, the more fragile your setup, so children will want the larger O size to start. However, enthusiasts who enjoy working on fine detailing or those with smaller spaces might like to experiment with smaller gauges.
To be more clear on sizes, N is 1:160, meaning a one-inch train is 160 inches on the real train. HO is 1:87:1, O is 1:48, and G is 1:22.5+. There is also On 30, which is also 1:48, but this appears smaller due to the thinner track, and G is 1:22.5+.
Another concern when deciding if this is for adults or children is safety. Small parts can be a choking hazard, so keep this in mind if younger children will have access to the trains and parts. Some trains use batteries, so fitting and removing can be hazardous to younger children, who may be tempted to put them in their mouths.
Electric trains can spark off the track, so if you have anything nearby that could catch the light, be sure to remove or cover it before setting up a train set of this kind.
Customizing Your Train
If you want to make your setup personal, painting the trains and scenery is vital. That means you may want to get some paint stripper to strip back trains and then an airbrush, ideally, to paint them in your choice of livery. Small brushes are also useful to help make those finishing touches, which can make all the difference in creating a more realistic reproduction.
Buying stores, foliage, buildings, signs, and more are all worth considering - as are track switches – as these can all help expand your train world as you grow it into a mini reality only limited by your imagination and budget. But even that can be worked around as plenty of make-it-yourself options and used parts and trains are available to buy and personalize as you want.
How Much Do Model Trains Cost?
At the bottom end of the spectrum, you can get started relatively affordably with trains that start at $40. But this world goes quite far into the high-end, with train engines that cost as much as $1,000.
For a quality detailed model, we recommend spending around $200 on a train set in HO or N scale. But it's worth looking for savings on sites like Amazon or eBay, which can have discounts and used options.