Skip to main content

Best electric train sets 2022

Best electric train sets
(Image credit: DeAgostini)

The best electric train sets are great for kids and for those who are still kids at heart that want to feel the wonder of creating a mini world that really comes to life. From the best value electric trains sets to the perfect models for younger children, this guide covers a lot of stops on its journey to find you the perfect railway partner.

This guide will feature the likes of the Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer (opens in new tab) but also brands such as Bachmann. However this won't touch on Hornby or Kato because they're not widely available in the US.

So, what do you need to think about to make sure you get the right train set for your needs? 

First up there is size, since you may have a certain amount of space in mind for where this set will live and – crucially – how big you plan to let it grow. Yup, this can get very addictive indeed, in a fun way of course. 

Then you'll want to consider pricing and attention to detail as if you start off with highly priced items and lots of detail but later want to go more basic, the difference is going to stand out. So, like any good railway manager, do plan ahead.

Want even more action? Check out the best remote control cars (opens in new tab) the best cheap Nerf gun deals (opens in new tab)


1. Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer: Best electric train set overall

Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer

(opens in new tab)
Affordable, detailed, but good quality - this is our best pick for most people

Reasons to buy

+
Smoke stack emits puffs of smoke in time with chuffing sounds
+
Can run via battery-powered remote or Bluetooth
+
Fastest train we tested

Reasons to avoid

-
Testers couldn’t get remote app to work
-
Liquid smoke and small pieces not suited for young children
-
Remote requires batteries

This train has five cars total, including the steam engine, and runs on a 60 x 40-inch track when set up in an oval. You can make other track shapes by using only some of the 12 track pieces that come with the set, or you can purchase more to make a massive track around the room. This train has all the extras: smoke, audio, an illuminated headlamp and small moving parts that make for a really realistic experience.

Liquid smoke comes with the Pennsylvania Flyer, so all you have to do is add a few drops in the smoke stack to see the train come to life. The stack even emits smoke in time with the train’s chuffing sounds, a detail our testers really enjoyed. In fact, the 11 people who played with all the trains we tested gave the Pennsylvania Flyer the highest marks, so it earned an A+ in detail and design. The speed control is responsive, and the train topped out at 2.17 feet per second, making it the fastest model we played with. We also knocked it off of a desk four times to test durability and this train was the only one without any physical or performance damage whatsoever. You won’t have to worry about leaving it with your child if they tend to be rough with their toys.

Despite everything we loved about this train, it did have a couple flaws. You’ll need AAA batteries for the remote, and while it’s supposed to also run via Bluetooth using a free mobile app, we couldn’t get that feature to work. Also, the engine chirps incessantly if the model is plugged in but the remote is off. Aside from that, our reviewers really loved this durable, easy-to-use train.


2. Bachmann Chattanooga: Best value electric train set

Bachmann Chattanooga

(opens in new tab)
Good value for money, but probably not suitable for younger children

Reasons to buy

+
Great design and detail
+
Comes with 6 cars, the most of the trains we tested
+
E-Z Track assembly is seamless

Reasons to avoid

-
Miniature props included are delicate
-
Track can spark when used incorrectly
-
Third-slowest train we tested

This train comes with six cars including the engine, the most of the trains we tested. This is a pretty inexpensive high-quality model train, especially when you consider the fact that you’re getting 155 pieces. This includes a 0-6-0 steam locomotive, box car with sliding door, open quad hopper, single-dome tank car, caboose, 48 figurines, 36 telephone poles, 48 railroad and street signs and more. It’s an HO scale train so it’s large enough to easily see detail while not taking up half of a living room.

The 14-piece track has E-Z Track design, so assembly is as easy as sliding two pieces of track together. The design of the cars is delicate and detailed, with pristine paint lines. The train pieces are heavy in your hand, giving an impression of quality before you’ve even got the train on the track. This unit is operated by a power pack you plug into an electrical socket. Our testers gave this train an A- for overall design and detail because it looks authentic, but they were divided on the sound the train makes as it circles the track. Some said it sounded rickety while others enjoyed it.

Along with being a great HO scale train, the Bachmann Chattanooga is also durable. While many trains started failing after the second of four drop tests, this model’s engine didn’t have any external damage until the very last drop. The only problem we noted was the engine sounded substantially more high-pitched and strained while running around the track. You can find this solid yet detailed train at an affordable price, making it the best value out there.


3. Mickey Mouse train set: Best for young children

Mickey Mouse Train Set

(opens in new tab)

Mickey Mouse train set

Ideal for younger children, and with a neat Disney theme

Reasons to buy

+
It’s durable
+
Track and train are large and kid-friendly
+
No small pieces

Reasons to avoid

-
Not suitable for older children
-
Rough track pieces are hard on your hands while assembling
-
Includes just four cars total

The Mickey Mouse Train Set is adorable, festive, fast and fun. It’s recommended for children age 4 or older and doesn’t have any small removable parts that might prove dangerous for a young child. This Christmas-themed train set is perfect for playtime or for around the tree. You get a large 73.2 x 50-inch oval track in 31 pieces, though you can use fewer pieces and create track layouts in varying shapes. The train is a massive O scale model and requires AAA batteries for the remote and C batteries for the engine.

Once you’ve installed the batteries you can start playing right away. Our testers loved how much muscle Mickey had as the four train cars sped around the track without falling off. In fact, this is the second-fastest train we tested, reaching 1.75 feet per second. It earned a B+ for overall design and detail because while many of our testers loved it, this children’s train obviously isn’t model-grade and probably isn’t a teenager’s dream. The headlamp works, and the train makes chuffing sounds as it circles the track. You can also activate bells, whistles and audio with the remote. As one tester put it, this train is “Christmas morning gold!”

Along with being beloved among our testers, the Mickey Mouse Train Set is super durable. We dropped it off a table about 3 feet high and it wasn’t until the second drop we noticed the train running at a slightly higher-pitched tone. Nothing changed on the third drop but by the fourth the train’s responsiveness had decreased a bit. Nothing broke off of the engine though, so we gave it a B for durability. On top of this, the train is also pretty affordable, making it the perfect starter train for young children.


4. Athearn Iron Horse: Best for Teenagers

Athearn Iron Horse

(opens in new tab)

Athearn Iron Horse train set

Ideal for younger adults who crave a more serious train set

Reasons to buy

+
It’s fast-moving

Reasons to avoid

-
Failed our durability tests

The Athearn Iron Horse is the perfect train to get the young train enthusiast in your life.

It’s HO scale, so it’s not tedious but still has the feel of a realistic model train. It comes with five cars total, including the locomotive with working headlamp, and runs via a power pack remote you’ll need to plug into the wall. The track is fairly decent in size at 45 x 36 inches and easy to assemble with the E-Z Track system that clicks into place. This train isn’t very durable, but then again, detailed model trains of this caliber aren’t meant to be tossed around. 

Our testers gave it an A- for design and detail because while some struggled to make it run others loved the attention to detail. It’s a perfect train set if you’ve got a little patience. One of the cars even has removable cargo, which is a fun element the other trains we tested didn’t have. The Athearn Iron Horse is ideal for teenagers and new hobbyists because it’s highly detailed but easy to use.


5. intelino J-1 Smart Train

Best Electric Train Sets Intelino

(Image credit: intelino)
(opens in new tab)

intelino J-1 Smart Train

This futuristic looking set can either be run via a smartphone app or directly on the tracks.

Reasons to buy

+
 Quick set-up 
+
 Easy to learn coding system 
+
 Reasonable price 

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited accessories available

The intelino J-1 Smart train isn’t your standard model, eschewing realism for a futuristic style and adaptable approach. While purists might not be enthusiastic about its modernistic design, young learners will appreciate its fun features that let them easily control when the train stops, starts, uncouples and takes a new direction.

These directions are communicated to the train by way of ‘color action snaps’ that you place directly on the tracks. By laying down several green snaps in a row for example, you can get the train to reach its maximum speed, or you could place down red snaps to halt the train completely. You also have the option of controlling the train via a smartphone app, directly telling it which way to turn or to reverse direction.

When it’s fully charged, the train runs for 100 hours, which is a lot of playtime. It also has adaptable LEDs that can change colour at your command. A fun, smart toy that encourages STEM learning, we recommend this for young kids who enjoy interactive play.


6. Lionel Polar Express: Most festive train set

Lionel Polar Express

(opens in new tab)
If you're buying specifically for Christmas, this is the set for you

Reasons to buy

+
It's very durable

Reasons to avoid

-
This Christmas-themed train might not be beloved year-round

The Lionel Polar Express is a lovely Christmas train for play or decoration.

Its large O scale size alone makes it stand out, but it’s also frankly a lot of fun to play with. You’ll need AAA batteries for the remote and C batteries for the locomotive but putting everything together is quick and easy. You can activate bell and whistle sounds via the remote and even audio straight from the movie with Tom Hanks calling out “all aboard!” It stays on the track even at full speed, which is a mid-range 1.33 feet per second. The track itself is 73.2 x 50 inches, so it will definitely draw attention in your living room. 

This train is pretty expensive straight from the manufacturer, but we were able to find much more affordable models on other websites like Amazon, so we’d recommend shopping around. If you do splurge on this fun, festive four-car train, you can count on it working for a long time as it passed our durability tests with an A. This train is a one-way ticket to the North Pole!


Features to Look for When Buying A Model Train Set 

Scale
Train scales fall into letter ratings from N, which is super small and detailed, to G and O which are larger. Smaller is great for smaller spaces or enthusiasts that like to work on fine detailing. The larger options are ideal for younger children that want the fun without quite so much fine motor controls needed to enjoy without causing damage. Want a middle option? The HO scale is the one for you to look out for.

In terms of actual scale that N level is 1:160 meaning 1-inch on the train is equivalent to 160-inches on the real thing. HO is 1:87.1, O is 1:48, then there is On 30 which is also 1:48 but this appears smaller due to thinner track, and is G is 1:22.5+.

Safety
An important part of trains is safety and that's especially important for younger children where the possibility of choking on small parts is a reality. Since trains usually come with a recommended age range it's always worth looking out for this and sticking to it when buying for children – especially if you plan to leave them alone with the train set.

Some trains can have batteries that are small which is a hazard in itself for children. But, also, these can be tough to fit so children may need help as well as supervision. As for electric trains, there can be sparks if moved along the track incorrectly, which can be a fire hazard potentially, so is also worth keeping in mind.

Customizing Your Train
Making your train your very own is one of the fun parts for hobbyists to enjoy when collecting and using train sets. While you can pick and choose which parts you want to make up your mini world, to really make it your own, paint is needed. You can strip the paint from the train using stripping liquid from a hardware store, then it's time to paint. An airbrush is a great way to get a perfect finish and small brushes for finer details. It's worth setting up a dedicated space for this so as not to make a mess with that airbrush paint.

Track switches are a must as these let you change direction which opens up the possibility of more and more track. Of course that will mean you need more extras like foliage, signs and stores – but that's all part of the magic end result.

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 does go quite far into the high-end with train engines alone that cost as much as $1,000.

For a quality detailed model, in HO or N scale, we recommend spending around $200 on a train set. But it's worth looking for savings on sites like Amazon or eBay which can have discounts as well as used options.


Anna Burleson hails from South Dakota and worked as a writer and reviewer for a number of sites, including Top Ten Reviews. She has written for Top Ten Reviews across a number of subjects and her knowledge is very broad. Primarily, Anna has covered dating apps for this site, along with things like flower delivery and even sewing machines.