Best electric train sets 2022

Best electric train sets
(Image credit: DeAgostini)

The best electric train sets make for great presents, but model railroads can quickly develop into a rewarding hobby for both children and adult engineers alike. From detail-rich O-gauge sets that boast all the bells and whistles, like Lionel’s Pennsylvania Flyer, to Christmas-themed ‘roundy-rounds’ like the Lionel Polar Express and even working Lego locomotives like the Express Passenger Train, there’s something for every railroad enthusiast. 

But if you’re shopping for a train set for the first time, you’ve probably got a lot to consider. Thankfully, we’ve removed the bulk of the work for you and narrowed down the very best electric train sets all in one place. This guide features products from Lionel, but also brands such as Lego and Hornby. There’s something to satisfy engineers of all ages and those with various scale preferences, while also including trains that will delight both American- and British-outline fans too.

We've looked at plenty of factors you may want to consider when compiling this list. Do you want a classic-looking train set, built to an accurate scale and kitted out with fine details? Or are you simply looking for a fun loop of track that won’t cost too much time or money, but you can build upon and grow in the future? Either way, we’ve got you covered.

Space is a big consideration so be sure you know where your train set is going to live before you make a purchase. Durability can be a big factor too, so consider if this is predominantly going to be used by adults or children who may require a more sturdy setup.

Train sets come in a variety of track gauges, and it’s important to decide upon the one for you early on, as you’ll need to stick to it if you want to expand your train set with additional tracks, locomotives and rolling stock. If you purchase a HO set and then fancy picking up an O-gauge locomotive, you’ll need to start a whole new setup as you won’t be able to connect the two. If that all sounds a bit complicated, don’t worry. Read on to find the right train set for you or a lucky family member.

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Black Friday electric train set deals

, now $99.59 (opens in new tab)

Lionel Thomas & Friends Ready-to-Play Set | was $199.99, now $99.59 (opens in new tab)
If you're wanting to surprise your little one with a new train set for the holidays, then it's a good time to click buy. This set is currently at the lowest price we've ever seen it, with 50% off the original price. 

, now $277.49 at Amazon (opens in new tab)

Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer | was $369.99, now $277.49 at Amazon (opens in new tab)
You can now buy the top choice in this buying guide at a 25% discount on Amazon, the lowest price we've seen on the internet. This 5.0 Complete Bluetooth Set includes a voice streaming and recording feature and the ability to run your locomotive by speaking commands into your phone via the LionChief App.

Best electric train sets

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We've rounded up the best train sets that you can buy right 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. 

Mike Harris
Mike Harris

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 (opens in new tab)

Best electric train sets

Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer

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Affordable, detailed, but good quality - this is our best pick for most people

Reasons to buy

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

Reasons to avoid

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Testers couldn’t get remote app to work
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Liquid smoke and small pieces not suited for young children
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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.


Lionel Polar Express

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If you're buying specifically for Christmas, this is the set for you

Reasons to buy

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It's very durable

Reasons to avoid

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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!


Hornby Hogwarts Express train set

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3. Hornby Harry Potter Hogwarts Express

Harry Potter fans can charter their very own trip to Hogwarts

Reasons to buy

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It will delight Harry Potter fans
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Beautifully detailed model
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Includes a US power supply 
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DCC ready

Reasons to avoid

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Delicate parts not suitable for younger Potter fans

The Hogwarts Express chuffing across Scotland’s Glenfinnan Viaduct, en route to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, is one of the most famous railroad movie scenes of all time. And this Harry Potter themed train set from heritage UK toy manufacturer Hornby will surely delight Potter fans or anybody wanting to add a little movie magic to their existing layout. It comes with everything you need to get started, including a US power supply, and the OO-gauge Code 100 track should accommodate any HO rolling stock you may have too. 

The star of the show is the beautifully detailed GWR Hall 4-6-0 locomotive, dressed up as the fictional Hogwarts Castle. It boasts a working headlight, separately fitted details and the exquisite Hogwarts Railways Red livery. The set also contains two Hogwarts Mk I coaches – the Hogwarts Express composite and brake coaches – a third-radius oval of track, with a point and buffer stop to create a siding, Hornby’s R8250 Train Controller and a power supply. 

While there’s plenty here to satisfy a Potter fan looking for their first train set, ardent model railroaders can look to expand the set with Hornby’s range of resin thematic structures, including Hogsmeade Station and Platform 9 ¾, as well as make use of the locomotive’s DCC Ready status. This means the DC-powered locomotive can be upgraded to DCC by installing a compatible DCC decoder. It’s not something beginner railroaders should worry about to begin with, but does provide the set with increased functionality should you wish to pursue a DCC control system in the future.


Lionel Thomas & Friends Ready-to-Play Set

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4. Lionel Thomas & Friends Train Set

An ideal first set for youngsters who want to explore Sodor

Reasons to buy

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Ambient and dialogue sound effects
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Vibrant controller with a big dial
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Thomas’ eyes move 
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Three interchangeable faces for Thomas

Reasons to avoid

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Requires lots of batteries, which aren’t included
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Prominent headlight doesn’t actually light up

If you’re looking for a first train set for young children of over four years then Lionel’s Thomas & Friends Ready-to-Play Set is a great introduction into the world of model railroads. The set of course features Thomas the Tank Engine himself as well as his faithful pair of passenger cars Annie and Clarabel. The rest of the set comprises 32 pieces of track (eight straights and 24 curves), a wireless remote controller and three interchangeable faces for Thomas. 

On track, Thomas makes a variety of ambient locomotive sounds, such as chuffs, bells and whistles, and he can also recite a few lines of dialogue too. But what will perhaps delight young Thomas fans most is his eyes, which move from side to side as he trundles around the track. The interchangeable faces add additional playability and provide Thomas with a determined side smile and raised eyebrow, laughing expression and cheeky grin. 

The vibrant controller has large, clearly marked buttons and a big command dial that should help smaller hands operate the set and Lionel’s large Ready-to-Play scale provides Thomas with a striking on-track presence. 

While the locomotive’s form and vibrant blue livery provides a suitably neat resemblance to 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 set for younger engineers. 


Lego Express Passenger Train

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5. Lego City Express Passenger Train

A great alternative train set that boasts endless playability

Reasons to buy

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Comes with minifigures and a small platform build
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Cars feature full interiors
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Can be controlled via a dedicated controller or app
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Building the train is a fun experience

Reasons to avoid

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Don’t expect the smooth running of a dedicated train set
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If you’re looking for accuracy you won’t find it here
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If you’re already into model railroads this probably isn’t for you

Don’t be fooled by the bricks, the Lego City Express Passenger Train (60337) is a proper train set that comes with a 24-piece oval of track and a dedicated controller. But unlike the other train sets on this list, it boasts additional playability thanks to a small platform build,  carriages with full interiors and six minifigures. As you’d expect from a Lego set, the train comes unassembled. It comprises 764 pieces and is rated for children aged seven plus, although adult assistance may be required during the build.

The train runs under its own power and features dimmable headlights, which can be operated via the included controller or Lego’s Powered Up app. While the set isn’t modelled after a specific train, Lego does refer to it as a ‘bullet locomotive’ and the long nose certainly bears some resemblance to some of Japan’s bullet trains. The train itself comprises a single locomotive and two carriages, a dining car and passenger car. 

While this set doesn’t boast the smooth running and accuracy of some other sets on this list, it arguably boasts the best playability, thanks to the presence of minifigures, charming carriage interiors and the additional platform build.


Lionel Union Pacific Flyer LionChief Train Set

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6. Lionel Union Pacific Flyer LionChief Train Set

This would make a fine addition (or start) to a larger model railroad

Reasons to buy

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It actually puffs out smoke
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Features on-board sounds
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Track roadbed helps to protect the model

Reasons to avoid

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O-gauge models require plenty of space

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, as well as a boxcar, tank car and caboose for it to haul around an oval of Lionel’s FasTrack track. Unlike the manufacturer’s Ready-to-Play offerings, this set is powered via an included power supply. 

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. Thankfully, Lionel’s FasTrack comes with 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 actual smoke from its chimney.


Hornby Flying Scotsman train set

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7. Hornby Flying Scotsman

A fine portal into the world of British-outline model railroads

Reasons to buy

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 It’s the most famous locomotive in railroad history 
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 You get a rake of three coaches
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 Accurate-looking models
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DCC ready

Reasons to avoid

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Doesn’t feature the same playability as other sets

Flying Scotsman is arguably the most famous locomotive in the world, which hauled one of the most famous trains in the world. It’s immortalised 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 of course 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 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 it easier to place rolling stock on the tracks, which is ideal for youngsters. Also included is a 63in x 46in Hornby MidiMat, a full-colour, 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. As far as starter train sets are concerned, 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.


Lionel Hogwarts Express Ready-to-Play train set

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8. Lionel Hogwarts Express

Younger Potter fans will enjoy all the bells and whistles

Reasons to buy

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Harry Potter movie sound effects
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A working headlight
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Large Ready-to-Play scale

Reasons to avoid

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Not as visually accurate as other sets
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Requires lots of batteries, which aren’t included

If you’re buying a train set for a youngster who’s got a few years before they receive their Hogwarts acceptance letter, then it’s worth considering Lionel’s Ready-to-Play Hogwarts Express offering. This large set (1:24) is bigger than O gauge (1:48) and features plenty of moulded details that should better withstand the rigours of play than the smaller and more delicate separately fitted components often found on sets targeted towards older audiences.

This set also features a working headlight and a plethora of on-board train sounds including a bell, whistle and chuffing. But what will surely enchant Potter fans are various snippets of dialogue from the movie Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. This includes quotes from Hagrid, Hermione, Ron and Harry Potter himself. 

Inside the box you’ll find the Hogwarts Express locomotive and detachable tender, two coaches, 32 pieces of track and a wireless, remote controller. The track can be arranged to form a 73.2in by 50in oval and the locomotive is powered via six C-cell batteries, inserted via the cab, and the remote is powered by three AAA batteries (no batteries are included). 

While the rolling stock isn’t nearly as accurate as Hornby’s OO offering, this Lionel Ready-to-Play train set provides additional playability thanks to its range of sound effects and the large scale will surely captivate young witches and wizards in the making.


Lionel North Pole Central Ready-to-Play Freight Set

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9. Lionel North Pole Central

A classic train set for rollin’ around the Christmas tree

Reasons to buy

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Dripping with classic train set nostalgia
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Charming sound effects
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Battery operation is useful when powering lots of Christmas lights

Reasons to avoid

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Some may find it a little too twee 
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Requires lots of batteries, which aren’t included

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. 

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. 


Hornby Coca-Cola Summertime Train Set

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10. Hornby Coca-Cola Summertime

An ideal gift all year round, not just when the holidays are coming…

Reasons to buy

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The Coca-Cola livery is a lot of fun
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The flat wagon with shipping crates is a nice inclusion
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A more affordable entry into Hornby train sets

Reasons to avoid

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Is it really for an adult demographic?
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Not the most exciting locomotive

Hornby’s website is calling 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. 

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 that carries three shipping containers, each with a different Coca-Cola beverage, along with a Diet Coke tank wagon. The set also comes with the usual components: an oval of track, a US transformer, controller and Hornby’s Rerailer.   

Best electric train sets buying advice

Features to Look for When Buying A Model Train Set 

Scale

Start off by deciding the scale of the setup you need. Everything else will follow this first decision. There are N, G and O – 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 out. However, enthusiasts that 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 thinner track, and is G is 1:22.5+.

Safety
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 this is another area of concern where fitting and removing can be hazardous to younger children that 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 light be sure to remove or cover it before setting up a train set of this kind.

Customizing Your Train

If you really want to make your setup personal then painting the trains and scenery is vital. That means you may want to get some paint stripper to strip back trains 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 to creating a more realistic reproduction.

Buying stores, foliage, buildings, signs and more are all worth thinking about - 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 there are plenty of make-it-yourself options and used parts and trains 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 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.

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 (opens in new tab).

With contributions from