Thinking of getting your first train set? With so many packs available, it can be tough to know which train set is right for you.
That’s why I’ve put together this list of 5 key questions to ask yourself before you buy a Hornby model train set. By answering these questions, you can be sure to find the perfect set for your needs and interests.
What features are important to me?
When it comes to model trains, there are a lot of different features that you can choose from. Do you want an industrial or commuter theme with stations? Is your preference for the Flying Scotsman, Mallard or an Intercity diesel racing around your room before pulling into a station and racing off again? Or maybe you prefer industry themes, and would rather have a shunter or diesel locomotive hauling loads to and from a dock or mine?
Whatever consider what you’d like to see your trains doing and look for the train sets to match.
Btw, there’s no reason at all not to mix and match and have whatever mix of trains you want. Start with a passenger set and add shunting later; it doesn’t matter, it’s your set so have fun, but deciding in advance what your preference is will make it more fun when you first take unpack it.
What kind of operating features do I want?
Some Hornby model train sets come with digital operating features, like sound and lights in the train. Or even control from a mobile phone or tablet as is the case with Hornby’s iTraveller 6000 Train Set. These features can add a lot of fun to your layout, but they’re not essential. They can also make the initial setup more complicated.
If you’re not sure whether you want a set with these kinds of features, I recommend starting with a basic DC-based set first, With these, you still have all the enjoyment of watching your trains trundling around and can see if you enjoy the hobby before you invest in a more complex DCC set later. The train and rolling stock — wagons, etc — can continue to be used although the locomotives will need upgrading. My article on DC vs DCC elaborates on the differences further, alternatively, jump in and get a DC train set.
Where will I put the train set?
Model train layouts can take up a lot of space, so it’s important to decide where you’re going to put yours before you buy a set.
For a Hornby set, you’ll want just under 4 feet by 4 feet square of space.
You can have Hornby OO gauge, the term for the width of the rails and size of the locomotives, and train layouts in smaller spaces but these won’t be oval. Rather, lines of track on which the trains can run up and down but not continuously or without intervention. You can make these end-to-end track configurations from Hornby train sets although be wasting the curve sections of the track that they come with and will likely need to buy more straight track sections before you can operate the trains.
If pressed for space, a better option might be to consider smaller scales, where the trains and track are reduced in size and take up less space. Hornby TT120 and N gauge sets from Bachmann are worth looking at.
You’ll also need a flat surface, ideally off the floor and away from dust and dirt that can damage the delicate motors of the locomotives. A table is often the first step.
What is my budget?
Model train sets can range in price from around £70 to several hundred pounds. It’s important to set a budget before you start shopping so that you don’t overspend, tempting as it is!
If you’re on a tight budget, there are still a lot of great Hornby model train sets available. And remember, the great thing about model railways is that can be expanded over time. Set your budget and then take a look at my guide to the best train sets and see which fits to start with and build out when more money is available.
What era do I want to model?
There are many different eras of railways to choose from, each with its own unique charm. Some popular eras include the early 20th century, the steam era, the diesel era, and the modern era.
Think about which era you’re most interested in and choose a set that reflects that period. You’ll get much more fun from the trains when you run ones that match your interests.
My guide to the best train sets includes sets covering the different eras.
Armed with these key considerations, you’re ready to start your journey into the wonderful world of Hornby train sets. Whether it’s the magic of history, the thrill of creation, the joy of intricate detail that calls to you or just the fun of running tiny trains, there’s a set waiting to bring that passion to life. You never know, you might just ignite a passion that will last a lifetime. Get one of these best Hornby sets and try it.
Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.