The Best Model Train Sets For 2021

Everything you need to know to pick the best model train set by type, age, price and more.

 

Best train sets at a glance

Best all round train set Hornby mixed freight train set
Best set for price Hornby Rambler train set
Best train set for small spaces Graham Farish N Gauge North Eastern train set
Best model railway starter set for young adults Graham Farish North Eastern freight train set
Best model railway set for those returning to the hobby Hornby Flying Scotsman set
Best set for future expansion Hornby Digital freight complete train set

 

Best Train Set For Adults and Children on Price

Features:

Gauge: OO | Locomotive: 0-4-0T steam locomotive in GWR green livery | Rolling stock: GWR wagon and crane | Track:  3rd Radius oval with track pack A | Controller: Hornby analogue controller.

Description:

This massively popular Hornby R1254M GWR Freight Train Set train set is an ideal starter set to buy for children and adults alike with a price for all budgets and a great set to try out the world of model railways and Hornby trains.

The set includes a delightful GWR steam locomotive, wagon and ever popular crane  with enough track for an oval circuit plus siding, transformer and train controller track matt and railer to help place the trains on the track.

Being analog (DC) technology — as opposed to digital, see below — means there’s also a huge number of low-cost trains, track and accessories available to expand it with if you, or your son or daughter want to do more.

Being OO gauge and analog means it’s also compatible with old track and rolling stock that those returning to the hobby might have from their original sets.

What the Model Railway Engineer community liked:

  • The features and all round enjoyment of the trains,
  • The price, it’s great value.
  • Easy of set up and operation,
  • Expansion options available.

Disadvantages:

Buy this Hornby train set now.

 

Best Value train set

Hornby R1220

Gauge: OO | Locomotive: 0-4-0 steam locomotive Highland Rambler | Rolling stock: Four-wheel coach and open wagon | Track:  3rd Radius oval with track pack A | Controller: Hornby analogue controller.

Description:

This charming Hornby R1220m Highland Rambler Train Set train set is an excellent low priced introduction into the world of model trains.

The set includes a delightful Blue Highland Rambler steam locomotive, wagon and passenger coach with enough track for an oval circuit plus siding, transformer and train controller track matt and railer to help place the trains on the track.

Being analog (DC) technology — as opposed to digital, see below — means there’s also a huge number of low-cost trains, track and accessories available to expand it with if you, or your son or daughter want to do more.

Being OO gauge and analog means it’s also compatible with old track and rolling stock that those returning to the hobby might have from their original sets.

What the Model Railway Engineer community liked:

  • Great introduction to Hornby trains.
  • The price, can’t be beaten.
  • Simple of set up and operation,
  • Lots of expansion options available.

Disadvantages:

Best train set for small spaces and young adults

Features:

Gauge: N | Locomotive: Class B1 No. 61090 BR Lined Black | Rolling stock: Three Tank wagons ‘National Benzole’; Brake Van  | Track:  Oval with siding | Controller: Analogue Controller

Description:

If you want to buy a model train but are limited for space, N gauge —as opposed to traditional Hornby style OO gauge — is for you.

N gauge track and trains are much smaller than OO scale but give just as much fun and this delightful set by N gauge leaders Graham Farish is a great introduction that young adults will love.

The small size of N gauge makes them great for teenage bedrooms or small box rooms where the smaller scale will allow a good size railway to be created. The small size does, however, mean they’re not suitable for small children (those under 11 will probably get frustrated with them) or those with poor vision.

Like other model train sets here, the Graham Farish N Gauge North Eastern freight train set comes with an oval of track, controller, locomotive and rolling stock and there are plenty of other trains, accessories, and track that can be added later.

What the Model Railway Engineer community liked:

  • Nice detailing on locos.
  • Loco runs smoothly and well.
  • Easy to operate.

Disadvantages:

  • The small scale is great for small spaces but can be a challenge for young and older modellers who might struggle with the small detail.

> Stocks are often limited on this train set so order promptly if buying for a birthday etc. At the time of writing, it’s available here.

 

The Best Model Train Set For Adults : Returning to the hobbyHornby Flying Scotsman train set

Features:

Gauge: OO | Locomotive: LNER Apple Green Flying Scotsman | Rolling stock: Two LNER composite coaches; brake coach | Track:  3rd Radius oval with track pack A | Controller: Hornby analogue R7229 Controller.

Description:

This Hornby R1255M Flying Scotsman set is the pack followers of Model Railway Engineer choose to get back into the hobby after a few years away.

Typically, they have some bits and pieces from their original layout in the loft but it’s all a bit tired and they’re looking for something that works out the box (so to speak) to get them going quickly yet with which they can use still their existing locos once they’ve been cleaned up.

It has the lovely, glorious, Hornby version of the Flying Scotsman and new controller so you can relive those memories but uses the same tried and tested electrics you’ll be familiar with and will work with your existing locos.

And better yet…

The Flying Scotsman loco included is DCC ready, which means that if, at some point, you decide to move into the world of digital (DCC) trains and get yourself a DCC controller, the loco can be easily upgraded to work with that.

What the Model Railway Engineer community liked:

  • “It’s the Flying Scotsman. What more do you need?!?”
  • “All my the old stuff still works on it”
  • DCC ready loco. Can be upgraded if you ever move to digital.

Disadvantages:

  • None.

Get it from Hornby in the UK direct now or via Amazon.

The Best Train Set For All-Round Fun & Future Expansion

Hornby DCC starter model railway train set

Features:

Gauge: OO | Locomotives: BR 0-6-0 class 08 diesel shunter, GWR 0-6-0 clss 2721 | Rolling stock: 7 plank wagon;  BR 12 toe box van;  Iron Ore wagon; Tanker wagon | Track:  3rd radius Starter oval, track pack a | Controller: Hornby Select DCC controller.

Description:

The Hornby R1236 is a set up from the above sets in terms of capability and future expansion and is the set to go for if you’re building a railway after some time away from the hobby and want to explore what’s new or are looking for a first set on which to build a proper railway in the future.

The big difference between this and the other Hornby sets above, and the reason it costs more is that employs digital controls and trains (DCC). Compared to the analogue set above this allows far greater control over the trains — up to 60 locos and with smooth acceleration and deceleration — and also allows expansion of the locomotives with the included Select controller able to control many features of the latest DCC equipped trains such as onboard lights and sounds.

The downside to this is that the extra complexity of controlling the trains means young children will need a hand (I’d suggest a minimum age of 13 or 14).

However, if you’re an adult or teenager and want a train set to build on and expand this is highly recommended to get you restarted into the world of model trains or as an introduction to the world of DCC.

What the Model Railway Engineer community liked:

  • Gives best of old and new railways with steam and diesel locomotives,
  • Value for money: You get a lot for the money, a DCC controller; two locomotives and 4 wagons; track.

Negatives:

  • It would have been nice to have onboard sound or lights in the locos but you can always upgrade them with these features later or buy other locos.

> Buy it here.

Honorary mentions:

The Hornby R1236 is mine and the MRE communities best all round train set and as a digital control set is definitely the future of model railways (read my guide on the differences between digital (DCC) and DC trains) but if you’d prefer to stick to old school analogue control or your budget won’t stretch to the DCC set, the Bachmann military manoeuvres set is a good alternative.

It’s an OO gauge set (so it compatible with other OO gauge track and trains), features a lovely diesel shunter in military livery, 3 wagons, track and controller.

Get the Bachmann military manoeuvres set here.

Equally, if buying for a young adult and space isn’t such a concern, the Hornby R1176 Eurostar set is a great buy that teenage train fans will love.

Hornby R1176 Eurostar set

With modern high speed style locomotives and passenger cars which are DCC Ready, and so can be upgraded easily to digital control, it’s a modern train set in every sense,

Buy the Hornby R1176 Eurostar set

If any of this was confusing, the following guides might help:

And if you get one of these model railway sets and want to keep it in good running order, be sure to read this guide: how to look after your train sets.


> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.


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