If you’re looking to buy a toddler their wooden first train set the choices can be mind boggling. Don’t be daunted. This MRE guide to wooden trains will tell you everything you need to know and give you plenty of ideas of where to start.
Young children love trains and not only will they get countless hours of enjoyment from them and building and playing with the tracks, buildings, and trains can help with their development and education.
But when first buying a wooden train set it’s easy to be confused and put off by all the choices.
As someone who’s been there and done that, gone on to building some huge train sets, then progressed to Lego and intricate model railways I’ve got more than a little experience so I compiled this comprehensive guide to help.
What to start with
When first starting you don’t want to spend too much money in case your child finds he or she doesn’t like it as much as expected.
Equally, although most wooden track fits together there can be some problems and there’s no point in buying something that will just frustrate your children as they can’t make it fit together and play.
Lastly, you want something well made and safe so it survives the rough and tough world of toddler play and imagination.
With these factors in mind, I’d start with one of these small Bigjigs and Brio sets which contain all the track and trains necessary for playing but also let you test the water to see if your toddler will play with it. Although slightly more expensive than budget brands they’re typically of higher quality and you won’t have compatibility problems later.
Around £10: My First Train Set
This colorful, highly rated, basic set ideal for younger children is a great starter set to test the water with.
It contains eight pieces of standard wooden track to which more track can be added later to construct bigger circuits.
With the track in the set on its own, a circular circuit can be made on which the included Red, Green, and Blue steam engines and two passenger coaches run around. Complementing the train and tracks are trees, two houses and two people that will give hours of fun.
£10 to £20: Figure of Eight Train Set
The bigger brother of the My First Train Set above, with 30 pieces to create a larger track area but most significantly it includes a bridge. Bridges and tunnels add a whole level of extra fun to a train set and the delightful bridge included in this pack is big enough to span track and allow trains to run under it as well as over it.
Under £50: Rail and Road Loading Set
There’s a winding railway that is elevated off the ground, roads with level crossing, and a crane train to transfer freight between the train wagons and lorries on the road.
Being Brio all the pieces are superbly well made, brightly coloured, and has some lovely attention to detail.
> Safety note: Wooden train sets include small items that are a choking hazard, there are also parts that may work free from the bigger pieces. As such, check the age restrictions of the items and supervise your child when playing with any of the products.
Expanding A Wooden Train Set
The great thing about most wooden train sets is you can start small and expand them. Track, buildings and accessories can be added as your budget allows or when he/she wants more variation. The above packs were picked over budget versions as they’re compatible with most of the accessories available, this isn’t always the case for low-cost sets, which I go into more detail about here.
Of course, all children are different with different interests. Some like to play with the trains, some enjoy crashing the trains while others find the creativity of building and trying different track circuits the most fun. No matter what there are accessories to have fun with.
Wooden track options
Once you have a basic railway set as one of the ones above you can expand it with track but save your money and get the track via the local supermarket, department store, or TK Max which often have wooden track packs going cheap that in most cases are just as good as the big name brands. (If you can’t get to one of these, you can of course big name track expansion packs online. I’d start with General Track Expansion Pack which has 25 track pieces including straights, curves, and junctions).
As to what type of track to get. You’ll want a mix of straights, curves, and junctions – also known as points. The junctions allow the track can be divided into two paths and will be needed to expand your railway network from a single circuit. The track expansion pack mentioned above includes all these but as mentioned you should be able to find a similar less expensive version of this elsewhere.
The best wooden trains to get
- Thomas and Friends: All the favourites from Thomas the Tank engine.
- Steam Trains: Who doesn’t like steam engines?
- Mallard Steam Train – not just any steam train but a beautiful wooden version of the fastest-ever steam train.
- High-Speed Train
- Freight Wagons
Buildings and Scenery
Adding tunnels and bridges transforms a basic toy track layout into a mystery ride your child will love. Will the trains emerge from the tunnel? How fast will they go when rolling down from a hill? Will they make it over the bridge?
Having bought LOTS of train sets for my own children and friends and family, I’ve found the best quality railways and bridges for quality and fun are these:
Aside from these, there are other buildings and scenery items that will add enjoyment, in my experience these provide the most interest and entertainment.
There are of course lots of other track options, trains, buildings, scenery features and people you can get but hopefully, this guide will get you off to a good start and your child will soon be having endless fun with their new train set. If you have any questions, please drop me a line via the contact page and I’ll be happy to try and help.
> If you find this article useful, you might enjoy my other articles on wooden trains and railways, my guide to best (and cheapest way) to add extra trains to a kids wooden train set or what train set to get a toddler.
Station master at ModelRailwayEngineer.com
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.