Model railroad trains first became popular when department store owners incorporated them into their Christmas window displays in the 1920s, and they've been a fixture of childhood and beyond ever since. Today model railroading is an extremely popular hobby, with both collectors and modelers who focus on every imaginable aspect of railroad history and operations.

Model trains have been available since the beginning of the railroads, but they weren’t considered a hobby until the 1880s and boomed in popularity in the 1930s.

Vintage model train collectors and hobbyists tend to specialize by scale or gauge (O scale, HO scale, N scale, Z scale, G scale), by type (brass, tinplate, steam, etc.), or by manufacturer (Lionel, American Flyer, Marx, Märklin). Until the National Model Railroad Association was formed in 1935, there were no standard gauges and a train from one manufacturer wouldn’t necessarily run on a track from another. The NMRA developed the standardized gauge system that is still in place today.

O scale model trains, built to a 1:43, 1:45, or 1:48 scale reached a height of popularity before World War II. True O scale trains ran on a two-rail track and were built to scale. Companies like Lionel and American Flyer made O gauge trains, but these ran on a three-rail track and are not as collectible as O scale.

HO scale model trains were introduced in the 1930s and became popular in the 1950s. HO, short for "Half O," is scaled to a 1:87 size and has the widest available range of rolling stock and accessories of all model railroad scales. Most HO scale trains run on a two rail track.

N scale is built to a 1:160 scale, much smaller than O and HO. First introduced in the 1960s, N scale model railroads are in demand because they don't require a lot of space to set up a layout. An even smaller scale, Z scale (built at a scale of 1:220), was first introduced in Germany in 1972 and became common in the U.S. shortly after.

G scale trains are the largest model trains and can be used for either indoor or outdoor (aka 'garden') model railroads. G scale trains, built at a scale of 1:22.5, are the largest electrically-powered model trains...

HO scale trains are currently the most sought-after, although O scale was most popular in the 1930s and '40s.

The earliest model trains were mostly made of tinplate. Tin trains, which were cheap and efficient, were produced until shortly after World War II, when other materials took the lead. After WWII, soldiers returned to the U.S. with brass model trains from Japan, sparking an interest in brass railroad sets. Although still made today, the most collectible brass model trains are those produced in Japan up through the 1970s.

Until the 1950s, steam locomotive models were more popular than diesel, and they continue to be desirable among collectors today. Steam model trains are categorized by wheel configuration and railroad name.

Some people tend to collect more by the railroad than the manufacturer, even creating railroad layouts that are historically accurate. Some of the most popular railroads to collect and recreate are the Pennsylvania Railroad, New York Central, Chicago and North Western, Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, Santa Fe, and Great Northern.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Airfix Model Railways

Airfix Model Railways

Dave McCarthy's Airfix Model Railway treasure trove is an in-depth archive of the company's plastic railway kits fr… [read review or visit site]

Gateway NMRA

Gateway NMRA

This great reference site for model railroaders, from the Gateway (St. Louis) division of the NMRA (National Model … [read review or visit site]

This site is a treasure trove of HO scale model railroad manufacturer catalogs and other reference information, inv… [read review or visit site]

Postwar Lionel Trains Library

Postwar Lionel Trains Library

Bernie Schulz’s Lionel Trains Library focuses exclusively on postwar Lionel trains and accessories. The site cont… [read review or visit site]

Eric's Trains

Eric's Trains

Eric Siegel's site displays his collection of O-gauge/O-scale trains, tracks, turntables, and other accessories. A … [read review or visit site]

Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT

Tech Model Railroad Club of MIT

MIT's model railroad club, as one might expect, has one of the best websites for learning about how people play wit… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Live Steam Train Winton Steam EngineLionel Post-war 2340 Pennsylvania Gg-1 Electric Loco-circa 1950's-sensational!Lionel Standard Gauge No. 1, "electric Rapid Transit" Open Trolley, Circa 1910Stuart 4 Steam Engine With Stephenson Reversing Valve Gear - Ready To RunLionel New York Central Hudson 700e 5340 Steam Engine 4-6-4 Full O Gauge In BoxLgb/aster #2901 - G Scale - Live Steam Engine Lionel Standard Gauge #1912 Locomotive, Restored Original, Circa 1910, Stunning!Ho Brass Nj Custom Brass Prr Pennsylvania S-1 Duplex 6-4-4-6 StreamlinedWorthington Duplex Steam Pump Cole Coles Power ModelOriginal & Rare, Leland Detroit Monorail. With Extras. Read Description.Lionel Standard Gauge Liberty Bell, Stephen Girard, Coral Isle-original, Nice!Standard Gauge American Flyer "president's Special" Engine And CarsDorfan Crane By T-repro. Orig Boxes. No Reserve. 5 Day Auction.Accucraft Ac77-202 Shay-mich. Locomotive, Live Steam, Gas Fired, NibBeautiful Tca 25th Anniversary Set By Williams. Extras. No ReserveMth 400e Blue Comet Standard Gauge Engine And Tender N/rMth 40-4000 Z-4000 400w Dual Control Transformer ExAster C12 "tiny Star" Live Steam Locomotive Engine, Gauge 1, 1:32 ScaleLionel Post-war 2321 Lackawanna Fm Trainmaster Diesel Loco-circa 1950's-nice0 Scale Brass 2 Rail B&o Q-4b 2-8-2 With Aux Tender By Westside ModelsS-s Helper Service Chicago ^ Northwestern F3 A&b SetLionel Standard Gauge 420 421 422 Very Good Set Blue Comet Nice Matching ColorsMarklin Rare 3010 Dl800 Articulted Aa Diesel Original BoxIves 126 Fast Freight Caboose Circa 1908 €Marklin Pre Ww2 Slr 700 Streamline Usa Style Steamer Smooth Solid RunnerLgb 20670 Track Cleaning Diesel LocomotiveEstate Attic Find: Rare 1991 Aristo-craft Blue Comet Set MLionel #226e Pre War Locomotive & TenderAkane Japan Brass H.o. S.p. "cab Forward" 4-8-8-2 Locomotive & Tender, 1960'sBrass Hon30 Srrl 24 LocomotiveLionel Standard Gauge No. 9e Locomotive, Gunmetal, Original, Very Nice!Mth O Gauge Pennsylvania 4-4-6-4 Q2 Steam Engine W/proto 2 20-3048-1MEarly Mth State Green 400e. No Reserve 5 Day Auction.1958 Lionel Us Marine Corps 212 A Units 601750 Caboose 6804 Flat Bed Navy TrucksMth Full O Gauge Union Pacific Big Boy In Box 3021lp Huge!Ltd Toy Stamp & 1950s Lionel Wabash Train Set W Diesel Engine 2369 In BoxesAmerican Flyer Train LotMth W.v.p. & P. Shay Steam Engine #20-3023-1 ObOriginal Lionel 390e Loco. Runs Great! No Reserve. 3 Day Auction"s" Scale Brass, S.p. 4-8-2 Mountain, River Raisin Model's. New In Box.O Scale Brass Sw8 800 Hp Emd LocomotiveKey Imports Samhongsa 4-8-4 Np 2626 Northern Classic Timken Four Aces Ho Brass G Gauge Lgb Uintah Railway #50 2-6-6-2 Steam Custom Weathered W/ Dcc & SoundAristo-craft Norfolk Southern Dash 9 Locomotive Excellent ConditionOriginal Lionel 390e Loco & Scarce 390x Tender. Runs Great! No Reserve. 3 Day Marx 9640 Allstate Deluxe Freight Boxed Set W/ Sears Tractor & TrailerLionel 6-28063 Pennsylvania Prr T-1 Duplex 4-4-4-4 Locomotive & TenderFine Scale Miniatures Fsm Ho Scale Emporium Seafood Co. New In Mint ConditionAmerican Flyer 332ac Union Pacific 4-8-4 Northern 1950-51 See Video,Lionel 6816 Flat W Bulldozer Variation Ln Ob......tkNorth West Short Line Brass Booth Kelly #2 2-6-6-2 First Tank Logging MalletBachmann Spectrum G Scale 38 Ton Two Truck Shay Narrow Gauge Steam LocomotiveLgb 24578 & 24588 Sp F7 A&b Daylight Diesel Loco Mts & Sound VgibHo Brass Santa Fe Emc E-1 #7l Tcy #2002 Custom-weatheredSouthern Pacific S-10 0-6-0 Steam Shifter Sunset Samhongsa Brass Ho Up [7107]Marklin 3025 3 Coach Articulated Railcar Near Mint ConditionsBrass Import, Ho, Samhongsa, Japan, 2-8-2 Mikado W/12 Wheel Tender, ExcellentOriginal Buddy L Rr Railroad Train Coal Hopper Car

Recent News: Model Trains

Source: Google News

New steam loco at Keighley model train track
Keighley News, September 21st

MODEL engineers ran a new steam locomotive for the first time during their latest open day at the Marley railway track. Keighley and District Model Engineering Society's session attracted dozens of people visiting nearby Keighley Show. A Polly 2 loco, ...Read more

24th Annual Wiregrass Model Railroad Show
WTVY, Dothan, September 21st

Sunday was the last day of the 24th Annual Model Train Show in Dothan, vendors from all over showed off their favorite model trains. This family event had everything from electric trains to all different kinds of accessories. Creative modules were on...Read more

All aboard!, September 21st

20, in Rosenberg. The event included live entertainment, train-themed crafts, a bounce house, model train layouts, guided tours and an appearance by a Santa Fe F7 Warbonnet locomotive complete with three fully restored vintage passenger cars...Read more

24th annual Wiregrass Model Railroad Show and Sale
Dothan Eagle, September 19th

The 24th annual Wiregrass Model Railroad Show and Sale is being held in Dothan this weekend. The show will be Saturday, Sept 20, and Sunday, Sept 21, at the main exhibit building at the National Peanut Festival Fairgrounds. Show hours are 9 A.M. to 5 ...Read more

Owner Plans to Rebuild Model Railroad Business
TWC News, September 18th

EAST ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The owner of a model railroad store that burned down said he is on track to rebuild "Despatch Junction." Stan Slade said he has received zoning approval from the East Rochester planning board to rebuild his business on ...Read more

Wilson's model train layout brings out historic eras
Princeton Union Eagle, September 17th

Ralph Wilson holds a remote control as he stands in the middle of his massive model train layout. He builds and buys features for the landscape along the model railroad tracks, using various sources. He bought the swinging hot air balloon ride mobile ...Read more

Hagerstown Model RR Museum Model Train Sale
Frederick News Post (subscription), September 13th

This event is part of the fund raising activities of the Hagerstown Model Railroad Museum which is in the process of restoring the historic Norfolk and Western Antietam Station located in Sharpsburg, MD. Sorry, this is a sale only. There are no layouts...Read more

Gardeners add artificial turf, model railroad to yard, September 12th

The additions are recent — the model railroad going in last year, and the new fake grass just a few weeks ago. The Wynnes had a hard time keeping grass alive in the backyard, so decided to go artificial. They so far love the new lawn, even though “it...Read more