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    

1950 Lionel #773x Hudson 4-6-4 Locomotive W #2426w Whistle TenderVintage Standard Gauge Lionel ~ Bild A Loco ~ Train Engine! 100% Original!Lionel 700e # 5344 Hudson Pre War Engine W/ TenderEstate Liquidation! Huge Lot Of A Lifetime's Worth Of Antique Lionel Train PartsLionel Texas Special Legacy F3 A-a Signature Line Set Powered & Nonpower 6-81452Lionel Prewar 763e Hudson Locomotive & 2226w Tender, Original , Rare, Nr O Scale - 3rd Rail Sunset - Up 4-8-8-4 Big Boy Steam Engine & Tender Brass #4023Lionel Standard Gauge Passenger Cars, 1766 Pullman, 1767 Baggage And 1768 Obs ExAmerican Flyer 21140 Northern Steam Engine Original Box 1960 Excellent PlusEhs N Scale Nib Rare Key Imports Brass Prr T-1 Duplex 4-4-4-4 Rd# 6111Lot 264 - Pacific Fast Mail Custom O Scale Brass Great Northern E-6 Class 4-6-0Westside Model Company Southern Pacific Fire Train Ho BrassLionel Pre-war Super Restored 700e Lionel 763w Semi Scale Hudson Engine W/ 2226w Tender, OriginalOriginal Prewar Lionel 1500 Locoscope W/ Filmstrip Of 1939 Nyc Worlds Fair, Ex+Huge Lot Of Over 30 Vintage Lionel O Gauge Cars No Reserve High Bid Wins!!!Marx 41850 Penn Central Mohawk Train Set Mint Brand New !Rare Lionel No 228 Prewar 0-6-0 Switcher W/ 2228b Tender No Reserve (dakotapaul)Sunset Models Brass O Scale Usra Light Mikado 2-8-2 Powered Converted To Proto48 2009 Lionel 6-11203 And 6-11151 Legacy Scale Polar Express Engine Tender Mint Shay, 16-ton T-boiler Type By Precision Scale Co.Lionel Ho Rare Set 5767 - Valise Set In Excellent Condition In Original CaseWilliams Brass O Gauge No.5450 Nyc Dreyfuss Hudson Steam Engine & TenderHo Nj Custom Brass Prr S-2 Turbine 6-8-6 W/smoke Deflectors Pennsylvania Pennsy#2002 Lionel Track Make-up Kit. 1963 Box Only Extraordinaraly Rare!!Lionel O Gauge "the Congressional" W/ 2340 Gg-1, 2341, 2342, 2343 & 2344 & BoxLionel Pre-war Standard Gauge #53 Square Cab Locomotive Very Nice ConditionLionel Standard Gauge No. 34 Electric Locomotive, Original, & 2 Short GondolaJh-mth Premier 20-3059-1 New York Central J1e Pt Hudson Steam Locomotive #5274Lgb 27182 Christmas Mogul Steam Locomotive & Tender W/mtz/boxEhs N Scale Nib Rare Oriental Imports Brass Prr S-1 6-4-4-6 Rd# 6100Jh-mth Premier 20-3128-1 New York Central P&le 2-8-4 Berkshire Locomotive #9401Ehs N Scale Nib Rare Key Imports Brass Prr I-1sa 2-10-0 Decapod Rd# 1126Lot 249- O Gauge Iron Horse Models Custom Brass Vertical Boiler ClimaxLot 228- O Gauge Iron Horse Models Brass Wagon Top ClimaxHo Brass United Pfm Rio Grande L-131 2-8-8-2Ho Brass Erie 'triplex' Key Imports 1980 W/dcc-tsunami No Orig. Box As-isO Scale - Lionel - Baltimore & Ohio Em-1 2-8-8-4 Steam Locomotive Tender 6-28051Lionel Set 2291w Denver & Rio Grande Ab F-3 Freight In Super O Mt Ob's Complete!O Scale - 3rd Rail Sunset - Up Y-3 2-8-8-2 Steam Locomotive & Tender Brass #3671"american Flyer" #4670/4671 Steamer Set, Cast ,with Original Box, No ReserveLionel 2338 Gp7 Orange Stripe Diesel, Original!, C-7, Some Issues, No BoxLionel O Gauge No.6-18063 Nyc Commodore Vanderbilt Steam Engine In The BoxLot 250-o Gauge Ghb International Custom Brass Brill Model 250 Gas-electric Ver1Nice 6464-300 Solid Shield Rutland Boxcar ; ObSunset Models C&o Sunset Late Allegheny With Tender 1652 Chesapeake & Ohio BrassHo Brass Hallmark Super Crown #3460 4-6-4 "blue Goose''Lionel Trains Rare Rio Grande Postwar Engine Set #2379 Ab Units 1957 Usa Made NrBrass Ho Erie Railroad Ge Experimental Um-20 A/b Set By Overland ModelsO/027,mth(rail King)#30-1129-1 Big Boy Union Pac,diecast,huge Steamer,c9 CondGlacier Park Models Ho Brass T&p 2-10-4 Steam Locomotive, AhLionel Set No. 19326 Alias---sears,roebuck & Co. Set No. 9820 From 1964 Exc!Lgb 92315 Disney Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road Train Set Disneyland NewOriginal 1959 Mint Boxed No. 1612 Lionel General Old Timer Train SetLionel 10pc. Santa Fe F3 "a-b-a" Diesel Train Set (nib)Rare Rail Truck - Rio Grande Southern "the Galloping Goose" - Work Goose No. 6Lgb 31658 €Ho Brass Train Hon3 D&rgw San Juan Balboa Passenger Cars (5 Car Set)Aristocraft Art-23009-b Southern Pacific #8119 Dash 9-44cw Diesel Locomotive3rd Rail 5452 Brass Nyc J-3 Hudson Dreyfuss Steam Locomotive & Tender Ex/box

Recent News: Model Trains

Source: Google News

Model Train Display Perfect for Christmas Holidays
Coral Springs Talk, December 19th

Take the family and view this unbelievable model railroad on display right now at Aventura Mall in Miami. If you are a model train enthusiast, or can appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into such a production. At 16 by 29 feet, it's South Florida's...Read more

Train show starts Monday
The Courier-Journal, December 19th

Stop by the new Southwest Library's Winter Wonderland Train Show, presented by the Kentucky and Indiana Model Railroad Club, starting Monday. Come see and hear the model trains on display through Jan. 2. The hours: Mondays-Thursdays, 9 a.m.- p.m.; ...Read more

Tualatin Valley Model Railroad Club at the Washington County Museum (video), December 18th

If you want to see the model train display, the club members will be operating the trains Saturday, Dec. 20, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. They will also be at the museum every day after Christmas until Jan. 3. For more information go to...Read more

Model train barn brings holiday cheer
Athens NEWS, December 17th

Next to rocking horses, nothing more shouts Christmas morning than the electric model train. Generations of children, mostly boys, started what often became a lifelong hobby with their first train set on December 25. Indeed, some people you might not...Read more

Model train displays offered
Sandusky Register, December 17th

Reviving a holiday tradition, the Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont opened its annual holiday model train display in November. And the Eerie-Mad River model railroad club in Sandusky recently hosted an open house. The Rutherford B. Hayes ...Read more

Model train and railroad display is big success
Greensburg Daily News, December 15th

The model railroad that the Pacific & Eastern group sets up each year at the church measures 23 feet by 52 feet. A raffle ticket for a Lionel model train was given to each child who came to view the model trains running over the picturesque tracks...Read more

Model railroad trains on display in Downers Grove through Dec. 28
Suburban Life Publications, December 15th

DOWNERS GROVE – BSA Venture Crew 57 model railroad club is inviting residents to view its display of running HO scale trains. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, at 5122 Main St. The display will be available for viewing ...Read more

RIT Model Railroad Club Honors Local Enthusiast at Annual Show
TWC News, December 13th

“What I like about model railroading is being able to take a model and make it look like the real thing,” RIT Model Railroad Club Founder Otto Vondrak said. “So a lot of the models I build follow actual trains that actually existed. They're scale models.”...Read more