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Train sets: the gateway to model railroading

Most model railroaders get started in the hobby with a ready-to-run train set
MTH HO scale train set
Ready-to-run train sets, like this HO set from MTH Electric trains, contain everything you need to start model railroading.
If you look at an author’s biography at the end of a layout story in Model Railroader, more often than not you’ll find that the layout owner got his or her start in the hobby with a train set. Sure, your first train set won’t look like the layouts featured in MR, but that’s okay. Train sets are designed to be fun no matter what your age, and to spark your interest in model railroading as a lifelong hobby.

Train sets are available in every scale, and they make it easy to have trains up and running in a short amount of time. As your knowledge and modeling skills develop, you can build a larger model railroad. Tips on layout planning, benchwork, track, wiring, and scenery are covered elsewhere in this booklet. For now, let’s take a look at train sets, the gateway to model railroading.
Where to buy
Train sets can be found at department stores, toy stores, and hardware stores, but you’ll typically find a better selection at your local hobby shop. See the dealer directory in the back of Model Railroader magazine or visit to find a shop in your area.
Besides selection, there are other reasons to buy your set from a hobby shop. First, good hobby shops service what they sell. Second, hobbyshop employees, especially those in stores that specialize in model trains, are better able to answer questions you may have about train sets and getting started in the hobby. Third, hobby shops carry items you’ll need to further enhance your set, such as rolling stock, scenery materials, buildings, and vehicles
train set photo
Most model train sets, such as this Piko large scale set, include a locomotive, cars, a loop of track, and a power pack.
Selecting a set
Most train sets come with a locomotive, three to five freight or passenger cars, a power pack, wires to connect the power pack to the track, and enough track to make a simple circle or oval. Some sets may also include turnouts and a variety of accessories, such as a bridge or tunnel, telephone poles, trees and vehicles.

An important consideration to make when purchasing a train set is who it is for. If the set is for a child, let his or her age determine the scale you select. If the child is under 8 years old, S, O, and large scales are ideal. The equipment in these scales is larger and easier to handle, and it’s designed to withstand some rough use. Children older than 8 typically do fine with HO scale trains.
However, if the train set is for the entire family, any scale, Z through large, is fine. If space for your family train set is at a premium, consider a Z, N, or HO scale set.
A lifelong hobby
Once you’ve purchased a set, put the track on a sheet of plywood, a tabletop, or other hard surface. Carpet fuzz and dirt from the floor can hamper smooth railroad operation.
Model railroading is the world’s greatest hobby, and a train set is one way you can experience the exciting world of model trains. We hope you’ll spend countless hours operating your new set, and that you’ll find a lifetime of enjoyment from model railroading.

Would you like to learn more about how to get started in the great hobby of model railroading? Sign up for the Model Railroader Basic Training Email Series.

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Two great beginner layouts.

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