Best Lionel train set

Hobby & Collectibles

Visit the Lionel Train Museum in Naples, FL, see their incredible scenic displays and ride their outdoor scale train.

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Which Lionel train sets are best?

Lionel has been making trains for kids, adults and model railroading hobbyists for more than 120 years.  Ever since the first kid played with Lionel’s first toy train in 1900, kids have loved Lionel trains until the present day. Model railroaders worldwide praise Lionel for the authenticity of their engines and railroad cars and their solid construction. A Lionel train was the first electric toy inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame.

If you are looking for a classic train set that can be operated from your smartphone, try the Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer LionChief O-Gauge Train Set.

What to know before you buy a Lionel train set

Size and scale

Real railroads and model railroads refer to gauge as the distance between the outside rails of the train track. Thus, the width of the train track in part determines the size and scale of the trains. 

HO-Gauge: HO is the most common model train size today. The gauge is small, the tracks are narrow and the trains are small too. The scale of HO trains and locomotives is 1-to-87. The smaller size allows for more elaborate layouts in smaller places, but the size is not so small that the details are lost. HO-Gauge trains draw their power from the metal tracks. Power to the tracks is supplied by a DC converter. 

S-Gauge: Lionel’s 1-to-64 scale line of S-Gauge trains and tracks is sold under the name American Flyer. S-Gauge railroad cars have sophisticated electronics and are geared toward collectors and dedicated hobbyists.

O-Gauge: O-gauge trains are 1-to-48 scale and are the trains people see on display in store windows around Christmas. These are higher-end products. 

Imagineering: Imagineering train sets are the type Lionel recommends for preschool kids. These train sets are not powered. Instead, they are push-pull sets that include a complete track layout with a train, some railroad cars and a functioning accessory.

Ready-to-play: Ready-to-play train sets are larger trains that are battery-powered and made of plastic for durability. Ready-to-play train sets run on easy-to-connect plastic tracks and are controlled by a simple handheld remote controller. 

What to look for in a quality Lionel train set

Household current

Plug the included transformer into any standard wall socket and power the engines from a control box. The power is supplied to the metal track. It is harmless and cannot shock you because the power is only applied when the metal wheels of the engine contact the metal rails. 

Battery power

Engines that operate on battery power have a small compartment underneath where the batteries go. Some Lionel train sets will run on disposable batteries, and a few will have rechargeable batteries and a charging cord.

Type of train

Most train sets come configured as either freight trains or passenger trains. Freight trains are the most popular because they offer the greatest variety of car types by far.

  • Boxcars have big flat sides that also serve as rolling billboards. Boxcars come with a nearly infinite variety of rail line names like the Northern Pacific, the Rock Island Line and the New York Central. You will also find many boxcars with product names, brand names, and corporate logos on the side.
  • Flatcars are for shipping things that come in big sizes, like logs, generators and huge wire spools.
  • Container cars have overseas shipping containers stacked directly onto a flatcar.
  • Gondolas have fixed sides and gravity-unloading mechanisms. They are used to carry heavy loose materials, like gravel.
  • Tank cars look like submarines and are used to transport liquids like fuels and chemicals.
  • Refrigerator cars keep perishables like fruits, vegetables and flowers cool and fresh.
  • Cabooses are at the back, where the train crew lives, eats and sleeps. 

How much you can expect to spend on a Lionel train set

Push-pull Imagineering Lionel train sets cost around $50. Many popular Lionel train sets cost from $50-$200. Over $200, look for bigger layouts and more railroad cars.

Lionel train set FAQ

What is the best gauge and scale Lionel train set to get?

A. It all depends upon the chief engineer. If it is a little one, toy trains are better than model trains.

Are model trains and toy trains the same thing?

A. Model trains are built to a specific scale and are prized by hobbyists because they feature realistic detailing. Toy trains are meant to be played with much more physically and so are made to be durable.

What’s the best Lionel train set to buy?

Top Lionel train set 

Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer LionChief O-Gauge Train Set

Lionel Pennsylvania Flyer LionChief O-Gauge Train Set

What you need to know: Control this classic O-Gauge train with your mobile device via Bluetooth.

What you’ll love: This Lionel train set comes with an 0-8-0 locomotive and tender, a boxcar with working doors, a tank car and a caboose. The 18 pieces of track make a 40- by 60-inch oval layout. The power supply plugs into any household socket, and the remote is powered by three AAA batteries.

What you should consider: This is a pricey train set.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top Lionel train set for the money

Lionel New York Central Ready to Play Battery Powered Train Set

Lionel New York Central Ready to Play Battery Powered Train Set

What you need to know: This battery-operated set has a 50- by 73-inch ready-to-play track.

What you’ll love: The locomotive is powered by six C-cell batteries and pulls a boxcar, a tank car, and a caboose. There are 24 curved and eight straight pieces of plastic track that are easily snapped together. Activate the whistle and horn from the remote control.

What you should consider: Batteries are not included for the train or the remote control.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Lionel Disney Mickey Mouse Express Ready-to-Play Set

Lionel Disney Mickey Mouse Express Ready-to-Play Set

What you need to know:  This Lionel train can be the favorite train set of the whole family. Enjoy the train ride with your favorite characters like Mickey, Minnie, Donald Duck and Goofy. This can be a great gift for kids and train hobbyists.

What you’ll love: The train has  24 curved and 8 straight plastic track pieces. The train is driven by Mickey Mouse with Donald Duck in the back. The other features include the Battery-powered general-style locomotive and User-friendly remote control. you will surely enjoy the sounds of the authentic train with whistle, bell and Disney style announcements.

What you should consider: The three AA batteries needed to operate the remote control are not included.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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David Allan Van writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money

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