Building and designing model trains is a hobby that millions of people around the world enjoy. Not only is building model trains fun but simply staring at your creations can make you feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that only a few hobbies can do. In addition, model trains can also be enjoyed by your family members and loved ones, as you can invite them to admire your model train set or to build sets with you.
People enjoy building and designing model trains for a variety of reasons. It is one of the hobbies in America that allows them to express their creativity and tap into their imagination. Others find it to be a relaxing and therapeutic activity, providing a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction upon completion of a project. Model trains also offer a glimpse into history, as enthusiasts often recreate real-life train routes and stations, adding a sense of nostalgia and appreciation for the past.
The popularity of model trains today can be attributed to the top brands that are always dedicated to designing and producing the most beautiful and most durable model trains for enthusiasts. Some of these brands have already been around since the 1900s, and their longevity is a testament to the quality of model trains that they make. To know more about these brands, here are details for the best companies that produce or manufacture model trains.
Best Brands of Model Trains
Lionel is a model train manufacturing brand that has been around for over a century. Established in New York City in 1900 by Joseph Lionel Cowen, the brand gained prominence for its electric model trains, which it started mass producing in 1906.
Since then, Lionel has become the leading name when it comes to electric model trains in the United States.
Lionel, LLC as it is known today, has been producing model trains and accessories for the model railroading industry. The company specializes in O gauge model railroad products, offering a diverse range of realistic models, including engines, freight cars, passenger cars, cabooses, buildings, and other premium Lionel train parts. Read our Beginner’s Complete Guide to Model Trains to know which Lionel model trains are considered as best-sellers.
While it was first established in Philadelphia in 1833 as a maker of horn, ivory, and tortoiseshell products, it took Bachmann more than a century to venture into model trains. It was in 1969 when Bachmann partnered with the Hong Kong based company Kader, to manufacture model trains for entry-level and veteran hobbyists. Nowadays, Bachmann is known for being the world’s largest manufacturer of model railroads for export.
Bachmann is the distributor of model train products and railroads for brands such as Thomas & Friends, including that of Thomas the Tank engine, as well as the DCC-ready Spectrum locomotives, and the Williams by Bachmann line that features postwar-era train sets.
Bachmann is also behind the E-Z Track System, which are model train sets intended for beginners.
Athearn is a prominent supplier of model railroad equipment based in the United States. This esteemed company’s products are expertly produced and distributed by Horizon Hobby, Inc., a top-tier American hobby manufacturer headquartered in Champaign, Illinois.
Athearn remains dedicated to manufacturing a diverse range of ready-to-run models of diesel locomotives, passenger cars, and freight cars, each representing unique eras and railroads. The company offers multiple product lines, such as:
- Genesis – high-end model trains and accessories with DCC sound and additional lighting functions
- Athearn – including trains from steam-to-diesel transition in HO and N scale
- Roundhouse – affordable models for beginner hobbyists
- McHenry – featuring HO-scale and N-scale model railroad couplers
Hornby Railways is a British company that specializes in the production of model railways. Its origins trace back to 1901 in Liverpool by Frank Hornby. The brand’s pre-1964 trains have become a subject of collector interest, with the Hornby Railway Collector’s Association established and active since 1964.
Currently, Hornby manufactures model trains and accessories for brands such as Lima, Jouef, Arnold, Rivarossi, Skaledale, and Lyddle End.
Hornby also manufactures model cars and other vehicles for brands such as Bassett-Lowke, Corgi, Lima, Pocher, Jouef, and Scalextric.
Märklin has evolved from a tin toy factory into a renowned manufacturer of top-tier metal toys with global recognition. At present, Märklin stands as the industry leader for all key gauges within the model railroad market.
The majority of Märklin’s product lines consist of German (DB) model trains, although the company also boasts an extensive selection of Swiss (SBB), Dutch (NS), American (including a range of independent railways from the Golden Age of American trains), and various other model trains sourced from across the globe.
Choosing the best brand of model trains depends on your specific interests and preferences. There are brands that excel in creating realistic, detailed models, while others prioritize affordability and ease of use.
It is therefore essential to do your research and read reviews from fellow model train enthusiasts before choosing a brand to follow, regardless if you’re a beginner or a longtime train hobbyist. If you are a beginner in building model trains, you can read our Beginner’s Guide to Model Trains so that you will learn more about the basics of the hobby.