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What’s The Best Train Set For Getting Started?

Dale is keen to get started in model railroading (either HO or N scale) and asks readers:

“I want to get a model train setup that I can operate. I’d like DCC with maybe two locos and an interesting track and stay under $500. Any suggestions?”

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11 Responses to What’s The Best Train Set For Getting Started?

  • Newman Atkinson says:

    Dale, It would be great to see you get into which ever scale you wish to get into. But if you are just getting started with little experience you might wish to try HO first. HO is big enough that working on it is a much easier task. Working on N Scale is much smaller work and if small stuff can frustrate you then I would try HO first. The other reason to pick a scale might be the room that you might have available. If you can go to some train shows and talk to some of the operating layouts and clubs and see if you can get a feel for which might fit you best.
    I myself am into HO scale but if money and space was no object there are several scales I would like to be in. But I grew up in HO so it is hard to change scales for me now. Good Luck in your decision and Happy Railroading from Newman Atkinson

    • Rex says:

      Hi Dale, This set is available at the local hobby shop, I live in Canada but I’m sure that if you inquired at a hobby shop near you, you would probably get the same or equivalent. as per description it is made by Bachmann in HO scale. The price on this one is $379.99 canadian and I’m sure it would be much less in US. good luck on your hobby. Rex

      The Digital Commander Deluxe is a Complete & Ready-to-Run
      Electric Train Set from Bachmann®.
      Suitable for Ages 8 & Older.

      FEATURES: A large 56″ x 38″ oval track layout (with switch and siding)
      of snap-fit E-Z Track® with nickel silver rails on molded
      gray roadbed.
      The Santa Fe GP40 (#3507) and FT-A diesel locomotives are all-wheel
      drive & DCC-equipped with 28/128 speed step decoders that are
      factory-programmed to address button 3 on NMRA-compliant
      DCC systems.
      The Bachmann® E-Z Command® Digital Command Control System
      incorporates the latest digital technology that’s easy to use,
      with one-button, on-track programming.
      * Plug-and-play compatibility with all DC and DCC systems
      * 2/128 speed step control
      * 100% backwards-compatible with standard DC (non-digital)
      With the DCC On Board technology, you can digitally control
      the direction, speed, and lighting of multiple locomotives in N,
      HO, and On30 Scale.
      3 accurately molded freight cars with blackened metal wheels and
      prototypical paint schemes:
      – 40′ Open Quad Hopper
      – 50′ Plug-Door Box Car
      – 36′ Extended Vision Caboose
      Locomotive and all cars come equipped with Bachmann’s exclusive
      E-Z Mate® Mark II Magnetic knuckle couplers with metal coil springs
      1 amp AC wall pack power supply and plug-in wiring for the command
      control center.
      Written and DVD format video instructions.

      INCLUDES: (2) Diesel Engines (1) Terminal Rerailer
      (3) Freight Cars (1) Hayes Bumper
      (12) Curved Track (1) Digital Command Center
      (4) Straight Track (1) Power Pack
      (1) Manual Left Turnout (1) Under Track Magnet

      SPECS: Scale: HO 1:87
      Layout: 56″ x 38″ Oval

  • john gould says:

    I would agree with Norman, space and money is important but a couple of things also have to be considered the larger the project the larger amount of time to maintain the layout ,dust etc,also are you married?? one definitely needs the approval of the hierarchy of the the hacienda as per location/space etc.John

    • Newman Atkinson says:

      John I agree with what you said It has to go through the voting process and sometimes my vote gets outvoted by her 2 votes. The one thing in our favor is that in this hobby She always know where to find us….. in the train room Better than wasting time in a bar and can’t find us Actually my Wife will go along with most of what I want to do in trains as long as it does not cut into the budget. So to stay that way I hand make scenery, Buy used at the train show and fix them up. Actually getting pretty good at it. from Newman Atkinson

  • Leonard says:

    I’ve been collecting bits and pieces for an old time layout in N scale due to lack-o-space. I did see a post on a layout that could be raised up to the ceiling in a storage area and lowered for use. I’m wondering about a dust cover because I know it will be a problem.
    I gotta tell you that working on N scale stuff can be frustrating and you really do need special tools. Also the detail is much less than HO – it’s half the size.
    I think you’ll need to do some serious shopping to see what you can find in your price range. I wouldn’t buy anything used unless you can see it in person first. Good luck!

  • Randall Styx says:

    Dale, it would seem that you’re a part of my generation. I once purchased a brand new HO scale AHM Berkshire loco for $29.98 at F.W. Woolworth’s in downtown Chicago, IL, USA. Unfortunately, those days are gone. With DCC starter sets (with one loco, a few cars, and an oval of track) running between $200 and $250 or more, you’re not likely to find all of what you’re looking for at a price below $500. If budget is the primary limiting factor, I would suggest you step back a bit from DCC and “get your feet wet” with DC. That way you can get a starter set for around $100 and still have enough for more track and turnouts to make the layout interesting, as well as materials for scenery, to say nothing of the layout table and supports. Once you experience model railroading for a while, you’ll know whether it’s worth it for you to invest more. Most of us who are in the hobby are convinced it is, but like anything, it’s not for everybody. It’s hard to get to know the details of a hobby until you’re in it, but it’s better to know at least some of the details before you invest heavily in it. Be aware that for most of us, model railroading is not an investment, but a hobby, and if you get “hooked” you will be putting a lot more than $500 into it.

    While DCC certainly has advantages over DC, knowing the basics in DC can be valuable. And while you cannot run both DC and DCC on the same track at the same time, it’s not hard to convert a DC layout and even loco’s to DCC. Besides, you can also have time to evaluate DCC vs. the new “E-Z App” approach by Blue Rail Trains (currently through Bachmann). I know next to nothing about E-Z App, so I don’t even know if it’s an “either/or” or a “both/and” matter with DCC, but if they’re not compatible it would be good to know what you want before you buy.

    As far as scale goes, consider your manual dexterity and visual acuity now and for the foreseeable future. Every scale has its place – and some take up a larger place than others – but for just starting you can hardly do better than either HO or N. Each has its advantages and difficulties.

  • Warren Duncan says:

    Hi Dale,
    Model railroading is a great hobby in that it can satisfy different interests. For some hobbyists train operation is their enjoyment, for others it is kit building or kit bashing or building from scratch. For others it may be track work, electrical/electronics, or scenery. Of course the hobbyist can find enjoyment in doing it all, you may know what your interests are or you may have to dive in and find out. Regardless, I think $500 is not very realistic for a layout running 2 DCC locomotives unless you would be satisfied with running on a simple oval or end-to-end track plan. If possible, I would go to some club open house meetings and talk to the members.
    Happy railroading, Warren

  • skip says:



  • David Stokes says:

    There are four things you need to assess before outlaying money; space, cost, time available for your hobby, and who is it for.
    Only you can make those assessments, however there are decisions to be made about scale, style, operating interest, personal skills (electrics, model building, carpentry and a myriad of others which you will learn AFTER you’ve taken the plunge. They are all fun things and the right choice will either enhance the fun or lead to frustration.

    You are specifically asking about trainsets, and by that I take it to mean that box of bits you buy at Christmas. In answer to that I must agree with my friends comments above. HO/OO is probably best for the neophyte given the choices available, relative low cost, and assistance through the hobby magazine. I will add that all trainsets from the major manufacturers on the market today are in the good to great range.

    I started out, not with a set, but individual items in N scale, purchased from a hobby shop 600km from home after reading a couple of magazines. I do NOT recommend that path.

    If for yourself then HO/00 or N are ideal, but for a youngster HO/OO or one of the larger scales would be better for little fingers as many are designed for children and are robust.

    Welcome to the world’s greatest hobby.

  • wayne says:

    Commander set from the Favorite spot is under 300.00 and you get eyerything to start as I did.
    Adding track at discounted prices on e-bay and your set with 2 DCC engines. My lay out started at 4×8 and is now 4x8x8x4 and all most complete, it’s never done and at our age, we don’t have time do spend on making every piece, besides, the kids & grand kids don’t care.

  • jim oursler says:

    Fisrt started with DC HO in the 60s….then military service, marriage, children, etc. In 2000 I resumed HO, jumping into DCC, but just didn’t have enough space, so in 2016 converted to N scale DCC.

    When it comes to low cost expansion, you can find a lot of used DCC HO engines. I have over the past year converted to N scale. There is a lot of used DC N on the market, but very little DCC.

    Believe me though, you will love DCC in either scale, because it gets around the issue of having block wiring. Running two trains simultaneously is a chore with DC required block wiring, and simplicity with DCC. I have excellent Bachmann HO scale DCC that has been around since Y2K. Easy to convert HO to DCC, but often impossible to convert N scale engines to DCC.

    I like so many others started with a 4×8 HO layout (DCC). Problem was that I always needed access to all sides to reach the center. Now I am building a 30x 96 inch N, and have realized that even 30 inches is too far to reach. So the table is always pulled away from the wall. Next layout is going to be a shelf with peninnsula.
    Good luck. Great hobby.

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