Best train for a Christmas tree


Some experts believe the resurgence of toy trains over the past decade has been driven by modern entertainment that features trains, such as Thomas the Tank Engine, Hogwarts Express of the “Harry Potter” books and “The Polar Express” movie.

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Which train for a Christmas tree is best?

Christmas is a delightful time of year, and the sound of the Christmas tree train running on a track weaving past presents, blowing puffs of smoke out the locomotive smokestack and sounding the whistle can make the holiday season even more enchanting.

While many train models are available, careful attention to key features ensures your selection will give you years of service. If you are looking for the best Christmas tree train, the Lionel Winter Wonderland LionChief 0-8-0 Set is the top choice.

What to know before you buy a train for a Christmas tree

Model train scales

All model train sets are built to one of several scales in proportion to real full-scale trains. The original Lionel trains were O gauge (1/48), the popular HO scale models are 1/87th the size of a real train, and the much larger G scale model train sets are made to a 1/25th scale. 

Hobby industry standards for model trains mean everything in a train set, and all accessories made to the same scale work together. For example, a Bachmann HO gauge gondola car can be added to an HO gauge set from Atlas.

The best scale for you is mostly a matter of taste. The smaller sizes, like the “N” scale, often appeal to those who want to add realistic scenery such as trees, shrubs, buildings and other structures. Larger scales, like the “O” trains and the “G,” offer easy handling, particularly for small children. An electric train set for the Christmas tree is best chosen based on the size of the tree. Big trains work well with big trees while the smaller-scale trains get lost under large branches.

Power packs

A toy train for a Christmas tree usually includes a basic controller with sufficient power for one train and a few accessories. These power packs control the speed and direction of the train.

Some of the higher-end sets from Atlas, Athearn and Bachmann come with more powerful controllers that last longer and run larger layouts. Lionel has added radio control and multiple sound controls to its basic train sets.

Bachmann has HO sets with Digital Command Control (DCC), providing independent control of multiple locomotives. The newer technology is a fast-growing industry segment offering improved speed control, sounds and operations. DCC technology is worth considering for your Christmas tree train set if you are planning to expand the layout for use after the holidays.


Any trains for a Christmas tree train should adhere to all the American Safety Standards since children may use them. Choose one made from eco-friendly, nontoxic materials.

What to look for in a quality train for a Christmas tree

Train sets under the Christmas tree range from cheap plastic toys to freight trains pulled by metal locomotives with accurate detailing. Toy trains are made with wood or plastic and often display a cartoon character that appeals to toddlers. Model trains are designed to imitate the appearance and function of a full-scale real train and are more expensive. The best Christmas tree trains feature a holiday theme, like the Lionel Polar Express.

To ensure you are getting a quality product, look at the fine details, starting with the locomotive, but examine the cars as well. The outer shell is a good gauge of the overall quality and a good indicator of the parts inside. Look at the paint. Is the color consistent? Are there any gaps? Is the lettering distinct and easy to read? Look for any details that help lend authenticity to the model.

Look at the wheels and knuckle couplers on the cars. The best models are made of metal. Check for a nickel silver track and what features the power pack provides for controlling the train. Look at the train set’s weight. A heavier train is a good indication of quality.

Buy a reliable name, such as Bachmann Trains, MTH Electric Trains or Lionel. These companies have been successful for years because they build quality products.


While most model train sets designed for use around the Christmas tree come in an oval shape, make sure enough track pieces are included to create a configuration suitable for your available space. Some model train sets may include other features, such as a Y-shaped split track, tunnels or bridges to enhance the appearance.

Today, most N-, HO- and O-train set manufacturers offer models with “integrated roadbed track.” The track design consists of a raised molded plastic base representing the ties and ballast, ideal for resting on a carpet under the Christmas tree.

Optional features

Many Christmas tree train sets have enchanting features such as a puffing smoke engine, holiday bells and a working whistle. Christmas-themed accessories such as a mini reindeer, pine trees or a Santa Claus figure may be included. Some more costly train sets have high-tech features such as Bluetooth, giving you control of the train from your smartphone.

How much you can expect to spend on a train for a Christmas tree

The price for a Christmas train set varies depending on the materials and the special features. A basic toy train for the Christmas tree can be bought for about $40-$60, while a high-end model with all the bells and whistles can cost $300-$500.

Train for a Christmas tree FAQ

How does a toy Christmas tree train locomotive produce smoke?

A. The locomotive’s smokestack contains a heating element that vaporizes a light oil, creating puffs of smoke.

What does a model train transformer do?

A. The transformer reduces the relatively high-voltage electricity from a household supply to a safe voltage for use on a train set. The low voltage allows you to touch the track without feeling the electricity.

What’s the best train for a Christmas tree to buy?

Top train for a Christmas tree

Lionel Winter Wonderland LionChief 0-8-0 Set

Lionel Winter Wonderland LionChief 0-8-0 Set

What you need to know: The beautiful O-gauge set featuring a white 0-8-0 steam locomotive pulling a Whimsical Winter Mix tank car, Sleigh Bells & Co. boxcar and Winter Wonderland caboose makes an ideal addition to any Christmas tree.

What you’ll love: The Bluetooth compatible Lionel train set includes eight pieces of O36 curved track, two 10-inch straight track sections, one terminal section, one power lock-on section, a wall-pack power supply and the LionChief remote for the locomotive.

What you should consider: While the engine is made of metal and heavy, the cars are made of plastic.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top train for a Christmas tree for the money

Hot Bee Electric Train Set

Hot Bee Electric Train Set

What you need to know: This affordable Christmas tree train is a delight for young children as it circles the tree with a locomotive headlight illuminated while producing authentic train sounds and realistic, odorless smoke.

What you’ll love: Children can quickly assemble the modular rail tracks (eight curved and two straight) to create their own railroad layout. The battery-powered train that includes a superb locomotive steam engine, a coal car, a passenger coach and a cargo vehicle lasts for more than three hours on a single charge.

What you should consider: The cars are made with a thin, lightweight material that impacts the train’s durability and longevity.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon 

Worth checking out

Bachmann Trains Night Before Christmas

Bachmann Trains Night Before Christmas 

What you need to know: The large G-scale train with a 4-6-0 steam-era locomotive featuring an operating headlight, speed-synchronized sound and smoke is perfect for big trees.

What you’ll love: The locomotive pulls a tender with coal load, holiday-decorated gondola car, Merry Christmas bobber caboose, and even a Santa figure on an oval steel alloy track.

What you should consider: While the train set has characteristic sounds such as steam and chuffing, it does not play any Christmas music.

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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Jeff Harper writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

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