Best toy train

Pretend Play

Lionel Trains introduced the first electric train toy in 1901, and it continues to be one of the leading manufacturers of model trains to this day.

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Which toy trains are best?

If you’re looking for a toy that’s both interactive and educational, look no further than a toy train set. These artificial locomotives have fascinated children for generations because they’re powerful, fast and easy for young minds to understand.

Train toys for kids can range from simple “Thomas the Tank Engine” sets to complex locomotives featuring realistic train cars and battery-powered engines. For a toy train set that comes with a sturdy table and tons of accessories, check out the KidKraft Ride Around Town Train Set and Table.

What to know before you buy a toy train

Toy trains vs. model trains

Many of the distinctions between toy trains and model trains can blur during your search for the best train toy. The key differences come down to the intended audience and overall functionality of each type. 

  • Model trains: These are miniatures designed to look just like their full-sized counterparts. Model trains are usually very accurate, intricately detailed and full of small pieces. These trains are typically more expensive than toy trains and older kids and adults alike can enjoy them. 
  • Toy trains: These are colorful and designed to be played with, so they’re usually constructed from fewer components that won’t pose a choking hazard if someone takes the toy apart. Toy trains come in various shapes and sizes, from blocky wooden toys that kids can drag around with a rope to somewhat realistic train replicas with battery-powered engines. 

Parts of a train

Unlike model trains, toy trains don’t need to be particularly realistic or accurate. However, if you want to add some educational value to your purchase, look for a toy train set that comes with a couple of the following components.

  • Locomotive: Although this term is sometimes used to describe the entire train, the locomotive actually refers to the front car that pulls the other train cars behind it.
  • Caboose: This term refers to the back of the train.
  • Coal car: Usually appearing with an open top, the coal car often looks like it’s loaded with black mounds of coal. 
  • Tank car: On a real train, this cylindrical car carries fuel or water. 

What to look for in a quality toy train

Suggested age range

The suggested age range for a toy train set can vary just as much as its design. Toddlers and children under 5 years old may be drawn to blocky trains or toys that resemble characters from the “Thomas the Tank Engine” television series. 

Complex train sets featuring working lights and battery-powered engines may be recommended for kids ages 4 to 15. Read the product details before settling on a toy and avoid small parts that may pose a choking hazard for young kids.

Other types of toy trains

While the classic steam train toy remains the most popular type of toy train sets, there are also more modern varieties that kids may enjoy. Subway train toys are becoming more popular, while futuristic bullet trains and locomotives from films like “The Polar Express” are also common. 

Accessories and additional features

For extra interactive and immersive play, look for a toy train set that comes with fun accessories, such as lush scenery or mini figurines for your child to play with. Some toys may come with customizable train tracks, working lights or a battery-powered engine.

How much you can expect to spend on a toy train

The cost of a toy train set can vary depending on the quality of the construction and any extra components. You can expect to spend $20-$50 on the low end, with large, comprehensive sets costing $60-$120.

Toy train FAQ

Why is my toddler obsessed with trains?

A. While there is no sure answer as to why kids love trains, many child psychologists believe it’s because of the simple motion and speed reached by locomotives, which is easier to understand than airplanes or automobiles.

What are the benefits of a train toy?

A. Train toys are thought to be beneficial for young minds because they’re very mechanical and they introduce basic concepts of spatial awareness and physics.

What’s the best toy train to buy?

Top toy train

KidKraft Ride Around Town Train Set and Table

KidKraft Ride Around Town Train Set and Table

What you need to know: This large wooden train set comes with an entire miniature town fixed to a sturdy table.

What you’ll love: Perfect for any train lover over the age of 3, this train set comes with 100 pieces of railroad tracks, train cars, people, trees and more. There are also two included bins for easy cleanup and storage. 

What you should consider: This set is considerably more expensive than other train toys. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Top toy train for the money

Thomas & Friends Talking Thomas & Percy Train Set

Thomas & Friends Talking Thomas & Percy Train Set

What you need to know: If your kid loves “Thomas the Tank Engine,” you can’t do much better than this train set that includes the bonus character, Percy.

What you’ll love: This motorized train set comes with a control panel, a tunnel and a bridge. The two moving trains talk to each other whenever they pass on the tracks, and they both come with miniature cargo cars for loading and unloading. 

What you should consider: The train tracks may begin to come apart after extended use. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon

Worth checking out

Lionel Polar Express Battery-Powered Train

Lionel Polar Express Battery-Powered Train

What you need to know: Sold by one of the world’s oldest toy train manufacturers, this battery-powered train set is perfect for older children.

What you’ll love: Modeled after the train from the popular holiday film, this battery-powered train has a working whistle, authentic train announcements and a functional headlight. You can arrange the track pieces in a circle, oval or rectangle shape.

What you should consider: This motorized train set requires quite a few batteries, none of which are included with the purchase. 

Where to buy: Sold by Amazon


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

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