5 Inexpensive Train Sets

5 Inexpensive Train Sets

Train sets are how most of us begin with model railroading. They may have been cheaply made products in years past or top of the line sets manufactured today. They may be “toy trains” or actual model-quality. Either way, train sets are a common way of starting. You may be a true beginner looking for something to start with and a quality train set might just be what you need as that initial kick. Or, maybe you’re a long-time modeler but your grandkids have shown an interest in trains and you want to get them a good train set to get them started following the hobby you love. To help you out, here’s 5 inexpensive train sets that are good quality models, and could easily become part of a larger model railroad in the future.

NOTE: “inexpensive” is a relative term. A Lionel set in 1974, for instance, might have run US$49.99. A set of similar size and quality today can be well over US$300.00. In general, this list is limited to sets that are US$260.00 or less.

NOTE 2: The order the sets are listed in does not in any way reflect how modeltrainsforbeginners.com or the author would rank these sets. The sets are listed in alphabetical order by the first word in the sets name.

  1. HO Trainman Train Set by Atlas. This set is out of stock on the Atlas page and there is no indication if Atlas intends to begin production again soon. Online retailers, brick-and-mortar hobby shops, and sellers on eBay do still offer them, though. According to Atlas, “Each set comes in an easy to open box that is even easier to carry thanks to a convenient handle, allowing you to move and store your set with ease. Included in the box is a locomotive and matching caboose, three freight cars, power pack and enough track to build a basic oval layout.” You can sometimes get this set on eBay for as little as $130.00. This set uses Atlas’ HO True-Track, and there are several sets of True-Track available that can be used to add on and expand the simple oval of the base set. Even harder to find is the N scale version of this set, but if you can find it, they are quality sets that get good reviews.


  1. Iron Horse Train Set by Athearn. This set is available with several different GP50 locomotives, with most major railroads represented. It comes with an engine, three cars, and a caboose, and enough Bachmann E-Z Track for a good-sized oval. It’s usually in stock on the Athearn website and available from most hobby shops, and on Amazon as well. The set usually retails for $210.00, but some variations might be less expensive or more expensive. Check on eBay for even more expensive sets.


  1. McKinley Explorer by Bachmann. This N scale train set from Bachmann is among their nicest inexpensive sets. It retails for $205.00 and it includes enough Bachmann N scale E-Z Track for a large oval, an Alaska Railroad GP40 diesel, and three Alaska Railroad full dome passenger cars. It is available through Bachmann or on Amazon.


  1. New York Central RS-3 Freight Set by Lionel. This is the most expensive set on the list at $259.99. The set also has not been released yet, but should be out this fall. It looks to be another quality Lionel product and is a nice beginner’s train set that can easily be added to a larger Lionel layout in future years. It features a New York Central RS-3 diesel, a boxcar, and a caboose, and enough track for a large oval.


  1. Thoroughbred (HO Scale) by Bachmann. Bachmann offers several nice train sets of varying prices. This one features an EMD F-unit painted like one of Norfolk Southern’s Executive Train F units, two freight cars, and a caboose. There is enough E-Z Track for a large oval. On the Bachmann website, the set is listed as temporarily out of stock. Hopefully this implies the set will be back in production soon. It can still be found at retailers and on Amazon as well, and retails for about $140.00.


And there you have 5 inexpensive train sets. Any of these five would make a fine starter set for a kid or a kid-at-heart, and any of these five would make great starts for a future layout. There are also many more available than just these five. Pick the one that strikes your fancy and makes you want to start a model railroad layout.


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Robert Thomson

Robert W. Thomson is a life-long railfan, the son of a former L&N Railroad B&B gang foreman, and an amateur photographer. He was born and raised in southeast Tennessee but now lives in Butte, Montana with his wife, Connie and cat, Charlie. Robert has worked as a park ranger, underground mine tour guide, freelance roleplaying game writer, and ran his own roleplaying game publishing company until selling it in 2012.

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Leave A Reply (2 comments So Far)

  1. Oz Trainman
    9 months ago

    Nice writeup. I note that you have listed generally popular American brands. But how about a similar set from other globally popular brands like Hornby, Rico, etc.

  2. Dan Morgan
    9 months ago

    Thank you for that. Keep watching, something similar is planned down the road a bit.

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