Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)
This page describes Large Scale train sets you buy in a box. Each starter set includes a loop of track and a power supply so you can it them up around the Christmas tree or whatever as soon as you open the box (although you generally need to buy larger track circles to use them effectively outside). You will almost certainly "outgrow" any of these sets as you get more into the hobby, but in the meantime, they give you something to experiment with and to let the kids or grandkids run when they come over. That said, each set on this page is chosen for its value and quality, and the fact that an investment in a reliable, attractive starter set will probably get you even more excited about the possibilities of a Large Scale or Garden Railroad
A Note about "Buyer's Guides" We post these descriptions to help you make informed decisions and to learn what is available, even if the suppliers we usually recommend have a short supply. If you need a particular product, but you don't see it on our pages, or the supplier's page says they are sold out, let us know, and we'll try to help you find one elsewhere. We apologize if this causes you any inconvenience or confusion.
For more detailed information about why model trains and related products seem to "come and go" and why I have stopped listing prices for products, please see our article "About Pricing and Availability."
Note about Suppliers: While we try to help you get the products you want by recommending suppliers with a good record of customer service, all transactions between you and the supplier you chose to provide your trains or other purchases are governed by the published policies on the supplier's web site. So please print off any order confirmation screens and save copies of invoices, etc., so you can contact the appropriate supplier should any problems occur. (They almost never do, but you want to be on the safe side.)
Update for December, 2018 In 2016, Bachmann reintroduced two old favorites. But train production comes in cycles, and they haven't introduced any new ones since. Right now, only one Bachmann starter set is widely available, though if you shop local hobby shops you may come up with one, or even several.
LGB's most popular starter freight set is also unavailable, temporarily, of course. The good news is that several Piko and LGB sets are still available, though the LGB is getting thin.
Longtime readers may notice that, where we used to have two or more vendor links for each product, most of the trains now just a link to Amazon. Sadly, one trusted vendor had to shut down completely, but several of the other vendors are now selling their trains through Amazon, so you still may have a choice of suppliers, and, in some cases, an opportunity to comparison shop.
On the other hand, don't assume you can wait until a week before Christmas to order and still get one.
We hope that's not TOO confusing. If you have a question about vendors, or availability, or the quality of any product listed on this page, please contact us.
Bachmann Narrow Gauge Trains
Bachmann's Large Scale trains are accurately detailed models of real narrow-gauge trains that used to run in North America. Most narrow-gauge trains in this country ran on tracks that had the rails 36" apart. Models of narrow-gauge trains tend to be charming and to look old-fashioned compared to models of standard-gauge trains. They also tend to be larger in scale, so the figurines and accessories that go with them are larger and less likely to get lost in the undergrowth. (If you want to know all there is to know about garden train scales, refer to the article Which Scale Should I Model on the Family Garden Train's Primer page.)
Bachmann Starter sets
Bachmann Starter Sets include a power pack, a speed controller, and an illustrated Bach Man instruction manual. Many include a "how-to" video as well. They also include an oval of track (14-20 pieces) useful for running indoors, but not solid enough for outside use. Frankly, you want bigger curves outside anyway, so this shouldn't be a problem.
Several of Bachmann's recent and most popular sets are shown below, including popular sets that were just reintroduced. For more information or to purchase from one of our suppliers, please click on a "Check Stock" button.
Bachmann Logging Train Set
When Bachmann first started making garden trains, their industrial-style Mogul 2-6-0 was a favorite. They have reintroduced it with much-improved engineering, smoke, and chuff sound. It is hauling a 20' flat car with logs and a logging caboose. the train comes with a 5'4" x 4'3" oval of track that you can use indoors, as well as a power pack with speed controller, illustrated "Bach Man" instruction manual, and DVD-format video instructions.
Bachmann Christmas Sets - To see Bachmann Large Scale trains that are painted specifically for Christmas, please check out our more track options for garden railroads, please check out our sister site's Large Scale Christmas Trains page.
LGB Starter Sets
Lehmann, the company that made LGB, had serious financial troubles even before the recession started. They were bought out by Maerklin, who moved manufacturing from Germany to China, and then went bankrupt when the recession hit them. In the meantime, however, Maerklin was able to deliver several products. Another toy company then purchased Maerklin. They promised to move manufacturing back to Europe (probably Eastern Europe). They also said they would rebuild the company starting with the smallest starter sets., etc. Since then, they have reintroduced several nice pieces and at least three nice starter sets (one of which has sold out, sorry). I can't promise that any LGB train you order will be made in Europe, but you won't be disappointed eitherway.
LGB Work Train - In this set, LGB's iconic Stainz locomotive pulls two action-packed cars. The ballast car has a door for emptying its load on demand, and the flatcar carries a fun piece of construction equipment. (This may or may not be the "Bobcat-like" piece show in the photo.)
LGB Passenger Starter Set - In 2015, LGB's new owners reintroduced the most popular G scale passenger train ever made. This set combines a green, black, and red version of the famous Stainz with two "shorty" passenger cars that will run and look great around the tree or around the pond. The locomotive includes sound and a smoke generator as well.
At first I wasn't sure that they had made enough to meet demand. Actually I was right. They ran out early this year, but more came in, although the sets are slightly different. That's why I have more than one Amazon button below; you may have to click on a couple to get exactly what you want. And the set shown in the photo is technically sold out again and only available from "scalpers" at a $200+ "upcharge."
Lake George and Boulder Passenger Set - This LGB's American-themed starter passenger train. They call the US-style starter sets that aren't labeled for any particular railroad "Lake George & Boulder." Get it? The engine is built on the same reliable chassis as the Stainz locomotive, and the pieces are just as solid as the more iconic Euro-themed sets. But if you want that "Old West" look, this is a great choice.
By the way Piko made a whole bunch of "Old West" buildings that would look great in the communities that the Lake George and Boulder serves. Jump to our Structures page and start scrolling down. If you're going to use them outside, though, I recommend painting them properly according to the instructions here.
Piko Starter Set
Piko has been making model railroading products for all popular scales for decades. (We recommend their building kits on our other pages). However, when LGB became unavailable around 2007, one group of former LGB importers began importing Piko trains to have something to sell. To me, Piko seems to be less sturdy than LGB and less detailed than either LGB or Bachmann, but they're also reasonably priced. Unlike the Bachmann starter sets above, the track that comes with Piko starter sets can be used outside. However, some of the track links are a little bit different, so not every piece of Piko track is 100% compatible with, say, LB track. If you're setting up a very small railroad or just want to use this track around the Christmas tree, that won't be a problem.
Since I listed these trains initially, Piko has listed several other starter sets, but they have come in in small quantities and not stayed in stock long. If you click on the Amazon button to see a below, check out Amazon's suggestions for folks looking at the train you pulled up; you may find a set you like better.
|Piko SF Freight Starter Set - This locomotive is based on real 0-6-0 "docksider" locomotives that were built by Porter and Baldwin to serve industries and small switchyards where a big, heavy switcher wasn't required. The two-bay hopper car is also based on a real car, although the caboose may be a little short compared to its real counterpart. As a starter set, it's a pretty good way to get into the hobby.|
|Piko PRR Freight Starter Set - This is the Pennsylvania Railroad version of the train above. PRR's 0-6-0 tank locomotives didn't look exactly like this one, but if you like the Keystone railroad, you'll appreciate the graphics and coloring. Again, it's a good way to get into the hobby.|
|Piko Euro Passenger Starter Set - If you have a taste for European trains, this one may be the ticket. Yes, it looks a lot like the LGB passenger train above, although the pieces are each a little longer. When LGB became unavailable for over 18 months in many parts of the world, this one became very popular for a while. And, do you know what? It's still popular. Folks who got them liked them.|
|Piko Euro Passenger Starter Set - This is the original version of the train shown above, in a traditional dark green color. In Europe, this is one of Piko's most popular sets, and many folks in this country have enjoyed them as well.|
Kids Trains from Bachmann
I've put this in a separate window since they are actually made a little differently from the Bachmann Big Haulers at the top of this page. The Bachmann Li'L Big Hauler Line is made specifically for kids - it even leaves off some moving parts you would ordinarily expect to see. That said, nobody is making a better Large Scale train for kids right now. The Bachmann Thomas line is a little bigger, and slightly more detailed, but the two trains "play nicely" together, so there's no reason not to get one now and the other later. Or one for each kid if you have multiple children. :-)
Bachmann's Thomas with Annie and Clarabel - Bachmann's Large Scale Thomas the Tank line is pretty solid and lots of fun. The four-wheeled Annie and Clarabel coaches are also easier for kids to put on the track than most trains.
Years ago, a similar Large Scale Thomas the Tank line was made by Lionel. They were nice solid little trains, too, so don't rule them out if you come across one. Our article Thomas the Tank Shootout reviews both sets and describes the differences.
|Li'l Big Hauler Short Line Train - Bachmann's Li'l Big Hauler line includes a kid-friendly locomotive and two "shortie" passenger cars. No, they don't have a lot of little pieces for kids to break off, but they look pretty charming circling a kids' bedroom floor, a Christmas tree, or a pond. If you are interested at all in garden railroading, and you want the kids to have a train they can run outside (or inside) without having to supervise too much, this is the line to consider.|
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