When purchasing model rail equipment, whether it be a starter train set, specific locomotive, or individual piece of rolling stock, it's important to consider the best model train brands for your requirements.
It can be difficult to know which brand is the best at manufacturing quality model trains due to the sheer volume of models on the market. That's before even considering their individual specializations in addition to the compatibility and suitability of their products to your model train layout.
In this guide we'll cover which model train brand is best for a variety of these use cases.
Model train brands overview
There are a number of factors that influence whether a model train brand is a top choice. These include:
- Level of detail and quality of the models
- Product durability and reliability
- Stock levels and ease of purchase
- Availability on the secondhand market
- Accessibility for beginners
- Support and after-sales service
These are just some of the areas that'll have an effect on the popularity of a manufacturer and whether they can be considered among the best model train brands.
Whilst this guide covers the main model train brands globally, their popularity and the availability of their products will be different depending on which country you live in, as we'll discover below.
Which model train manufacturer is best?
The best model train brand is going to vary by region due to differences in the popularity of the various model train scales and their availability in these markets.
For example, in the UK the most popular model train scale is OO gauge, whereas in Europe and North America HO scale is more popular.
This'll have an impact on the best model train manufacturer for your region as they're going to specialize in different scales and will adjust their product ranges accordingly.
Top model train brands in the UK 🇬🇧
Hornby is the leading model train brand in the United Kingdom and has been the number one manufacturer for many years.
They specialize in producing OO gauge models - the most popular size of model train in the UK - as well as TT and N gauge models via the Hornby name or the various brands that fall under their umbrella.
Bachmann Europe comes in just behind Hornby in terms of popularity. They sell OO gauge and N gauge models under the Bachmann and Graham Farish brands respectively.
Their model trains are predominantly aimed at the enthusiast rather than the beginner, with their locomotives generally featuring excellent build quality and attention to detail, albeit at a slightly more expensive price point compared to the average Hornby model.
They also have a more comprehensive range of locomotives available, and have been known to release desirable limited editions from time to time, so they're certainly a model train brand worth considering for your layout.
In recent years other manufacturers such as Dapol and Oxford Rail have been making significant improvements to their model locomotives and rolling stock and are demonstrating great progress with regard to build quality and detailing.
Both these brands are now making model trains that are comparable to Hornby at competitive prices, which will surely appeal to a wide range of railway modellers.
When looking for the best train set it's always worth shopping around for a top deal and comparing offerings from alternative brands like these. If you're on the lookout for a particular locomotive you may find that they offer a comparable product to Hornby at a more competitive price.
Top model train brands in the USA 🇺🇸
There are many model train manufacturers that are popular in the United States. Unlike in the UK, a number of these manufacturers have a significant share of the model train market with no particular brand being a clear market leader.
Some of the leading US model train brands are:
- Athearn (HO, N scale)
- Atlas (O, HO, N scale)
- Bachmann (HO, N, G scale)
- Lionel (O scale)
- Walthers (N, HO scale)
Lionel is perhaps the most well known manufacturer from this list. Their winter trains and Polar Express range are extremely popular and they regularly feature in our guide to the best Christmas tree trains. However, they generally only produce O gauge trains and have only recently started branching out into other model train scales, such as HO.
They generally cater for the beginner and more casual model rail enthusiast whilst other brands, such as Athearn and Atlas, are more suited to intermediate or experienced modellers or those with as specific product in mind.
Which is better Bachmann vs Hornby?
Most model rail enthusiasts will be familiar with the names Bachmann and Hornby, with both of these brands having a rich history in the model train market.
Hornby is considered the best model train brand for beginners as they offer a wide range of products that are easily accessible and readily available.
They are generally more affordable than Bachmann and stock levels tend to be higher across more retailers. There's also a more plentiful supply of Hornby trains on the secondhand market, which is great for beginners looking to pick up a bargain.
On the other hand, Bachmann model trains tend to be ideal for intermediate to advanced modellers due to their more specific range of product offerings and their higher emphasis on realism and attention to detail on their models. They're also marginally more robust and reliable than Hornby trains.
However, in recent years both Bachmann and Hornby have significantly increased the quality of their products - with higher levels of detail being obtained in their model trains and rolling stock. For this reason you can't really go wrong with either of these brands when choosing a model train to purchase for your layout.
Whether you're a complete beginner or a modeller with years of experience in the hobby, either Bachmann or Hornby model trains are a solid choice.
Summary of the best model train brands
Hornby is widely regarded as the best model train brand in the UK due to their long history of manufacturing beginners train sets and model locomotives at affordable prices. They're great for people looking to get started with model railways.
Bachmann is the main alternative in the UK - their models tend to have slightly greater robustness and better reliability. They also produce N gauge models through their Graham Farish brand, which is good option for modellers looking to build layouts in a smaller scale.
Lionel, Bachmann, Atlas, and Walthers are the top model train brands in the USA as they offer a wide range of choice and their trains cater to a variety of skill levels. Their beginner train sets are a great way to get started.
Athearn are the best option if you're looking for model trains with the greatest level of detail, realism and production quality - whilst they can be expensive they are certainly worth considering as an addition to your model train collection.
If you're looking to get your first train set be sure to view our guide to the best train sets which will quickly and easily get you started in the world of model trains.