The speed of model trains has always been an interesting topic in the model railroading community and is one of the many areas that modellers consider when designing and operating their trains.
How fast scale locomotives are able to be run is often a key factor for modellers looking to achieve high levels of realism, historical accuracy and interest in their model train layouts.
The speed of model trains is also an important consideration for hobbyists looking to recreate a specific time period or railroading era within their modelling when accurate and realistic speeds are necessary.
Let's take a look at the factors that affect how fast model trains can travel along track in addition to the records of the fastest model locomotives.
How fast do model trains go?
Most model trains can run between 1 - 150mph (1.6 - 241.4kph) depending on their type, brand, method of production, and how they're being operated. However, the maximum speed of most geared models is approximately 15mph (24.1kph).
Nearly all mass market model trains in production today will be designed to run at speeds lower than 15mph (24.1kph). This is the range in which they have been tested and allow the manufacturer to provide accurate data on reliability over a long time frame which allows them to offer longer guarantees and warranties to consumers.
If the average model train operating speed was set at a higher level there would be more risks for the modeller as well. With more speed comes a greater risk of causing damage to locomotives through derailment or increased wear to the components.
Prolonged high speeds are also a factor in shortening the life of a model train motor as greater strain is being placed upon the internal components and gearing.
For these reasons the maximum speed of model trains is kept below the 15mph (24.1kph) mark mentioned above.
There are also some specific scenarios that necessitate even slower speeds.
For example, when carrying out shunting operations in a yard, such as coupling locomotives to rolling stock, switching cars, changing tracks and using points, a much slower speed is required to prevent damage to your models. The recommended maximum speed is around 4mph (6.4kph) in these situations.
What is the fastest model train?
The fastest model train currently recorded managed to achieve a speed of 27.84mph (44.82kph). The 'Osaka Banpaku Tenjimokei Linear Motorcar' achieved the speed at the JAM Convention held in Tokyo, Japan in 2018.
Over the years there have been many other claims for the fastest model train worldwide, however none of these have been independently verified by a professional body. As a result, the authenticity of these speeds is often a matter of debate among the model train community.
As a general rule, when considering which model train is fastest it's usually best practice to only take into account records that have been officially verified by a recognized organization and have been undertaken in a controlled environment.
Why is my model train not running fast?
There are many factors that affect whether model trains are able to run at their full speeds.
The most common problems that cause slow running can often be attributed to insufficient cleaning or maintenance of the track or locomotive.
Ensure that your track is clean and that it's free from dust, lint and debris. This will allow the wheels of the trains to reliably conduct power from the rails. Further to this point, you should also regularly check locomotive wheels and contact points to ensure they are clean.
Refer to our article on the reasons for model trains slowing down for more guidance on how to ensure your scale locomotives run efficiently.
Summary of model train speeds
Most model trains are able to run somewhere between 1 - 150mph (1.6 - 241.4kph). This is dependant on many factors including the manufacturer, type of model, production method, and how they're being operated - in addition to the overall condition of the track and layout.
The majority of geared model trains currently in production can achieve a top speed of approximately 15mph (24.1kph). However, most experienced railroad modellers consider this to be an absolute maximum and generally run their trains at slower speeds.
This is due to the increased risk of derailments and potential to cause damage to model locomotives and rolling stock when running them at greater speeds.
The current world record for the fastest model train is the 'Osaka Banpaku Tenjimokei Linear Motorcar' which attained a speed of 27.84mph (44.82kph) in Tokyo, Japan in 2018.
If you're looking for a fast train set and would like to know where to begin we would recommend taking a look at our guide to the best train sets. It's frequently updated with the best options for different model railroading speed categories.