10 Best HO Model Trains (Reviews of 2021)

Some things never change. For many, trains are not just a means of transport. They represent many childhood memories. The memories of being a kid and playing with a train set with your old man are some things many cherish.

If that is you, then we rounded up the 10 best HO model trains you can buy right now. The world of model trains has come far. There are many cool model trains for every type of train enthusiast.

Whether you have a childhood tied to traveling in trains or simply appreciate the engineering, there is a model train for you. Let us get on with the in-depth review of these so you can spark the same feeling you had as a kid all over again.

Product Image

Product Name

Editor's Rating

Price

Bachmann Trains Santa Fe Flyer

5 out of 5

Lionel Polar Express Electric HO Model Train

5 out of 5

Bachmann Trains Rail Chief Model Train

4.5 out of 5

Lionel Santa Fe Cajon

4.5 out of 5

Chattanooga 155 Piece Electric Set by Bachman Trains

4.5 out of 5

Our Top 10 Best HO Model Trains in 2021

From the famous movie train recreations to the classics, there are quite a lot of options out there. But which one do you buy?

1. Bachmann Trains Santa Fe Flyer

Bachmann Trains Santa Fe Flyer


Bachman model trains are some of the most solid HO model trains you can find. A lot of their quality comes down to their attention to detail and value for money. They are also the distributor for Thomas and Friends products. Now, they come with the Santa Fe Flyer.

This HO model train comes in a 1:87 scale, which is not too big or small – just the perfect size for unlimited fun. The design of the model is perfectly done, with all the features looking pretty realistic and reminiscent of the Santa Fe railway trains.

You are set right out of the box with everything you need for a grand time. In the box, you get a locomotive, E-Z tracks, Terminal, Speed Controller, Terminal Wire, Power Supply, and a list of components.

The bad boy comes with a diesel EMD FT locomotive to run the show. And, oh boy, does it run the show. You will fall in love right after you turn the thing on. Did we mention there is also a functional headlight?

This model from Bachman is easy to set up as well, thanks to the E-Z tracks. They are intuitive and look pretty dope when it is all done. The knuckle couplers are magnetically operated. There are 36-inches of tracks for you to run your train on.

Highlighted Features

  • Full-featured set which includes everything you need
  • Cool locomotive with a working headlight that is immersive
  • 36-inches of long tracks that are easy to put together
  • Easy to clean and maintain so you can keep it looking pristine

2. Lionel Polar Express Electric HO Model Train

Ask any train enthusiast, and they will probably tell you one of the best train movies they watched was The Polar Express. With this model from Lionel, you can bring the magic of The Polar Express right into your home.

The thing that this model train nails is pure authenticity. Yes, the design of the train is almost indistinguishable from the movie. We love the attention to detail of this one too.

This locomotive has original soundtracks from the film. Hearing classic phrases like "all aboard the Polar Express" and "tickets please" never gets old, and there is a working headlight!

You will find silhouettes of the animated characters on the passenger cars. Some cars even have simulated snow on the roof.

Controlling the train is another intuitive affair. With the LionChief remote, you can make the train go back and forward. There are buttons to sound the whistle and make special announcements, which make it incredibly fun to operate the train.

The tracks attach magnetically, and you get quite a bit of track too. In the set, there are twelve 20-inch radius curve tracks, three straight tracks with each 9-inches long. Finally, there is a single 9-inch terminal track section. One small gripe we have with the train is it does not come with batteries.

Highlighted Features

  • Comes with a realistic train design
  • Original movie soundtracks make for an immersive experience
  • Magnetic tracks are easy to connect, saving you time
  • Speed control options let you decide just how fast or slow you want to go

3. Bachmann Trains Rail Chief Model Train

Another model train and another Bachman classic. If you want a train that is a bit more on the retro side, this Rail Chief is the one to get.

The scale is the same as our first Bachman model. That is to say, it is 1:87. You get the same high-quality model train with a great color finish, sharp graphics, and texts we have come to expect from the brand.

Featuring an EMD GP40 locomotive, this train pulls a lot of cars behind it. And a lot of cars are exactly what you will get in the box too. There is a caboose, quad hopper car, reefer car, signal bridges, and more.

There are also miniature figures and rail signs to keep things realistic. You can set up a pretty sweet looking station with all the small bits included in the set. All in all, we really loved the boxed inclusions, if you cannot tell already.

The tracks were another aspect that impressed us. It features the same E-Z tracks that are seamless to attach and take off. The tracks might need some light lubrication after long periods of use, though.

That is not much of a bother. Given the quality of the components and the host of features, this is one of the best HO model trains.

Highlighted Features

  • Cool retro look gives you an authentic feeling
  • Functional locomotive headlight adds to the experience
  • High-quality graphics and color finish
  • Includes additional tidbits like figures and telephone poles
  • Speed controller to increase or decrease train velocity

4. Lionel Christmas Express Model Train

Choo Choo! Get on board; Christmas is here. We come to our last inclusion; the Christmas Express model set from Lionel. Not the best one in our list, but it’s obviously one of the best ho model trains you can get your hands on.

Expect everything good you know about Lionel model trains with the added jolly goodness of Christmas, thanks to its holiday-inspired color scheme. It is bright, festive, and unapologetically adorned in the festive spirit.

All that aside, you do get quite a good mix of features. The locomotive is a 2-8-4 type that you can control via remote like other Lionel models. The pickup was smooth as butter, or should we say smooth as a snowball?

The speed control works superbly, letting you make minor adjustments to the speed of the thing. Go forward or take it for a reverse spin with the LionChief remote that Lionel includes in the set.

They did not miss out on the additional immersive features here either. You still get the same engine chuffing sounds, a functioning headlight, and more. The remote has three whistle options and special announcements.

If you ask us for a HO model in a Christmas theme, Lionel did a bang-up job with this one. Everything is well done. We are a tad bit worried about the color finish coming off. But luckily, there has not been any such reports.

Highlighted Features

  • Bright Christmas themed design makes it great for the festive season
  • Powerful locomotive with a 2-8-4 design that is smooth operating
  • Multifunctional remote with granular speed and directional controls
  • Immersive sounds and announcement features amplify the experience

5. Chattanooga 155 Piece Electric Set by Bachman Trains 

There is something about old train models that are just special. For fans of classic trains, this one from Bachman trains is the perfect fit.

Now, the awesome feature of this HO model train that stood out to us was the steam era locomotive. If you know anything about HO model trains (and we assume you do; hence you are here), this should spark joy.

The 0-6-0 tag is for the wheel arrangement. That means there are no leading wheels or trailing wheels. Rather you get six powered wheels. If that is something you appreciate, you do not need us telling you how interesting that is.

Well, we will do it anyway. Apart from the cool locomotive, you get a complete set. Some notable things worthy of mention in the box are – quad hopper car, a tank car (single dome), a plug door boxcar, and also a cupola caboose (off-set).

There are things like the other sets, such as mini figurines, signs, and telephone poles, to make setting up a station more realistic.

The E-Z tracks need no introduction either. They snap on easily and stay put when attached. A lot of HO model train companies sometimes skimp on the tracks. Not Bachman, though.

Highlighted Features

  • Cool 0-6-0 locomotive gives you a taste of the classic steam era goodness
  • High-quality trains and components that will last you a long time
  • A lot of pieces right out of the box makes it ready to go
  • Functioning headlight makes the whole experience more immersive

6. Lionel Santa Fe Cajon

Lionel brings a modern touch to their trains by incorporating Bluetooth. This opens new doors for seamless operations and cool features.

Right out of the box, the train's all-black color finish will strike you. It is as stealthy as it gets. Each detail of the design is perfectly done and pays homage to one of the world's most famous railroads.

The locomotive is a feature-packed little addition. It is electric-powered, and you can control it from the app as well. This might not be something quite groundbreaking, but the small features like these are more than appreciated.

We tested the operation of the train. And to be honest with you, it might as well be the real deal. It runs smooth as butter on its tracks, and the power input is very stable.

You can go back or forward and even make adjustments to the speed of the train too. To make things immersive, there are additional touches that Lionel put on the train.

These touches range from whistles, directional headlights, rail sounds, and even special announcements. If you wanted to experience what it feels like to operate a train, this is somewhat of a close experience – just scaled down a bit.

Well, that may be a stretch, but hey, you get the point, don't you?

Highlighted Features

  • Pays homage to the famous railroads, which enthusiasts will appreciate
  • Modern features like Bluetooth and app control making it a joy to use
  • Smooth operation lends to the great operating experience
  • Immersive sounds and lights add to the overall joy of the model train

7. Bachmann Trains Baldwin 2-8-0

There is just something about a well-made model train that is quite satisfying to operate. Whether you prefer the engineering or the design, model trains are quite the item.

This one from Bachmann is a 1:87 scale model of sheer goodness and fun. The digital command control (DCC) allows you to change the speed, direction, and tweak the lighting as well.

It uses the standard DC Analog power pack or an NMRA-compliant DCC. Thus, compatibility is a complete non-issue here.

Keeping in line with the Bachman tradition, it features the E-Z mate couplers. These couplers help you perform switching and yard operations akin to the real trains.

And let us be honest here – if your model train is not immersive, is there any point to it then? The answer to that question is a big fat no. It is a model train, not a toy train. Bachman nails the immersion part with all of its model trains.

To get the best experience, we recommend using this locomotive on at least 18-inch radius curves. Something higher would also work just fine. All in all, we quite like this locomotive.

The small touches, like the detailed windows, make it stand out from lesser quality alternatives in the market.

Highlighted Features

  • NMRA-compliant digital DCC ensures utmost compatibility
  • E-Z mate couplers are great for an immersive operating experience
  • DCC allows you to control the speed and direction of the train
  • High-quality design and nice small touches make it quite enjoyable

8. Lionel New York Central Water Level HO Model Train

Our fourth Lionel model train in this review, but this time it will make you nostalgic and remind you of the water level route. This quality piece of engineering is tied closely to the central railroads of Big Apple.

When you first open the box, you are greeted with quite a lot of bits and pieces. You get the locomotive, an observation car, a tender, two coaches, LionChief remote, and the tracks.

The locomotive is the 2-8-4 variant. Also known as the Berkshire, it is one of the prettiest locomotives around. It is quite powerful too – pulling the cars and coaches with ease.

The LionChief remote is another gem – ergonomic to hold with clearly marked labels. You can make the train go forward, backward, and also control the speed. Simply dial up the voltage, and voila! You are zooming around the tracks in no time.

Lionel did not forget the importance of realism either. There are three different whistle sounds, engine chuffing and background sounds, and special announcements.

So, when you arrive at your little station, you can announce your arrival grandly. There are small silhouettes on the windows too! However, there are no batteries included in the packaging. That is a small downside, though.

Highlighted Features

  • Comes in a complete set with all you need right out of the box
  • You can get expansion tracks, which give you more options
  • Powerful locomotive makes operating it super fun
  • Comes with a LionChief remote, which makes for easy operation

9. Harvest Express by Bachman Trains

What does the countryside represent to you? To some, it may be freedom, early morning chores, farming, and open fields as far as the eye can see. Or even fresh air.

This Harvest Express by Bachman captures the essence of the countryside perfectly. It features the famous Canadian wheat whopper wagons. Bachman did not stop there, oh no. They went ahead and gave it a bold coat of paint with a colorful design.

While most of the trains we saw here are more on the darker side, this one is a breath of fresh air.

This is a ready to go freight set. Meaning it should not take you much time from opening the box to cruising on the tracks. The whole set is powered by the tried and tested EMD GP-40 locomotive.

Other additions in the box are three cylindrical Canadian iconic grain hoppers, E-Z tracks, and the usuals like the power supply.

The wheels are plastic, though. It would have been great to see metal wheels in this case. Since every other aspect is so high-quality, the plastic wheels stand out as the weakest link.

You can try replacing the wheels with a metal wheelset. The value for money is definitely here with this one.

Highlighted Features

  • The Canadian grain hoppers will be quite the draw for collectors
  • Colorful graphics and design help it differentiate from other model trains
  • Ready to go freight set requires minimal effort to get started
  • High-quality components that should last you a while

10. Lionel Christmas Express Model Train

Choo Choo! Get on board; Christmas is here. We come to our last inclusion; the Christmas Express model set from Lionel. Not the best one in our list, but it’s obviously one of the best ho model trains you can get your hands on.

Expect everything good you know about Lionel model trains with the added jolly goodness of Christmas, thanks to its holiday-inspired color scheme. It is bright, festive, and unapologetically adorned in the festive spirit.

All that aside, you do get quite a good mix of features. The locomotive is a 2-8-4 type that you can control via remote like other Lionel models. The pickup was smooth as butter, or should we say smooth as a snowball?

The speed control works superbly, letting you make minor adjustments to the speed of the thing. Go forward or take it for a reverse spin with the LionChief remote that Lionel includes in the set.

They did not miss out on the additional immersive features here either. You still get the same engine chuffing sounds, a functioning headlight, and more. The remote has three whistle options and special announcements.

If you ask us for a HO model in a Christmas theme, Lionel did a bang-up job with this one. Everything is well done. We are a tad bit worried about the color finish coming off. But luckily, there has not been any such reports.

Highlighted Features

  • Bright Christmas themed design makes it great for the festive season
  • Powerful locomotive with a 2-8-4 design that is smooth operating
  • Multifunctional remote with granular speed and directional controls
  • Immersive sounds and announcement features amplify the experience

10. Walthers Trainline Norfolk Southern Tank Car

Walthers Trainline Norfolk Southern Tank Car

Walthers has been in the business of making HO model trains for a while now – from 1932 to be exact. So, it is safe to assume they picked up a thing or two about making model trains over the years.

That expertise shows in the quality of this model tank car. The build is high-quality. Even the graphics and texts are crisp. We love the color finish too. It comes in a dark black color, which adds to the overall aesthetic and gives it a dash of character.

You might think the dark color tone makes the tank car look a bit drab. But it’s quite contrary. It ends up looking classic and industrial. Something we are sure many HO model train enthusiasts will admire.

This one is not a complete set, though. You just get a tank car and can add this to your existing train set or any freight train of the same scale.

If you are wondering about compatibility issues, Walthers has thought of that beforehand. The wheel tread, body weight, and mounted knuckle couplers are matched to the standards of the National Model Railroad Association. It will work flawlessly with almost all the North American HO model railroads.

The car features RP-25 metal wheels that give you all-around better performance and is tested to also work on code-70 or larger sets.

Highlighted Features

  • Great design which gives it an industrial look
  • Compatibility tested, so you do not need to worry
  • RP-25 metal wheels ensure superior performance
  • Magnetic couplers keep things easy and seamless

Buying the Right HO Model Train

If you are new to HO model trains, there are some things you should know before you go out and grab one. This buying guide will tell you the things you need to consider before choosing the right one.

Understand the Scale

When buying any HO model train, you need to understand the scale of the thing. The scale is the size of the model compared to the real deal. This is honestly a personal preference.

You might like a smaller model or something in the middle. HO model trains fall actually somewhere in the middle with the 1:87 scale of a real train. Not too big and not too small.

Other gauges are the G scale. These are quite large and come in at a 1:25 scale. For the smaller models, there is the N gauge. They are tiny compared to others coming in at only 160th the size.

Keep in mind, though, when you buy model trains of a specific scale, you need to buy extra carriages or cars of the same scale. Trains of the same scale should work fine with each other.

Power Packs/Power Supply

Just as trains have modernized over the years, so have model trains. Well, at least in the power delivery aspect. Model trains used to come with general transformers, which were used to feed power to the trains.

You had some control over the current, but it was not the best. Nowadays, things are much better. Companies like Bachman and Lionel have introduced modern power packs or power supplies.

They use DCCs now, and you should most definitely be getting a model train with DCCs, no questions asked. They give you reliability, durability, and you can upgrade them without having to re-equip the locomotive.

The Tracks

Next up, we have the tracks. Your train needs to run on something, doesn't it? You might be wondering what is there to check with tracks? Tracks are tracks. If you said that to an experienced modeler, they would probably sit you down and give you a crash course on model tracks.

We will keep it short. Traditional tracks were built with ease and compatibility in mind. Now, most HO model train sets include what are called integrated roadbed tracks.

Different manufactures have made their own tracks and gave them their own names. The problem here then is compatibility. So, before buying a model train, always check up on the track expandability situation.

Some models offer a lot of future expandability, while others might not have the same options.

Considering the ‘Model’ in Model Trains

All the best HO model trains in the world are modeled after famous railroads. Buying your first model train can be tied to a personal experience.

You might want to go for a model that has a personal meaning to you or just something that you like the design of. You can also find trains that are designed or modeled after movies, holidays, and other occasions. It is a matter of taste.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is building a model train difficult?

It really is not. All you need to have is a passion for trains and some patience. A helping hand is always appreciated, though.

2. I have never set up a layout. Where do I start?

Start by deciding on a scale. You can read up on blogs to know more about HO scales and G gauges. After that, figure out do you want a permanent solution or want future expandability with the tracks. Lastly, sketch out the layout to make sure everything works just fine.

3. Where do I buy model trains from?

You can easily get HO model trains from your nearest toy shops. There are also model train shops that sell a lot of the ones we mentioned here.

4. What does ‘HO’ mean in HO model trains?

‘HO’ is the scale of the model train. It is a rail transport modeling scale and is 1:87 of a real train.

5. What are the best brands to get? Can you recommend some?

Choosing any brands from the ones we mentioned here is a safe bet. You can go for Bachman or Lionel for reliability and quality.

Final Words

If you are buying your first HO model train, we can imagine the grin you might have on your face right now. It really is an exciting thought. Hopefully, this in-depth review of the best model trains helped to narrow your options and gave you an idea of what to get.

The 'best' option at the end of the day will always be the one that suits you. So, pick the one you like from the list, and you should be golden.                                                                                     Also Read:                                                                                                                       




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