If you could go back in time and avoid some of the mistakes you have made through your life, most of us would probably like to change or redo some things that we have done. The same is true in model railroading. Most of us who've been model railroading for a while can look back on our early days in the hobby and realize that we made some mistakes that if we could do them over again, we probably would well.
Today I want to share the ins and outs of n scale locomotives with you that I found beneficial.
Moreover, I would love to bring some common mistakes that railroaders make at the beginning of their model railroading career. There are some of the mistakes that I made myself. However, many of them are avoidable if we're just aware of them and take a little bit of care.
Do you experience some mistakes that maybe you made or you've seen other model railroaders make? Don't worry; it won't be repeated again. I'm here to help get rid of those common mistakes and bring you the best n scale locomotive.
Bachmann Industries Switcher Locomotive
5 out of 5
Kato USA Model Train Products Powered Locomotive N EMD
5 out of 5
Bachmann trains Prairie 2-6-2 Steam Locomotive - N Scale
4.5 out of 5
Kato 3061-5 Electric Locomotive Type EF65-2000 Revival
4.5 out of 5
Kato USA Model Train Products Operating Locomotive Model
4 out of 5
Our top 10 best N Scale Locomotives in 2021
1. Bachmann Industries Switcher Locomotive and Tender Union Pacific Train Car #4425 USRA 0-6-0
When it comes to top-notch design and safety, who else provides better than Bachmann Industries? They have been serving this industry since 1833. At the moment, they are the world's largest company for ready-to-run cars, locomotives, and other related accessories.
So, without any hesitation, Bachmann comes first on our top 10 N scale locomotive list.
This USA made locomotive is certainly a good choice for beginners. Its operation is quite simple yet exciting.
If you are such a person who doesn't love to change kits frequently, this one will be the ideal choice. Let me allow explaining myself. It comes with die-cast chassis and metal handrails. You shouldn't have any worries regarding its durability and longevity issue.
What I like most about this Bachmann loco is its traction tires. You know if the tire isn't good, it cannot pull stuff smoothly. Therefore, tires are really important in order to choose the best locomotive. No worries, this loco has great pulling power. The point to be noted here, it works best at 11.25" Radius curves or greater.
On top of that, the manufacturer provides bronze bearings in a skew-wound motor. It also includes engine and tender electrical pick-up.
One more thing before wrapping the review up- It doesn't have any headlight. Moreover, it doesn't blow smoke or make noise. This is a simple and easy maintaining n scale steam loco.
- The roadway is smooth and solid
- Great for the price
- USA made
- A highly detailed steam engine
- No smoke; no working headlight
2. Kato USA Model Train Products #95C Powered Locomotive N EMD FP7A Milwaukee Road
When it comes to strength and durability, this Model Train stays no longer in competition with others. This is the perfect loco for anyone who is fascinated with power and durability.
The product of Kato USA is made under the intense supervision of a group of experts. One of the unique features of this N Scale locomotive is that it has a powerful five-pole motor along with all-wheel electrical pick up.
What I like most about this loco is its directional headlights. As you saw, there wasn't a working headlight in the Bachmann locomotive, but here comes the headlight. Bachmann loco is still one of the best options in the market, but one shortcoming that carries is not having a headlight. Therefore, Kato USA comes at the top of the list of our best n scale locomotives.
In addition to directional headlights, it also has illuminated number boards. Simply unbelievable at this price.
A number of kids in the United States use this locomotive due to only its colorful design and unbelievable power. This loco is for rough use.
Another important reason for having this one is that it is easy to clean. You know, keeping model trains and wheels clean is one of the preconditions to make it last longer.
On top of that, it has fully automatic magnetic knuckle couplers. As in, you don't have to worry each time, the couplers will open automatically.
Finally, this is the best option to pull the nine-car Hiawatha set. Moreover, this can run comfortably facing the opposite direction.
- The details and quality of materials are great
- use the FP7A Milwaukee #95C
- smooth running
- It has directional headlights
- It handles the steep grades of Milwaukee's route well
3. Bachmann trains Prairie 2-6-2 Steam Locomotive - N Scale
What does the best locomotive for n scale look like? Well, I don't know for sure, but I think this is a highly rated and extremely famous locomotive for n scale model train.
Though it arrived in the market not long ago, it became popular and well-known to the community. Here's why.
If you are someone who has a tendency to run model trains hard and rough, you will love this item. It is strong enough, so you don't have to worry about its health.
But what I love most about this product is that it has metal handrails and die-cast chassis. Yep, you read that right. Not satisfied with your loco's making? You can simply replace your existing locomotive with this awesome one.
Moreover, this locomotive comes with traction tires. I think you know the importance of quality tires in order to generate great pulling power. This n scale locomotive does the best in terms of pulling power in greater radius curves. I can comfortably lug 5 to 6 freight cars without wheel slippage.
And the best part? Its performance on dual service branch lines and logging lines is way better than you expect.
By and large, the 2-6-2 wheel arrangement performs really amazing on right turns. Word of warning, though. For mid to low-priced models of Bachmann locomotives, there might have a quality control issue. Honestly, there are good runs and bad runs with the factory used. Therefore, look into your one before you get into it.
- Looks smart and runs great
- Detailed locomotive
- Apparently well-made loco
- It doesn't smoke
- No digit track and sound
4. Kato 3061-5 Electric Locomotive Type EF65-2000 Revival JNR Color N Gauge
If you have been running model railroad train for a while, then you will definitely have heard of the Kato Electric Locomotive. This electric locomotive is responsible for a lot of younger smiley faces as it provides some amusing experiences to its users.
While you're in a search of a shiny n scale loco for your kids or yourself, you are at the right place. The electrical locomotive is super shiny and shines for years.
But what I love most about this locomotive is its machine. It is soundless. I mean, you cannot even feel that there is a real machine. However, you need to assemble it correctly. Without proper adjustment with the rail track, it can fall short of its potential. Therefore, if you are not confident enough to do the job, get help from the expert or take enough time to make it properly.
If you're worried about the durability and the longevity, let them stay anywhere else.
This Kato electric locomotive is made of splendor materials. As long as Kato arrived in the market, they grabbed a large portion of their market only by their product quality.
If we compare, honestly, products from Bachmann and other brands look more attractive than Kato's. However, in the case of material, they will be somewhere at the top of the list for sure.
Another important thing. The mounting parts are only the number you like. Simply select and install the number you like, and you can run immediately. First and foremost, the brightness of the LED light, smooth running are great of this product.
- Red license plate
- It runs smooth
- This is only an electric locomotive
- Great for the price
- Suitable for both amateur and mature users
5. Kato USA Model Train Products Operating Locomotive Model N EMD E5A Red Band CB&Q #9911A
I don't think there is anyone alive on this planet who hasn't heard of Kato USA model trains. No offense, if you haven't before now, you have heard of it. The point I want to make here, Kato USA is a famous model train manufacturer based in the USA. Like other USA company, they maintain the safety and hygienic issues strictly.
Its super strong formula is well-loved and accepted in the community. This red band locomotive offering from them is one of their most popular products. And therefore, it is perfect for anyone who wants to redesign his/her model train with a super locomotive.
What truly sets this locomotive apart, though, is its DCC friendly mechanism. Moreover, it is coupled with a powerful 5-pole motor.
Despite being available in the market for a short time, the red nose loco has already earned a good name and fame. You know when you deliver top-notch products and services, it doesn't take much to earn fame or name. So, this is what happens for this item.
But what attracts me the most about this loco is its red nose. It reflects its appearance and reminds me from where it came. And the interesting fact is that the loco first arrived at the Illinois railway museum in the union, IL.
One of the best things about this model railroad locomotive is that it comes with directional amber LED headlights. Though this is common in Kato Model trains, still, it is something that can easily grab people's attention. Imagine, a 'red band' head is lightening the road, and the silverish loco body glittered in reflection often; can you see that amazing scene? Take your time and reimagine. It is simply exciting.
Finally, it comes with the front cowling and optional coupler clip. On top of that, the manufacturer allows you to remove the front cowling if you love to.
- Directional amber LED headlights
- Pre-printed number boards
- DCC friendly mechanism
- It provides an optional coupler clip and front cowling
- You can use the HO power pack for this locomotive
6. Kato USA Model Train Products Two-Pack Locomotive Set N EMD FP7A + F7B Milwaukee Road Locomotive
Now that we've had a look at the best locomotive for n scale, let's turn to one of the most popular locomotives from one of the most popular loco brand Kato USA.
If you are a serious player who has run with lots of different types of locomotives other than Kato USA, you'll love this loco. This does not generally happen that someone uses quite a few brands of model trains except Kato USA. You know this is a brand with unique features and quality.
This is a pack that will provide you with FP7A and F7B Locomotives. It becomes more reasonable than to buy individually. In regard to the product quality and their durability, the price is unbelievable.
Not only are these locomotives made of strong materials, but they run so smoothly. The five-pole motor makes them so powerful. Moreover, they all come with wheel electrical pickup and blackened wheels.
If your tires aren't good, then it will fail to pull stuff comfortably. Fortunately, these locos come with traction tires, as in, they can pull weights smoothly.
Are you worried about to open and close the couplers? Not to worry now, because the loco has automatic knuckle couplers. As an FYI, it is magnetic.
One shortcoming of this item is that it is not DCC equipped. However, you can make it DCC enabled later. So, without having this issue, by and large, this is a good choice for mature players.
- EMD FP7A + F7B Milwaukee Road Locomotive
- Two-Pack locomotive set
- Great for the price
- Not DCC equipped
- Powerful five pole motors
- Directional headlights and illuminated number boards
7. Bachmann Trains - DCC Sound Value Equipped Steam Locomotive
For those of you looking for a heavy-duty locomotive that can be used for years, this loco from Bachmann is going to suit your needs just perfectly.
You may claim that the price is a bit high. This is true, but you know the material quality and the outstanding finish of the product take it on that height. Therefore, it will save you money in the long run. There is no question of the durability and longevity of the locomotive.
Furthermore, it provides more value than other locos available in the market. Let me explain how.
You know maximum model train or locomotive providers design their products with led headlights. But how many brands are there that provide the soft white LED light with backup light? I don't know for sure, but possibly there is no one except this particular model of Bachmann trains. So, this is clear that they provide higher value, and in return, they charge higher than others. As simple as that.
Okay, so what I love most about the product is its dual-mode NMRA-compliant decoder with DCC sound-equipped. It also has an Econami Sound Value package.
On top of that, it is equipped with twin brass flywheels and an all-wheel pickup in the engine.
If you run your model trains frequently or love to compete with your friends or cousins, I mean, if you need to do just more than model railroading, this is a great fit for you. It has a die-cast boiler and frame. You know how sturdy die-cast products are. Moreover, handrails and stanchions are made separately.
One more thing. The E-Z Mate Mark works best on 11.25" radius or greater. Last, but not the least, the loco is comparatively newer than others yet full of potentials.
- Twin brass flywheels and all-wheel pickup in engine
- DCC sound-equipped
- Soft white LED light with backup light
- Smarter than ever
- It is durable
8. Bachmann Industries Pre-War with Slat Pilot-Pacific Steam Locomotive with DCC Sound - (N Scale)
For model train and locomotive lovers, this next pick from Bachmann is just for you. This black colored locomotive is specially made for beginners.
It runs smooth, and you will be surprised by the quality of the sound. On top of that, you can adjust the sound, as do the speed table. But it all depends on how you would prefer. Whatever, the overall sound and running quality, it gets sets a new level for the locomotives and model trains.
The loco is extremely powerful. I know someone who runs 12 of the Micro-Trains Line heavyweight Pennsy cars with this beast. On startup, it seems to have some slippage, honestly, but this is pretty prototypical. Therefore, it pulls cars very well and smooth.
But what I like most about this locomotive is that it is very detailed and designed very aesthetically. Now, a loco isn't all about design and look, yet it plays a vital role. Okay, don't get perplexed here.
The point I want to make, if you have all the features and qualities present on a 100 bucks item, what would you like to have then? Great designs and smart looks? Yes, this is what most people do. Beauty attracts human beings, this from the very beginning of human civilization. So, this loco gets full marks on its design and modeling.
Want me to give you a great combination of performance, realism, and price? This is the product that matches the most of it. It is an outstanding product for the N-scale PRR roundhouse without the expense of going brass. Moreover, it doesn't require any expertise to scratch build/kitbash.
If you experienced the lack of good realistic steam locomotives, then you are highly encouraged to get this one. It won't require a cost of brass or other historical faithful replicas.
However, it is brighter and looks more precise yet a bit plastic-y; still, it is unparalleled at a crawl after breaking in.
- It has realistic train sound
- It has short and long whistles
- Great for rough use; therefore, for beginners
- It doesn't require any expertise to scratch build/kitbash
- DCC supported; can be controlled by your I-phone
9. Kato USA Model Train Products Freight Version #838 Train Union Pacific FEF-3 Steam Locomotive
Now we have another product from the Kato USA. It has been in the market for quite a few years. One of the prime reasons for having this locomotive is its Special cross-braced shock absorbers. It equalizes the pressure on the locomotive drivers to maximize traction.
You know traction is all-important to pull the stuff smoothly. So, it does the task perfectly and timely.
And the best part of this loco is that it allows easy drop-in installation. As in, it is quite DCC friendly. To control the sound, you need a DCC control system, and it delivers that in a proper fashion.
But what makes me fascinated with this locomotive is its illuminated headlight and locomotive number boards. The headlight is in a forward motion; when you run the loco in reverse, then the light on the tender comes. Light isn't too bright but does well.
Have you ever experienced that the train works well up to a certain speed, And as soon as you exceed the speed, it starts shuffling and troubling? This is a major problem for beginners who didn't experience it before. You know we often overlook this point. How will it adapt at all speed? Therefore, to avoid this kind of unexpected situation, you can take this loco from the mighty Kato USA.
It runs smoothly at all speeds and even at slow crawls. The reason behind this is simple; it is designed with a coreless motor with dual flywheels.
- It performs smooth at all speeds
- Designed with a coreless motor with dual flywheels
- DCC control system
- Special cross-braced shock absorbers
- Illuminated headlight and locomotive number boards
10. Kato USA Model Train Products - Cab Headlight Version
Here is another product from the Kato USA model train. And this is our last pick for today. This product is renowned for its Prototype accurate bolster less non-radial HTSC truck. Moreover, it provides the five chime air horn.
But what I like most of this product is that it has a high dynamic brake. Though this is not that crucial, even many manufacturers don't take this issue that seriously. Still, this is fascinating.
This locomotive earns a good name with no time. Literally, with no time. And the reason is quite simple; it is made of quality materials to run smoothly.
However, it has one drawback. It doesn't come with a DCC controller. But still, you can add an extra DCC controller. The Kato USA offers several locomotives that come with a DCC controller system. I have already reviewed quite a few of them.
Another interesting fact about this loco is that it comes with both sound and non-sound DCC decoders. And it should be noted that it is according to the decoder selector on Digitrax's site. Moreover, it is all designed to be full circuit board replacements.
If you have been into model railroading for the last few years, you know that Kato USA has a reputation for silky smooth operation. And this one lives up to that reputation. It runs performs perfect at even slow speeds. Undoubtedly, it has one of the best operations and a crisp paint job.
On top of that, it has great power and a smart look as well. You know what; it is also called the headlight version of the Kato locomotive? Yes, because it has directional headlights and illuminated number boards.
Finally, this is highly recommendable for both mature and amateur. I mostly prefer it for home. I mean family use.
- Directional headlight and preprinted number boards.
- Illuminated ditch lights
- Non-radial HTSC truck and five-chime airhorn
- Powerful five-pole motor
- It is the latest in the line of EMD's "70" locomotives
What to consider before buying an n scale locomotive (Buying Guide)
As there have quite a few brands and types of locomotives available in the market, sometimes it really gets tough to choose the best one. As long as you are a beginner, questions come to mind like, what type of motor should I choose? Types of material they used? And, on and on.
So, I have designed this guide to get you out of this dilemma. I have kept the narrative simple and brief as much as possible. Therefore, it will provide you the most amount of value in the least amount of time.
First and foremost, look into its material quality- How it is made. If the material isn't good, then it won't be going to last for long. You know to get the most out of any toy or tools, it needs to be built with quality materials.
Well, it is easy to get fascinated by the product design or look, but in the long run, you must rely on how it is made. Therefore, my first advice would be looking for the top-notch material and thereafter looking for other features and specifications.
Let's talk a bit more about this. I'm sure many of you have already experienced that you pick something captivated by its design or outlook, and finally, you end up regretting. I'm a victim of it myself.
A few years back, I bought an item from a local store just for its design and reasonable price. After a month, I figured it out as a pure waste of money. You know everything was right there except the material quality. So, I took a bit of time to discuss this point just to make it clear that- don't go for the outlook entirely. Yes, designs and outlooks come, yet after the material quality.
Without having a powerful motor, it won't be possible to pull the cars smoothly. This is not that critical to understand. So, to get a smooth experience on the road, you must rely on a powerful motor.
The locos I enlisted in the list today are mostly five-pole motor with dual brass flywheels. They are quite good to pull more than 12 cars at a time. Therefore, make sure you pick up a five-pole motor or equivalent to it.
Motors are responsible for smooth running thereafter the tires are. If the traction of the tires is not good, then it makes the loco tough to pull stuff smoothly. In order to get a satisfactory experience from your locomotive, you need to be choosy here.
Traction tires are great for pulling cars smoothly. It helps the motor, therefore the loco internally. So, to get the most out of your n scale locomotive, choose the tires carefully.
DCC Control System
This is something not mandatory, but still, I love to have this feature on my one. Digital Command Control makes it easier ever to control your model train. You can control it with your I-phone or any other cell phone that supports DCC.
And the keynote about this feature is that you will find some locos that don't come with a DCC control system installed, but you can add it later. So, if you want to buy a loco that doesn't have it built-in but can be added later, you can pick that one. This is not that difficult to add an extra DCC controller.
Frequently Asked Question
Question: Bachmann vs. Kato USA; which one is better?
Answer: so this is probably the most asked question of all time in terms of choosing a model train brand. You know Bachmann has been serving the community with their top-notch products since 1833. And therefore, without any hesitation, they are being called the world's largest manufacturer for ready to run cars, locomotive, and other related accessories.
They are truly a gigantic company. A wide array of products and accessories they used to provide. And most importantly, their customer service is up to the mark. You never feel a distance or get hurt by their service center.
As they say, their motto is to serve the community with quality products, though it gets expensive sometimes. However, in order to get the desired experience and service in the long term, it is beneficial for the users.
On the other hand, Kato USA has been doing a fantastic job for the last few decades. They earned a good name by their smart design and great outlook along with quality products.
Another impressive feature that Kato USA carries is that they make all their products under the intense supervision of a group of experts. Therefore, products from Kato USA are safe for people of different ages.
Finally, in a nutshell, both of the brands are popular and renowned for their products. No one is solely best for N scale locomotives. Moreover, they have been doing their business for years. So, in the case of brand choosing, it is totally flexible. Choose the locomotive according to your needs, not brands.
Question: DC or DCC? Which will be the best for me?
Answer: You have two types of locomotives you can buy. You can buy DC, or you can buy DCC, or you can buy DCC ready. What does DCC ready mean? It is you can literally pull off the shell of a locomotive, drop a decoder ring, and put the shell back on and when you're set to go.
DC can always be converted to DCC. It's just that you got the hardware; the DCC chip into the locomotive takes some work. "DCC installed" is basically what it says. It's got the DCC chip in it already.
So, the DCC control system is better than only DC, no doubt. But DC can be converted to DCC. Therefore, don't take this too seriously; if it is available to your desired one, it's great. If not, then not to worry, add an extra DCC controller to it.
Question: How to lubricate your locomotives?
Answer: not only the wheels and such but the engine as well. So a few things you'll need is some method of holding the locomotive. Now I buy a special bed to put the locomotives in.
However, I use just a random piece of packaging that what my locomotives came in and which I find to be very good.
You also need some light machine oil, which is totally random. I just searched into amazon 'sewing machine oil,' and the oil comes up named Hemline machine oil. And I totally recommend that.
I've been running all my locomotives with that and for about six months to a year actually, and they're absolutely perfect.
You'll need some kind of dropper. A needle paperclip or anything like that would be absolutely fine. Now, this is optional. You might want some cotton buds. After having all of these, how you go about doing it?
So just take the lid off and use the paperclip. You just need to dip that in till it's a globule on the end of it. Basically, you want to lubricate any part that is moving. So, for example, all the wheels there. You go and dip the needle into the oil and drop it to the linkage. And you have to do it on both sides. If you don't feel using a needle to drop the lubricant, you can use cotton buds to wipe the joints.
Wrapping it up
I think there are several reasons why people are slow to get started in the Hobby. Sometimes they don't get started because they simply don't know where to start.
I hope you don't have any issue regarding this or similar. Therefore, it truly changes the whole experience when you have the best n scale locomotive instead of an average one.
I have also written a detailed guideline on how to clean model railroad and especially, the model train wheels. Also Read: Which ball valve is perfect for you? Answered Get quality glass dip pens from our list Fisher space pen; tips to choose the perfect one