Beginners Guide

< Back to Articles



   Online Guide for Beginners



Welcome to the Online Guide for Beginners.  In this article you will find:

--An introduction to Model Railroading

--How to get started

--The different Lionel Train Sets available

--A link to our article on how to expand the set

--Information about

Why Model Trains?

Model Railroading is a relaxing, fulfilling hobby that can be enjoyed by the entire family. It has the advantage of combining many of the best facets of other hobbies. There is the action of the trains, similar to radio controlled cars and airplanes, but there is also a collecting aspect to the hobby. Also, if you decide to build a permanent layout, scenery and buildings can be included, adding a craft and modeling dimension to the hobby.  No two people approach model railroading exactly the same, which is what makes it so interesting.

Unlike many contemporary toys, most electric trains are not 'throwaway' items. They are built to last and can be handed down from generation to generation. We are always getting emails from individuals asking us about a train that they dug out of their attic after 40 or 50 years. With just a bit of cleaning, these trains will often run good as new even after being stored for a decades. At Trainz, we specialize in selling O Gauge trains made by Lionel and MTH, companies whose products are built to last.

Also, this is a hobby that can be taken to nearly any level of involvement—from setting up a train around the Christmas tree to building an elaborate layout that fills a basement. It can be done over years and even decades, and new items will work just fine with the older ones. For example, over 98% of all Lionel items made since 1945 will work with the trains that are being made today. Even better, Lionel's competitors design their equipment to be compatible.

Getting Started

The easiest way to get started with trains is to buy a complete starter set.

These starter sets include:

 A locomotive, or engine; the powered unit that pulls the train;

 About three to five cars

A loop of track for the train to run on; and

  • A transformer, or power pack, which is used to control the speed and direction of the train. The transformer reduces electrical current from 115 volts running through your house to the much safer level the trains actually run on—6 to 20 volts.   

A new starter set also includes instructions for the setup, operation and care of the train set.

Click here for a list of train sets we currently have here at Trainz. Prices range from $149.99 to $460.99.  The price differences reflect the number of cars and features in the locomotive.

When picking a set, it is also good to keep in mind the purpose for buying the set,  If you want a train to set up around the tree at Christmas and don't plan to run it the rest of the year, a set like the Polar Express or the North Pole Central Christmas Express is a good choice.  Both sets have whistles that can be blown by the touch of a button from the transformer, and both engines also have puffing smoke.


The Polar Express

The North Pole Central Christmas Express

Lionel also produces a Thomas the Tank Engine Train Set, which is great for younger children. This set has fewer detail parts and is designed to stand up to handling by little ones. This set has a whistle, but the engine does not smoke.

Thomas the Tank Engine Train Set


The Pennsylvania Keystone Flyer set and the New York Central Flyer are both nice beginner sets that are reasonably priced.  Unlike the Polar Express and North Pole Central set, the trains in these sets have markings that depict actual railroads.  Both engines are equipped with whistles that can be blown the touch of a button on the transformer, and both also have smoke.

The Pennsylvania Keystone Flyer

If you're thinking of setting up a permanent layout and would like a more elaborate set to start out, with more features such as advanced sound systems that are not included in the smaller sets, the Rio Grande Fast Freight, the El Capitan Passenger Set,, and the LionMaster Conrail Diesel Freight Set are all worth looking into.  The Rio Grande and El Capitan sets have the Trainsounds system, which includes whistle, bell, chugging sounds, and even the voices of the crew and the squealing brakes on the engine. The Conrail set has Railsounds, which is an even more realistic sounding system.

Why Buy from Trainz?

At, we strive to make buying online convenient and enjoyable. We offer items for sale both on eBay and on our online store. On average we have over 3,000 items for sale on eBay and over 3,000 additional items for sale in our store at any time.

We pride ourselves on our customer service. We have a positive eBay feedback score of 99.8% given to us by over 45,000 customers. When we do encounter an incident involving an order, we make every effort to make it right. We offer a full money-back guarantee--if you are not happy with something bought from Trainz, just contact us within 7 days.

We are also dedicated to ensuring on-line security and privacy for our customers. Our online checkout system is designed and managed by, which uses a host of security measures to protect customers' information. Trainz also has its own staff of two internet technicians who monitor our internal systems and keep them up to date.

If you are not comfortable using a credit card on line, we also take checks and money orders.  However, if you purchase from us through eBay, you must pay by Credit Card or Paypal as of October 1st, 2008.

If you have any questions, feel free to read our other on-line articles or contact us.

Thanks for your interest!

Tommy Feldman
General Manager,