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03.09.2014
This buyer's guide lists sturdy, kid-friendly garden trains you can use to get and keep the kids involved.
Kid-Friendly Trains - I have raised my children with trains, including toy trains, model trains that were sturdy enough to be handled by children, and "real" model trains. Update for 2014 - Last year, I had to completely revise this page because so many of my favorite kids trains were discontinued.
Of all the trains on this page, I recommend Bachmann's Li'l Big Haulers as the best investment in your kids' or grandkids' love of trains.
The big caveat is that some of these trains on this page in short supply already, and as the economy shows signs of improvement, I expect many of these trains to "jump off the shelves" this fall.
Note about Availability and Pricing: Although I try to keep an eye on things and to recommend products that are reasonably available, the model train market does fluctuate, and any product on this page may change price or become unavailable without prior notice. Note about Suppliers: While we try to help you get the products you want by recommending suppliers with a good record of customer service, all transactions between you and the supplier you chose to provide your trains or other purchases are governed by the published policies on the supplier's web site.
Bachmann's "Li'l Big Hauler" line and "Thomas and Friends"(r) line are less detailed and more rugged than their model train lines, as you would expect for kid-friendly trains.
The Bachmann Thomas and Friends(r) line is a little bigger, and slightly more detailed than the Li'l Big Hauler line, but the two trains are completely compatible.
Bachmann's Thomas with Annie and Clarabel - Bachmann's Large Scale Thomas the Tank line is pretty solid and lots of fun.
Bachmann's Percy with the Troublesome Trucks - Bachmann's Percy is an excellent companion for Thomas. Li'l Big Hauler Short Line Train - Bachmann's Li'l Big Hauler Short Line train includes a kid-friendly locomotive and two "shortie" passenger cars. Li'l Big Hauler Short Line Train - Bachmann's Li'l Big Hauler freight train includes a kid-friendly "tank" locomotive, two "shortie" freight cars and a "shortie" caboose. Li'l Big Hauler Add-ons - To make their Li'l Big Hauler line as useful and flexible as possible for families, Bachmann offers individual cars and locomotives you can use to expand your kids' empire or to add a few kid-friendly pieces to any garden railroad. Lots of the "play value" with trains involves setting things up, moving things around, giving the trains reasons to stop and start, and so on.


Note: Playmobil's little people and many of their accessories can easily be pulled apart and the pieces swallowed.
Every autumn, cheap, battery powered toy trains hit the stores, trying to snag folks who want a train around their tree at Christmas, but who don't want to spend "real money" on a train. The sets in this list are toys, but they're designed by legitimate companies for years of use. Buy fresh Alkaline batteries when you buy the trains, even if they say they come with batteries. Watch Out for Cheapies - By the way, over the years, Lionel has also authorized a few manufacturers of really cheap toys to make seasonal toy trains in their name. The following section lists kid-friendly trains big enough for garden railroads that have been discontinued. Lehmann Toy Trains - Lehmann is the German toy company that created LGB trains, resurrecting garden railroading as a worldwide hobby a few decades back. By the way, the original Playmobil train was very similar to this line, and I give it the same recommendation. Back in 1988, PlaySkool made a very solid child's train that was battery powered, and had a figure-eight track setup. Lionel once made Large Scale Thomas and James sets and a few other pieces to go along with them. Bachmann's Thomas set (above) is similar and still made, so it has an advantage, but don't rule out one of the Lionel Large Scale Thomas or James sets if you come across it. AristoCraft's most "kid-friendly" product was probably the "Eggliner." These were little oval-shaped locomotives that looked like tiny passenger cars moving under their own power. Honorable mention goes to "Toots the Train," Fisher Price's 1999 parallel to the very useful PlaySkool Express (above). Although I've recommended specific products, and I do urge you not to confuse flimsy seasonal toys with well-made trains from reputable manufacturers, the big "takeaway" should be that there are any number of ways to help your kids get involved with toy, model, and garden trains, and several products that are designed specifically for that purpose.
The real value of trains, of course, is a reason to spend quality, creative time with your kids.


Please contact us if you have any questions or corrections or would like to add any tips, tricks, suggestions, or recommendations. Note: Family Garden Trains?, Garden Train Store?, Big Christmas Trains?, BIG Indoor Trains?, and BIG Train Store?
Traveling by train is one of the best ways to take in nature’s scenery and daydream as you look out the window. Every year since my kids went off to college, I've had "open railroads," where I ran my "big trains" for the "big people" and set up multiple "kid-friendly" trains for visiting children to run. From time to time, companies that make garden trains have made kid-friendly buildings and accessories. Best of all, the train itself would run on Large Scale (45mm) track, although it wouldn't run over turnouts (switches), rerailers, or crossovers.
Our article Thomas the Tank Shootout reviews both sets and describes the differences between the Bachmann and Lionel versions.
Most geeks think Lego sets are cool and many of us like trains too, so an awesome Lego train set is practically a dream come true. So at open houses, I can put it on a simple garden railroad, let the kid hit the switch (on the smokestack) and let-er-rip around the track, without worrying about little kids doing any damage to a model. All information, data, text, and illustrations on this web site are Copyright (c) 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 by Paul D. So if you see a set you think your kids would like to use with their train, don't wait too long.



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