Many of us start out in the hobby with a pre-packaged train set. The specific contents of train sets vary greatly, but they usually include a locomotive and some cars, enough track for a circle at least and a power supply.
This is everything you need to get started. Of course, you'll probably want to expand upon these basic offerings, and that is why choosing a set that conforms to one of the common modeling scales and gauges is important.
Which scale is best for you depends on your personal preference. If space is at a minimum, Z scale train manufacturers may be the right choice for you because Z scale trains are the smallest, however, there are great products available in every scale. Once you choose a scale, you'll expand your set using only that scale's products. You aren't limited to a single manufacturer.
Manufacturer's Listed by Model Train Scale
This list of manufacturers includes those that make sets for the most common scales. It is organized by scale, and not by quality or cost. You'll want to look at more than just scale and the styles of train when you look for a quality set.
Z Scale, the smallest of the model trains, has a scale-to-foot ratio of 1:220. Manufacturers that sell Z-scale model train sets include:
N Scale's scale-to-foot ratio is 1:160. Manufacturers that sell N-scale model train sets include:
HO Scale trains have a scale ratio of 1:87.1. Manufacturers that specialize in HO scale train sets include:
OO Scale trains sets have a scale ratio of 1:76.2.
On30 (O Scale, HO Gauge Track)
O Gauge (3-rail) train sets have a scale ratio of 1:48. Manufacturers include:
G Gauge model trains have a scale ratio of 1:22.5. These large models are frequently used outdoors. Manufacturers include:
Looking over this list, you'll find sets in all price ranges. Some are small enough to fit in a briefcase. Others can run outside in the garden.
Whether it's big or small, steam or diesel, freight or passenger—your set can be the start of a long and pleasurable journey. You can expand your set with more track, trains and accessories as you grow, or switch scales if your interests or needs change.
These tips can help you determine which manufacturers offer the best value for what you need.