Model Trains & Toy Trains

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Electric Trains Wooden Train Sets

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Model Train Repair

April 2007

We have a 1950s American Flyer 283 model railroad train that we need to get running again. Does anyone have a suggestion for a good model railroad repair shop in the area? Thanks! Lynn

Tin Plate Junction near Jack London Square on 4th Street repairs trains, 444-4780. There is a bench fee--$30 or $35, I think--to take a look at it, and then they will give you an estimate. Sarah Horowitz
For our lionels, we go to tin plate junction trains, in oakland. Katy
My husband is a toy train fan and he recommends Tin Plate Junction Trains in Oakland (Jack London Square area). If they can't do it, they will probably be able to recommend someone who can. 681 4th St Oakland, CA 94607 (510) 444-4780 Good Luck--- Sue
I don't know about a repair man but Point Richmond has a model train museum run by volunteers who have set up the entire thing themselves. it's well worth a visit anyway, but I'll bet one of the people there can point you in the right direction. train museum fan

Electric trains - what's the right age?

Nov 2002

This is kind of a multipart question. My 3 year old son is a train fanatic who has gotten it into his head that he is going to get an electric train set for Christmas. To say that he really wants one is an understatement -- he talks of nothing else and has even gone so far as to make a book for Santa with pictures of various kinds of trains in it that he's clipped from toy catalogs. This is despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that every time the subject comes up I tell him he needs to be older before he can have model trains. He's not a kid who generally asks for toys, but he is mad for model trains and loves going to the model train museum in Pt. Richmond, to the model train store in Jack London Square, etc. Battery operated Brio/Thomas type trains will not do -- he wants a real model train set.

The problem is that model train sets are hugely expensive and they're designed for older kids -- like eight year olds. I don't think he has the dexterity to play with a model train set. So here are my questions: Have any of you who are parents of train nuts found a model train set that's appropriate for a preschooler? I've seen Playmobile ones on Ebay that seem like they might be okay, but I haven't seen them up close so I don't know. And if not, how do I prepare him for the disappointment of not getting the one thing he wants for Christmas? nelly

My 3 year old loves our electric trains. We got them last christmas and set them up occassionally. That said, he is really too young for them. They break often (after he has dropped them); it makes me nervous having the trains plugged in (he tries to ''help''), and they are a little challenging to put back on the tracks after every derailment. They are really fun for him (and big sister) when an adult plays with them too. Perhaps you could get a small set for special occassions. I'm sure we'll be setting them up again for the holidays. JV
Here's an idea: I know Rockridge kids on College Ave carries these little engines by Lionel and Thomas the Tank that are brio sized and compatible, but run on batteries, so can be turned on and off. They aren't that expensive and maybe your child would be happy with them if he hasn't seen them before. That said we have an electric train every year around our Xmas tree and our 2 year old son can operate it, but needs adult supervision and assistance. They can turn on/off and regulate speed but maybe not put back on the tracks etc. We use my husband's old childhood Lionel trains, received when he was four or five years old. I know the new ones are crazy expensive, but if you must have electric, you can buy them on ebay used, maybe starting with some less perfect and cheaper ones. Good luck! Cheryl
The great thing about having a son who wants an electric train is that you get to play with it too. My son also likes the model trains at Pt. Richmond. The first set we (ok, me) bought for our son was a G scale set -- very large and easier for little kids to handle. The best ones are from Germany (LGB) and priced accordingly. Fortunately, you can also buy much less expensive sets made by Bachmann, and best of all, you can get them for closeout prices from Last time I looked, they had a cool circus train set for $70. The trains are pretty sturdy, too (smaller scales seem to be more delicate), and the bigger wheels and track make it easy to handle. Have fun. Traindad
Hi, I hope this does not complicate things for you but we got our son who is now 5 an electric train when he was 3 1/2 years old. We helped him with it when he played with it and always supervised him when he used it. He still plays with it and still needs our help. The one we got cost under $90 at Toys r us which I realize is not cheap but was cheaper than many we saw. He loves it and has never had any problems except for some frustration when he cannot get it on the track himself. Good luck deciding what to do. Amanda
I have three sons, 3, 6 and 9, all of whom are train-crazy to varying degrees. My middle one sounds abit like yours. I believe for Christmas the year he was just 4, we got the two older boys electric trains. While they do enjoy them and the then-4 year old could manage them with so me dexterity, i.e. railing and rerailing, they can't really handle the whole set-up themselves.

My husband built a 4' x 8' train table for them and we have had different layouts on it. With the addition of the 3 year old, we found that the set was too often in a non-working state that required a large time imput from an adult to set right. The trains have recently been put away pending a major change in the type of tracks so we can make a real permanent layout.

The short answer is - he is too young for a real electric train. Maybe another two years, if you are willing to spend some time keeping it running. You might try a relatively inexpensive set( I have seem them for less than $30, usually at Christmas time) that just runs around an oval track. They are not well made and won't hold up over time, but might satisfy him now.

Lastly, other train outings - similar to Pt. Richmond set-up is the Walnut Creek Model Railroad right near the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek. They are open mostly on Friday evenings I think with some weekends. Check their website at Also it is great fun to take Amtrak to Sacramento and walk the 1 1/2 blocks to the Train Museum which has full scale trains, electric model trains, and Thomas trains. Train mom

My boys (8 and 6) have had electric trains for quite a while. I don't exactly remember when they first got them, but I'm thinking it's been a good 3 years or more. We were really suprised that they were able to put the trains on the tracks but we started with HO scale and they've been happy with that ever since. You can find good used and cheap trains on the Internet and Ace Hardware in Berkeley on University is also a good resource. You can find small track layouts (I'm racking my brain trying to remember where we got our first set, but I think it was a gift) around. I hope someone has more information for you for resources, but you should be able to find stuff on the Internet and I'd say to let him try it out. He will probably surprise you. Kathy
Just one piece of advice about electric trains -- make sure you get the E-Z track! We had a non-EZ track, and it kept coming apart every few seconds. It was very frustrating! Then we got some EZ track, and it's heaven! It locks in together so the track can't come apart. Hannah

Which train set?

Nov 2005

Does anyone have a recommendation for a train set for my 3 year old son? He loves trains, we have lots of Thomas trains, Brio trains, but no track yet so I would need a set that is compatable with the trains we already have. We don't have room for a train table so I want to buy him something that he can play with on the floor, so it needs to be small, but a little more complex than a figure eight. Any suggestions? I've been to Toys R Us and was completely overwhelmed by all the choices. It's an expensive investment so I want to buy something that we can expand if he stays interested. Thanks so much for the input! Train Mama

I'm interested in purchasing a train table/train set and don't know where to begin. I know the popular brands are Thomas and Brio. I think I can buy a generic train table, unless there's a strong argument for going brand name. Can I buy generic tracks that will be compatible with both Brio and Thomas? Do you prefer Brio, Thomas, or some other brand? I need educating and I need help! Thanks in advance! haven't the slightest clue about trains

I got a set a IKEA: a figure-8 of wooden track with bridge/tunnel at the intersection and 4 simple wood cars. It cost no more than $25, probably less. Chances are, they still have train sets, but their toy selection does change frequently. The track is compatible with Brio train cars. You could buy two sets and make your train fan and pocketbook very happy. anon
For the person who asked about which train set to get. I wanted to tell you how much we like the Thomas trains. I think the fact that they have faces on them really helped my son engage in creative play. He makes the trains talk to each other, reinacting some of the scenarios from his day. They ''play chase'' around the track, hide and go seek. Sometimes they are rough with each other and then say sorry. Its like he's practicing social situations. We also occasionally let him watch the thomas videos and read some thomas books which I think also helps him be creative with the trains. Also, the thomas trains have stronger magnets, so you can make longer trains without them coming apart. I noticed the magnets on brio trains will give out when they have more than a few cars attached. We got the thomas trains as a gift when my son was about 20 months old and he still plays with them regularly at 4 years old. I would start with the figure 8 track and then get an extender set. You can ask relatives to give him train accessories like the station, a bridge or the water tower for his birthday or christmas. We have a train table but my son now likes to make train tracks all over his room. Trains tracks also provide good practice with cleaning up! a thomas fan
Our 4-year-old son inherited a big set of Brio trains from his older brothers. He has really enjoyed playing with them the past two years. We've added a few Thomas engines to the set and he really prefers those to the Brio engines, because they have faces and personalities and he knows them from the videos. I think the quality is very similar. Thomas and Brio are totally compatible except for one Brio tunnel we have that the Thomas trains are too tall to fit through. I have bought both Thomas and Brio on ebay - that's a good place to get bargains (but at this time of year, there is a lot more interest so prices may be higher!) Ginger
We were very happy with a set of generic tracks that we ordered from this website- natalie
After careful research, we bought our son a 100-piece train set last xmas that I'd recommend as a great starter set. It's made by Maxim Enterprises ( - there's a list of retailers on the website, and you can often find them on eBay, too. It's totally Thomas/Brio/etc. compatible. They don't have our exact set anymore, but it's very similar to the 100-piece sets they have - it has track, risers, bridge, crossing gate, roundabout, buildings, animals, people, signs, trees and a train, plus it came in a nice wooden box, with a padded lid that doubles as a seat. Far less expensive than Thomas/Brio stuff, and has held up well and offered lots of options for track layouts and play. We bought a few Thomas engines to go along with it, since my son's into the Thomas thing. JP
I found my son's first train at Ikea for about 12 dollars. It's simple, fits with Thomas and Brio, and makes a figure 8 with a bridge, has an engine and 3 cars and he LOVES it. Here's the link to see it, I hope I've done it correctly. If not, google Ikea go to children's Ikea, then you'll see choices for toys, and the trains are there. Bonnie
IKEA sells wooden tracks (approx 10 feet for $15) along with some cars. These tracks are interchangeable with Brio, and Imaginarium. They claim to be interchangeable with other brands as well, but I haven't tried. Thomas Fan's Momma
July 2004

I am planning on buying a train table and slowly adding the various trains (Christmas, birthday, etc.) for my 2 year old son, but didn't know there were so many choices. Based on my research thus far, they are not all compatible, so I'm looking for advice on which to commit to. I'm interested in the pros/cons of Thomas, Brio, Imaginarium, and anything else that's out there...
Train for Toddler

Can you wait until Christmas time? If so, then Costco sells one each year at that time. It's a table and a starter train set with just a few trains. I've had mine for over two years, have added all kinds of trains - from Brio, to Thomas, to Target's brand. If you can't wait, try Ebay, Craig's list, or local resale stores - Toy Go 'Round in Berkeley, maybe? Also, post a request for one on this network's marketplace and one on Craig's list. Best of luck.
Oct 1998

Regarding the Brio train excursion: Our son Will is now 4 1/4, and he played with his Brio train set almost exclusively (along w/a few diggers & various other trucks) from about 2-4 yr.s old. Round & round the coffee table... We started with a new set of a figure 8 & the small trains that come with it (the BIG Christmas gift). It's one of the smallest sets you can buy, & already extraordinarily expensive. That set kept him very happy for a very long time - just the one crossing tunnel was interesting enough. Then he learned that there are such things as toy stores, and Thomas trains, so we bought a few more trains over time, used & new. We also rec'd more tracks (of various brands) for gifts, all of which together do not make a perfect set like the color pictures, but do very well for a little guy. My basic advice is - because these are such fabulous toys, and because they are fun for grownups too, buy enough to have fun with, but don't buy everything at the beginning. It was great fun to add little bits & pieces as we went along, and they are really overpriced - it's easy to get roped in & overdo. And now, he's much more interested in Leggos & Tinker Toys. Everything changes... He still loves trains, though. On the subject - look for Choo Choo Trains the video of all trains and no dumb songs or narration (Tiddlywinks has it.) Amazingly, he still watches that one. Also, the Berkeley Public Library has a good selection of train videos (with songs & narration, but still mostly pretty good.) Leah

About 3 years ago (haven't checked since), Toys-R-Us carried a Sesame Street train set that is compatible with Brio. You get a pretty large layout (no crossing tracks, but a long straight bridge plus the two vertically curving pieces which constitute a bridge in their own right) for a very reasonable price. However, the wood might not be as strong as the oak used by Brio: some of the curved tracks had their male connector break off with the grain, and I suspect those were Sesame Street tracks. We got that set to start with, and later added two Brio boxes: 1) two straight/curved branching tracks; 2) assortment of straight tracks, including small tracks with two male or two female ends. My son was also given a tunnel as a birthday present. If our son had retained interest, I might have added a turntable but what he has gives a lot of flexibility. The Brio products come with a brochure of all the different sets, and we got ideas for what to add from looking the the sets pictured. Fran

Ikea Wooden train - compatible with Brio?

March 2004

Does anyone know if the wooden train set sold by Ikea matches with Brio brand parts? Julia

Yes! They are compatible. I think IKEA may have plastic connectors versus wood, but they work just fine. Christine

Where to buy a used train set

Feb 2004

I'm looking to buy my son (20 months old) a used train set (preferably a Thomas the Train). I noticed in the ''marketplace'' emails that several other people are looking for the same thing. I got no replies to my listing there to buy a used set. I'm wondering if anyone knows of a good store to buy a used set. Clearly something happens to all of those old train tables and train pieces when kids are no longer interested...! Thanks! elizabeth

I started the train thing for my son at about this same age, and he loves it still at almost 3! I don't know if you are specifically looking for Thomas the Train, or the wood Brio type train sets. I opted for the wood, since there are a lot of knock off brands that work just fine with the wood Brio set. My favorite is the train sets available at IKEA. They're wonderful and a whole lot cheaper! I've had good luck picking up miscellaneous used pieces at the Toy Go Round store on Solano in Berkeley. For this age he doesn't know the difference between the name brand and the knock-offs, and since I don't know how long this phase will last, I didn't want to invest a lot of money. Plus, this stuff gets pretty beaten up at this age.

For a train table I got my son a really nice one for Xmas at Target for $70. Target carries a lot of wonderful wood toys around Xmas, like these train sets and tables, that I don't think they carry year round. It's worth it if you can wait that long. The other good resource for used train stuff is eBay. Welcome to the world of trains

Actually, I would suggest that you try Target. Around Christmas time, we purchased a 100 piece train set at Target for $14.99! 5 piece train, lots of track, some decorative elements such as animals and trees were all included. For your sake I hope it wasn't just a Christmas fluke! Linnea