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Discussion Starter #1
So my son (turning 9 soon) is getting to that stage where his battery powered Thomas and Chuggington toys aren't very cool, and he wants a "real" train of his own. Is there any brand that makes a good quality set that will last and not spend half its lifetime on a bench? I know Bachmann, Walthers, and Athearn have sets, are there any others out there and what are they like?
 

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For North American style trains, which I am sure you are asking about, the ones you mentioned are likely the front runners....I would personally lean toward the Athearn set for quality and reliability.....

But, I would probably build my own "set" by getting all the pieces separately; in buying an already put together set, you are stuck with items that may not be the best that are available out there (power pack, locomotives, cars, track type, etc.).....

But again, you probably would be happy with the Athearn set; all around better than average quality and reliability, in my opinion, as per usual....
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Thanks for the feedback. I was leaning toward Athearn to start with, but wasn't sure if their train sets were of the same quality of their other products. I found the Iron Horse train set, I think he'll enjoy that.
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It includes: A GP38, 3 pieces of rolling stock, a caboose, an oval of N/S E-Z track, and an Athearn powerpack (which is very reliable). He picked the CN version since it looks similar to the ones that pass through our community.
 

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I don't think you can go wrong with Bachmann, Walthers or Athearn train sets these days. They're all going to be pretty reliable with a nice 8wd loco, probably with flywheels. I have the locos (or their equivalent) from all 3 companies train sets and they're all smooth runners, albeit without the high level of detail of some of the company's other offerings.

Quality wise, I'd put order them Athearn (best), Walthers, Bachmann. One thing to note is that Athearn and Bachman come with EZ-Track. Walthers used to, but has recently resurrected the Life-Like "Power-Loc track system. Both systems are fine, and if he stays with it, your son will likely go to track without integral roadbed. However, EZ Track is much more common, so if you choose to use it you'll have more opportunities for expansion.

I found the Athearn Power packs to be fine. I don't know if functionally they're any better than thermal Bachman ones, but they seem more substantial and I prefer the Athearn's larger knob and sturdier switches.

All this to say, the Athearn set you pictured would be an excellent choice. I also noticed two more things in it's favor. First, the loco appears to have better detail and paintwork (notably on the railings) than Walthers or Bachmann. Second, according to the Athearn site the loco is DCC-Ready (you can plug a DCC decoder right in) something neither Walthers or Bachmann has in their train sets.

All that at a lower price than Walthers seems like a winner.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Hopefully he WILL stick with it, this is a great opportunity to both introduce him to the basics of model railroading and teach him to take care of things. I'm thinking that for his birthday next month I'll get him a 4x8 plywood board, some Woodland Scenics ground covers, buildings, etc. and we can set up a small layout in his bedroom. He can have his layout, and mine can remain intact馃槀
 

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Train set items are soon discarded or set aside because they so often have quality control problems, not least of which is the engineering and materials, and their appeal is lost due to the lack of interest and complexity. They are sort of like click bait. This is not to say they're all bad, and in fact the importers like Bachmann, Athearn and Atlas, have all had to up their games due to the recent arrival of some upgraded and higher quailty competition from Scale Rail and Rapido. Train sets have improved considerably just in the past decade. Almost too late.

Their appeal lies in their completeness, like a kit. All the requisite components and power supply are included. However, at the price you pay, it's a very basic experience, even for a kid who loves the new gee-whiz aspect. That oval of track will get old pretty quickly, and then you get what I described in my first statement at the start of this post. Even so, I think it's still a good way to get experience and to learn what isn't going to work in the long run if you want to stick with having a satisfactory and durable experience with scale model trains.

It's a bit of a dilemma for everyone. Who would purchase a complete train set with enough tracks to make a somewhat complex layout with a rudimentary switching yard, but for $499 MSRP, $410 discounted? We know they sell the lesser kits for substantially less successfully, but you also have to expect less for that price. And that is where the 'nothing burger' problem arises, maybe not in Week One, but by Week Four...
 

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So, a couple of thoughts here.

First, how long is your son going to be happy with a train that just goes around in a circle, even if it has a siding or two? Especially if he has the example of something more complex (like your layout) right at hand. I made that mistake with my son when he was 7. We made him his own layout, but it compared badly to mine, so it only lasted about 2-1/2 years before he was asking for expansions. Now he has a much more complex 8x8 L shape and is still into it, 7 years later.

He also wanted a unified theme. So he picked Conrail, and we have been careful only to get him decent equipment that fits that theme. And despite starting with a DC transformer, he quickly got frustrated with things that he could do on my DCC layout that he couldn't do on his.

The good thing about a train set is that if the bug doesn't bite, you haven't sunk a lot of money into it. The bad news is that if the bug DOES bite, a simple train set is unlikely to hold his interest for long.

At 9, your son is old enough to sit down with you and do a little planning. Look at some track plans, locomotives, paint schemes, etc. and let him decide what he wants. Within reason, of course. Then buy the stuff a la cartel. Atlas offers discount packs of it's TrueTrack (code 83 snap track with plastic roadbed), or Kato offers track packs of Unitrack which actually support different arrangements. Get one or more of these, and either a good transformer or intro DCC set, and some rolling stock. He'll also be more likely to take to it if he has a role in deciding what it will look like.
 
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I do like the idea of sitting down with your son and planning ahead. The Atlas True Track starter is a bargain.

However, in defense of the Athearn set, I'd reemphasize that the loco is DCC ready. If he sticks with it, then it's just a matter of snapping in a decoder. I also think there's something magical about the train set experience where it all comes in a box and 10 minutes later you're rolling.

It's true that the EZ transformer and track would not be terribly useful in a DCC layouts, but the cost of the rolling stock alone, probably is about the same as the set, and when he moves on, you've got enough EZ track and a transformer to put a loop around the Christmas tree. Alternatively, you can pass it on to someone else.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
These are all good points, I hadn't really considered him comparing his layout to mine. We have a spare bedroom thats never used and its big enough to accommodate a larger layout. Who knows though, we have plenty of time to figure out a plan, no need to rush.
 

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These are all good points, I hadn't really considered him comparing his layout to mine. We have a spare bedroom thats never used and its big enough to accommodate a larger layout. Who knows though, we have plenty of time to figure out a plan, no need to rush.
The USRA Guy;

There is one manufacturer of high-quality train sets that has not been mentioned. That is Kato. This Japanese firm sells a whole line of very high quality products. It's my favorite brand of locomotive, since in my multi decade experience, I have yet to encounter a bad one, ever. Now I'm an N-scale modeler, and most of Kato's products are N-scale, but they also make HO-scale train sets that you may want to look at.

You mentioned Bachmann train sets, and "true track."
Bachmann, and Kato, both make what we call "roadbed track." "True track" is another type of roadbed track as well. Roadbed track comes with a rigid plastic piece fastened to the bottom of each track section. This base piece is styled to resemble the ballast used under real track. The base sections also have locking tabs that let the sections snap together, and hold firmly.
Bachmann calls their roadbed track "EZ-Track.. Kato's is called "Unitrack." If you buy a train set in either of these brands, and some other brands too, The track that comes with the set will be that set manufacturer's roadbed track. Buy Bachmann, you get EZ-Track. Buy Kato, you'll get Unitrack.

There are important quality differences in the "turnouts" (track switches) made to fit the two brands. Kato's Unitrack turnouts are good, Bachmann's EZ-Track turnouts are lousy. In fact they are the worst on the market, with a very high failure rate. The attached file "All about turnouts" discusses the different turnouts commercially available. At the end is my personal quality rating of seven different brands. It includes some revealing feedback from Bachmann EZ-Track turnout owners.

I'm not familiar with true track, but I've read here on the forum, that it is Atlas sectional track with a plastic roadbed base. Atlas sectional track is very good. Again the kicker is the turnouts. Atlas calls their line of sectional track "Snap Track" the turnouts that fit the Atlas "Snap Track" track plans are called "Snap Switches." They are not so hot, but can be improved with some simple modifications outlined in the file "Improving Atlas Turnouts."
Atlas also makes a whole separate line of turnouts called "Custom Line" These are Atlas's better quality turnouts. They do not come with roadbed under them. So, if you buy true track then, sooner or later, you'll be dealing with Atlas Snap Switches.

. You also mentioned a spare bedroom being available. That's great! You should be able to build a nice layout for your son in that space. The series of six files called "How to build a better first layout" explore the idea of shelf layouts, and have some sketches of shelf layouts built in a 9' x 12' spare room that might give you some ideas. The other files have more information on various model railroad subjects. Read, skim, or reject, any of this stuff as you choose.

Good Luck & Have Fun;

Traction Fan :)
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Thanks for the info Traction Fan. So much to think about...the two of us are gonna need to sit down and plan it thoroughly out.
 

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Thanks for the info Traction Fan. So much to think about...the two of us are gonna need to sit down and plan it thoroughly out.
a
USRA, THAT is how it's done my friend!! Pick your son's brain for HIS ideas and what he wants for his layout!1 You might want to take your time and get Theme ideas especially for buildings, people, vehicles etc....my son was thrilled and at 31 he still gets a kick out of what we have built...years later (y) (y) (y)
 

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Are Athearn trainsets comprised of their standard RTR stuff?
If so, they should be very nice. I'd run it without hesitation. Their RTR locomotives and rolling stock are extremely well done.
 

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I forget what my grandson started with when he was six.
Now, his DCC layout is bigger and farther along than mine.
He has many-many Accurail and Kadee cars, and a dozen or so Walthers Mainline and Athearn RTR locomotives.
He couldn't make up his mind about a particular railroad or era, so he has kind of a Central & Midwestern co-op, with a steam/diesel mix.
He's gotten to be an excellent model builder.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Are Athearn trainsets comprised of their standard RTR stuff?
If so, they should be very nice. I'd run it without hesitation. Their RTR locomotives and rolling stock are extremely well done.
I'm not quite sure if they are or not, I'll have to look them over once they arrive. RTR is indeed very well done, I've got a few locos and 20 or so pieces of rolling stock from them.
 

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Are Athearn trainsets comprised of their standard RTR stuff?
If so, they should be very nice. I'd run it without hesitation. Their RTR locomotives and rolling stock are extremely well done.
As far as I can tell, Athearn train sets contain the very same locomotives and rolling stock as their individual offerings are.....excellent quality, except of course, for the McHenry couplers they use.....but that鈥檚 another discussion all by itself....:)
 

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Yeah, those McHenry's can be a problem.
My grandson manages to get a month or so out of them, but not much longer.
 

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I have an Athearn train set from a several years back.

IIRC, it's all basically blue box level stuff with some minor upgrades. Better paint, metal wheels, plastic railings, etc.

The current Athearn sets look even better. Still looks like the same kind of rolling stock, but the loco is nicer looking and better featured.
 
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