Toy lab

Initial spark for model railways among children

Railway world meets building blocks
Lego_Freight train
Train pack from the LEGO City program for ages 6 to 12 years

For many a decade, LEGO has been offering railway sets for a variety of age groups. For children as young as 18 months there is currently a colourful push train from the Duplo big bricks range featuring four carriages that can be coupled and animals to be placed on top. The next age group is animated to learn how to count with the number train. It consists of a push-along steam engine locomotive, three carriages and building blocks featuring the numbers 0 to 9. For those aged up to five, there is the traditional Duplo railway with easy-to-handle system tracks and coloured functional bricks that can be used with this. They activate light and sound functionalities in the battery-driven locomotive. Also, they auto-change direction or stop the train. Alternatively, or additionally, trains can be remote-controlled by parents with a smartphone app. The LEGO City programme is designed for kids between the ages of six and twelve. Using regular small LEGO bricks, they offer more filigree tracks and goods for a cargo train as well as for a modern-day passenger train. Even grown-up train fans will always find something to enjoy at LEGO – the 52 cm-long display model of the legendary Crocodile Locomotive from Switzerland is a real eye-catcher. 

The BRIO train set is now being expanded with locomotives and accessories with smartphone app access

Building blocks support creativity

For over 60 years, BRIO wooden train sets have been making their way into many a child’s playroom. This did not even change after Ravensburger took over in 2015. The system uses easy-to-connect wooden tracks, trains with a magnetic head coupling, buildings, figurines, tunnels, bridges and more and is intended for children aged three and older. Many locomotives are still made from wood and designed to be pushed only. However, the line now includes engine-driven vehicles with a battery box or an integrated battery that is recharged via a USB cable. The high-end version features locomotives and accessories which have a digital sound recorder, a loudspeaker, and light functionalities on board. They can be remote-controlled via Bluetooth with a smartphone and the Smart Tech Sound app to personalise the configuration. 

The toy group Hape uses many different add-ons made from wood or plastic for its BRIO-compatible train tracks made for children aged three and older. The selection covers everything from train station elements to loading crane or a modular set featuring mountains, trees, traffic signs and much more. Trains are available as both push-trains and self-driving models with an engine. Power is supplied by battery or crank drive. Even a locomotive with a rechargeable battery, engine, light, sound and a Bluetooth interface to operate the locomotive via a smartphone app is available. 

Eichhorn_Wooden rail building blocks
The combination of building blocks with the wooden track is very consistently implemented at Eichhorn

Equally compatible with BRIO is the wooden track train by Eichhorn which relies even more on the combination of building blocks, track elements and push trains to offer creative fun to children aged three and older. For most of its parts, the company which is part of Simba Toys uses wood from sustainable forestry only. Moreover, there are by now battery-driven locomotives and at the high end, the range is rounded off by a train with an infrared remote control.

And even geobra Brandstätter featured the odd train in its Playmobil world for different age groups, even complete trains that are battery driven, remote-controlled and which include classic Playmobil figurines. Currently, however, the product range only features a starter set for toddlers aged 18 months and older. It consists of a colourful push train with easy-to-assemble plastic tracks, playing figurines, and various add-ons. 

Building block car from Märklin with sound and light blocks

Traditional model railways with brick-and-knob blocks

Among the makers of model railway sets, Märklin seems the only maker to genuinely focus on preschool children’s playrooms with very enticing concepts. Since 2011, the group and its my world product line has been coming out with battery-driven trains for toddlers whose carriages are simply coupled by magnetic cylinders. Since 2017, they have also been producing carriages, accessories and train sets made from building blocks, such as a set comprising Märklin tracks and building block pillars for an elevated railway. A disco carriage was a favourite party idea in 2019. Designed from a four-axle Märklin car floor featuring building block pegs, it offers space for more than 90 blocks. 36 are based on the innovative STAX system which contains metal contacts to relay power in the pegs and the counterparts. Also, there are building blocks with integrated light diodes, a chargeable block and a sound block that individually record and replay sound. The Märklin world of building blocks is rounded off by a starter kit comprising system tracks, digital controls and a building block locomotive plus two cars whose design can also be personalised. 

The matching garden railroads system by Märklin’s LGB brand with a 45 millimetres track is also part of the building block train’s starter set. The set comes with tracks that are compatible for outdoor use, a locomotive controller and 77 cm-long train with a steam locomotive, two flat cars with a building block plate and 30 building blocks. The 26 cm-long building block train and plate are also available individually. 

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