Steam Locomotives for Model Trains

Steam engines are quite popular when it comes to model trains of all scales. Unlike diesels, which were often built to multi-task, most steam locomotives were specialized machines. So if you're looking to add steam to your roster, these links will help you match the right engine to the job and complete the story for your model railroad. 

  • 01 of 11

    Passenger Steam

    Reading and Northern Pacific No. 425 leads an excursion through the beautiful Lehigh Gorge. Although not a true USRA light Pacific, the locomotive is similar in design.

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    Whether its the crack varnish or the local commuter, passenger steam locomotives needed to balance power and speed. The best did it with a style and flair that was bigger than life and left a lasting impression on our lives and our art. These locomotives will be the pride of your fleet too.

  • 02 of 11

    Freight Steam

    Russian Decapod steam locomotive

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    Raw power at its best, steam locomotives assigned to freight service could shake the ground and stir the senses with their immense size and sound. From small locals to heavy coal drags to fast merchandise forwarders, all freight trains and freight locomotives were not created equal.

  • 03 of 11

    Dual Service Steam

    York 4-4-0

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    There were some locomotives that could cross the line between passenger and freight work. From lighter locomotives that could handle smaller "mixed" trains to the large high-speed freight engines that could pinch-hit on a heavy passenger train, these versatile iron horses could roam wherever needed. 

  • 04 of 11

    Steam Switchers

    Reading 1251

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    It wasn't all glory out on the mainline. Steam ruled the yards and the docks too. These smaller switchers toiled long hours making up freight and passenger trains and delivering freight to customers. While the big articulated monsters and streamliners stole the spotlight, there's nothing like the sights and sounds of a switch engine starting a heavy cut of cars. 

    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11

    Geared Steam

    Western Maryland No. 6 Shay

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    For power you could take anywhere, geared steam locomotives provided the perfect solution in an often unorthodox design. Most common in logging, mining and industrial operations, these interesting machines could climb hills and navigate tracks that would derail traditional steam. These locomotives have developed a sort of cult following among steam fans and modelers—once you see one in action it's easy to see why.

  • 06 of 11

    Fireless Steam


    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    Steam without fire? These locomotives fed off a stationary boiler for the ultimate in operating efficiency and safety. They were so efficient many lasted decades longer in service than their conventionally-boilered brethren.

  • 07 of 11


    A G Gauge 2-4-4-2 Mallet

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    Although the term is sometimes applied to all articulated steam locomotives, a true Mallet uses exhausted steam from one set of pistons to power a second set for added efficiency. Mallets came in a variety of sizes and wheel arrangements. Their ability to pull heavy loads and navigate tighter curves makes them a popular modeling choice.

  • 08 of 11

    Classifying Steam

    Santa Fe 1880

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    Steam locomotives are identified and named by their wheel arrangement. The Whyte system makes it easy to organize your stable. 

    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11

    Servicing Steam


    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    If steam had a downfall, it would be the nearly constant need for maintenance. Servicing steam locomotives required an army of workers and many specialized buildings. These can make for some interesting modeling projects as well.

  • 10 of 11

    Caring for Model Steam Locomotives

    lubrication for a model train

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    Just like the real thing, your model steam locomotives need to be cared for, too. While you don't need a roundhouse or coaling tower, it's important to know the how-to on keeping your locomotives humming along on the rails. 

  • 11 of 11

    Tank Engines

    On30 Porter

    The Spruce / Ryan C Kunkle

    Tank engines weren't just a child's favorite companion. Loading the water and fuel supply on the locomotive instead of a separate tender conserved space and added weight for traction. Tank engines came in all sizes, from 0-4-0s to Mallets.

If you're serious about adding a steam engine to your collection, see if you can take a look at some of these models in person so that you can decide on your favorite one. Many areas have model train associations and clubs where you can learn more about these engines and other model train accessories. It's a great way to make friends with similar interests, too.