Reasons I Don't Recommend O Scale for Children

This article on toy train tables and boards was reviewed prior to publication by Vicki Anderson, M.Ed. and Glenna W. Tabor, M.Ed.

  • 01 of 07

    Why I Have Issues with O Scale

    toy train set
    onfilm / Getty Images

    Last January I was in a hobby store and overheard a man telling the salesman how his son had gotten a Lionel O scale train for Christmas, and this proud father had built a board on casters so that his son's train track layout could be rolled under the child's bed. Now they were in the store shopping for more track (believe it or not, even children find simple ovals of track boring).

    The best help the salesman could give was to let the father look through a book of Lionel track layouts. As he flipped through the pages the boy would smile and put his finger on a diagram. Each time the father would say "It won't fit on your board", and the boy would look crestfallen.

    To me, that was heartbreaking to observe.

  • 02 of 07

    Doing Your Homework

    If you're a parent shopping for a child's train set, and you haven't read the parent's guide or scales for childrens' trains articles, I think you'll find them useful.

    O scale? Forget train tables, O scale trains are the original "carpet runners". O scale layouts take a lot of space, and it's the parents' responsibility to decide just how much space a child actually has available to them, not the child's.

    Even though low end O scale sets are competitively priced with better N and HO scale sets, I have serious reservations about giving O scale train sets to children. As I was writing the article on scales for children's trains it soon became apparent that the issues with giving O scale trains to children needed its own article.

  • 03 of 07

    Getting Your Money's Worth

    For me to tell you "giving kids Lionel trains for Christmas is a tradition, so everyone should start their children in model railroading with O scale trains" would be popular but misleading. While the first part of that statement may be true, I disagree with the conclusion entirely. It has been both my personal experience and my observation that O scale trains amount to short-term satisfaction and long-term disappointment or disinterest for children. And I'm not the only one who's made this observation, I've discussed it with others before writing this article. My goal in writing this is not to bash O scale, but to alert parents that their money might be better spent on something with greater potential for long-term satisfaction.

  • 04 of 07

    Size and Space Considerations

    Most O scale starter sets today come with a 40" x 60" inch oval of integrated roadbed track. That's not going to fit on any train table unless you're building one in your basement or garage. And if you think the child is going to be happy with that 40" x 60" oval indefinitely, you are fooling yourself.

    Interesting O scale layouts require a minimum of about 4'x8' for your children's train tracks. And remember, as your child's electric train layouts become more complex, it becomes less and less practical to take them apart and put them away when the child is finished playing with them. Requiring that they put their tracks away at the end of a play session could easily become tedious enough to cause them to lose interest in their trains.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Your Child's Strength is a Factor

    In my experience, Lionel's Fastrack integrated roadbed track takes a great deal of physical strength to snap sections together. I was setting up an oval of FasTrack with a friend of mine who works out at a gym daily. While he's not actually a body builder, he is a muscular individual. As we were putting the sections of FasTrack together he commented to me that they couldn't possibly expect children to be able to do it.

    The other major manufacturer of three-rail O scale trains is MTH. RealTrax is the name of the integrated roadbed track marketed by MTH. In fairness, I can't comment on how hard it is to assemble MTH RealTrax because, at the time of this writing, I haven't worked with it.

  • 06 of 07

    AC Transformers and Reverseing Issues

    A three-rail set will use an AC transformer instead of a DC power pack. My Lionel CW-80 transformer is too heavy for children to move, let alone set up. From an educational standpoint, the purpose in giving electric trains to small children is the development of the child's hand eye coordination. They practice these skills by controlling the train's speed and direction of travel. While you don't necessarily need to understand the electronics involved, you do need to know that the directional controls on AC transformers are more difficult to operate than those of DC power packs. So unless you're planning on spending big bucks for a digital controlled system, this is another reason I would shy away from O scale for children.

  • 07 of 07

    Keeping Up With the Times

    The name "Lionel" is synonymous with electric trains in the minds of many parents and grandparents. But Lionel's preeminence dates back to when American homes were more spacious and children didn't have the number of toys cluttering their rooms that they have today.

    Today Lionel only produces electric trains in the O, S and G scales. My criteria for selecting trains for children are primarily cost and space. Given that, and also considering the additional problems with reversing direction of travel, and the physical strength required for setting up O scale trains, I'm of the opinion that the O and S scales aren't for children anymore. I'm sorry to have to say it, I actually own some O scale trains that I like very much.