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What is an Electric Train?

By Ken Black
Updated May 23, 2024
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An electric train is generally referring to a toy or model train that is capable of running on electrical current. However, the term can also apply to some trains which run on electricity but are full-scale, fully-functional travel options. Electric trains are very popular hobbies for many who have a fascination with trains. The models depict freight trains and passenger trains.

Most electric trains are referred to by their sizes. The most standard electric train size is the H0 gauge. This size has a width between the outer rails of .65 inches (16.5 mm). However, the slightly larger 0 scale is also very popular, especially where young children are concerned.

The reason for the popularity of the H0 electric train scale is its smaller size, which allows for more features to be included in a model as it takes up less space. Many H0 model trains have a very elaborate set designs, especially for those who treat the hobby seriously. As such, space often becomes a premium, leading to the desire for a smaller electric train size. Further, there are more models available, both for trains and settings, for the H0 scale, which further helps it gain popularity.

For children, larger sizes are recommended for a couple of different reasons. First, a very small electric train is a fine piece of machinery that has very small and breakable parts. Also, aligning the train on the track properly is harder for smaller hands who may not have the most developed of fine motor skills. Therefore, many recommend 0 scale for a child receiving his or her first electric train.

For some displays, such as trains going around a Christmas tree, for example, even larger scales are desired. However, these toy electric trains are very specialized and do not receive a lot of widespread acceptance among serious electric train hobbyists. Instead, these larger scales are mainly meant to create visual appeal in a certain setting.

For who wish to get involved in electric train hobbies, there are a number of societies or clubs in many different parts of the world. These clubs often travel within a limited geographic area putting on shows for those who may be members of the club, or others just interested in the hobby. Those who want to get involved may get some good advice from going to such shows. Many of those who own electric trains create very close fraternities and often work together to help each other get the most out of the hobby.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon165220 — On Apr 04, 2011

It's curious that this article is almost entirely concerned with toy trains. In Europe, nearly all real trains are electric. Britain has only one main line and a few rural branch lines that run diesel trains; Germany, France and the Netherlands haven't run diesel trains for years.

By cougars — On Dec 22, 2010

@ GlassAxe- Diesel-Electric trains do not use electric train tracks, rather they use diesel electric hybrid motors to create almost two and a half megawatts of electricity for locomotion. This is about 3200 horsepower, or the equivalent amount of electricity to power 1000 homes at peak performance. These trains also use 0.5-megawatt electric motor to power the lights, air conditioning, and refrigeration on commuter trains.

These turbo-diesel electric motors do not produce the speeds or acceleration of purely electric trains, but they require less infrastructure maintenance, and the efficiency of these engines compared to diesel locomotives is much better. Both types of trains have trade-offs, but they are reliable worthy transporters of people and goods.

By Amphibious54 — On Dec 20, 2010

@ GlassAxe- Most commuter rails are electric or diesel electric. Electric trains are more common in Europe and Asia than they are in the United States. These trains use electric motors that are powerful and silent, offering better acceleration than diesel and diesel-electric locomotives. The electricity to these locomotives is supplied through a third rail or a catenary and pantograph system (overhead transmission wires).

By GlassAxe — On Dec 19, 2010

Besides electric train, sets are there any trains that run on electricity? What do passenger and commuter trains run on? I know that subways and light rails are electric, but what about Amtrak and commuter trains? Are they diesel, gas, coal, or electric driven?

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