How Much Does It Cost To Get Into Model Trains? A Breakdown of the Cost and How To Save Money on Model Railroading

Model railroading can be a costly hobby, especially if you have no idea where to start. Furthermore, with many varieties, it can be hard to find the right scale for your layout. This post will give some recommendations on what to get, how much you would expect them to be, and recommendations on how to save money.

Generally speaking, it costs around $167 to $430 to build an HO scale layout and $177 to $475 for an N scale layout. This price includes not only the train set but also the accessories required for the scenery, such as trees, rocks, cars, and buildings.

This post will break down the things required to start model railroading, cost, and recommendations for the HO and N scale train model layouts.

How Much Does It Cost To Get Into Model Trains?

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How much does building an HO scale train layout cost?

Building an HO scale train layout requires about $167 to $430 to get started. This budget includes not only the train, controller, and tracks, but also the trees, grass mats, rocks, sceneries, and buildings.

Here is a breakdown of each of the necessary things to build an HO layout.

I also included in the table below some links to where you can buy them on Amazon.

RequirementsMinimum PriceMaximum PriceRecommendation
Starter Train Set$95$300Bachmann Starter Set (with Tracks, Controls, Power Supply, Freight Cars)
Grass Mat$10$32Craft Grass by KISEER
HO Scale Rocks$7$12Busch Cork Gravel
HO Scale Plants$15$1829 pcs. HO Scale Trees
Hobby Glue$10$28Scenics Accent Glue
HO Scale Buildings$16$40HO Scale House
HO Scale Car$14$2012 pcs. HO Scale Car
Cost to Start an HO Scale Train Layout

As you can see on the table, I included everything you need to start your layout, consisting of accessories such as buildings, trees, rocks, and cars.

However, I can also give some tips on how you can save money.

But first, you need to ask yourself some questions before purchasing anything.

The question you always need to ask yourself before building a train layout is your scenery and train type.

This is very important because everything needs to coincide with one another.

If my recommendation doesn’t match the scenery you want, then do not get the one I am recommending.

For the scenery and train type, remember to answer these questions:

  1. Do you want rural or urban scenery?
  2. Do you want your layout to be modern, the 1900s, or something in the 1800s?
  3. Do you want to build a steam, diesel, or toy train?

These questions are crucial since, for example, you wouldn’t put a toy or steam train on a serious city layout.

If your scenery is very modern, it might be good to put diesel or electric train model rather than steam.

If your layout is something that matches scenes from Thomas the train, then a toy train would suit your layout better.

Furthermore, you can’t put an 1800s building in your modern city layout.

You are building your train layout. Therefore, you should decide the scene you are going to build.

What we are looking for is coherence between the train and the scenery.

Another thing to consider is your space. HO scale model trains require more space than an N scale layout.

Here is a table summary of the minimum space required for each scale to build an oval layout.

ScaleMinimum Space Requirement
HO Scale4 by 8 feet
N Scale2 by 4 feet
Minimum Space Requirements To Make a Simple Oval Layout for Each Scale

Once you’ve figured out the scenery and the space requirements, you can start building your train layout.

Make sure to get model train tracks, power supply, freight cars, locomotive, scale rocks, grass mats, scale trees, and scale buildings.

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If that’s too many and confusing, don’t worry since I will discuss some tips to make it cheaper and easier in the next section.

How much does building an N scale train layout cost?

As a general rule, building a simple N scale train layout would cost around $177 to $475, depending on the quality and details of your build. This price already includes not only the train model but also their accessories such as sceneries, tracks, controllers, and power supply.

Here are the cost breakdown and the recommendations for N scale layouts.

RequirementsMinimum PriceMaximum PriceRecommendation
Starter Train Set$115$300Bachmann N Scale Starter Set (with Tracks, Controls, Power Supply, Freight Cars)
Grass Mat$10$32Craft Grass by KISEER
N Scale Rocks$7$16Busch Cork Gravel
N Scale Plants$15$2820 pcs. N Scale Trees
Hobby Glue$10$28Scenics Accent Glue
N Scale Buildings$6$50N Scale House
HO Scale Car$14$21Busch N Scale Cars
Cost to Start an N Scale Train Layout

Model railroading can be more confusing than other hobbies. For example, some hobbies would only require you to collect, and some would only require you to build.

Model railroading combines all of these. Plus, you should have a little understanding of motors to run your train.

It also requires wide imagination and creativity to get the scenery you want.

That’s why the hobby can get very expensive, especially if you buy something that isn’t compatible with one another.

Remember that there is a lot of incompatibility with model railroading, especially scales. That’s why I separated the HO and N scale, which are two of the most common train scales.

You should never combine an HO train with N-scale sceneries and vice versa. You should also take note of the feel or scenery you want regardless of the scale.

Thus, my first tip is to make sure you are buying everything you only need or to buy a train set as a beginner.

Rather than buying tracks, locomotives, controllers, power supply, and train cars separately, you can get a beginner train set which is easier and saves you a lot of money.

That’s why if you see my recommendations, I placed a train set on top because this is my best tip to save you some money.

Do not think about upgrades. Instead, focus on building your layout. Again, simplicity is important, especially if you’re only starting.

Upgrading such as DCC controls can be done in the future. But, for now, stick with the beginner set.

Our goal is to prevent feeling overwhelmed with the many varieties you can choose for model railroading.

We will worry about upgrades later. Feel free to use the search function on my website if you need some guides on your upgrades, such as DCC controls, Legacy Controls, types of tracks, etc.

Another tip I can give is that there are some alternatives you can use for your layout.

For example, instead of buying scaled rocks, you can use kitty litter which you might already have if you have a pet cat.

Another is if you decide to go into the HO scale, you can use Hot Wheels or Matchbox for your decorations because while they aren’t of the same scale, it isn’t obvious except if you place an HO car near them.

Note: Do not use Hot Wheels or Matchbox cars as a layout design for the N scale since the difference in their size is very obvious compared to HO.

For a hobby glue, you can use regular glue. However, the bond wouldn’t be as strong as getting the right glue.

These are alternatives you can use to save money while starting.

Lastly, if you notice, the N scale layout is more expensive than HO, even if they are smaller. This is because the HO scale is the cheapest scale due to its popularity.

To make it simple, HO accounts for 60 to 70% of model trains. This means there are more HO scale trains in terms of supply.

There is also more competition between manufacturers for the HO scale. That’s why they are cheaper, even if bigger than the N scale.

Furthermore, the second-hand market, such as eBay, lists more HO scale trains than other scales. This means it is easier to sell HO scale trains if you plan to sell them in the future.

As a general rule, the cheapest scale is the HO scale, followed by the N scale, then the O scale. The other scales, such as S, T, Z, and G, are more expensive than the three above.

I hope you can use my table above to give you some estimates on how much you’ll need to build your train layout. If you want more tips on saving money, such as buying second-hand, feel free to check my recommended post below.

Recommended Reading: You might scratch your head looking at how much these cost. Well, I understand that model railroading can be more expensive compared to other hobbies. So I decided to write a post on why they are expensive and actionable tips you can do to save money. Here is the link: Is Model Railroading Expensive?

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