Model Trains for Your Railroad

Denver & Rio Grande

Amtrak passenger train

Choosing your model railroad trains

Choosing which type of model trains you want to run on your layout is obviously an extremely important factor in deciding on the overall theme of your model railroad.

Many of us will decide on this first and then build the whole railroad around this decision.

Others will build the theme based on a certain locale and/or era, like the Appalachian Mountains in the 1950’s, for example, and then choose which trains to run through these mountains based on the ones that historical actually were used in that particular area at that particular time.

If your theme is passenger service in the 1920’s in New England, you will want to choose passenger trains that were in service at that time in that locale.

Even if you are freelancing and making up an entirely fictitious train route and service, the types of model locomotives and trains you choose should be consistent with your theme. For example, you wouldn’t use a passenger train to run a coal-hauling service, or a shay engine to deliver general freight, or a yard switcher to haul refrigerator cars from town to town.

Similarly, if you are modeling the 1940’s, you shouldn’t run a Norfolk Southern freight train or an Amtrak passenger train on your layout since those systems weren’t even in existence at the time. Steam engines on a modern day layout would be extremely unusual unless you are modeling a tourist train, like the Georgetown Loop.

A good resource for finding out which EMD or ALCO locomotive was used in which era can be found at the following links. (Other major locomotive manufacturers can be found by searching Wikipedia or other online encyclopedias. In the search box in Wickipedia, just type "List of________locomotives" and, in the blank, fill in whatever manufacturer or major railroad company you're interested in.)

List of GM-EMD locomotives

List of ALCO diesel locomotives

Of course, the above comments are rather purist. And if purism gets in the way of having fun, I would definitely opt for having fun, and not worry much about it.

Actually, it can be a lot of fun just trying to figure out more about the area you would like your trains to run through. Taking the family for a trip to the area, visiting local museums, taking pictures of the local landscape and structures and maybe even doing a little rail fanning in the area would be a blast and could only add to your enthusiasm about your own layout.

Of course, you can get a lot of info you need by looking it up online and/or joining the historical society for the specific railroad(s) you are modeling, but there’s nothing like an actual visit to the area to get your juices going and getting a feel for the place.

Katy Locomotive

The following is an incomplete list of some of the more common types and categories of model train equipment:

Types of model trains



Catenary (electric train)

Categories of model trains by service

Passenger / Streamliners / Amtrak

Freight / Haulers


Cable cars and Trolleys

Shay / Heisler / Climax (logging locomotives)

Types of prototypical locomotives and manufacturers






Berkshire 2-8-4

Baldwin 0-6-0

Mikado 2-8-2

Consolidation 2-8-0


Mogul 2-6-0



Where to Look for Supplies and More Information

If you are in the market for new model train equipment for your layout, You may want to check out the Supplies Page on this site with items all categorized by manufacturer, scale, etc. If you're looking for a DCC-equipped locomotive, there's a category for that, too. Also, the Resources Page lists a multitude of suppliers and informational references. Or, check out the items in our BYMRR Hobby Central Train Station.

Bachmann Trains
Atlas Trains and Track
Athearn Train and Railcars

Railroad logging flatcar

Types of model railroad cars


Covered Hoppers


• Tank cars

• Refrigerator cars

Freight cars (Boxcars)

• Automobile transporters

• Intermodal (container) transporters

Passenger cars (coach, dome, baggage, etc.)

• Flatcars

• Livestock cars

MOW (Maintenance-of-way) equipment

• Cranes

• Snowplows

How to change railcar numbers

When you purchase several railcars of the same kind, many times the same number will be on each car, which is not prototypical. If you are serious about operating model railroads correctly, your waybill will direct the engineer to take a particular numbered car to a certain destination. If they are all numbered the same, this will be confusing.

Fortunately, it’s easy to change the number of a freight car.

• Just take an eraser and rub off the numbers. Sometimes the paint will come off with the numbers, but that can be easily fixed…

• Buy a small container of paint the same color as the railroad car you are trying to modify. Test the paint on the underbody of the car or on a place that won’t be easily seen and make sure it matches fairly closely.

• Then apply the touch-up paint with a brush to the area that you’ve stripped off with the eraser.

• When your touch-up paintwork is completely dry, place the new decal numbers in the place where the old numbers were. Try to use decals that match the old numbers as well as possible as far as size and style are concerned.

You can also change the lettering or the logos on railcars and/or locomotives the same way.

That way you can produce a whole fleet of locos and cars carrying your freelanced railroad’s name!

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Bachmann Trains

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