The Top 10 Best LEGO Train Sets
5th July 2022
Railway-themed LEGO sets have long proven popular as they sit at the interface between two ardent communities: train enthusiasts and AFOLs. In both, you will find committed collectors, many of whom will have their own railway taking up a spare room, attic, or basement. For LEGO city builders, a working rail network transporting passengers and cargo is also a key component, and it is arguably a minifigure’s favourite means of getting around.
LEGO's union with the locomotive goes back a long way, with the 40th Anniversary promotional set (40370) we saw in 2020 being a reminder of this. Most recently, trains have been released under the City, Creator, and Creator Expert themes, but these have appeared in dribs and drabs compared to yesteryear. LEGO used to have a dedicated Train theme, under which a plethora of locomotives, stations, wagons, cranes, crossings, and tracks were released during the 1980s and 1990s.
Over the past 4 decades, there have been plenty of great sets recreating various railway vehicles and infrastructure, but in this article we cast a critical eye over all the sets containing a locomotive to provide our top ten LEGO trains.
10. Crocodile Locomotive (4551)
This set was released in 1991 and was among the first trains in the 9V era, which ran until 2007 and replaced the 4.5/12V system because of its reliability concerns. It was based on a real-world train, the Crocodile Locomotive, which was electric-powered and developed to pull heavy cargo over steep terrain. The name was first applied to Swiss locomotives because of the long “noses” the engines had at either side of the main cabin. Crocodile locomotives were also used in other mountainous European countries, such as France, Germany, and Austria, and appeared in a variety of colours. This set depicts an Austrian ÖBB 1020 locomotive and is in the red and white of the original, which matched the colour palette of the country’s flag. Crocodile Locomotives were also made in green and brown, and these have been the inspiration for other LEGO sets, such as 7898 Cargo Train Deluxe and 10277 Crocodile Locomotive.
The set is a good recreation of the original ÖBB 1020 and has some nice details, such as the folding pinch grips on the top of the cabin. This continues in the interior which houses two control panels and seating for a couple of minifigures. It’s therefore a shame that you only got one crew member in the set. The set could also have benefited from some additional printed parts, but overall it’s a very charming looking train.
9. Horizon Express (10233)
The Horizon Express was released in 2013 and was the third train to come out under the Advanced Models theme, which was a precursor to the Creator Expert (now Icons) range. This theme was responsible for producing some exceptional models, such as the Imperial Flagship, which tops our list of the best LEGO pirate ships. Like the two other Advanced Models trains, the Emerald Night and Maersk Container Train, this set is also based on a real-life train: the French SNCF TGV-PSE, which operated the first TGV service from Paris to Lyon in 1981. Any train enthusiast will be able to tell you that TGVs are high speed trains, and this particular model was able to achieve a top speed of 186mph (300 km/h).
The Horizon Express makes for a very convincing replica, although this can be improved by joining two together (if you are lucky enough to have two!) as the original train had two engines and eight carriages. The orange livery is fantastic and makes this train very distinctive. The whole design is very sleek, a look which is achieved without the use of any large, moulded pieces. This is the newest set on the list and it would add a modern look to any LEGO city or train collection.
8. Cargo Train Deluxe (7898)
The Cargo Train Deluxe was released in 2006 and featured a green train based on the German version of the Crocodile Locomotive. It was a sizable set, with over 856 pieces, and contained a hopper wagon, box car, and a flatbed, as well as three vehicles, including a sports car, forklift truck, and a small lorry. With this assortment of vehicles and wagons, the set certainly lived up to its “deluxe” billing and offered great playability. The inclusion of a crane to load and unload small cargo onto the flatbed is our favourite feature. It also had some other nice touches, such as some side lighting and a working horn, and was the first train to be wirelessly remote controlled. This set is a great addition to any railway or LEGO city but the design is good enough that it also makes for a suitable display piece.
7. Diesel Shunter Locomotive (7760)
The Diesel Shunter Locomotive was one of five electric trains released in 1980, with two push-along trains also produced that year. These were accompanied by a further six railway themed sets and a whole host of track, lighting, and control accessories. It really was a bumper year for LEGO train enthusiasts. Like the other locomotives released in the 1980s, it was powered with a 12V battery, in what is referred to as “The Gray Era”, because of the switch from blue to grey tracks. The 12V system was introduced to support utility functions, such as remotely controlled points, signals, wagon de-couplers, and level crossings. in a more streamlined manner. Many purists consider this period, which ran from 1980 to 1991, as the golden era for LEGO trains because of the aesthetic of the sets and the functionality of the system.
One of the sets which delivered highly on the aesthetic front was the Diesel Shunter Locomotive. It looks like it also took inspiration from the Crocodile Locomotive as it features a long nose at the front. This locomotive is iconic thanks to its unique colour scheme, which meant it contained some exclusive parts such as the 1x3x2 front windows. The blue doors were also limited to this set until the release of the 60052 Cargo Train in 2014. The blue colour really makes the other elements stand out, such as the black and yellow hazard stripes on the front and back of the engine. This, combined with the simpleness of the design, makes for a beautiful model.
6. Freight Rail Runner (4564)
During the 1990s LEGO provided an abundance of trains, stations, wagons, loading equipment, and crossings, from which you could build the ultimate play experience. The Freight Rail Runner was released in 1994 and was one of the finest trains from that era.
To begin at the front of the train, the combination of yellow and black parts for the engine make for a very classically pleasing look. We really like the drivers cabin sitting on top of the engine and the front and rear walkways. The set also included a hopper wagon with a nice load / unload mechanism, a blue postal wagon split into two compartments for letter and parcels, and a flatbed, which provided the ability to transport another cargo of your choosing. With three wagons, a lorry, and a loading ramp, this set offered tremendous playability and is fondly remembered by LEGO fans around in the 90s. By today’s standards, the colour palette is somewhat restricted, but this doesn’t detract from what is a very appealing train.
5. Maersk Container Train (10219)
LEGO has had a long running partnership with the Dutch shipping company Maersk and has produced several sets featuring its branding. This set is based on the trains Maersk uses to haul cargo long distances across country. However, there are shortcomings when it comes to considering this set as a replica, as it seems that this set does not replicate a single Maersk locomotive, and instead is a hodge-podge of different engines and trucks. However, if you’re not a hard-core train lover, this is unlikely to bother you.
So that aside, the engine is wonderfully detailed and looks beautiful in the company’s colours. The pastel blue parts are rare as they can only be found in other Maersk sets, which makes this set very hard to build from bricks you might have lying around! As a result, you’ll be shelling out several hundred dollars or pounds if you want to pick this set up now.
There’s something fun and appealing about having a real world company depicted in brick form. The same can be said for Shell sets, which is another company LEGO has partnered with extensively over the years. It also makes these sets highly desirable for any LEGO city builders looking to add some big name presence to their metropolis.
4. Emerald Night (10194)
This has to be the most evocatively named train LEGO have produced. Like many other sets on this list, the Emerald Night is based on a real-life train. This one takes its inspiration from the famous Flying Scotsman, which got its name from the express service it ran from London to Edinburgh and the great speeds it achieved on 393-mile trip, being the first steam locomotive to officially reach 100 mph.
The Night contained a number of rare and unusual pieces, some of which are still unique to this set, such as the 1x4x3 tan windows on the carriage and the 2x3 sloping dark green pieces. The set also introduced Power Functions, which replaced the 9V battery and RC Train systems that were used previously, and was the first to use large train wheels.
The magnificence of this set is primarily down to the gorgeous colour scheme which recreates the colours of the original train. The dark green looks amazing and the tan and brown carriage also looks very classy. In terms of design, as a replica of the Flying Scotsman, the Emerald Night falls short in several places. However, the build still looks fantastic and is nicely detailed, and would proudly sit on any LEGO collectors’ shelf.
3. Inter-City Passenger Train (7740)
The collection of trains released in 1980 were the first to have doors that opened, buffers and couplings, and realistic windows. They therefore represented a big leap forward, and the best of this crop was arguably the Inter-City Passenger Train. The locomotive was powered by a 12V battery system, which was replaced by the 9V batteries in 1991. However, the good news for vintage collectors is that the majority of the 12V trains are still compatible with the current system.
This was also the first large passenger train big enough to hold minifigures, which were introduced in 1978, and LEGO provided 10 of them in this set. This was plenty for populating the passenger and dining car carriages and accompanying station. The design of the train is simple, as befits a set of its age, but is realistic and looks like it might have been based on one of the German DB Class locomotives. The red, yellow, and grey has a simple beauty and a classic look that any vintage LEGO fan will love. The set even contained split-coloured doors to match the colour scheme, which must have been remarkable at the time, and will be highly sought after by MOC builders today.
2. Santa Fe Super Chief (10020)
The Super Chief was the first of three sets depicting real world American locomotives. The train achieved prominence because of the various celebrities it transported between Chicago and Los Angeles, earning it the nickname of “The Train of the Stars”. It became the flagship of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway and was the first diesel-electric powered train to transport passengers across America.
The set was fairly small, featuring only the engine comprised of 435 pieces, with the carriages sold separately, as was the case with many early 2000s LEGO trains. The set is a very accurate depiction of the Super Chief and captures its 1930s art deco design beautifully. The curved aesthetic of the engine would have been a challenge to recreate for a set of this age, but it was done remarkably well. There are a few small faults with the design but for all but the most discerning train enthusiasts, the set makes for an excellent replica and is probably the best LEGO has made.
As a LEGO set intended for play, the Super Chief also performs well. It contains excellent detail inside and out, and lacks the big, moulded pieces that have made their way into more recent sets. A nice feature of the build is the ability to run wiring through the interior and affix a light to the front of the engine. Then there is the striking, retro colour scheme, which would make this train stand out in any collection or model railway.
1. Metroliner (4558)
The Metroliner was one of the most popular trains LEGO have produced. This was in large part due to the colour-scheme selected, which mirrored that used by Amtrak in the US and gave it a real-world look. It proved so popular that it was re-released in 2001 under set number 10001. The sleek, aerodynamic design is achieved without any large, moulded pieces, favouring individual bricks instead, which gives the Metroliner a distinct edge over modern passenger trains. In our opinion, it’s the most stylish of all of LEGO’s passenger trains.
Like most of the passenger trains, it features an engine at both ends, which house not only the cabins, but also a cafe, beds, and cargo hold. The middle carriage is very roomy and has plenty of seating for minifigures to look out of the numerous windows. The continuity of stripe down the side of the train is helped by having printing door pieces, rather than relying on the sticker placing skills of the builder. The addition of a lengthy station in this set is a bonus and only adds to its high playability.
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