Maybe This is Why Model Railroading is Dying

I am a long-time model railroader (yes, I need to post an update soon) but the hobby is basically dying.  It is just not relevant to young people any more.

Maybe it's because no one produces awesome starter train sets any more like these from the 1980's.


  1. ErikTheRed:

    An interesting renaissance would be possible as the cost of 3D printing drops - especially now that 3D-printed metal parts can now be made as strong as traditional molding and forging. The only things you wouldn't be able to print (at least in the near future) are complex parts like motors and drivetrains.

  2. Matthew Slyfield:

    They are quite a bit more expensive, not to mention larger, but there are 3D printers that can work in metals, including steel, through a laser driven additive welding process.

    While more expensive than more traditional 3D printers, they are not completely out of the reach of a serious amateurs

  3. auralay:

    Have you seen the UK program on a model railway running the length of the Great Glen in Scotland? Marvellous fun even for non fanatics!

  4. slocum:

    When my kids were little, I bought them a slot car track like I'd had when I was a kid (though it was way fancier than anything I'd had -- and really cheap too). And then we set it up and, my god, I was quickly reminded how boring and frustrating it was -- the winner of every race was the driver whose car didn't happen to spin out or fly off the track. Compared to 'The Need For Speed', the slot-cars were really lame and they never got much use. I suspect the same problem applies to model trains. I'm not a train enthusiast, but a quick search turned up this:

    Wow -- if I was interested in trains, that looks about 100x more interesting than running a train around a 4x8 sheet of plywood in the basement (which I did a bit of as a kid). Putting together a fake little town with trees made out of wired, clay, and colored lichen was kind of fun, I guess, but...nah -- I don't see that hobby coming back.

  5. ErikTheRed:

    Yup. I have a friend whose company makes products with them. As you said, the cost is high now, but that won't last forever.

  6. Talnik:

    My Dad was a model railroader, told me "hands off!" instead of getting me interested in it. Now I have a whole basement full of the stuff to get rid of.

  7. Ward Chartier:

    In order to be interesting today, train sets need to be relevant. How about the Baltimore Police Battleground set? Or the Motorcycle Club vs Antifa set? Or the UC Berkeley First Amendment Riot set?

  8. Jaedo Drax:

    Sadly, I have no desire to teach my kids about model trains and their setup, as the last thing I want to do after working on signals all day is come home and work on track.

  9. White Rock Mike:

    One of my banking customers back in the day was Collectible Trains & Toys in Dallas. Look 'em up. They were the best.

  10. Matthew Slyfield:

    I would agree that model railroading won't ever recover to the heights of it's heyday, but I also don't think it will ever completely disappear. What is likely to happen, as custom fabrication due to 3D printing becomes less expensive, the smaller gauges (HO, O) will vanish and larger scales such as G(garden scale, 1:32 to 1:22) will gain a larger share of the remaining niche.

    I've read stories about model railroading clubs that have bought multi acre properties and do 1/8th or larger scale trains that they have to fabricate from scratch, but are actually rideable.

  11. Edmund Ryan:

    I'm going to guess that most people aren't exposed to trains these days and thus don't find them interesting. From what I understand, train travel was common for the average person up until the 1970's. In the 70's, the airlines were deregulated. Flying became much cheaper, and air travel replaced train travel. While you do have Amtrak and heavily used commuter rail lines in the Northeast, the average American probably has never ridden a train.

  12. irandom419:

    My dad was the same way with power tools, even when I was in my late teens. So now I work in IT.

  13. JTL:

    Wooden trains are still popular with young kids (e.g. Brio, Thomas the Train, knock-offs from Ikea and Toys R Us, etc). But that doesn't seem to extend into model railroading.