How Fast Do Model Trains Go?


Model trains are typically hyper-realistic models of real trains, just tiny, and can be incredibly complex. They can have huge tracks, cross bridges, and sound their whistle. However, the question remains, how fast can model trains go?

Model train speeds range from 1 – 150 mph (1.60 – 241.40 kph). However, the top speed of many popular geared models is around 15 mph (24.14 kph). Every model train is made differently and as such, the average speed of a model train is hard to determine. 

Now let’s dive into the topic of model trains, how their speed is measured, what affects their speed, troubleshooting at high speeds, and which model train is the fastest in the world. Let’s get started.

How Is a Model Train’s Speed Measured?

A model train’s speed is measured by scale speed. This means that a ratio is used to take the speed of the model train and convert it to the speed of a regular train. So while the model may only be going 1 mph (1.60 kph), you can say it’s going 160 mph (257.49 kph) at scale speed.

There are many different official ratios that can be used, but each follows the same basic concept. They take the distance that the model train is moving and scale it up until you can determine how fast the train would be moving if it were full-sized. 

The model train itself may only be going a few miles per hour, but as a full-sized train it would be moving at over a hundred and that’s how fast you would say the train is moving.

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You can use these ratios to determine exactly how quickly your train should be going, especially if you’re going to be displaying it at an exhibition or competition. The worst thing that could happen would be to set up your Japanese bullet train model and have it running slower than the freight engines at the exhibition.

Once you know how fast the full-sized version of your train would run you can use this number to calculate how fast your model needs to go to appear like it’s moving at the correct speed. 

Even though they won’t be moving as fast as the actual train, if you can get the speed ratio right, with appropriately scaled surroundings, it will appear as though your model is moving at the exact same speed as the real train.

fast model trains
David B.

Factors That Affect Model Train’s Speed

When you get your model train all set up, you may be excited to see how quickly it will speed around its track, especially if you’ve specially purchased a fast model. However, you could be disappointed by your train running quite a bit slower than you anticipated. 

Multiple factors impact the speed of your model train and, if you’re not aware of them, you could be slowing your train down. To keep your model train running as quickly as possible, you’ll want to keep a few things in mind. 

Make sure that your track isn’t too complicated, and the electrical connections in your engine are strong. Everything should be well oiled to help your train move as quickly as possible. 

Track Arrangement

The first thing that you’ll want to think about when setting your train up for optimal speed is how you’ve arranged the track. 

Think about an actual train, perhaps a bullet train, and how the track is shaped. You’ll notice that there are no sharp turns and, if the train needs to make a turn, it is so gradual that it almost seems straight. 

This is because, when moving at high speeds, a train cannot make a sharp turn and will end up flying off the rails. The same can happen with your model train so if you would like to have as fast of a model as possible, try making the track with minimal, gradual turns so you don’t risk your train derailing.

Strong Electrical Connections

The second thing you’ll want to check is that all of the electrical connections in your engine are strong. 

Before you run your train, you’ll want to open the engine up, take a look inside, and dust off any debris or residue that could be getting in the way of the connection. Dust, in particular, is horrible for your engine. 

It’s a fantastic insulator and, as such, can prevent electricity from flowing through the wires in your engine efficiently. You don’t need to dust your engine’s wires every time you put it on the tracks but make sure you’re doing it several times a month., as it can go a long way in ensuring your engine runs as efficiently as possible.

model train speed
David B.

Well-Oiled Parts

Finally, the last thing you’re going to think about when optimizing your model train’s speed is whether or not all of the parts are well oiled. Friction is the enemy of speed, and while you want enough grip that your engine won’t fly off the rails, it should generally be avoided. 

Some of the parts of your setup that should be oiled regularly are all the gears and wheels on your engine and cars, as well as the tracks themselves. If they’re not well lubricated, or if debris has built up in the wheels or on the track, your engine will keep getting caught up and won’t be able to move as quickly as it should.

High-Speed Problems

When you’re running your engine at high speed, there are two main issues that you can run into: 

  • Derailing
  • Sparking

If your turns are too tight or there’s debris in your tracks, your engine can derail at high speeds. Debris in your tracks or wheels can also cause sparking.

If you want to run your engine at high speeds, then you’ll need to set up your track carefully. If you place sharp turns in your track, your engine will not slow down for the turns and will end up derailing.

Another cause for your engine derailing, and the primary cause for any sparking you might see, is debris that’s caught in your wheels or track. If there’s excessive debris on the wheels or track, your train won’t be able to grip on as well and could end up derailing. 

The debris can also spark as it collides with the metal, and while the sparks flying everywhere can look pretty cool, they’re often a precursor to your engine breaking down from the additional wear and tear.

ho scale trains
David B.

Which Is the Fastest Model Train?

Some talented hobbyists have managed to tweak their trains to go even faster than that.

Hobbyist Steve Burdett managed to tweak his HO scale Lima Intercity Loco until it reached over 400 mph (225.30 kph). Although this is not an officially recognized record, the videos of this train seem to be evidence enough as it zips around the track with sparks flying.

Steven Burdett managed to accomplish this by taking his standard engine and hooking up a total of eight transformers to it. With all of the extra energy, his engine was able to fly around the 9.04 m (29.65 ft) circuit with sparks flying at every turn.

While this is a fun thing to try, I wouldn’t recommend hooking it up to that much additional power if you want to preserve your engine. Instead, just let it run as it’s supposed to and focus on some of the other tips to help increase your engine’s speed, like checking electrical connections and oiling the track and gears.

Conclusion

Model trains can move at speeds of anywhere from 1 – 150 mph (1.60 – 241.40 kph), with the world record breaker moving at a total of more than 400 mph (225.30 kph). However, model train speed is rarely measured at an actual speed. 

Instead, they’re measured at scale speed based on the speed that a full-sized train would be moving.

To keep your train moving as smoothly as possible, you should ensure that your track is relatively simple and that all of your connections are clean and strong so you get the most efficiency possible. 

Josef

Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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