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Railway model construction – the perfect hobby for the whole family

The model railway is a very old toy, which has already enthused our ancestors and is still very popular. The history of model railways goes down to the 18th century. It dates back to the 18th century and has its origins in England. The first experimental model comes from the pen of English engineer William Murdock. The model railway only moved into the German toy stores a century later, but then with full success. And the miniature railway is still an integral part of our society. It enchants young and old and is constantly being developed further on a technical basis. We'll explain what was important to you when you buy your new favorite track.

After all, railroads were the most common means of transportation at the time and almost every schoolboy wanted to become a train driver. Whether steam and smoke-emitting monsters, powerful diesel locomotives or elegant electric railcars:

The fascination with trains is still palpable among children and adults today. That is why it is still impossible to imagine our society without miniature models.

However, the character has developed away from pure toys towards creative leisure activities. The driving force behind this process has been the technical development in the field of model railroads, which has undergone a real quantum leap in recent decades. 

Functions that were unthinkable years ago can now be realized on a model railway layout. However, not all model railroads are equally good and suitable for every purpose. We will be happy to show you the various options so that you can find the best model railroad for you or your children.

  • What is a model railway? 

  • Which model train types are available? 

  • What is to be observed when purchasing model trains?

  • What are model railroad eras? 

  • The most frequently asked questions about model railways

  • Conclusion: These are the purchase criteria for the model railway purchase 

What was a model railway?

A model railway is a true-to-scale replica of a real railway in miniature format. Simple model railways consist of a rail system and a locomotive. Larger versions have several tracks, trains, wagons, miniature train stations, trees, meadows, small figures and much more.

Model railways are available in every conceivable range, from the small suitcase model railways to table-size systems to huge copies, which occupy a whole room. Model railways are driven manually, partially or fully automatically. Automated model railways are usually controlled via a control panel.

How does a digital model train work?

Classic model railways use two conductors, between which a voltage is applied. The conductors are connected to the engine of the model locomotive. This turns and moves the locomotive. This is referred to as analogueue model construction.

Digital model railways also use two conductors, but use them as energy data bus. Here, control commands are interwoven in the form of coded signals. Depending on the model railway manufacturer, there are different protocols for signal coding. The signals are evaluated by so-called decoders located inside the locomotive. Digital model railways enable new functions, such as the control of stationary devices.

Which model train types are available?

Model railways differ according to different scales and track widths. If you already own a system and want to expand it, you should therefore pay close attention that new accessories such as vehicles, buildings, tracks, light signals and wagons fit in the existing model railway on a scale. Typical scales and track widths are 1, G, H0, N, TT and E.

The most widely used size in Germany is H0. In THE CONRAD Shop you will therefore find in this category especially many miniature buildings, tracks, signals, wagons, trains, vehicles and figures.

In addition, different drive systems are distinguished in the model railways. On the one hand, there are model railways which are mechanically driven by hand or with a retractable clockwork. Less often are models that work with combustion, i.e. with real steam, petrol or diesel. The most popular drive method among model railways is by far the electric drive.

Wheel track Scale Wheel track
G Scale 1:22,5 45 mm
I Gauge 1:32 45 mm
H0 Scale 1:87 16.5 mm
TT Scale 1:120 12 mm
N Scale 1:160 9 mm
Z Scale 1:220 6.5 mm

What is to be observed when purchasing model trains?

The most important purchasing criterion for model railway purchases is the scale. Especially those who already own some items should make sure that new parts have the same nominal size. At CONRAD you will find practical starter sets as well as many beautiful accessories, which make your model railway unique.


What are model railroad eras?

The development of the railroad is currently divided into 6 different time periods. These eras are indicated in pictograms on rolling stock or vehicles, for example. This enables model railroad fans who want to create an authentic layout to preferably use products from a specific era. However, the transitions from one era to the next are fluid.

Era I (1835 – 1920)

Numerous state and private railroads, some with extensive networks. Creation of the first state railway networks.

Era II (1920 – 1949)

Transition of the state railroads into the Deutsche Reichsbahn-Gesellschaft DRG. Standardized designs reduce the variety of vehicles.

Era III (1949 – 1970)

Independent development of the two railroad companies Deutsche Bundesbahn (DB) and Deutsche Reichsbahn (DR) in the German states.

Era IV (1970 – 1990)

Extensive completion of the conversion to diesel or electric drive. Use of uniform UIC lettering for all vehicles throughout Europe.

Era V (1990 – 2006)

In the years following German reunification in 1989, the Deutsche Reichs- und Bundesbahn were gradually merged to form Deutsche Bahn AG.

Era VI (2006 – heute)

The liberalization of rail transport in Europe has made it possible, among other things, to create cross-border high-speed routes for passenger transport.

The most important thing to buy model railways

  • A model railway is a small, electrically or manually operated replica of a real railway. The model train travels on rails and is usually embedded in an individual landscape with the help of other accessories.

  • In the model railways, different sizes and drive types are differentiated. The most popular model railways in Germany depict their real models in the scale 1:87 and are operated electrically.

  • When purchasing a new system, you should pay particular attention to ensure that all purchased parts are on the same scale. Only then is it guaranteed that the individual components have an optimum size ratio to each other.


If you are a model railway beginner and do not yet have basic equipment, you can opt for a version in the scale H0. This nominal size is the most common in Germany. You can choose between many different railways, track systems and other model railway articles. If you already have a model train in a different size, you can still get your money's worth at THE CONRAD Shop. You will find model railway accessories for track 1, track G, track N, track TT, track Z and of course for track H0.

Landscaping, buildings and figures

Your model railway will not be so special and individual until it is lovingly embedded in the right environment. For the perfect layout, you will find materials such as floor covering, track ballast, cobblestones or meadow, tunnels, archways, structural pieces and much more in THE CONRAD range of products. With miniature trees, hedges and bushes, you can bring nature into play. Thanks to the imaginative building kits, you can give your model railway an individual touch and interpret the landscape again and again.

You will find winter workshops that are covered with snow, summer houses, hotels, breweries, motorcycle shops, boat houses and much more. The small model construction works make your model railway perfect. Whether you want to represent your own family or want to return your model railway to a different age, here you will find pretty figures in different designs.


Beginner sets and professional model railways

Those who have just discovered the model railway as a new hobby can take part in one of the practical and lovingly assembled kits. Pay attention to what was included in the delivery. There are smaller, low-cost starter sets as well as more extensive, more expensive starter packs. Components of the kits are usually a locomotive, different wagons, tracks, points, junction box and switching power supply.

Model Railway Electronics

The most popular drive type for model railways is the electric drive. For your electric railway you can buy many different additional modules, for example from the fields of light and signal technology, sound electronics, real steam and smoke generators and lighting electronics. The excellent additional electronics models make your miniature track look particularly authentic through light, noises and rising smoke.

Our practical tips:

Transform your landscape into a winter wonderland. Christmas is coming and you want to give your model railway a winter look? Browse through our range of products and let yourself be enchanted by snow-covered houses, forest animal figures and artificial snow-stone.  

Access natural materials. If you want to spice up your model railway easily, naturally and quickly, you can also use small stones, mosses or other natural materials from forest or garden. When decorating, make sure that no components fall into the tracks and hinder the trains while driving. In addition, the natural materials should be such that they do not appear too clumpy, large and unshaped in relation to the miniature railway.

The most frequently asked questions about model railways


Which decoder is used for the model railway?

A model railway decoder is a component of the digital model railway control. Decoders convert digital control commands into analogue switching commands. There are different protocols for signal encoding. The decoder must always match the central unit, otherwise the digital signals cannot be decoded. The two large decoder systems are DCC and Märklin-Motorola. Some central systems can decrypt both systems, while others cannot. When purchasing your decoder, make sure that you know which signals the central unit can process.

Which model railway manufacturers are good?

Old-proven model railway manufacturers are Märklin, PIKO and Roco. In addition, there are many other manufacturers who also build high-quality model railways. Other manufacturers such as Brekina and others are still market leaders in the field of model railway accessories.

What are the model railway tracks?

There are model railway tracks in different sizes. Larger model railways represent their role models in a scale of 1:22.5. Especially small miniature railways have a scale of 1:220. The individual tracks have different designations such as 1, 2, G, H0, TT, N or, FOR EXAMPLE, the most popular model railway nominal size is H0 in Germany.


Conclusion: These are the purchase criteria for the model railway purchase

You want to have the first model railway equipment or are already a real professional and want to expand your existing railway? First, make sure that you reach the correct nominal size, because there are many different standards here. If you don't look closely, you quickly bought new figures that don't fit the rest of the model railway in size. Model construction newcomers best take on one of the great starter packs of the popular model railway manufacturers Märklin or PIKO.