Getting Started with Lego Trains book review

More than just a guide, author McKee takes readers to the world of advanced LEGO building and the culture of model railroading. Sometimes the lingo takes a wacky turn: How could a model be built with SNOT? Connect the LEGO bricks in unorthodox ways to have Studs Not On Top, or SNOT, perfect for advanced constructions. What about the chapter on reefer? That’s the refrigerated rail car model, the type of train car called a reefer by model builders and train buffs in the know.

Interviews with expert builders and a section on advanced track layouts are sure to inspire the master builder and budding train enthusiast alike. With this book, newbies and old pros all have something in common – a great book to help them grow with their hobby. As author McKee explains, “LEGO trains are the ‘hub of the spoke,’ so to speak. LEGO trains are what bond a LEGO universe together. Once you set up your first starter train set, you want more track. More track leads to more train cars. More cars leads to city. City leads to airports. Then space, then …”

Background to the Book

Since the first steam engine ran in the early 1800s, kids and adults around the world have been fascinated. Trains, then as now, hold a special appeal to many, and over the decades thousands of train models and toys have been created. Model railroads built by kids and adults alike have a long and rich history.

The model railroad community consists of literally hundreds of thousands of fans of the railroad industry, especially those who enjoy building model railroads and running their trains throughout their house. Many readers may have had experience with HO or N scale trains, but they may have not had much experience with LEGO trains. Perhaps these fans have had experience with other LEGO kits and models, but with LEGO trains you have the chance to build scale model trains that actually run at your command!

Why Build Trains With LEGO Parts?

LEGO trains are built with only LEGO elements, so the train designs are close approximations of the real-life design. Because of this, LEGO trains require a whole new way of looking at the train design process.

In addition, with LEGO parts, you can use and reuse these parts over and over and over again, assuming of course you can bring yourself to take apart some of your creations. With other railroading materials, over time you usually have to continually purchase and repurchase expendable resources, such as paints, sheet plastic, hobby wood, and so forth.

Because of the re-useability and non-specific scale of LEGO trains, it is possible to build all kinds of creations and train layouts. One week, you can build 6-stud-wide hopper cars, and the next week 8-stud-wide circus trains.

Note that common LEGO train widths are 6 studs and 8 studs, though all official LEGO train models are 6 wide. A few builders even build 12 or 14 studs wide!

LEGO Trains Development

LEGO trains had their beginning in 1965, when LEGO released the first LEGO train set – a push locomotive that ran on popular LEGO wheels and did not include track. This locomotive was not powered, and in 1966, this push train was replaced with a powered version.

The original LEGO track was plastic and was held together with special 2×8 plates. The gauge, or distance between the rails, was six studs (1.5 inches, or 38 mm). The gauge was determined by the width of the wheels mounted on the ends of one 2×4 brick.

The powered trains have been going strong since 1966, and have included not one by three separate systems of train tracks and sets, each defined by their voltage requirements.

The first powered LEGO train was in the 4.5 volt range, and the set used the standard LEGO motor, with power coming from batteries in a car directly behind the locomotive (motor).

Building on the success of the 4.5 volt line, a 12 volt line was introduced shortly after. Like Lionel trains, the 12 volt system used a “third rail,” a rail down the center of the track, which in this case was actually two smaller rails, to feed power to the motor, rather than using batteries. This third rail was available separately, which allowed older batter-powered layouts to be upgraded to the 12 volt system.

The 9 volt system was introduced in 1991 and is still in production today. This line introduced stability and ease of use to the LEGO train line. The 9 volt motors are a major leap forward because of the improved design and because the metal wheels on the specially designed train motors safely pull power directly from the metal rails. These wheels have minimal friction on the axle, rubber rims that help grip the rails, and a brilliant system of rubber bands that constantly push the metal wheels against the track for good contact.

The 9 volt line also introduced the new track system – straight, curved, crossover, and switch tracks that include both the two rails and the ties in one-piece track modules.

In author McKee’s book, he focuses entirely on the 9 volt line.


Author McKee starts out with a marvelous chapter on the fundamentals of building a LEGO train. The system is simple in design, and with his background, anyone will be up and running in no time.

He covers how to get one of your very own first LEGO train sets, and then describes the variety of LEGO train sets from which you can choose your first set. The LEGO company offers several great starter train sets, complete with all the components you need to create your first LEGO train layout. Everything you need to get started is in the box, so you will be up and running in no time.

He follows with a helpful chapter on the basics of building LEGO t rains, discussing and explaining how to use various LEGO train parts, including couplers, buffers, wheels, bogie plate, and train base plates.

Customized LEGO Trains You Will Build

Author McKee includes 3 chapters that thoroughly describe how to build three LEGO trains. These include a GP-38 locomotive, an old-style refrigerator car, and an intermodal container car. In each chapter, he explains the various types of LEGO train parts you will need, and the number of each of these pieces, and in an amazing array of 4-color, high-gloss diagrams, shows you each step of the design process. These layer by layer design steps follow the classic tradition of all LEGO building systems, with extensively detailed drawings of the parts used in each step with clear lines indicating where the parts are to be placed.

After obtaining the various LEGO train sets that contain the parts included in his three original designs, anyone can follow these easy instructions and build their very own working LEGO train. This fantastic one of a kind Train Guide is available while supplies last in our Catalogs and Books section of our website