When my four-year-old son announced that he wanted a model train set, I initially considered a regular digital starter set by e.g. Roco, but my wife convinced me that this was unsuitable. So we instead bought a Märklin My World set, the Fire Department starter, and a couple of extra accessories. The starter consists of a track oval, two switches to make a short section of parallel track, the locomotive, and three rail cars. Aimed at young kids, these include a water pump, and loads (a container and a helicopter. The locomotive is based upon the DB V100, but simplified, including the use of two single axles instead of two dual-axle trucks. The locomotive is powered by a USB rechargeable battery. The controller is battery-powered (two AAA batteries are included) and works via IR, hence needs to be pointed into the general direction of the train. It has three forward and three reverse speeds, a brake button, and four buttons for lights and sounds.
I’m a big fan of the “American” style of model railroad operations, where the operator controls a single train and has the job of delivering rail cars to a couple of industries. This is in contrast to the “European” style, which often aims at running as many trains as possible on a complex track layout, maybe even automated. For controlling single trains, battery power is ideally suited, and one could even consider the traditional centrally-fed (now often digital) model train control, with its associated complexity and issues with poor electric contact due to dirty rails, as old-fashioned and outdated. Hence this review is biased towards the style of operations that I would aim for on a model railroad layout.
- The included plastic track appears to be quite robust while looking Ok to the model railroader.
- The track is affordable – about €15 for an extension kit that includes two switches is much cheaper than regular model railroad track.
- The switches are manually switchable and ideally suited to switching operations.
- The magnetic couplers are easy to use for kids.
- The controller is easy to use, the forward/backward lever is more intuitive than traditional rotary knobs.
- Two frequencies selectable for simultaneous playing with two locomotives. Locomotives from other sets use other frequencies, too.
- USB charging for the battery, which is in my opinion the best solution possible.
- Sound effects like a horn, but no annoying continuous engine noise.
- The magnetic couplers seem to be polarity-sensitive (though not all of them), which means that you might have to turn around an entire train if one coupler is misaligned.
- The locomotive has only a single coupler, making it impossible to use for many switching tasks that require attaching cars on both ends.
- Track selection is very limited, most importantly there’s only one curve radius (unless you count the slightly larger radius for switches) and only two straights. Parallel curves are hence a bit difficult. The crossing is only available in certain starter sets, not on its own.
- The locomotive has only two axles despite being a four-axle prototype. I understand the choice as it is easier to put on the rails this way, but still…
- Even the lowest speed is too fast for proper switching. It is impossible to gently drive up to a rail car and let the magnets engage. This means that switching is pretty much impossible.
If you’re looking for a relatively affordable way to get kids into model railroading, I can recommend Märklin my world. Many features are well thought out, and it is an expandable system. The rolling stock can be used on regular H0 track, and regular Märklin rail cars can be used via an adapter car. As such it is not the dead-end that a cheap Chinese train set is. My World appears to be mostly designed for running trains in circles, and it does this job well. My biggest gripe with the system is the minimum speed of the locomotive, as it makes switching pretty much impossible. I’ll try and see whether it is possible to modify it.
Märklin offers a set of track plans for download here.