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Posted by on Feb 28, 2012 in Featured, Play, Reviews | 8 comments

Comparing Wooden Toy Trains

Comparing Wooden Toy Trains

Little Man is currently OBSESSED with trains. Every evening lately, when I ask him what he’d like to play, his first answer is “Wanna play choo choos!” He got his first train set in May of last year – a small set we picked up in Tesco for about €12, with a bridge, some plain wooden trains, and enough track to make a loop with the bridge.

Then for his birthday, Little Man got presents of more trains – including some Thomas the Tank branded engines. And for Christmas, Santa brought more tracks, including a couple of new IKEA bridges and a tunnel.

But up until recently, when we’d play with the train tracks, Little Man would get bored of pushing the trains around after 10 or 15 minutes. That’s all changed now though, because we invested in a couple of battery-operated engines. I thought Charlie was mad when he insisted on buying his namesake “Charlie” from the Thomas the Tank range, because he was battery-operated. It was over €20 just for that one engine! Way too much to spend on a single train as far as I was concerned. I quickly changed my tune though when I saw the difference “Charlie” made to play time with the tracks. Watching the little train motor his way around the tracks we built just seems to enthrall Little Man. It’s brought a whole new dimension of playing to the tracks for him.

So I was inspired to write this post comparing the different types of engines and trains we have.

Plain wooden trains


Carriage from an IKEA train set

Both the Tesco and IKEA sets of tracks came with some brightly coloured plain wooden engines and carriages. These trains are very simple, and they’re easy for little hands to grip and push along the tracks. Because they are small, they have no difficulties navigating sharp bends in the track. Best of all, these trains are inexpensive, because they’re supplied as part of the starter sets.

Carousel battery-operated engine from Tesco


Carousel battery-powered engine

We have one Carousel battery-operated engine that we picked up in Tesco. This long green engine certainly looks the part. And it sounds the part as well – the buttons on the top allow you to play engine noises, and to control whether it goes backwards or forwards. Price-wise, this train is also a good option. I think it cost us about €8 – a lot less than the battery-operated trains from the Thomas the Tank brand. One negative about this engine though is the length – which is ironic considering that was one of the things we liked about it when we picked it out. But the fact that it is so long means that it easily derails when it’s rounding a corner or negotiating a series of bends. It also tends to get stuck crossing Little Man’s favourite bridge (which is surprising considering the bridge is also from the Carousel range).

Thomas the Tank branded wooden trains


Thomas the Tank Engine

Like many toddlers, Little Man loves Thomas the Tank Engine. So naturally, we’ve picked up a few Thomas-branded trains along the way – Rosie, Emily, James, Percy and of course Thomas. These can be difficult to find – there are three or four different types of train sets with Thomas branding, and some of the bigger toy stores only stock the plastic sets. But Hamley’s and Banba Toys both stock the wooden trains and train sets. (If you’re not sure what you’re looking for, check the box to ensure that it’s Brio-compatible.) We all love these trains. They look great, and they feel solid and chunky. They fit really well on the wooden tracks, and somehow, we seem to have more fun and find it easier to be imaginative and tell stories with the trains when we’re playing with the character trains. Price-wise, you have to shop around for these trains. We’ve paid different amounts for them – some we got on sale, and some we paid full price for, which I think was about €15. Thomas came with a station set that we bought.

Charlie the battery-powered engine from the Thomas the Tank range


Charlie the battery-powered engine from the Thomas the Tank range

At over €20, this little train isn’t cheap! But he is the perfect size for the wooden tracks, and rarely has any difficulties navigating our layouts, unless we use lots of the small curved pieces together. Then he can have a tendency to derail. We often hitch some of the other trains to Charlie and have him pull them all around the track. The battery-power is strong enough for him to negotiate his way up and down bridges without any difficulty, even pulling several other trains and carriages. This train has transformed our train set from something that was played with once in a while, to something that is top of the list of activities in our toddler’s day. So from that point of view, I’d say maybe he wasn’t too expensive after all!






  1. On the back of this advice, I think I will invest in a €20 battery operated engine for my little boy’s wooden set.  He has the wooden set from Tesco and another from Ikea that all join up but you have to push the engines along.  My mother got him what looked like a fab Chugginton Train set and while it’s good in that the engines talk and interact with each other, the trains don’t move along by themselves. She bought this set reduced from €71 to €35 and a good job too.  It certainly was not worth €71!

    • Hope your little boy has as much fun with it as we do here!

  2. Great review. It’s so annoying that train sets aren’t universal.
    We got Little J a battery-powered Thomas for Christmas, and like you, paid way too much for it! But it was worth it cos it’s a big hit and works really well with the IKEA tracks. It EATS batteries though!

  3. Great review! Just what I’ve been looking for in fact. Do you know if the Wooden Thomas engines work on the Carousel Track please?

  4. Delighted to say Lisa that your article came up in a google search I did on wooden train sets! We’re looking around for a suitable starter one. Our big criteria is that it is wooden, and sturdy with minimal pieces of plastic parts, so that D can safely walk around without a fear of stepping on it and breaking it. And it must have a bridge too, our wee man is big into bridges! He’s not a big Thomas fan (yet), but he does like Chuggingtons. It seems that their trains are slighter bigger and may not fit under Brio bridges so I’m thinking hard on this one. The sets can be pricey.

    • They can be. But there’s lots of good value in Tesco and Ikea for starter sets.


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