model train set on track

Modern Era Train Layouts: 1970s through Today

During the so-called “modern era” of the toy and model train collecting and operating hobby, changes have come quite rapidly. New gauges were created, new controls were introduced, and shake-ups in ownership at some of the biggest manufacturers seemed to be constant. LEGO® also caught on as a toy train and layout building system, and many young hobbyists joined the hobby specifically to create from LEGO. 

1970s-1990s: New Gauges Present New Layout Opportunities 

It’s true that three new gauges popped up right at the end of the 1960s and into the early 1970s, giving model railroaders a whole new world to explore and create as we chugged ahead into the modern era: 

  • 1965 was the year N-scale trains were introduced 
  • 1968 marked the introduction of G-scale trains  
  • Z-scale trains came on the scene in the 1970s 

Layouts could now be built in each of these new scales. Plus, LEGO presented another new dimension to creating scale environments—complete with full-powered trains—from scratch. These innovations successfully engaged new toy and model train enthusiasts throughout the later years of the 20th century. 

21st Century: High-Tech Features in Layouts 

One of the hallmarks of building model railroading layouts in the 2000s has been the proliferation of high-tech features, such as smartphone control systems. In fact, the command system offered by the majority of model train manufacturers in 2020 was a variant of Digital Command Control (DCC) versus more traditional DC power. 

Video has also become incredibly important to the model railroading hobby, including in creating layouts. Many enthusiasts make and post videos of their layouts and trains on YouTube and other social media sites. 

What is your preferred era of toy trains? Find excellent examples in our database! 

Search the Database 

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Examples of model trains from every possible brand abound in our database. Search by manufacturer, gauge, and/or year to return results from our National Toy Train Museum collections and more.

See Our Layouts at the National Toy Train Museum! 

Visitors to the National Toy Train Museum will experience one of the world’s most extensive toy train collections. This includes a variety of meticulously maintained model train layouts, which we refresh every winter. Can’t visit us in person in Strasburg, PA? You can explore our layouts from the past and present right here on our website! 

More Model & Toy Train Information for Collectors 

About Model Trains & Toy Trains 

Do you know all the differences between model trains and toy trains? Here at the Train Collectors Association, we support and celebrate both toy train collectors and model railroaders from all walks of life, and you can explore more right here on our website. 


Toy trains (including model trains) come in different sizes, reflecting different rail gauges—the distance between the main rails on the track—and scales. We have information for you about some of the most popular toy and model train gauges. 

Grading Standards 

TCA has adopted standards to help guide toy and model train collectors and encourage common terminology usage when describing things like item categories and conditions. Visit our Grading Standards section of the website for more information. 

Grow Your Love of Model Trains with Other Enthusiasts. Join TCA Today! 

If you are not yet a member of the Train Collectors Association, you’re missing out. TCA Members receive a long list of tangible benefits that put them on the toy train collectors’ inside track! These include free admission to the National Toy Train Museum in Strasburg, PA, as well as access to special collections of material in the National Toy Train Library, among other great perks and benefits our TCA members enjoy.  

Ready to get involved and join our excellent organization with thousands of other model and toy train enthusiasts around the world?