How the model train industry got off track

Rising prices and an aging fanbase threaten to make the hobby obsolete.

It’s a tale as old as time: a beloved relic of the past pushed aside by newer, shinier things.

search volume for model railroad

Today, it seems the latest victim of the tech takeover might be the model train hobby industry, which is nearing the end of the line.

The situation was dire even back in 2016 when the National Model Railroad Association said the average age of its ~19k members was 64, up from 39 in the mid-’70s.

Eight years later, the downturn continues as model train enthusiasts age, living spaces shrink, and prices rise, per The Guardian.

  • Hattons Model Railways, a famed English shop that opened in 1946, shut its doors this month citing market conditions, supply chain disruption, and changing customer demographics.
  • The Warley National Model Railway exhibition said its 2023 convention would be its last, also pointing to its aging membership.

Adding to the difficulties — even if young people wanted to try out the hobby — a full model train setup can quickly add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and demands a sizable chunk of square footage. (Extra cash and big apartments: two things millennials don’t have.)

The little engine that can?

While things are certainly looking bleak, there could still be hope for the model train industry.

  • Lionel, which has been manufacturing toy trains since the early 1900s, has partnered with everyone from Coca-Cola and Crayola to Warner Bros. and NASCAR to bring trains back as an in-demand gift.
  • The pandemic also gave the hobby a push, with toy railway company Hornby seeing a 28% jump in annual sales between March 2020 and 2021 to ~$61.4m.

And, just this week, the Market Deeping Model Railway Club in England said it has 80 members, 12+ of whom are under 18 years old.

Plus, #modeltrains has 251m+ views on TikTok, so maybe there’s still hope for the hobby.

Topics: Toys

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