Lionel HO Scale Model Trains: Saving an Iconic Product Line

One of the oldest brands in model railroading history, Lionel has been a household name for over a century. Many innovations, particularly in O scale, can be traced to Lionel, and many of their latest releases come packed with an astounding level of detail, thanks to computer aided design and close studying of the prototypes. Recently however, in addition to pushing the boundaries of realism, technology, and the functionality of their models, Lionel has also been redeveloping some of America’s most loved HO scale product lines. In this article, we’re taking a look at exactly what Lionel is bringing back!

The History of Lionel Model Trains

Despite being best known for their O scale products, Lionel was actually also an early innovator in HO scale. As interest in the smaller scale grew during the 1950s, Lionel embraced the trend by introducing some of the first lines of readily available North American HO Scale train sets. Over the years a modest selection of add-on locomotives and rolling stock were added to the lineup, until the line was discontinued following the 1966 catalog. In the years since, Lionel has made several further forays into HO, however aside from a brief resurgence as a major product line in the 1970s, most HO releases have been limited runs or special edition pieces.

This changed in 2016, when Lionel announced its HO Scale Polar Express Train Set. Essentially a scaled down version of their massively popular O Gauge Polar Express, the set featured several innovations which seemed to signal that this was the start of a larger commitment to the scale. These included their newly designed Magneloc Track, which is arguably the easiest HO Scale track to assemble on the market, and the inclusion of all of the same onboard technology found on their larger models. After several further sets were produced featuring the paint schemes of prototype railroads, 2020 saw a massive drop of new HO scale announcements, including buildings, freight cars, passenger equipment, figures, scenery items, and more!

So how did Lionel manage to pull off such a massive single-year release? Well, in 2014, one of the best loved (and most budget friendly) manufacturers of HO scale rolling stock and scenery items went out of business. This was Model Power – another household name which had served the hobby for half a century, and who’s products can likely be found on 80% or more of layouts across America. Many in the hobby assumed that their popular line of structures, rolling stock, and detail pieces were gone forever, but in 2018, Lionel made the announcement that they had purchased the bulk of their assets to recommence production.

The Return of Timeless Favorites

Lionel has spared no detail in their reintroduction of this classic line. Now marketed under Lionel HO, many of the most popular items have already found their way back onto the shelves as of 2020, including the church, water tower, and of course examples from the iconic line of colonial style houses. Also included in this year’s release is a selection of freight rolling stock originally produced by another legacy manufacturer; Mantua, which became wholly owned by Model Power in 2002 (but can be traced in name back to the 1920s).

Lionel hasn’t simply reissued these models however. While some have been reproduced in their exact original form, many have been adjusted with new details and color schemes. Take the colonial houses for instance – while all of the favorites are once again in production, such as the Adding-on House, and the classic Haunted House, Lionel has also taken the opportunity to produce entirely new additions to the line using the basic components of these models. These include the Bed and Breakfast and Pub variations, which will look right at home in a classic New England scene or anywhere in small town America! Other changes include updates to the familiar Model Power billboards, which are now being produced with ads referencing smartphones and rock concerts, while many of the commercial structures have gained new decorations and cleverly punned names such as the “Bernindown Township Fire Station”.

Much like the structures and detail pieces, the rolling stock from the Model Power/Mantua range has also been restyled with new paint schemes, sharper printing, and added painted details. Additionally all cars now feature metal wheels and industry-standard knuckle couplers.

Lionel New Arrivals

Even with this welcome release, there’s still plenty more to look forward to! In addition to the unveiling of further classic structures and detail pieces, there’s plenty more rolling stock expected too, including flatcars with containers (now lettered for modern class 1 railroads and shipping lines), cabooses, passenger cars, and more! Perhaps the most anticipated addition to the lineup is the reintroduction of the classic Model Power 2-8-2 Mikado. Lionel has given this venerable steam locomotive the full 21st Century treatment, packing DCC, sound, and a bluetooth receiver for wireless operation into the model!

Look out for the latest arrivals in the new Lionel HO Scale range throughout the coming months!