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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Sep 2006
    Louisiana, USA.

    Default Explain train tables to me, please.

    My mom wants to buy Avery a train table for Christmas, which I think is a wonderful idea since he adores trains (well, anything with wheels really) and I have to drag him out of the bookstore kicking and screaming when it's time to stop playing with the train table there.

    So I've started looking around for her and I'm a little lost. We don't actually have any trains or tracks yet, so I don't know where to start.

    Am I correct in thinking that most train tables are just an activity-type table with a tabletop that is plain on one side and printed on the other? And some come with tracks, some don't? And the tracks aren't actually attached to the table?

    I saw the Imaginarium train table at TRU and it looks like a good deal for the price, especially as a starter set (since it comes with the tracks, trains, and accessories). But it says that it's "compatible with Thomas and Brio trains". What does that mean? That the Thomas and Brio trains will work on the Imaginarium tracks? Or do you have to buy Thomas tracks for Thomas trains (or whatever)? Or are all the tracks interchangeable (ex. can I connect Thomas tracks and Imaginarium tracks)?

    I guess I'm asking because right now, DS isn't going to care what kind of trains he's playing with - he'll be happy with the Imaginarium set to start with. But in a year or so, say he's heavily into Thomas - I would like to still be able to use this table and tracks and just buy Thomas trains. Also, right now he's not going to care about building different track setups and things like that (he just likes pushing the trains around), but I'm thinking that eventually he may want to do that, so I would like a set that can work around that.

    Can somebody just explain the basics of all this train stuff to me? I thought it was a simple toy, but looking into it I'm kind of confused by all the different brands and configurations.
    Last edited by JoyNChrist; 10-27-2008 at 02:04 AM.
    Wife to K
    Mommy to A (5) and twins E & S (1.5)

    The biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make...I did not live in the moment enough. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less. - Anna Quindlen

  2. #2
    kijip is offline Pink Diamond level (15,000+ posts)
    Join Date
    Feb 2004


    Well first off, Thomas and Brio Compatible tracks are compatible with all trains and tracks that are similarly marked. Usually it will say "Brio and Thomas Wooden Railway Compatible" or similar. The non-wooden thomas stuff is not compatible. Once you own some of the wooden trains, you will get very familiar with the track size. We have a large train/track collection and it is a mix of Brio, Thomas (old and new), Imaginarium, Ikea and a random knock-off brand. All of the trains work with all of the track, the only ones that are little off are the connectors on the Ikea tracks.

    The train table is just an activity table, sometimes with a landscape printed on the table top or a separate play mat. Just what you thought. I recommend the ones that have carts or drawers underneath for train storage. This stuff adds up to a lot of clutter and it is nice to have somewhere to put it all away. The tracks are not usually attached to train tables, unless the parents glue or screw down a configuration themselves. We never did this, because he preferred to make his own.

    I think starting with a train table that comes with track and generic trains is best. The Imaginarium ones seem very nice. If you are lucky, he will never add a Thomas obsession into the mix so then you won't have to watch the show or read the books, LOL. Or pay for the plastic faced trains. T loved all things Thomas (got into at play school) and because of good sales, we ended up indulging his desire for specific trains, vehicles and many other related items (like engine washes and mountains).

    Generous grandma! I am sure Avery will just love it. Making me nostalgic because T has totally moved on from his trains and they are all going into the garage for the belly baby's eventual tot vehicle obsession. (hopefully, because we have a lot!)
    Last edited by kijip; 10-27-2008 at 02:40 AM.
    Katie, mama to a pair of boys.

  3. #3
    KrisM is offline Clean Sweep forum moderator
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    MI, USA.


    The only thing I disagree with the PP about is the storage drawers underneath. I think it's an unnecessary expense.

    Our table is open underneath and I bought 6 dishpans for $1.47 each. Three fit across on each side. They're marked with what type of track they hold and it's worked out very well. We have a bin for straight pieces, curves, ramps and bridges, and intersections. Another bin is trains.

    We also have a mix of brands. Most of our track is non-Thomas. We have plenty of Thomas trains and buildings.

    Michael's, the craft store, carries Thomas at many stores. Not all do, so check. I stock up on the Friday after Thanksgiving with my 50% off purchase coupon.

  4. #4
    o_mom is offline Red Diamond level (10,000+ posts)
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Central IN


    If you have a Costco, they usually have a train table every year that is a great deal. I haven't seen one this year yet, though. I don't know about the TRU one, but as PPs said, they should all be compatible and interchanable. We have the Costco one from a couple years ago (made by KidKraft, I think). Then I added stuff from Brio, Maxim, IKEA and another generic one. The IKEA stuff is OK, but in the end I weeded it all out and donated it because the plastic connectors didn't always work well.

    All the other stuff works well together and there are many bridges and tunnels from Maxim and other 'off brand' companies. I mainly got it all on clearance at various stores and then picked up some individual specialty pieces (short ones with male on both ends for example). Thomas wooden trains will work on all these.

    I love having the storage drawers. You could go without them, but think about where you will have it. Ours was in our living room at the time and doubled as a coffee table. The matching drawers looked nicer than just plain tubs. I did put plastic bins in the drawer to divide and organize, but you could only see the wood from the outside.

    One other thing to look into is the SureTrack clips:

    At his age, you may get him trying to pick up the track and these will help keep them together to minimize your rebuilding. Building layouts is fun, but after they take it apart in about 3 sec it loses its appeal quickly.
    Last edited by o_mom; 10-27-2008 at 08:10 AM.
    Mama to three boys ('03, '05, '07)

  5. #5
    hillview's Avatar
    hillview is offline Blue Diamond level (20,000+ posts)
    Join Date
    Sep 2005
    New England


    We really like our Nilo table. We have 2 stools and the bins under it which collect stuff that would otherwise be on the floor. We have a Melissa and Doug train set and it is good. It got played with for a few months and now is only occasional. The table is used every day and lives in our play room. If anything I'd spend more on the table (if you plan to use it for lots of thing -- art projects, puzzles, legos etc) and not spend as much on the actual trains.
    DS #1 Summer 05
    DS #2 Summer 07

  6. #6
    brittone2 is offline Blue Diamond level (20,000+ posts)
    Join Date
    Nov 1999
    back to where we started


    I love the trundles. We keep train stuff on one side, and unit blocks on the other. Some of the bigger destinations don't end up fitting but we just rotate in and out of storage in the attic.

    DS got his just before he turned 2. From age 2-3, the train table and kitchen occupied huge amounts of time.

    DD is now getting interested in the train table. It can also be used for dollhouse play, etc.

    ITA that most train tables work with most train sets, since most wooden sets are compatible with one another.

    As a PP mentioned, we bought a huge portion of our sets using 40 percent off coupons at AC Moore/Michaels. Whittle Shortline has some nice stuff and it is not MIC, as does maplelandmark (they have several different scales of trains, but they have one that is Thomas/Brio compatible. Maplelandmark's trains are actually quite affordable too considering they are not MIC).
    Mama to DS-2004
    and a new addition-ds born march 2010

  7. #7
    mmsmom is offline Platinum level (1000+ posts)
    Join Date
    Sep 2007


    Hope I'm not hijacking... but how important is the raised lip/edge around the table? I am also looking at train tables and would like it to double as an art table, block play, etc. Would having a table without a raised edge around it be okay for trains? It seems the edge may be a problem for art, but I have no experience with them so don't know.

  8. #8
    KBecks is offline Diamond level (5000+ posts)
    Join Date
    Mar 2004


    LOL, there is a lot to trains. We do not use a train table, we lay ours out on the floor. We have a lot of train stuff. I had one we got from a friend but I didn't like it, the top had sections that came off and the boys kept looking under the top to see what was in the storage area underneath.

    I think you should consider how much space you have and where you will put the table. I'd go big, but also you need to look at your space.

    We have a small table and chair set that I like as an art and activity table.
    Karen, mom to three beautiful boys, 10/2004, 7/2006 and 10/2008!
    trying to spend less time online, doh!

    *I regret choosing circumcision for my sons.*
    Our new arrival is NOT circed.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Hooksett, New Hampshire, United States.


    I second the Nilo Multi Activity table! You can get legs for it that are 24" high when the kids outgrow the lower height. I like that it has the lip around the edge for when we get the Quadrilla marble thingy.

    It's definitely worth the money. AND you can get these bins at Target that have wheels that fit right underneath the table.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Georgia, USA.


    If you have someone handy in your family, you can make a train table for about $75. My parents made DS1's table and it is very nice. Painted it brown since I like darker colored furniture and it blends right in. I got the PBK train table mat to put on the top and it looks very nice. I have two dark wicker baskets from Target underneath that hold the trains and tracks.

    DS1 has kind of outgrown the trains but DS2 is 17 mos and coming along behind so I expect they'll be out again soon. Right now DS2 plays with his Little People and Matchbox cars on the train table so it's still getting tons of use. Oh, and he loves to climb on it, too, which is not so good. LOL!

    ~~ Harrison 4/04 & Davis 5/07 ~~

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