Using Live Steam Powered Model Railroads

Do you feel left out because you cannot stop going on and on about trains while no one seems interested? Well, welcome to the club! Being crazy about trains and opting to play with model trains as a hobby is not very common. A large chunk of the younger population mostly has no fond memories of train rides. Nevertheless, model-train shows conducted in various parts of the world gather a large, enthusiastic crowd due to garden-railways or live steam locomotives.

What is a Live Steam Locomotive?

The term live steam translates to steam under pressure. Now this steam under pressure is very powerful and can be used to apply force to move heavy things around. This steam is obtained by boiling water in a boiler and is used to move stationary objects. Owing to the literal meaning of the term live steam, this term can be used for any machinery powered by live steam. However, this term is specifically set aside to refer to train replicas, models, or toys that work on the principle of live steam.

These live steam locomotives are popularly used for heritage railway purposes in museums, entertainment, or recreational purposes. Using the term live steam locomotives clearly distinguishes from models and replicas, drawing power from an electrical source while made to look like steam-powered machinery.

What is not included under the umbrella of this term are any revenue-generating machines working on live steam, such as mainline, narrow-gauge steam locomotives, steamships, or the steam turbines aiding in generating electrical power worldwide.

Live Steam Model Railroads

Yes, the large-scale live steam model railroad is a huge thing and is also ridable! Building or purchasing garden or backyard railroads is one of the most popular aspects of this hobby. However, building a live steam locomotive is not easy – it is extremely time consuming and requires heaps of consistent motivation. Purchasing a model of live steam railroads is quite expensive. Nevertheless, numerous enthusiastic people build or purchase such projects that are half done.

The best solution is to get your hands on the garden railways. These are small-scaled live steam railroads that can neither be ridden nor pull anything. Owning a live steam model garden railway set lets you experience the operational details of your locomotive without breaking the bank.

Live Steam as a Hobby

Live Steam as a Hobby

This hobby is very popular around the world, especially in the UK, US, and Australia. Countless clubs and associations help practice this hobby and keep people entertained. Walt Disney was famous for having a live steam railroad at his house in California. It ran around the perimeter of his house and was known as Carolwood Pacific Railroad. It inspired him to create the same replica around the amusement park he was working on.

One of the notable large-scale live steam railroads include:

Track Gauge and Scaling


Mostly, a live steam model railroad is built as a replica of the original. It is hand-crafted and is usually discussed in terms of the number of inches of scale per foot. Track gauging is another important concept in live steam locomotives. This term refers to the distance between the rails. Though there is no limitation in building large-scale live steam locomotive models for smaller track gauges, large-scale models can be constructed for a narrow-gauge railroad.

The Mechanism behind the Live Steam Principle

The principle behind live steam’s impressive power is based on the heat produced when the water is boiled. Heat escaping from the boiling water is in the form of a vapor that we cannot see from our naked eye. Water expands and increases in volume during this process as it turns into steam. All this steam in the boiler creates an immense amount of pressure – hence, known as steam under pressure. This powerful steam then keeps on expanding as the water keeps on boiling and thus pushes the pistons responsible for moving the wheels.

Fuels for Live Steam Locomotives

  • Butane (good for the environment but expensive)
  • Coal
  • Oil (usually suitable for large-scale ridable trains)

Some Common Myths about Using Live Steam Model Railroads

Live Steamers are Expensive

If you consider the live steamers alone, then yes, the models can be expensive. However, compared to the electrically powered ones, a beginner’s live steam locomotive can be bought for under $500. The price, of course, rises if you go for large-scale or more complicated ones. These live steam model railroads cannot be cheaper because they are made entirely from metal, with extreme precision.

They are Difficult to Operate

At first, they might be difficult to operate as it is quite a skill to manage the train’s speed and direction while the live steam is pushing it hard. However, it gets easier with time, and you get more practiced once you have successfully controlled the fire.

Special Equipment Is Needed To Operate Live Steam Locomotives

Mostly, all the tools and equipment required to operate your live steamer are included in any typical modeler’s toolbox. Usually, any specialized equipment or tool necessary to operate the model train comes with the live steam model railroads.

Live Steam Locomotives Are Not Safe

These models or replicas of the original live steam locomotives are built by keeping every aspect of safety in mind. Manufacturers take the safety of their consumers very seriously as they run on fire by butane or alcohol as the main fuel. One should never tamper with the locomotive’s safety features and always call for professional help if the locomotive presents with a glitch.

Is This Hobby For You?

If you have come to the end of this article, the chances are that you are interested in live steam model railroads. Even if you are not interested right now but considering to pick a hobby for the unprecedented days ahead, then this might be it for you. Owning and operating a live steam locomotive requires passion and motivation to learn something that takes you back to the old times.