Railroad Eras

Latest update: 3 November 2016


Trains and railroads have a rich history, with many revolutions and evolutions. At its broadest, we can define three major railroad eras for trains around the world.

  • Steam Era – A long history of steam powered locomotives.
  • Transition Era – A grey area covering the last days of steam locomotives in regular service, to the point where diesel locomotives took over.
  • Modern Era – Newer generation diesel locomotives, and most recently the electrification of many railroads worldwide.

You can go in a lot more detail. The European “MOROP” association for model railroads defines several so-called “NEM” standards for railroad eras of European railways. For example, the NEM “806 D” standard defines six major eras for the railroad history of Germany.

  • Era I 1835 – 1920
  • Era II 1920 – 1950
  • Era III 1949 – 1970
  • Era IV 1965 -1990
  • Era V 1990 – 2006
  • Era VI 2007 – present

The dividing line for eras is not always exactly sharp. Also, the features and characteristics of different eras can overlap in the prototype.

The American “National Model Railroad Association” (NMRA) does not define such detailed descriptions of railroad eras.

So when you buy a European style train from for example LGB, it may say “DB III” on the box. This means that particular item is modelled after the German “Deutsche Bundesbahn” railroad in the Era III time period. When buying an American style train, there probably won’t be a mention of an Era on the box at all.


Links & Downloads:

  • MOROP (external link)
  • NMRA (external link)