Photo by Thomas’s Pics on Flickr.

Did you enjoy playing with trainsets as a kid? Were you excited when you rode a train for the first time?

This week, our own David Alpert looked to us to see what he could get for his young nephew who’s a budding railfan.

My young nephew, who lives in suburbia, visited DC recently and loved the Metro. He was fascinated by the map and said he wanted to ride one of he lines from one end to the other. I thought that sounded like a budding railfan, and want to encourage him.

His birthday is coming up. What could I get him? There’s the book “Transit Maps of the World.” What other ideas are there?

If you’re looking for toys and gifts, Ashley Robbins has a few great suggestions:

Melissa and Doug, a specialty store with a variety of products for children of all ages, make some great passenger train and light rail toys, and the Del Ray variety store in Alexandria normally carries them.

For a younger child, you could get the Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood Trolley figure. And don’t forget about the collection of Dinosaur Train toys as well as the usual Thomas the Tank Engine, Chuggington, and Lego toys, although they are on the expensive side.

Locomotive by Brian Floca is a Caldecott winning book that our 3-year old loves,” says Jacques Arsenault. “But is probably good up until about age seven or eight.” Another book option is Steam Train, Dream Train.

Emulating real life train systems

Julie Lawson says her young son is all about the real stuff:

Metro sells a branded version of the Melissa & Doug construction worker costume so you can be a track maintenance tech. He loves that. He also likes collecting free maps from the racks at stations and tourist sites and studying them. Even a package of those would blow his mind.

Many regional transit agencies have gift stores where you can find plenty of transit merchandise such as maps, toy train cars, and other memorabilia. Metro’s own gift store sells current system maps as well as area maps for each Metro station that are also framed. Philadelphia and Chicago’s gift stores also sell an array of collections, posters, and prints. A personal favorite of mine is the New York Transit Museum Store, which has an amazing selection of items for budding railfans and veterans alike if you’re a fan of the New York City subway.

Museums and rides let kids experience trains

“Simply taking a child on a train will do wonders,” says Canaan Merchant. “We’ve obviously got Metro and commuter rail, but maybe take him on a trip on Amtrak, or go out to Cumberland, Maryland to ride the Western Maryland scenic railroad.”

Matt Johnson offers a host of options that he remembers from his days as, in his words, a “baby ferroequinologist:”

Locally, railroad museums include the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum at the Mount Clare Shops west of Downtown Baltimore and the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania in Strasburg. At Strasburg, the museum offers daily excursions. For transit, the National Capital Trolley Museum in Colesville and the Baltimore Streetcar Museum also offer exhibits and rides. The Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington (near Pittsburgh) is also an excellent facility, and offers rides on a rebuilt section of the Washington and Pittsburgh interurban.

For excursions, the Western Maryland has trips between Cumberland and Frostburg. The Cass Scenic Railroad in West Virginia (across the mountain from Staunton) can also be a fun trip. For watching trains, there’s a viewing platform alongside the Northeast Corridor in Old Bowie. A bit further afield, near Altoona, an incline takes railfans to the midpoint of the Horseshoe Curve, where people can watch Norfolk Southern freight traffic on the busy 3-track main line (and the twice-daily Amtrak Pennsylvanian).

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Michael Lewis is a native of Montgomery County and currently lives in Olney. He has a BS in Community & Regional Planning from Temple University in Philadelphia. An avid rider of Metrobus and Metrorail, he was formerly a Professional Development Associate at the American Planning Association and an intern at the Housing Opportunities Commission of Montgomery County.