I can’t say that trains have ever been a big hyper fixation for me, but I can say I’ve had some fun with quite a few train sims.
There’s something relaxing about getting everything loaded onto the rails and chugging along through the countryside. Seriously, trains see a lot more of the natural beauty of the world than anyone sees from a car window but don’t just take my word for it.
We’ve gathered some of the most realistic train simulators to give you a look inside the conductor car. So, get ready to make some cross-country trips, get the freight moving, and choo-choo right along into these games!
For any sort of transport sim experience, Transport Fever 2 is the best place to start. This game has more than trains, with everything from trucks to boats to airplanes featured alongside. Not only can you manage an entire railway empire, but your own worldwide transport business.
Take things from a street-level or birds-eye view by managing your transportation network. You’ll need everything to make it work though, and Transport Fever 2 will frequently have you switching up from land, air, and sea to get freight or passengers where they need on time. The graphics are beautiful for any vehicle, and the devs spent a lot of time on map design, especially in city routes for trucking.
By far, the most rewarding part of Transport Fever 2 is the campaign modes. Play through expansive historical campaigns in America, Europe, or Central Asia. Start by delivering mail on horseback before working into steam locomotives and ending with modern bullet trains!
Play On: PC, Xbox One/Series, PS4/5
I promise the learning curve in Railroads Online isn’t as scary as it seems. This is a much more classical/historical-based railway sim, focusing on narrow-gauge railways that were popular back in the golden age of steam engines. You’ll help history play out from the start as one of the first pioneers of the United States, building the first tracks.
Building and maintaining your tracks is just the start, and you’ll have to get a little creative for some of the rugged terrain. The driving is where the real challenge comes in, though, because these antique trains are made with 1:1 realism.
Everything needed to make cross-country or even state deliveries needs to be calculated exactly to make sure you don’t lose steam before hitting your destination.
For something called Railroads Online, it’s easy enough to play a private game by yourself or just have a small friend lobby. The community online is massive, with quite a few private competitive servers. Who would’ve thought there would be a competitive train sim?
Play On: PC
A newer entry that’s come in hot since releasing early 2023, Simrail might be the one to watch coming up. The entire game is still in early access but gives a dual focus on passenger and freight rail. Some of the best graphics in the genre and a dynamic weather system tie it all together for an authentic experience.
Freight shipping is the same as ever, and personally wasn’t where the fun of Simrail was for me. The passenger rail campaigns are fantastic, with the AI for riders surprisingly extensive.
You can even choose to play as the conductor or station manager, making sure it’s chugging smoothly back at base or running people where they need to be in the engine room.
That dynamic also gives Simrail the most fun because multiplayer cooperative modes let you coordinate with friends. You’ll need to have your times in sync though because derails and mishaps can happen at the slightest miscalculation. It really gives an appreciation for any railway workers.
Play On: PC
Ever wanted to become a monopoly over the early industrial era of the United States? Now you can with Railway Empire!
Start your capitalistic endeavors in 1830, bringing the Transcontinental Railroad to life. Railway Empire takes a more business-sim approach to the train game but bases everything around the real-life history of the steam locomotive and railway expansion.
Campaign mode will take you through the first one hundred years of American Railways, building your lines across the United States. Throughout, you’ll upgrade to real engine models, and then the most interesting part comes into play.
The game’s campaign takes real history into account with the United States Civil War, turning the simple train business sim briefly into a lite-war real-time strategy. It’s an unexpected twist, but probably some of the most tense fun I’ve had in any kind of sim game.
Multiplayer modes round it out, and again you won’t be seeing much action from the engine room from this one. That said, it gives a fantastic historical lens into the founding of the first railways in America. It’s a surprisingly in-depth lesson, and the Civil War elements are a different look at how things went.
Play On: PC, Xbox One/Series, PS4/PS5, Switch
All about the freedom of seeing the world from the train lines, Train Sim World 4 is the most expansive pure train sim there is. Hundreds of different models spanning steam, diesel, and electric trains are available, with four different lines to start the base game.
You could put hours into Train Sim World 4 and still have plenty to do. That said, you’ll want to go back and do quite a few trips on each line, especially to take in just how beautiful the graphics are. Whether you’re chugging through downtown Los Angeles or through the mountains, there’s a lot that’s easy to miss out the engine room windows.
Campaign modes and a livery designer round the game out pretty well, too, and your trains are ridiculously customizable.
Train Sim World 4 is the best entry point for anyone looking for a train sim from a purist standpoint. Adjustable difficulty makes the learning curve easier, helping you to ease into the realism of driving your first train.
Play On: PC, Xbox One/Series, PS4, PS5
While Train Sim World 4 is the beginning point, Derail Valley is where the hardcore train sim players go. This game takes a freight-only approach, putting you in charge of crossing massive swathes of nature with heavy cargo in all weather.
Which is where the challenge comes in. You have to take care of every little part of the train, from coupling, brake security, and safety procedures. If you put those off, especially in the career mode, you’re gonna have a really bad time.
Other sims will just deliver a message saying you’ve caused a massive environmental disaster through negligence. Derail Valley will let you experience that entire disaster in real time as your train derails and fire engulfs the entire land around you. How’s that for realism?
It sounds scary, but that’s what makes the game so damn fun! The sense of danger is more real, and you feel actual stakes getting your freight across the country safely. Not to mention the VR support, which is either relaxing or the most stressful thing on earth.
Play On: PC
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