Wooden railway sets are fantastic – there are so many different shaped track pieces, practically all the different brands are compatible with each other and there are accessories to fit every budget – from stations and engine sheds to shipping docks and cement works. Plus all the engines and rolling stock. The main brands are Brio, Thomas Wooden Railway, Plan City and Bigjigs. Brio is great for the serious train fan with a selection of famous trains and great quality sets. Thomas fans have all the Thomas trains to choose from with Thomas Wooden Railway, although I’m not as keen on the Thomas track as it doesn’t connect as well with other brands. Plan City is the most expensive but is beautiful. Bigjigs is the budget range but, comparing cost and quality, it’s also the best value for money.
As well as railway, Plan City has wooden roadway which adds to the play as you can then connect parking garages, petrol stations, airports… You don’t need roadway but the Plan City vehicles are so nice they deserve their own road 😉 There are more serious arguments for roadway: increasing the complexity of a rail/road system gives greater problem solving skills and the varied interest keeps them being played with. I had bought some Plan City roadway for MG and DG, so I was really pleased to see Bigjigs had bought out a range so there is more scope for expanding our existing pieces. I must have missed Brio’s roadway range being released, so I can only assume it’s fairly new too but I love that there is now roadway from three of the major wooden railway brands.
I’m not a huge fan of ‘sets’ when it comes to wooden railways. I feel that it’s nicer to be able to pick and choose pieces to build up the railway, which is why I haven’t mentioned any of the high street store brands when it comes to wooden railways. On the whole, they seem to offer a ‘small’ set and a ‘big’ set and nothing else. With Brio, Bigjigs, Plan City and Thomas Wooden Railway there are a huge selection of track pieces, rolling stock, buildings and accessories to slowly build up a unique and tailor-made set that suits your own children’s preferences (and your budget).
My favourite online toyshop, Play Merrily, very kindly sent me the Level Crossing Set to test for compatibility with Plan City roadway. Looking online, Bigjigs roadway looks like it has been designed to be most compatible with Brio roadway – both have white centre markings and slightly raised edges; whereas Plan City roadway has grey centre markings and slightly depressed edges.
Plan City compatibility (Bigjigs on right; Plan City on left):
The Bigjigs roadway is slightly wider than Plan City and there are the differences in colour marking and edge but otherwise they fit together well and the differences will make no difference to play value – besides, in the real world, roads do vary 😆
Review of the Bigjigs Level Crossing Set: I am so glad I was sent this set, I’d wanted to get MG and DG a level crossing for their train/road but the cost of the Plan City one had put it on hold (approx £12 + p&p) The Bigjigs level crossing has more play value because the gates not only stop the road traffic, they can be pushed ninety degrees to stop the trains instead. All this for under £5 (+ p&p). If you have no other roadway, it’s worth getting this version of the level crossing because it includes ramps so road play can move onto the carpet if prefered but then there’s the option to add roadway in the future (and it’s the same price as the railway level crossing).
I will definitely buy more Bigjigs roadway, in fact I plan to get the Zebra Crossing Set next. Not only does it look fun to add to the girls’ existing pieces but I can sneak some roadsense education in whilst they’re playing. Even without any other items of roadway this looks like a great set to talk through road crossing scenarios with small children.