Rail transport has had a massive positive impact on long-distance transport of passengers and goods since the 18th century. We suppose you already know the joys of using a train or else you wouldn’t be here. But how would it feel to operate one? Or, perhaps, build railways that stretch for thousands of miles, through urban and rural scenery? To find out, you’d need training, education, and time, or, in the latter case, ties with a railway company or exorbitant financial backing. Luckily, most of the best train games for PC simulate the experience faithfully with no such requirements. Let’s dive into them.
Train Sim World 2 sits at the top of the “train games for PC” leaderboard. It’s tough to cover everything it offers, so we’ll begin with stunning graphics. They’re accompanied by realistic weather effects that, alongside terrain inclinations, affect the train’s physics, as if they weren’t true to life already. Additionally, the combination of HUD and multiple camera modes let you control the train while overseeing safety systems, brakes, speed, and acceleration, both from first and third-person perspectives. Finally, you can either start a campaign or free roam from any location in the in-game world.
Although it was an Early Access game upon release in late 2021, Train Life: A Railway Simulator only needed minor finishing touches. The only thing left unfinished was expanding the map and adding more vehicles, since it was limited to Germany and 4 locomotives. The physics of driving the train were top-notch from the get-go, however. They correctly respond to unforeseen events such as fallen objects, cars stuck at the crossing, and dangerous weather conditions. Lastly, while it’s officially a simulator with gorgeous graphics, it also fully qualifies as a railway company manager.
History and industrialization aficionados will thoroughly enjoy playing Railway Empire because it’s set during the railway boom in the 1830s in North America. Unfortunately, you won’t do a whole lot of driving. The focus is on starting a rail transport company and going through decades of work, including implementing 300+ technologies. You can also buy up to 40 distinct train models, invest in keeping railway stations in shape, and purchase headquarters, factories, and tourist attractions to multiply profits. Oh, we should add that 3 equally competent rivals are constantly snapping at your heels.
4. Train Fever
Train Fever begins in the year 1850, at which point it randomly generates the map for miles in all directions. This changes because everything around you, including technology, gradually advances to reach modern times. During that period in time, your goal is to be a successful railway tycoon. This includes taking care of infrastructure (including unrelated buildings on the way), vehicles maintenance and upgrade, and managing passengers and cargo to account for disasters or lack of sold tickets. To motivate you, developers also added experience points and achievement systems.
5. Mini Metro
Train Valley 2 is a single-player title that is diametrical opposite to train simulation games for PC graphics-wise – it’s limited to 2D and looks crude. This in no way diminishes its magic, and thousands of positive reviews prove it. Your goal is to plan, construct, and interconnect subways in a city that starts with 3 stations but seems to grow at an impossibly fast rate. This carries over to commuters, which remain in small groups while waiting but begin arriving faster and faster. Finally, you can use cities from the Steam Workshop, create yours, or utilize grids from 25+ real cities.
Train Valley 2, despite having a rudimentary low-polygon graphics style manages to attract gamers in droves. There’s a good reason: its 50 base game levels combine tycoon, time management, resource management, and puzzle games. As if that wasn’t enough, the star achievement system nudges you into replaying to boost your score. Besides collecting stars to unlock new skins, the perfect score (5 stars) lands your name and deeds on the public leaderboard for that level. If you ever get bored, which you won’t, there are also countless player-made levels in the Steam Workshop.
The first game in the franchise Trainz Railroad Simulator 2019 belongs to was released in 2001. Since then, players have gone through hundreds of patches, DLCs, item updates, and Service Packs, released almost monthly. Case in point, this game comes with one route but can be expanded to 6 routes via in-game downloads, turning into a World Edition. Moreover, players can purchase 3 regional map bundles: Europe, UK, and North America, and over 125 DLCs. When combined, Trainz Railroad Simulator 2019 World Edition encompasses 17,000+ items, 40 sessions (campaigns), over 130 locomotives, and much more.
Metro Simulator is a 3D game entirely focused on a subway network that stretches across multiple cities. You’ll take the role of a train driver, then either follow the storyline and finish tasks or play Free Mode and map out your route and pick your schedule. Speaking of trains, the in-game ones replicate modern trains to minute details, and so do the game’s physics. Additionally, the flow of passengers depends on the time of day, so expect plenty of bottlenecks at the doors while they enter or exit. We also love that you can switch to passenger perspective at any moment.
NOSTALGIC TRAIN is centered around taking a trip to a rural town in Japan named Natsugiri – Summer Fog. Although not explicitly mentioned, based on architecture and technology, the town is frozen in time in the 1960s. There’s an underlying mystery because you spawn at an old railway station with no memory of how you got there. To get to the bottom of it, you can drive a train, enter as a traveler, or explore the town you appeared in, whether by following the storyline or free-roaming. We wholeheartedly recommend you keep the volume high to savor the relaxing environmental sounds.
Train Simulator 2022 has a deceptive name, updated yearly after consistent upgrades to graphics and content to stay relevant. Case in point, between July 2009 (the release date) and late 2021, they released 640+ DLCs. They mastered the train simulation for over a decade, resulting in realistic perspectives of a driver, passenger, railway tycoon, and even an engineer. The game also comes with a wide array of resources: environment, infrastructure, and rail-bound vehicles. All of them are compatible with Train Simulator Editor, letting you create a world to your liking.
11. Metro Sim Hustle
We’re going back to the subway for a game with an outrageous concept. Simply put, parts of it aren’t for those below ages 18 or 21, depending on where they live. In Metro Sim Hustle, you’ll operate a high-speed train, but that part you knew. What you didn’t know is that besides friendly passengers, you risk picking up robbers and even terrorists. What’s more, to relieve the stress of daily work, you can do side missions that include fighting in underground arenas, breaching buildings, manufacturing and selling drugs, gambling, and more.
Being a wealthy railway company tycoon is unquestionably amazing but leaves you out of touch with subordinates that maintain your empire. Train Station Renovation changes all that. The game forces you to restore decrepit train stations to their former glory and beyond. You start in tiny villages and, as you go through 15 sections of the map, get to metropolitan areas that force you also whip trains into shape. There are multiple difficulty levels, completion percentage value, skill trees, and realistic economics so you must invest in cleaning equipment and decoration items wisely.
Railroad Tycoon 3 was released in October 2003. However, we’ll talk about a 2016 overhaul, considered one of the best low spec train games for PC. In it, you’ll be the tycoon in charge of laying infrastructure. Besides train tracks, you can also spawn buildings, bridges, and tunnels, and select which cargo out of 35 available ones makes the most financial sense transferring. Furthermore, there are 40 distinct locomotives to pair with the freight. Finally, you can play 25 campaigns or let loose and join online multiplayer, which is rare among train game titles.
RAILROADS Online! is a new game at the time of writing, but it’s clear it has a bright future ahead. For one, it’s unique: it’s perhaps one of the first open-world, 3D train MMO games, hence the title. The game is also available offline and primarily oriented toward tycoon and resource and time management, which isn’t new. However, it does so with high-resolution graphics, amazing attention to detail, and the presence of first-person driving comparable to train simulator games. That’s a killer combination.
15. Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride is a family-friendly board game and among rare strategy games for PC with a train. Its concept revolves around taking a trip around the world using a railway. Whether you play solo, with friends in a local multiplayer, or online, against players from across the globe, you’ll have the same objective. The goal is to reach the destination in the shortest time possible while following the rules to the tee. Unsurprisingly, other participants will try to stop you while also rushing to the finish line. Lastly, optional DLCs introduce new maps with unique rules.
16. My Train Arrives
If the gameplay for My Train Arrives looks chaotic, that’s because it is. Campaign Mode asks you to transfer cargo and passengers within a given time. As soon as you do, the number of travelers and freight increases. Survival Mode is all about designing a rail station system to ensure it operates without bottlenecks or lack of load or travelers. Evacuation Mode will make you feel an adrenaline rush, as you must quickly transport passengers and (optionally, for doubled payment) freight. The Relaxation Mode will calm you down because it lets you build the railway system without a timer or financial constraints.
17. Trainz Trouble
Finding a quality puzzle game is hard, but discovering train-oriented puzzle games for PC is nearly impossible. Trainz Trouble combines both elements to form gameplay built around solving puzzles in time to redirect trains by switching junctions or forcing them to come to a screeching halt. That only applies if you want to avoid collision with various obstacles. Otherwise, chaos ensues: you can crash into other trains, but also cars and animals. To paint a picture, although there are no explosions, the scenes resemble a typical Michael Bay movie.
Ever felt like looking outside of the train compartment window for hours on end? The real thing requires you to check the schedule, wait for the train to arrive, then pay for the ticket in both directions if you plan on coming back. Train Travel Simulator lets you do it virtually as the passenger train crosses the vast Russian landscape. In addition, you can scratch the social itch by wandering around the train cars. There are some fun personalities there, including musicians and soccer fans.
Paper Train Traffic is a 2D game that uses hand-drawn graphics, hence the ‘paper’ in the name. It tests your ability to deal with issues on the spot by letting you control railway networks worldwide. The task seems simple: direct the traffic to prevent delays, traffic halts, and crashes. However, there are 300 distinct levels you must beat. They progressively increase in difficulty, and getting ahead requires beating the previous one. Completing a level isn’t necessarily a way out either. Your problem-solving method gets graded with 1 to 3 stars, compelling you to see if you can do better.
Transport Fever 2 is a majestic sandbox (“Free Play”) and tycoon (“Campaign Mode”) game in many aspects, especially graphics and length of playtime. Why is it dead last on our list of top train games for PC, then? Well, because trains are a fraction of 200+ available modes of transporting people and cargo, especially cars, buses, trucks, airplanes, and ships. Still, if you aspire to be a magnate and wholly control the economy or design a modern world from the ground up, you’ll savor every moment you spend playing it.