Railway Empire’s base game takes place in the United States from 1830 to 1930. As of 13 December 2019, there are several DLC packs players can buy to unlock additional regions, with new locomotives included. These include the Great Lakes region (southern Canada and northern US), Mexico, South America, Great Britain & Ireland, Germany, France, and northern Europe (Scandinavia). The player can build a large network of railway lines and buy various locomotives to serve cities and industries – growing cities in the process, and hire railway personnel for both train operations and office positions, all with individual bonuses and personality types. The game has several game modes like campaign mode, scenario mode, free mode and sandbox mode.
In the campaign mode, the player plays against different competitors. In the Scenario mode, these competitors are selectable and playable characters with specific gameplay bonuses.