?Model Train Scales

by Bill Murphy

If you have decided that you want to design and build a truly elaborate and intricate model train set, you will also need to work to determine just what scale size you would be most interested in building it to. There are some things to take into consideration before deciding what scale to use so that you can pick the one that best works with your needs and wishes.

First, a simple definition of scale for our purposes would the the reduced size relative to the original item being reproduced. The most common model railroad scale is HO (Don Imus’ favorite scale!) This is 1:87 in relation to the real thing. This scale is used by maybe 70% of model railroaders out there. Variations on this scale include Hon3 and Nn3, which are narrow gauge versions of the same size models. (narrow gauge meaning narrower space between the tracks.)

HO is popular very quite a few reasons. First off, its size lends it to most home layouts without being too tiny to work with. For space considerations and expandability HO serves well as just the perfect size for most model railroad enthusiasts as the bare minimum for a decent layout seems to be about 4′ X 8′. The size of HO model trains can operate well and show nicely. The HO scale also has by far the most available and ready to roll kits, parts and accessories of any scale.

Some other scales that are commonly used but a little less easy to find parts for are the G(1:24), O(1:48), N(1:160), and Z(1:220).

N scale, is the next logical step down in size from HO, being roughly half its size. Part of both the charm and difficulty of N scale trains and layouts relates to their size. While it’s undeniably cool to have a “tiny” layout and you can definitely cover more “ground” as far as having a representation of a large area in a small space, working with models and scenery this small takes a lot of patience and some darn fine motor skills. (Watchmakers leap to mind) This is due to the detail work on this particular scale.

Z scale model railroads are another third smaller than even the N scale, which means that people with bad eyesight, big hands, or other difficulties simply cannot work with this scale of model train. One distinct advantage of Z scale trains, however, is that they can be positioned in places that you would normally not expect to see a model train, such as a businessman’s office desk.

Even though they are no longer as popular as they once were, many model train enthusiasts still like O scale trains. These were designed to make realistic noises as they crossed the tracks.

Children’s toys were traditionally made in this size since they were large and easy to play with.

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