Scale and Gauge

Scale is the size of the model in relation to the original. The most popular model railroad scale at the moment is HO – 1:87 . This is 1/87th of the original size. This scale is very popular with most 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.)

A few reasons HO is popular is that this size fits most home layouts without being too tiny to work with. For space considerations  HO serves well,  just the perfect size for most model railroad enthusiasts. A standard minimum layout seems to be about 4′ X 8′ for most enthusiasts. The size of HO model trains operates very well and show nicely. Some setups are real impressive. The HO scale has a wide variety and ready to roll kits with parts and many accessories.

Other common scales include:

  • HO – 1:87
  • N – 1:160
  •  O – 1:48
  • G – 1:24
  • Z – 1:220

There are more scales than these, but they are less common.

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 has the above applied in even more importance, as this scale of model train is another third smaller, thus providing even more challenges for those of us with either large hands, failing eyesight or any other physical issues. (This size is personally way too small for me) I will admit though, that this micro-size does lend itself to placement where you might not ordinarily see a model train. I saw one in someone’s office once that fit neatly around his desktop! You’re only limited by your imagination when it comes to placing a layout in Z scale!

O scale was once very popular, and still retains some of that original cachet. Many of us had and have Old Lionel engines pounding down the track, sounding very realistic as it passes over rial joints and switches. This was the size most popular as children’s toys, as they were big enough to be impressive and playable.

G scale has become more and more popular for garden model railroaders. This 1:48 size tends to be the best size in allowing for optimal operation outside as well as integrating well with existing and planned scenery. Plant management and the ease of keeping your layout’s landscaping under control are definite factors here, as you don’t want to spend ALL your time managing the scenery. This is a big reason why people choose the G scale, to be able to combine two passions, model railroads and gardening.

Gauge means the size of the gap between the tracks.  As mentioned above, scale is the size of the model in relation to the original, and gauge is the measurement between the two rails of track.