Model Train Scale Explained

Model train scale can be somewhat confusing, and this can even be an issue for some experienced model railroaders. The confusion specifically relates to the difference between scale and gauge, and actually ends there, or so it should.

In the past there were those model railroaders who thought that the two terms were interchangeable, which in fact is not correct, and only make things more difficult for the new hobbyist. This confusion can be easily cleared up by simply reviewing the difference between the two terms.

Definitions for these terms are as follows:

Gauge: This is actually the measurement which is taken from the inside of a rail to the inside of the opposite rail. This is very important when matching a scale you may be working with to the train track you purchase.

Scale-This term relates to the scaled down size of the model you are working with as compared to the real life prototype. Scale is always represented in fractional form. For example a 1/87th scale is 87 times smaller than the real train.

Note: Before we look at the various type of scales there is another matter which should be discussed first, and it directly relates to selecting the scale which will work best for your layout.

For many model railroaders the space they have available will play an important role in the type of scale they choose to work with. Unfortunately many hobbyist simply do not have enough room to build a sizable layout, and can only choose to work with one of the smaller scales.

With that said, however, some of the more popular scales are in fact the most popular among modelers. In fact, you’ll discover that certain of the smaller scales offer an amazing availability of locomotives, rolling stock, and scenery products.

Having said this, it should be increasingly clear that in selecting the scale for your layout, you’ll have to invest some time in taking measurements for the area that you’ve selected, and also do some well thought out planning in advance before beginning the actual construction process of your layout.

As for the scales themselves the following is a list of the more popular among model railroading enthusiast:

1. We begin with the HO scale which is the most popular among model railroaders and the popularity of this scale is further confirmed officially by the NMRA. It is thought that as many as eighty percent of model railroaders choose to model in this scale.

However, there are some hobbyist who may argue with this claim to some degree. Their argument is based on the reasonable conclusion that the scale you work with may be simply a matter of personal preference, or it may also have to do with the space you have available in which to build your model train layout, or for that matter, the size of your budget can be a contributing factor as well.

An additional advantage in working with the HO scale is that there is exceptionally large selection of products for this scale ranging from scenery products, various types of accessories for your layout, locomotives, and of course, rolling stock.

It almost goes without saying that this alone certainly has an appeal for many hobbyist, and plays a role in selecting the HO scale. Another benefit worth mentioning is that it accommodate smaller spaces which solves what could be a troubling issue for many modelers. The HO scale is 1/87 in comparison to the real life prototype.

2. Closely following behind the HO scale in popularity is the N scale. If you think that you really don’t have enough room in your residence for a large model railroad, you should take a close look at this scale because it is the perfect solution to this problem.

Even if space is not at a premium for your railroad, you may still want to consider the N scale, because it will allow you to run trains with a many as one hundred cars. Moreover, the N scale lends itself to creating scenery on a scale for your layout which rivals its real life counterpart. The scale itself is 160 times smaller than the prototype which would be expressed as 1:160 or 1/160.

3. The next scale which appeals to many modelers for a variety of viable reasons is the S scale. There are those who consider the S scale somewhat exotic, but the scale has gained an increased level of popularity over the last twenty to thirty years. It is manufactured for both DC and AC power and uses two-rail track. The Scale is 1:64 which translates to about one inch for every foot.

4. G scale model trains hold their own special place in the hearts of model railroaders and rightfully so. It represents itself as one of the largest scales, and is most suitable for children because it offers easily handling.

With that said, however, this scale is not specifically limited to indoor layouts, and is just as well known for its use outdoors. The scale represents just one more way that this pastime can be enjoyed by both young and old. When set up as an outdoor railroad it is commonly referred to as garden railroading or garden railways.

Although it may be uniquely enjoyable to construct an outdoor model railroad, there are some drawbacks that come with this type of endeavor.

For example, the hobbyist will have to deal with climate changes which can effect their trains if they are not protected, and foliage can grow and tangle itself in the tracks.

You also have to consider protecting your railway from your household pets and other creatures whose environment you are now inhabiting. Never-the-less this is still a very popular scale. It’s size begins at l/22 and to make matters a little confusing the scale actually increases in size.

5. The next scale that appeals to many model railroaders is the O scale and is truly the largest of the scales. In part, this scale was developed because many manufactures realized that their sales were coming from the smaller scales. With this in mind they set about manufacturing this scale which has shifted to a high level of realism and detail and recent years. The scale for the more recent trains is 1:48.

6. Other scales which are worth considering, and each of these are also meant for modelers who have limited space or who are simply attracted to these scales includes the Z, and TT.



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