What are the Different Scales of Model Trains?

If you are currently looking for a hobby, building model trains may be one of the best hobbies that you should try. Building model trains is a very fulfilling and satisfying hobby that enables you to design and upgrade your model train sets to your liking.

Did you know that the person who possesses the largest personal collection of model trains is a U.S. native? Bernd Schumacher has a collection of 2,956 model trains. He began collecting model trains in 1992 and 2016. He won the world record for having the largest personal collection.

America’s love of hobbies has increased even in times COVID-19  pandemic, and if building model trains are your thing, then this article will be your guide in making the right choice. 

Moreover, before you engage yourself in this hobby and buy a model train set, you must first know about the different scales of model trains. Knowing model train scales would allow you to buy compatible accessories, replacement parts, and extra parts for your set once you are ready to upgrade or customize it. Here are the different scales of model trains that you should know about.

What are Model Train Scales?

steam locomotive model trains

Model train scales come in a handful of sizes. Scales are ratios or percentages used to measure models so that they are proportionate to their real-life counterparts.

HO, N, O, and G are some of the most well-liked model train scales. These letters, however, stand in for highly precise ratios that specify what fraction modelers should use to scale or represent reality.

Scales are essential to modelers for dimensional ease and the ability to create structures and even complex ones. They sometimes use scale rulers that have hash marks indicating how many feet or inches long an object is in the chosen scale. However, some modelers use non-standard, or non-commercial, scales to build their equipment based on their preferences or to better use commercially available materials.

Other Model Train Terminologies That You Should Know About

Understanding the different parts of a model train is the key to choosing the model train for your hobby. Here is what to consider:

Gauge:  The gauge of a model train refers to the size of the tracks on which it will run. On a scale from inches to feet, this is the measurement of the distance between the rails. 

DCC:  Digital Command and Control refers to how you control the trains and tools of your model. It can be through a computer, mobile device, or remote control.

Locomotive decoder: The locomotive decoder is a chip built into the model that converts the controller’s electric signals into instructions. This usually amounts to commands such as start, stop, speed up, and slow down. 

Accessory decoder: Like the locomotive decoder, the accessory decoder is a chip within your train’s layout that controls aspects. It can be things like railway switching, bridges, turntables, or lights.

Bus: The bus is a wire that connects the DCC to the various accessories and rails around your layout. 

Volt, Watt, Amp: Volts are used to measure the amount of electrical pressure flowing through the wires, and amps are used to measure electrical current. Hence, watts are the result of multiplying volts by amps. It will determine the electricity needed to run your model train system.

Solenoid: The solenoid is a chip in the models that converts an electrical charge into instructions for the decoders. 

Fiddle Yard: The fiddle yard is the name given to the part of the track hidden from view. 

Bogie: It is the name of the structure on which the carriages rest. It holds and attaches the axles and wheels to the undersides of every carriage. 

Double Heading: The double heading is adding two or more locomotives to the front of your rake. It gives trains greater strength and allows them to carry larger loads.

DMU and EMU: Diesel Multiple Unit and Electrical Multiple Unit are the terms given to the kinds of trains commonly found in cities. These trains consist of a series of carriages with cabs on either end. This setup allows the train to move in both directions. This way, they don’t need to be turned to return on their rails. 

Tank Engine: Tank engine trains run on steam engines. They usually have an additional storage hold that carries more water and fuel so that they can be refueled as it travels. The engine itself is also submerged in water to cool it during use.

Flange: The lips that run along the inner edges of the wheels are known as flanges. They allow the train to slot between the rails and stop the wheels from slipping free. 

Rake: A train can be made of many different types of carriages. A train with a cab, a coach, a locomotive, a cargo hold, and more carriages is known as a rake. 

Ballast: The ballast is a layer of crushed rock that the sleepers rest on. It works to bear the weight of trains as they travel and drain excess water from around the rails.

Aspect: The aspect of a railway is the series of signs and signals that create instructions for train drivers. 

Cutting: Trains do not travel up and down hills very well, so railways need to be cut into them to allow easy passage. When a hillside is cut away for this purpose, it is known as a cutting, and it serves many uses, such as reducing the amount of fuel used to run trains. 

Y Point: The train equivalent of a T-junction, a Y Point, is a junction for trains. A train track splits in two directions, forming a Y shape, hence the name. These are ideal for allowing one track to go in two opposing directions.

Viaduct: Trains occasionally need to be lifted from the ground. In cities or around hilly areas, train lines are designed to travel over open spaces, streets, or rivers. The structures on which the rails are carried over these things are known as viaducts. 

Buffer: At the end of each railway, you will find a crossbeam driven into the ground. Across these beams are two large, round disks attached to rods. These are known as buffers. They serve the dual purpose of marking the end of the line and helping a train stop and settle into place. 

Large Scales

large-scale model train

G scale is larger and more robust, these trains are great for outdoor displays, as well as large indoor spaces where space is more readily available, and you can include real elements such as plants or water features to make your display stand out. 

Ratios include 1:32; 1:29; 1:24; 1:22.5; 1:19; and 1:12. Amusement parks, zoos, and special enthusiast clubs also host ride-on trains that may be larger than these ratios. However, operators tend to measure those trains by the distance between the rails, such as 7.5 inches, 15 inches, two feet, and so on. 

O scale, at a 1:48 ratio, is another popular scale. It was one of the original model train scales and was used by historic manufacturers, such as Lionel, to produce large volumes of toy trains from the late 1800s to the present. These models are a great choice if you’re looking to build permanent tabletop layouts, or even for around the Christmas tree. Modelers with large spaces may use the O scale to create detailed and majestic scenes. These run on a three-rail track system, which gives you scope for more complex track layouts.

The S scale model trains, commonly referred to as American Flyers, are 1:64 and run on a .883-inch gauge. This size captured interest due to a realistic two-rail track system. The S Gauge trains are higher-end, with intricate detailing that is proportionate to real trains. 

Medium Scales

medium-scale model trains

HO is the most popular model train scale in the U.S. and Canada. “HO” stands for half O, as they are a smaller alternative to the O scale. The HO scale ratio is 1:87.1. HO scale modelers tend to have the widest variety of models available for rolling stock, locomotives, and buildings. 

The OO Scale models are built to the 1:76th scale. Its only difference with the HO scale comes down to size. For instance, if you were to push 87 HO scale modes together, the result would be the same size as the real deal. Same as through, if you were to cram 76 OO scale models together, the final form would be the same size as the actual train. OO remains the most popular scale for railway modeling in Great Britain due to the ready availability of ready-to-run stock and starter sets. 

Small Scales

small-scale model train

The N scale at a 1:160 ratio is roughly half the size of the HO scale. The “N” is short for nine, which refers to the 9mm gauge of the N scale rail tracks. Modelers tend to use the N scale to build complicated layouts without taking up a lot of space. Also, they can use large spaces, such as garages or basements, to create scenic N-scale empires using the size to create a life-like, but small scene.

The Z scale was first released in 1972 by Marklinand it is one of the smallest commercially available model railway scales at a ratio of 1:220. Z-scale trains can fit into the smallest areas since they are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Though fewer options are available, their quality, accurate designs, and precision mechanisms make for unique collector items.

The T Scale at a ratio of 1:450 or 1:480 is a model railway referred from” Three-millimeter gauge” or “Third of N Scale”. It is the smallest commercial model train in the world and was introduced at the Tokyo Toy Show in 2006 by KK Eishindo of Japan. 

Finally, with the continued popularity of model railroading, there is no right scale, all of them come with their own benefits. No matter what scale you choose, any model railroader may enjoy a wonderfully detailed model that is “ready to run” straight out of the box, correct down to the last rivet. Cheaper models enable the modeler to include as much detail as required. You might be surprised at how good-looking the most affordable models are today.