Getting Started with z Scale Model Trains

What is 1/220th the size of real life, and fun all over? The answer is, “The Z-scale Model Train.”

Commercially available since 1972, Z-scale model trains can do something that other models cannot: Connect space-deprived hobbyists with their dreams of laying tracks, building realistic mountain passes, running a rail yard… or an entire railroad! To start your journey into Z-scale, learn what attracts model train enthusiasts to the Z-scale, discover what owners are saying, and set your sights on a real Z-scale model.


Z-scale model trains are the smallest in the model train marketplace. The scale is 1:220 which means that the real-life train is 220 times larger than the size of the model. The attraction to Z-scale is quite simply due to the palm-sized pieces that can be used to build models into tiny spaces, or to create highly-detailed scenes with many tracks, trains, buildings, and other pieces into larger spaces.

While you might prefer to jump into planning your track, collecting beautiful pieces, and crafting true-to-life towns, scale is an early and critical decision because it will impact your overall design. (See Table 1 at article end.) For example, Large Scale will show rich details without special lighting, as well as force you to place “fixed stock” – – bridges, buildings, street signs, and trees – – too close together to fit a space. As the most common scale, HO has by far more accessories available than other scales, so if you want extensive fixed stock you may want to select this scale. And, though working with Z-scale is a rewarding miniature niche that produces impressive scenes in nearly any space, it requires good eyesight and nimble fingers to work with.


Since Marklin introduced Z-scale in the early 70s, it has been increasing steadily in popularity. As a result, many Z-scale magazines, community groups, weekly columns, and spotlights can be found pretty easily, imparting an incredible view of consumer Z-scale projects, successes, and challenges. Consider these discussions to be a crystal ball that shows you what your future with Z-scale could be like.

These reputable online resources will start you well on your way:

* Ztrack Magazine ( – – The Magazine for Z-Scale Model Railroading.
* Ztrains ( – – Z-Scale Model Railroading. See the Coffee Break!
* Marklin ( – – North American Home of Marklin.


After you’ve found the advantages and challenges of Z-scale to be appealing, consider investing the time to see a real model. Marklin co-hosts model showings during the middle of the year, often in California and somewhere in the Midwest. (To see this year’s schedule, visit Also, a railroad club may exist in your region that could connect you with someone willing to show you his/her Z-scale model train. Another option is to join the YAHOO! Group “Z-Bend_Track” to spend more time learning from the group’s discussions, and eventually connect with a real-life Z-scale model.

If your wallet is holding extra cash, consider buying a starter kit either online or offline, from a respected model train merchant such as Marklin or Micro-Trains who will give you locomotives that are not “beginner quality.” Great starter kit options exist, offering terrific value and removing the initial guesswork. The Marklin starter set gives you a locomotive, track, rolling stock, and a power pack. Expect to pay anywhere from $500 to $1200 for your starter set, depending on what you want to accomplish with it.

* * *

The world’s smallest model railroad might be for you. But it may not be for you as well. The tiny size necessitates ample patience (and good eyesight) to feed wires through small tracks. Until the ray that was used in “Honey, I Shrunk The Kids” is available for widespread use, limits in the availability of fixed stock can disappoint. You also will be cleaning more, since small amounts of dust and dirt considerably affect the minute detail of Z-scale train cars and accessories. However, if you tally these difficulties and see a rewarding challenge, Z-scale model trains may present a unique opportunity. In a mere few weeks, with little dedicated space in your home, you can become a railroad engineer, community planner, and treasure collector.

Table 1: List of Model Train Scales
1:12 | Large Scale
1:20 | G-Scale
1:32 | I-Scale
1:48 | O-Scale
1:64 | S-Scale
1:87 | HO-Scale
1:120 | TT-Scale
1:160 | N-Scale
1:220 | Z-Scale