Model Train Scales

For a newcomer to model railways it can be difficult to know which model train scale is best to build a layout with. There are in excess of twenty different scales recognised by model railway enthusiast, and whilst there are some which are more popular than others, the likes of G, O, HO/OO, N and Z, these may not be appropriate for everyone.

Some of the largest scales are outside the scope for most modellers and include the likes of Grand Scale, Live Steam Scale and SE Scale, all of which are large enough for children and adults to ride upon. Grand Scale is normally 1:4 scale but can be even larger than this, and is the common scale that is used at amusement parks around the world. Live Steam is more common and make up the majority of outdoor rides, although as a term encompasses 1:12, 1:16 and 1:24 scales. As previously mentioned these scales are too large for most modellers to create a railway model layout from.

The lower levels of Live Steam Scale though start to come into the range of size for modellers looking for a garden layout, and this is the area that G Scale concerns. The 1:22.5 G Scale, now known as Garden Scale or Gross (German for Large) Scale, is one dominated by the LGB firm and Marklin, and as previously mentioned is normally to be found outside. As a general rule the model locomotives manufactured in this scale are not as detailed as smaller scales, although the live steam element of many locomotives does add to their popularity. There are also other scales at a similar size, including Wide Gauge or Standard Gauge used by the toy manufacturer Lionel; 1/2inch scale; and 1 Gauge. 1 Gauge is indeed almost as popular as G Scale, with some high quality live steam locomotives being manufactured by Aster of Japan.

O Scale models are some of my favourite ones, going back to old Hornby trains from pre-war. In the UK O Scale models are manufactured to a scale of 1:43.5, slightly different from the German 1:45 and American 1:48. The tinplate models of Hornby, with clockwork motors have always fascinated me, although I have to admit that the size of the layouts is somewhat restrictive. Scale Seven (1:43.5) and Proto:48 (1:48) are also scale model railways in this size range, although there are exact representations including scale tracks.

Before getting onto the most popular scale model railways, it should be noted that in between HO/OO and O scale there is S Scale (1:64) and Z0 Scale (1:60). S Scale dates back to 1939 when the American Flyer products were produced by A.C. Gilbert. It is an increasingly popular scale, although there are still relative few modellers making layouts in this scale. Popularity though comes about by a number of model vehicle manufactures making vehicles in this scale.

The most popular scale for model railways though still remains HO scale, or one half of O Scale, at 1:87.1. HO scale is slightly different to the British 00 Scale (1:76.2) but can run on the same tracks; as a result you will often see items marketed as HO/OO scale. Popularity has meant that most of the well known model railway firms manufacture their goods in this scale. In the UK you will find Bachmann and Hornby supplying locomotives, carriages, rolling stock and accessories in this scale. A range of choice of course also helps to increase popularity as well. Many modellers also prefer to create layouts in this scale, as there are hundreds of plastic model kits manufactured in 1:72 scales helping to expand layouts without create problems in scale.

TT Scale also exists at 1:120, with 3mm Scale at 1:101.1, popular in Eastern Europe, the scale was designed so that it would fit onto a table top.

TT Scale has failed to have a huge impact on the world market though because of the presence of N Scale at roughly 1:148 scales. This scale is actually my favourite scale, and as a result I have built up a collection of Grafar, Graham Farish products. The size allows for plenty of detail on the model trains and accessories, but also allows for a layout to be produced in a much smaller space when compared to HO/OO. It should be noted though that Japan manufactures N Scale at 1:150 and North America at 1:160, although all models will run on the same track.

Slightly smaller than the N scale model trains, are Z scale trains and ZZ scale trains. Z scale equate to 1:220 scale reproductions although they are primarily made on continental Europe by firms like Marklin, although Micro of the USa also make some railway models in that scale. The Asian market has also a small niche for ZZ scale at 1:300.

At the smallest end of the scale is the relatively new T Scale at 1:450. Produced by the Japanese KK Eishindo Co. the scale works out so that there is only three millimetres between the rails of the track. Currently there are only limited ranges of locomotives and carriages available, mainly West Japan Railway and East Japan Railway Companies, but it is an increasingly popular scale in Japan at least. To my mind the scale is just too small to create a workable and realistic layout in, and with locomotives the size of my little finger it is just too intricate. The only positive I can think of is that this scale will work well with model ships of the same scale, although overlapping time periods may be difficult.

As you will have observed by some of the names given to some scales there is a lot of emphasis also put on “Gauge”, and you may think that scale and gauge are interchangeable. Scale is after all the relationship between the size of a model train and the original locomotive, and gauge is the distance between the model rails on the track. You may think that if something was to scale than the distance between wheels would also be to scale, this though is not always the case, and is something that should be thought of when buying model trains from a country outside of your own. It is possible to buy items at the same scale but have a different gauge meaning they will not run on your track. Of course a similar issue can also be caused when buy an n-scale model, or other scale model, from abroad, as one term can cover different scales. N-scale for example can be 1:148, 1:150 or 1:160 depending upon the nation of manufacture, and can cause problems if building a complete layout.

Choosing a scale to model in can be a difficult one, and most people find that is dependant upon the amount of space that can be devoted to it. A secondary consideration though must always be how much choice is available in the products in the scale chosen. Some people go for the out of the ordinary and scratch build models, most though like to go for the already manufactured models. No matter though a detailed layout can be built and hours of fun can be had.