What are the different Model Train Scales?

Everything You Need to Know About Model Train Scales

There is a whole world out there for people that are into the world of model trains. To the casual observer, this is something that seems rather basic. To the person that has emerged themselves into this world, this a whole different world that is a lot more involved and complex than the average person might think. There are a lot of terminology as well as different scales that people will need to be aware of when they first start out in this world and will need to make sure that they know all there is to know about this world. The following is designed to help those that are new to this world to know some of the things that they need to in order to get started and find themselves seeing all of the joy that can come from them getting into the world of model trains.


Before we can get started with any serious discussions about the scales, we need to have a little understanding and clear up a bit of confusion that seems to happen a lot with model trains. There is a bit misunderstanding when it comes to the terms scale and gauge. We will sort this out for you and get you on the right track. The term scale refers to the size of the model train in relation to the actual item. This is a term you will hear in a lot of model hobbies regardless if it is trains, planes or cars. Gauge refers to the distance between the two rails of the track. This can be a bit confusing if you are not sure what gauge of track you need in relation to the scale of a train. One thing that a lot of people may not realize is that you can have several gauges within a single set of tracks.

History of Model Scales

There is no real history in regards to dates that were important to the evolution of the model trains. It is said that the first ones were less representing of the actual models and were just thrown together miniatures. As this progressed and model trains got a real following the first advancement was the development of the track gauge. Makers of model trains began to develop different gauges of tracks for trains to run along. As time progressed more and more bodies such as NMRA adopted these standards and this helped to make this a lot easier for those that were looking to get started in this hobby. As more and more people began to adopt these standards the world of model trains took off and there was also the consideration that had to be taken into account when it came to the accessories that many companies design. Now that we have got the simple basics out of the way, we can move on to the actual talk about the different scales.

What are the Different Scales?

There are a ton of different scales when it comes to the world of model train collecting. The ones we are going to focus on for the purposes of this article are HO, N, O, and G with a slight discussion about Z scale model trains. These are the ones that more than likely you will see in a person setup or the ones that you will want to make sure that you use for the purposes of your own setup.

HO Scale

HO is so popular for the fact that more and more people are using this for the fact that it is small enough to accessorize and yet is large enough that those that look at it can see the details that are included. This is one of the biggest types of model trains that will be used and as such it has the largest number of trains and accessories. After the HO scale, the next most popular type of scale is that of the N scale. We will talk more about this scale in the next section.

N Scale

N Scale trains are the second most popular type of scales around there is a reason why these are so popular as they will allow there to be an ever so slight difference between HO and N scale trains. The track is a little bit more narrow and so you have to be careful about the actual setup that you use to help and make sure that your train will be able to travel along the track with little to no trouble. One of the reasons why the track gauge is so vital is in order to make sure that the train will be able to easily travel along the track with no trouble. If the track is too wide, then the train will not travel as there will be no way for the train to connect with the track if it is too narrow, then the train will not be able to flow easily.

Z scale

Z scale is a great scale to use for people that have a smaller space to put a layout in. there are some drawbacks as this scale of a train is not that reliable with those that have large hands or problems with mobility as this is such a small scale that it can be hard to work with the trains and accessories without too much issue. It is best if possible you find a larger area where you can put a layout and make it easy for you to use your train layout.

Mixing Scales is Possible

It is possible that you can use two different scales on the same track as long as they are close to one another. If you are careful and know what you are doing, you can take two different trains and have them as part of the same system. The key is to get scales that are so close to one another that the difference is ever so slight. Many people that create a layout will have differences that are so slight that the naked eye can not generally pick them out. This is one of the most popular tricks that a lot of people will use to help and make their trains longer without having to spend a lot of money on buying different trains. This will not work if you are using an HO scale with a Z scale train as the difference is so big, that the trains will not generally meet up and you will have a serious issue.

The more that you know in advance, then the better that your odds will be that you will create something that is unique to you as well as create something that will be a conversation starter for those that come over to your house.

As you are able to see, there is more to this world than what you might have thought. Even the most basic of concepts such as scales are a lot more detailed than you thought. It is more than just taking a train and placing it on a track and watching it go around. There is a whole world to this that you need to be aware of and thinking about. The more that you know when you get started, then the better of an experience that you can have in the long run. The world of model trains is something that many people take very seriously and if you allow yourself to enjoy it, you can see that this is a world that has endless possibilities.