Model Train Scales: Everything You Need To know

New to the world of model trains? Or perhaps, you are planning to get additional train sets for your family? If yes, knowing the different types of model scales is essential before making your purchase. After all, these models don’t come cheap.

So, what are the types of model scales available, you ask? Well, they range from small to large sizes. Simply put, you can choose from the O scale, G scale, N scale, Z scale, and T scale. It all depends on the space you have around your home.

In this article, I will quickly take you through all you need to know about these models. You will also find out why these trains are relatively expensive.

A Brief History

You probably don’t know this, but the first model trains were actually not constructed to any specific scale or standard. This meant that you could not place trains built at that time on the same tracks as another. But in the early 1900s, different manufacturers started building their trains on common scales.

For instance, the O Scale was introduced around 1900. Then, HO Scale and S scale grew in popularity in the mid-1930s. However, the conformity to scales was not strongly adopted until the 1950s and 1960s. Around this time, G scale, N Scale, and Z model train scales were introduced.

What Are the Model Train Scales?

The scales are simply the size of the model train when you compare it to a real train. And these scales are represented in the form of a ratio. For instance, your train may use a scale of 1:48. In this case, you can say that your actual train will be 48 times bigger compared to your model counterpart.

What Are the Different Model Train Scales?

Model train scales come in a handful of sizes ranging from small to large. Below, I will walk you through the most popular scales. This way, you will have an idea of what each of them has to offer.

01. T Scale Trains

Made in Japan, this modern train scale was first introduced to the market in 2006 at the Tokyo Toy Show. And in 2007, it was released to the public. But today, the exclusive dealer of all T Scale trains, layouts, and accessories is the US-based VCSHobbies company.

With a 1:450 or 1:480 scale, I can confirm to you that this scale train is the smallest of them all. Besides, it boasts only 3mm or simply 0.118 inches track gauge, which is around half of the Z gauge.

02. Z Scale Trains

After T Scale trains, Z model train scales are the second smallest featuring a standard size of 1:220. As for their track gauge, it is only 6.5mm or 0.256-inches. This means you can build their layout in extremely tiny spaces.

However, even with their small size, these trains provide you with incredible details and fun. And having been introduced in 1972 by Marklin, you can tell that Z Scales have been on the market longer.

03. N Scale Trains

These model train scales were first launched in 1962 by the Arnold company of Nuremberg. Even so, as early as 1927, you could still find trains and accessories with similar scales.

Although not as small as T and Z scales, N scales model trains are also small in size. Their size ranges from 1:148 to 1:160 depending on the manufacturer, with 0.354 inches or 9m gauge. Therefore, you can easily fit them into tight spaces.

04. HO Scale Trains

This is by far the most popular scale you will come across in the U.S. and Canada. Using a 1:87 scale, this model offers a nice balance between N and O scales. And when it comes to the gauge, the tracks are built 0.650 inches apart.

Worth mentioning is that HO Scales were created immediately after the First world war. However, the scales only rose in popularity in the late 1950s in the U.S.

05. S Scale Trains

Started as early as 1896, this is one of the oldest model scales on the market. So, as an avid model train hobbyist, you will love their extra detailing, which is proportionate to actual trains.

In terms of size, the trains come at a 1:64 scale and run on a 0.885 inches track gauge. Therefore, you will find them best suited for indoor train sets put out on display.

06. O Scale Trains

These model train scales were officially introduced back in 1900 by Marklin. But before the start of World War II, their popularity declined because of the rise of smaller-sized scales.

Because you see, at 1:48 scale, these trains are pretty large in size. And when it comes to tracking gauge, the scale takes 1.25 inches of space. Therefore, you will need a lot of space if you want your O Scale train to look more realistic.

07. G Scale Trains

G Scale trains were first launched in 1968 by a German firm under the name LGB. Even so, you will not find them as popular, which explains why their accessories are limited. 

In terms of size, their scales range from 1:24 to 1:32, but they all run on a 1.75-inch gauge. So, you can bet they are pretty huge. Because of this, they are best suited for outdoor garden use.

Why Are Model Trains So Expensive?

Well, there are so many reasons why models are damn expensive. Some of the common ones include:

1. Hard to manufacture

Model trains are not easy to manufacture. Do you know why? Because for the models to operate reliably, they must be made with utmost precision.

2. Come ready to use

When buying a model train, you will get it fully decked out with sophisticated electronic control systems. This means you can use it right out of the box.

3. Extensive research

Before a model train is built, manufacturers will take many months to research how it will be designed. This means more money is spent to ensure you get a super accurate and reliable model.

4. Computerized models

Most of these trains are built with Digital Command Control (DCC) for enhanced control. This, therefore, makes them very expensive.

5. Tools and materials are expensive

Manufacturers must use special molds to ensure the models can withstand daily use. Unfortunately, these tools and materials are not cheap.

How to Test Model Train Without Track?

You just connect your wires directly to your model train, and you will get a reading.

Alternatively, you could use a 9 Volt battery to do the testing. This works if you have a single piece of track but an incomplete circuit. You just hold the battery across the wheels using the pickups, and the motor will turn.

Final Words

Even with the many model train scales available, no one size is right for everyone. So, you just can’t choose the first model you come across. For this reason, I suggest you learn about the different options currently available.

After that, you can determine whether you want a small scale like the T and Z models. Or large-size models like the O scale and G scale. That said, I suggest you also learn how to test your scales without using track rails.

This way, you can avoid buying a substandard train just because you could not test its functionality.

Thomas Church

Good day. I am Thomas Church. My friends like to call me the garden man because I love spending most of my time in my garden. I am a lawn and gardener enthusiast who pursued organic farming as a career. At I share my tested tools for gardening. In addition to these products, I also share guides and advice on every gardening point.

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