Which Scale is Right for You?

When you begin on designing your model railroad, the most important question you'll have to answer is which scale is right for you. Take our simple questioner to find out. Some of the terms tossed around in the hobby may seem intimidating, and words like scale and gauge are no exception, so let's define them and help you on your way.


Simply refers to the proportion of the model to the prototype.


Is the width of the track, measured between the railheads.


There are three main scales of model trains that you will have to choose from. Their main determining factors deal with the amount of space and the amount of money that you wish to spend in the pursuit of your hobby. The smaller the scale, the less costly the supplies and less expansive the amount of space needed to run your layout. Conversely, larger scales require more room and more money invested from you. The amount of detail and modeling work needed for each scale differs as well. Take a quick look at the following major scales:

HO Scale:

This is the most popular scale and is 1/87 proportion to the prototype. It requires a small area for a layout, using a sheet of plywood or even a bookshelf for some of the smaller layouts, and there are many products available for HO scale modellers. The track it runs on is 6.5mm gauge.

N Scale:

N scale is the second most popular scale and quite small, being 1/160 proportioned to the prototype. Smaller trains will mean less detail, but you can run a large layout in a smaller area than HO. The gauge on the track is 9mm.

O Scale:

“O” is the largest of the common model trains, with a proportion of 1/48 of the prototype. This requires a larger area than HO or N for a layout and the trains and accessories are more costly but also more detailed. O scale track is 1-1/4" gauge.


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