Are those model trains HO?

How To Tell The Difference Between Model Railroad Scale Sizes

A Model Train Help Article by Papa

What’s the difference between model railroading Scale, and Gauge? Scale is the ratio of the model dimensions to the real life size.  Gauge is the distance between the two outer rails. As an example of Gauge, O Gauge track is listed as 1.25 inches.

O Scale is 1:48.  This means 1 actual foot (12 actual inches) on the model train layout equals 48 scale feet.  Looking at it from the layout perspective, each ¼ inch on the layout represents 1 scale foot.

The above image is of an O Scale train next to an O Scale brick wall. If O Scale layouts seem too big for you, then consider HO, N or Z Scale.

HO Scale is 1:87, N Scale is 1:144, while Z Scale is 1:220.  These very popular scales allow you to build impressive layouts in smaller locations.  Where a Lionel O Scale diesel locomotive might be about 12 inches long, the same engine in HO Scale might only be about 8 inches long. An N Scale model train may be just 4 inches long, while a Z Scale engine could be as small as 2 inches!

Now, if you decide you want to go bigger with your model railroading, take a look at G Scale model trains.  Often called “garden” railroads, these systems are often built outdoors.  At a scale of 1:22.5, this means your engine might be 2 feet long!

But wait… there’s more.

Model railroading hobbyists are intensely individual. That’s why where are so many different scales for model railroading. And just because G, O, HO, N and Z are the most common scales, they aren’t the only ones. Another lesser known scale is S Scale at 1:64, just a little smaller that O Scale.  There is also the unofficial L Scale for trains made by LEGO at 1:38. And then there is Live Steam… I’ll leave a little video for you to check out some Live Steam model trains below.

As you learn about the different model railroading scales, make sure you look at the pros and cons of each size. Some scales are smaller, so they can fit in tight spaces. Other scales offer a wider variety of track, engine and accessories. Do your research so you can find the model railroading experience that’s right for you. Or, if you’re like me, and can’t decide which scale is the right one for you, get one of each!

Happy railroading!

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