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How To Select The Best Train Scale For Your Model Railway

Updated on May 10, 2015

Building a model railway is a popular hobby and has many takers. If you are one of these model train aficionados and wish to build yourself a model railway at home, you have come to the right place. First, you need to do your homework about the various types of train scales available. Then, you need to select the most suitable train scale for yourself based on your personal likes, capabilities and constraints. This article can help the beginner get a firm grounding on the basics of model railway and give them a flying start to launch their chosen hobby.

Five Most Popular Train Scales

  • HO Scale:

This scale is 1:87 which means it is 1/87th the size of a real train. So it is just right for most model railway buffs as it fits well on a small layout. Another reason for its popularity is you can find plenty of equipment, supplies and accessories for this scale.

  • N Scale (1:160):

This one is also popular and requires smaller space compared to the HO scale. It gives the opportunity to create an interesting landscape with plenty of scenery, around which the long trains can curve on the track.

  • O Scale (1:48):

This scale stands out for its impressively big locomotives which can dwarf the surrounding scenery. The 2-rail model operates on DC current.

  • O27 Scale:

This one is also a 1:48 scale, but differs from the O Scale as the trains make smaller curves (24" circle compared to the O scale's 31" circle). The rail is also a bit thinner and shorter compared to the O scale. The most famous maker is Lionel and almost all of these are 3-rail versions operating on AC current. A notable highlight is you get plenty of accessories like sawmills, circuses, etc.

  • G scale: (1:22.5)

Also known as garden scale, this one is ideal for those who like to do gardening and landscaping as it is perfectly suited for a garden layout. G scale is highly suitable for children because the train derails very rarely.

Other Favored Train Scales

S scale (1:64):

Baby boomers grew up on this scale and it has plenty of followers even today.

OO Scale (1:74):

This one is favored in Britain. Many manufacturers of this scale compromise on the gauge to ensure the locomotives can run also on the HO track.

Z Scale (1:220):

This scale will look great on your coffee table or executive desk. It is easy to transport too.

How to Select the Best Train Scale for Yourself

You need to consider a few factors that dictate which train scale is best for you. These factors include:

Your Age

The age of the modeler is a big determinant. Make sure the scale is not too big or small for your kid. If he/she is very young, a small, easy-to-operate model would suffice. Seniors would be more comfortable with the larger scales since the smaller ones could strain their vision and they are also likely to be less dexterous. Women usually prefer the smaller intricate scales, while men go for the larger ones.

Available Space

Bigger need not be better and your railway model can easily fit even in an efficiency apartment. If you do not have the space or the liking for a big layout, you can use a smaller scale with attractive features and accessories. Keep in mind that larger scales need more attention to detail which can make it harder to create a layout which looks realistic.

Financial Factor

Each scale has expensive and cheap models, so you have a wide range of choice. The overall cost also depends on the number of cars you want in your train. The more number of cars the greater the expense.

Your Likes and Motives

What are you looking for in pursuing this hobby? Do you wish to exercise your building and detailing skills? Or do you simply wish to buy a basic portable, ready-to-run model to satisfy your whim? If you want a complex system, you can go for a model with elaborate scenery, complicated switching operations, plenty of animated accessories and other bells and whistles.

The HO scale would be ideal for you as manufacturers have capitalized on the craze for this popular model by producing more rolling stock and accessories. It is also the right size for modelers to appreciate the running performance and detail as it is not too cramped.


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