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Itsy Bitsy Teeny Tiny Model Train Railroads - World's Smallest Working Model Railroads?

Updated on March 7, 2013

Size matters

How small can you go?
How small can you go?

Shrinking Model Trains

Isn't everyone fascinated by miniature worlds? Be it Fantastic Voyage, George Shrinks, Garden Gnomes, dollhouses or model trains there is some tiny world's that fascinate full sized humans. In the model train world there seems to be an ongoing contest to create the smallest layout possible. Of course space (and money) is always an issue with building a model layout. If we all had the space and money, we'd probably be building large backyard layouts that we could actually ride on. But reality is more and more people live in urban areas with less space for a model railroad.

The first really small commercially available "tiny" trains were N-scale. Even today this scale is the second most popular scale after HO. Modelers can fit a lot of track in small spaces using N-scale. The following N layouts show what you can do with this small scale.

N-Scale - 260x360mm

N Scale in a coffee table

Z Scale Layout in a Suitcase

Getting Smaller

These days, N is rather common place. N trains have been widely available from the 60s and they are very affordable since it is the second most popular scale in the hobby today. For something a bit more exotic, and of course smaller, we need to look at Z scale. Z gauge locomotives run with electric motors the size of a sugar cube and with a track gauge of 6.5 mm/0.256 in. You need steady hands to get the trains on the track and build Z scale scenery. Here is an example of what you can do with a Z layout and tight quarters.

ZZ Scale (former smallest commericially available train)

T compared to HO and N

Even smaller...

Even Z scale trains have been around long enough that they are not particularly that exotic anymore. Sure you won't see too many Z layouts at the model train show but there will always be a least one around. The tiny Z equipment is expensive but surprisingly there is a nice selection of equipment, track and accessories on the market.

For something even smaller and more exotic we have to turn to the next smallest commercially available and electrically running scale on the market - ZZ Scale.

Of course the Japanese are obsessed with miniturizing things so it didn't take long before ZZ Scale became only the second smallest commercially available train with the introduction of T Gauge. T Gauge or scale has a gauge of 3 mm (0.118 in). It was introduced 2006 by KK Eishindo of Japan, and went on sale in 2007. It is presently the smallest commercial model train scale in the world. Its so small that G scale modelers can use it to create a ride on backyard train diorama.

T Gauge Layout on a Hat

Tiny Train Layout in a Book

Train in an Eyeglass Case

Let's go smaller still...

Until nanotechnology becomes better or we get bionic eyes or something there is a point at which miniaturization just becomes ridiculous. Do we really need a layout to keep the cockroaches entertained? Or what good is a layout that can't even be seen with the naked eye.

From a practical standpoint at some point you just can't build the electric motors tiny enough to power a tiny locomotive. The following super tiny trains are moved by wires running underneath the track. There is even a manufacturer of these tiny layouts called (what else?) "Tiny Trains" who will sell you a complete layout in an eye glass case.

Tiny Train with Sound in a Box

Now for trains so small its ridiculous

The title of world's smallest working train layout as far as I know goes to a creation by David K. Smith. He created a super, nearly microscopic tiny layout, The "White River and Northern Model Railroad". It was designed for a toy store window on his layout. David K. Smith has posted an excellent article about the building of this amazingly small layout (see the links section) and applied for a Guinness World Record for his achievement. He is still waiting to hear back from the folks at Guinness.

World's Smallest Model Railroad?

The Worlds Smallest Working Railroad

World's Smallest Functioning Railroad

Of course David K. Smith wasn't satisfied with his first super tiny layout and had to top it with a second even smaller layout, the "James River Branch". This one represents a Z scale model of a 2- by 4-foot N scale layout! So if you can follow the logic here, this means that on his Z scale model railroad layout he has a shop window and inside that window is a scale N scale layout. Mindboggling!

Copyright Edward M. Fielding


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    • glockr profile image

      glockr 5 years ago

      Wow. I wish my eyes still worked well enough to work with these small scales. These days HO is about the limit for me and I'm slowly moving into S Scale.

    • peanutroaster profile image

      peanutroaster 6 years ago from New England

      alocsin - please elaborate on your position.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      The world's smallest functioning layout is not really a functioning layout, but is still a lot of fun.

    • peanutroaster profile image

      peanutroaster 6 years ago from New England

      Wowza that's small!