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Model Narrow Gauge Railways & Railroads- An Introduction

Updated on June 15, 2011
Narrow Gauge, but less tracks doesn't  mean less fun -  David Lloyd-Jones 2010
Narrow Gauge, but less tracks doesn't mean less fun - David Lloyd-Jones 2010
Narrow gauge comes in all sort of sizes from the larger 3ft gauge -  David Lloyd-Jones 2010
Narrow gauge comes in all sort of sizes from the larger 3ft gauge - David Lloyd-Jones 2010

Narrower Tracks, Smaller Trains, But Big Fun

Narrow gauge by its definition - narrow gauge n. - a railway track that has a smaller gauge than the standard one. This covers any gauge below that magical 4'-8.1/2” down to 15" gauge, were we are really into the realms of miniature railways and model engineering boys. In between this broad perimeter, is a whole host of gauges such as large, almost standard gauge sized, 3'-6" gauge of the New Zealand and South Africa railways.

While, both meter and 3' gauge can found all around the world in every continent. Here in the UK, smaller gauges such as the popular 1'-11" gauge of the Welsh slate quarry railways, Welsh Highland Railway and the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway predominate.

Not Toy Train Sets :

Many standard gauge railway enthusiasts tend to look down upon narrow gauge railway systems as just being one up from a toy train set, and do not really class them as proper railways at all. However, despite this, interest in narrow gauge railways is on the increase as a whole new generation of enthusiasts discover their charms and delights of going below standard.

'Rabbit Warren' Layouts :

This prejudice against narrow gauge also spills over into the model railway world, where in the past ‘rabbit warren’ toy train style layouts have given narrow gauge a rather tarnished image. Thankfully, today most narrow gauge layouts are proper scale models that do real justice to the lines they portray.

Why Model Narrow Gauge?

The big question has to be, why go to the trouble of modelling narrow gauge railways in the first place, when there are so many interesting standard gauge railways to be found all over the world. The answer is simple; narrow gauge railways make very attractive model railways because of their sharp curves, small stations and short trains are ideally suited to the classic model railway system where space is a premium.

Less is More :

In addition, unlike most standard gauge main line systems, it is possible to build most, if not all of an entire narrow gauge system in model form. A further advantage is that the spaced starved modeller can get far more narrow gauge in to an area than a standard gauge layout.

While narrow gauge is ideal for modelling in a limited space, it also can be used to get a much larger scale into the same area. For example; a 7mm to 1ft scale narrow gauge layout will roughly occupy the same area as a standard gauge 00/H0 layout.

Different Scale/ Gauge Combinations :

Unlike standard 00, HO & N gauge model railways, who are all simply based on the standard gauge of 4'-8.1/2”, narrow gauge railway modelling covers a multitude of various different scale/ gauge combinations. All of which can be very confusing indeed to any potential narrow gauge modeller.

To the smaller 2ft gauge lines -  David Lloyd-Jones 2010
To the smaller 2ft gauge lines - David Lloyd-Jones 2010
Right down to the tiny 19" gauge railways -  David Lloyd-Jones 2010
Right down to the tiny 19" gauge railways - David Lloyd-Jones 2010

Narrow Gauge Modelling Terminology :

There are several different types of terminology currently in use to describe narrow gauge scale and gauge ratios, which makes it all very confusing for the newcomer to the world of narrow gauge modelling.

Obviously, as with all branches of railway modelling, the newcomer and raw beginner are best advised to stick to the commercial supported scale/gauges such as British 009, O 16.5 and SM32, as heading off down the scratchbuilding line can be a recipe for disaster.

Scratchbuilding : Experienced Modellers Only

I would really only advise, the most experienced modellers to tackle any major scratchbuilding exercises. As difficult, long term modelling projects can quickly lose their appeal. The initial enthusiasm can very soon wane, as scatchbuilding is a long and laborious process indeed.

Most modellers have the odd project or two that has been consigned either to the back of the cupboard or even the dustbin as a the result of a project losing it's way. I have stick my hand up and admit that I have several such modelling projects permanently on the pending shelf, just gathering dust.

Unless you get a real buzz out of producing something unique, and you have the confidence that you are going to complete it, again, I would seriously consider sticking to these commercial supported scale/gauges to guarantee a successful venture into the world of modelling narrow gauge modelling. The beauty of these scale/gauges is a lot of the narrow gauge prototypes are available as either a kit or in ready to run form.

Freelance Modelling : Narrow Gauge Style

Another popular form of narrow gauge modelling is 'freelance' modelling where the builder creates his or her own ' might have been' fictional railway using their favourite locomotives and rolling stock, which many find a very satisfying branch of the hobby.

© David Lloyd-Jones 2010

Popular Narrow Gauge Scale/Gauge Combinations

Nm - N scale models running on 6.5mm gauge track - Meter gauge prototypes.

OOn3TT scale models running on 9mm gauge track - 3ft gauge prototypes.

OO9OO scale models (1:76) running on 9mm gauge track - 2ft gauge prototypes.

HOmHO scale models (1:87) running on 12mm gauge track - Meter gauge prototypes.

On16.5O scale models (1:43) running on 16.5mm gauge track - 2ft gauge prototypes.

OmO scale models (1:45) running on 22.2mm gauge track - Meter gauge prototypes.

G1:22.5 scale models running on 45mm gauge track- Meter gauge prototypes in the garden. For Isle of Man, Irish and American prototypes a scale of 1:20.3 is used to represent 3' gauge.


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    • peanutroaster profile image

      peanutroaster 6 years ago from New England

      Great hub. You might like my WW&F Railways hub.

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 6 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      I love railways, I used to live next to the BlueBell Railway near Horsted Keynes in Sussex. I have a wonderful old Marklin set sadly in a box due to current lack of space. I bought it in New zealand and it now resides in the USA. It has a delightful model village including Street lamps that light up. Much joy!!!