A Guide to Different Model Train Sizes

Model trains have their own unique appeal. Train enthusiasts can all agree that a well-made model train captures a small piece of reality, showcasing an engineering marvel in miniature, whether moving or motionless. But how can you sort through the various scales and types of model trains?

If you’re new to model trains, you might not realize that there are several different scales and gauges to consider. However, once you realize this, you’ll naturally begin to ponder which option is best for your requirements. 

Scale and gauge are used to categorize model and toy trains. The size of a miniature in comparison to its full-size original is referred to as “scale.” The spacing between the rails of the track is referred to as “gauge.”

HO, N, O, and G are some of the most popular model train scales. These letters, on the other hand, represent highly exact ratios that instruct modelers on what proportion to use to scale, or model, reality. Aside from model train sizes, you may also want to be guided by the most valuable model trains in the world which will provide ample information to optimize your model train options. 

Some of the Largest Train Models

G scale

In the 1960s, Lehmann Grosse Bahn introduced G scale trains. These sturdy toy trains are frequently used in outdoor garden railways, where enthusiasts mix their passion for trains with beautiful gardens and real scenic elements like ponds and waterfalls, thanks to their size and sturdiness. While the trains are entertaining to play with, even the simplest set-up takes up a lot of space. The variety of trains and accessories available is very limited, for your guidance in model train trail set-up and accessories, you check on the best investments for model train enthusiasts for a wider perspective on this venture. The G scale model trains vary in scale from 1:24 to 1:32 depending on the maker, but they all run on the same gauge track.

O scale

(1:48 proportion) O is the next most popular scale. The rails on the O gauge track measure 11/4″ apart. Toy (non-scale) and model trains both utilize this gauge. Lionel’s O scale trains have been manufactured for nearly a century and, during their heyday in the 1940s and 1950s, helped millions of children discover a lifelong hobby. These models are ideal for creating permanent tabletop patterns or even decorating around the Christmas tree. O Scale trains were initially produced by Lionel making them the oldest of the scales. Following WWI, the smaller O scale became the most popular scale for toy train producers in the United States. Many toy train systems use the three-rail track, which enables the creation of intricate track layouts without the use of expensive electrical equipment. Lionel, as well as a number of other manufacturers such as Atlas, MTH, and Williams, continue to produce O scale trains and accessories.

S scale

S scale is slightly smaller than the O scale (1:64 proportion). These locomotives and carriages, run on 7/8-inch-apart rails. Today’s S scale models, unlike their toy forebears, are as detailed as trains in other scales.

Between the first and second World Wars, smaller model trains became popular in the 1930s, by the American Flyer Trains (made by A.C. Gilbert Co.). These trains became popular because they ran on a two-rail track that looked more realistic than Lionel’s three-rail system. While many people collect vintage American Flyer trains, many manufacturers also produce new S scale trains. Although the selection of trains and accessories is limited, some hobbyists like the challenge of creating their own models from the ground up and improvising with pieces.

Some of the Smaller Train Models

HO scale

Models are made to be around half the size of O scale models thus the name “HO” has surpassed the larger sizes in popularity. HO scale track measures 16.5mm between the rails, and these trains are 1/87 the size of their real-world prototypes. Before becoming popular in the United States in the mid-1930s, it initially appeared in Europe. The smaller trains were less expensive and took up less space than their bigger O scale siblings, which were popular with people moving into small homes and apartments in the 1940s. HO model trains were popular after WWII as manufacturing methods improved, owing to their better detail and a wider selection of available accessories. On the HO scale, there are hundreds of producers offering trains in all price ranges.

N scale

The first N scale (1:160) model trains were created in Germany in 1962, but Aurora’s “Postage Stamp Trains” did not arrive in America until 1967. The term “N” stands for “nine,” referring to the 9mm gauge between the rails of the N scale track. While these early attempts were primitive by today’s standards, the small-scale models captured many hobbyists. The lower scale was soon adopted by anyone wishing to produce long main line railroad runs and expansive scenic landscapes without compromising room. N scale is now only second to HO size in popularity, with a vast range of trains and accessories available.

Z scale

Germany also invented the smallest practical model railroading scale. In 1972, Marklin released the first Z scale (1:220) model trains, which were given the letter Z because it was considered that no smaller trains could be made! These trains were initially dismissed as a novelty when they were transported to America. They developed their own specialized following as manufacturing techniques improved and the small mechanisms became more reliable. While there is a limited assortment of trains and accessories, several producers are dedicated to manufacturing modern American-style Z scale trains.

The Most Popular Model Train Scales

A pencil is used to demonstrate the scale of the Bachmann 2-6-6-2 N scale steam locomotive train model.

 The HO scale is 1:87. They have a gauge of.625 inch. Because of its small size, HO Scale has become one of the most popular scales for model trains. This is the ideal scale for hobbyists who want to build their own layouts in a limited amount of area. Many well-known manufacturers provide HO scale trains, giving you infinite design and theme options. People frequently request themes like the Polar Express and Thomas & Friends trains. For all your smaller model train needs, we now carry Athearn, Bachmann, Fox Valley Models, and several other HO Scale train manufacturers!

In summary, with model railroading’s continuous popularity, hundreds of large and small producers have contributed thousands of different trains and equipment in a variety of scales and price ranges. Modelers began to want trains that more closely resembled the actual thing as the production process became more advanced. Today’s model railroader may enjoy a wonderfully detailed model that is “ready to run” right out of the box, correct down to the last rivet, regardless of scale. We hope the information above aids you in selecting your next model train project.