Model Train Scale – A Simple Comparison

October 29, 2016 Off By Johnie Turber

Some of the most common questions among those who fancy model trains relate to model train scale. How do the various scales differ, and which ones are the most popular? Which one is the best model train scale for me?

The choice of model train scales can be confusing since there are several popular scales to choose from. Some train fanciers even mix scales in their setup, in fact. The relationship of a train’s actual size to the size of the model is called scale.

The most popular model train scales are listed below so you can understand the differences. I have shown the approximate actual size for one inch of model size, to help you visualize each scale’s proportion. The list begins with the biggest models and ranges to the smallest.

Model Train Scale Comparison

G Scale: LGB model trains and G scale model trains are the model trains that are the largest popular scale. G scale is often called garden scale because of the large size. They are fairly easy to run, and don’t derail easily. G scale does, however, take up a lot of space, and the paraphernalia can be pricey.

  • Scale: 1:22.5
  • Gauge: 1.75″
  • Model Size to Actual Size: 1 inch = 1 foot, 11 inches

O Scale: This is a popular style due to the large size and authenticity of the model. This scale is also easy to run, like the G Scale. But again, it can be expensive to buy the stock for O Scale.

  • Scale: 1:48
  • Gauge: 1.25″
  • Model Size to Actual Size: 1 inch = 4 feet

O27 or O30 Scale: These model trains enable a tighter radius on curves and are very much like O Scale trains. A circular track in O27 scale is 27″ across; an O Scale circular track is 31″ across. O27 scale is considered a specialized scale, and it’s often hard to find the paraphernalia.

  • Scale: 1:48
  • Gauge: 1.25″
  • Model Size to Actual Size: 1 inch = 4 feet

S Scale: This scale is gaining in popularity since it is larger than HO scale but only needs 10 percent more space than HO.

  • Scale: 1:64
  • Gauge: 0.875″
  • Model Size to Actual Size: 1 inch = 5 feet, 4 inches

HO Scale: This is the model train scale that has the highest popularity. HO Scale has the advantages of ease of locating paraphernalia, reasonable pricing, and a size that allows a nice layout on a standard plywood sheet measuring 4′ x 8′. If you like a realistic setup, HO accomplishes this very nicely.

  • Scale: 1:87
  • Gauge: 0.650″
  • Model Size to Actual Size: 1 inch = 7 feet, 4 inches

TT Scale: This model train scale is well-liked in Europe, but in the United States its fans are few.

  • Scale: 1:120
  • Gauge: 0.47″
  • Model Size to Actual Size: 1 inch = 10 feet

N Scale: This is a small scale, but permits a large setup even when the available space is small. For those who prioritize the setup and the scenery, N scale works really well. The paraphernalia is small, however, and can be difficult to manipulate. Because its popularity isn’t as universal as HO Scale, there are fewer equipment options with N Scale.

  • Scale: 1:160
  • Gauge: 0.353″
  • Model Size to Actual Size: 1 inch = 13 feet, 4 inches

Z Scale: If your space is very limited, Z Scale is a good choice. A large setup is possible in a limited space.

  • Scale: 1:220
  • Gauge: 0.257″
  • Model Size to Actual Size: 1 inch = 18 feet, 4 inches

Scale: Ratio of the actual size to the scale. The very common HO Scale, for example, is 1/87th of actual size, expressed as “1:87.” Gauge: Railroad track size, meaning the distance between the rails. The amount of space your setup needs will be directly related to the size of the gauge.

Which is your best model train scale choice? You need to consider your circumstances to decide. Hopefully this synopsis of model train scale has helped you to comprehend the options and to decide which scale best suits your wants, needs and budget.