Which Model Train Scale Is Best?
A question I get constantly asked by people considering model trains as their new hobby is “Which model train scale (or gauge) is best?”
This is a great question, but, let’s clear up a common mistake model train beginners tend to make…
And that is to confuse scale and gauge. I’ll explain…
Scale is the proportion of your model to the real thing.
An example is a HO scale locomotive. This locomotive will be 1/87 the size of the real locomotive.
Gauge in model trains is the width between the inside running edge of the track as shown in the drawing.
So How Does Someone Considering Model Trains Decide Which Scale To Start With?
This comes down to 3 deciding factors –
- How much space you have available for your model train layout,.
- The physical size of model train equipment you prefer working with,
- And the accessories available for that model train scale…
Let me explain these 3 points in detail…
1. How Much Space Do You Have Available?
Building a model railroad layout in HO scale will be about 1/2 the size of a similar model train layout in O scale.
The turning radius’ in HO scale will be tighter, the structures will be smaller, the detail will be less important and it is easier to hide mistakes in a smaller scale like HO scale.
It can be very hard to create a realistic looking layout in a large scale.
HO scale has become very popular because it is a “middle-of-the-road” scale and easier to make look realistic.
A HO scale continuous loop model railroad will need a 3 feet 6 inch x 4 foot table, while a HO scale switching model railroad can be created on a 4 x 1 foot table.
A model train layout space of 6 feet x 4 feet would be enough to have an interesting HO scale layout with a continuous loop.
If you don’t have that much room available, then you should consider a N scale layout which can be built in less than 1/3 of the area required by a similar HO scale model train layout. .
2. Which Scale Do You Prefer Working With?
It can get very frustrating trying to work with a locomotive or car that you struggle to hold, or struggle to see the small fiddly pieces.
A big magnifying glass, bright lighting and tools to work with your trains can solve many of these problems, but often it’s easier to just model a bigger scale.
This hobby should be fun, so there is no need for frustration searching for the lost magnifier or your glasses…
Children will also find it easier operating and manipulating the bigger scales, from HO scale upwards.
Bigger scale rolling stock tends to be heavier and less likely to derail.
3. What Accessories Are Available For The Scale You Are Considering?
At this stage HO scale is the most popular model railroad scale. Because of this the manufacturers have responded and are constantly creating a huge amount of accessories and rolling stock for HO scale.
The popularity has come from HO scale being just the right size for most people to appreciate the detail, the amazingly good running performance and the price.
Check with your local hobby shop to see which scale they have the most accessories for. It is often easier to buy from your local hobby shop initially… or at least until you know exactly what you want.