Which Scale is Right for me?

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Which Scale is Right for You?

Perhaps one of the most perplexing aspects of model railroading for any newcomer is the variety of sizes or scales which models are available in. In this post, we’re going to look at the four main scales used by indoor model railroaders (there are more, we know, but for this post we’ll stick to the most popular) and consider which might be best for your needs. Are you looking to construct a simple continuous running loop? Perhaps your focus will be switching industries? Or do you aim to recreate the excitement of high speed mainline travel?

Z Scale (1:220)

The smallest popular scale is currently Z scale. With a limited following for much of its existence, Z scale is a relatively recent addition to the North American consumer scale list. It’s also one of the newest; introduced by Marklin for the European market in 1972. Thanks to new technology, Z scale trains are now available with similar levels of detail to their larger counterparts, and their popularity has greatly increased with the advent of these more realistic consumer models.

N Scale (1:160)

Introduced in 1962, N scale is one of the most popular scale sizes. Slightly larger than Z scale, N has been considered an attractive scale for much of its existence, owing to its ability to fit into almost any space without the past complexities of smaller scales. As a result, a vast range of both rolling stock and scenery items can be found, and many items produced for HO scale will frequently be released in N scale by the same manufacturer.

HO Scale (1:87)

HO scale is likely what most people will have in mind when you mention model railroading. Originally introduced as a smaller alternative to the larger established scales of the time, HO has been around since the early 1920s. Scaled halfway between N scale and O, modern HO scale models are known for their exquisite detail and functionality (although smaller scales are now achieving similar levels of realism and performance) and the range of available ready to run HO scale products is hard to match.

O Scale (1:48)

The largest of the popular indoor scales is O scale; one of the oldest scales still in mass production. O scale has its origins in the early 20th century when model trains were primarily being marketed as toys, and to an extent it still remains part of the toy market today. O ​gauge​ items are often the trains of choice when introducing young newcomers to the hobby, featuring durable construction for rough use and carpet running. Like in most other scales, high quality scale models can also be purchased, generally featuring an impressive range of details and animated functions.

Developing a plan of what kind of layout you want to build and matching it with the space you have available will be the most useful in deciding which scale is right for you. If you’re working with a spare bedroom or office, and you want to construct a realistic class one mainline, you might be better off with one of the smaller scales. These will allow the flexibility to essentially construct the layout of your dreams in most any space. On the other hand, if you’re looking at constructing a switching or short line operation but have an entire basement available, choosing a larger scale will be your best bet for effectively filling your space.

Whichever scale you choose, we’re confident that you’ll enjoy your journey into model railroading. After all, fun is what it’s all about!

Images in this post used under the CC BY 2.0 Creative Commons License are the property of their respective owners