A model railroader's first train often times
starts them off on a lifetime of collecting
trains, structures, people, scenery,
more -- all of the same "scale,"
so choose your first train wisely.
Scale refers to the degree of miniaturization.
For realism and compatibility, all but the
truly toy trains are designed to fit a particular
scale. Scale designations provide information
on the degree of miniaturization and the
'gauge' (or distance between the parallel
rails). As you might expect, there are dozens
of scales, some popular in particular regions
of the world, others that have long since
appeared and seen their demise.
Scale trains come in five popular scales:
- N - the smallest of the scale. N models are
produced to the scale of 2mm equals one foot
(making them about 1/160th scale). That is,
one inch in an N model setup is equal to
160 feet. The small scale allows for very
compact layouts, but because of the miniature
size, it is difficult to get truly detailed
models. Rails are spaced 9mm apart (hence
- HO - the most popular scale for model railroading.
In HO scale, 3.5mm equals one foot. This
works out to 1/87th scale. The distance between
rails is 16.5 millimeters, which corresponds
to the North American standard width of rails
of 4' 8.5 inches. This scale is one half
of the older "O" scale (hence the
- S - a not very popular scale where 3/16"
equals one foot. S scale has three subdivisions:
scale, narrow gauge (SN2 and SN3), and American
Flyer (wheel flanges and car couplers are
larger than scale).
- O - became popular in the 1940's but is not
found that often today. In O scale, 7mm equals
- G - a little more than 1/2" equals one
foot. This large scale is generally used
for outdoor displays, such as in gardens.