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Model Railroading

A model railroader's first train often times starts them off on a lifetime of collecting trains, structures, people, scenery, and 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 the 'N').
  • 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 abbreviation HO).
  • 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 one foot.
  • G - a little more than 1/2" equals one foot. This large scale is generally used for outdoor displays, such as in gardens.

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