Model railways
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Model Trains – Selecting the 'Right' Scale
by John Vanse

When building a model railway a critical decision to be made early is the scale to which the model is to be built and the track gauge. The chosen scale will make all the difference as to whether you have sufficient space to build the layout you desire.

Considering details of some of the different scales and what the advantages and disadvantages of these scales are is important for beginners who are starting their involvement with this great model train hobby and are not yet committed to one scale.

Originally four scales were used to build model railways. These were called one gauge, two gauge, three gauge, and four gauge. These scales was fairly large, required a lot of room for even the simplest of layouts and mostly used in the garden by model railway and live steam enthusiasts alike. These scales, in particular one gauge, are still used by the live steam enthusiasts but most model train enthusiasts now work in the smaller scales.

The next scale developed was smaller than one gauge and hence received the next number smaller than one which is zero. As a zero and the letter "O" look very much alike the scale soon became known as O gauge. This scale has become very popular again recently as people have rediscovered its benefits. O gauge is ideal for garden layouts as its size enables very robust models to be built. It is also a large enough to allow modelers to build models with a much greater level of detail than in the smaller scales.

The most popular scale today is HO (called OO in the United Kingdom). The name HO was used because the scale is Half that of O gauge. HO being only half the size of O gauge enables four times as much railway to be built in the same space (or three times as much for OO). Trains can have twice as many wagons or coaches as would be practical on an O gauge layout in the same space or if train lengths are left the same, more complex track work and a larger number of trains can be fitted in. There is an extensive array of ready-to-run stock available in HO/OO - more than in any other scale. This makes the construction of a layout where all of the rolling stock is off the shelf relatively easy.

The other popular scale today is N gauge. It is called N gauge because the track gauge is nine millimeters and N is the first letter of the word "nine" in many countries.

The advantage of N gauge is that because it is so small there is room to run long trains. A four coach passenger train in N gauge may be only slightly longer than an O gauge locomotive. Also with N gauge it is possible to fit in a reasonable amount of the surrounding countryside and still have enough space for the trains. With N gauge you can achieve the effect of full length trains running through open countryside without needing a huge space to house the layout.


The disadvantage of N gauge is that it is so small. Because of this it is very difficult to include many of the small details that can be included in the larger scales. With N gauge you should aim to develop the broad picture rather than the smaller details. There is a reasonable amount of ready to run stock available in N gauge, especially for those who model American. Kits and scratch building components are available although constructing models is more difficult because of the smaller size of the models.

Considering the advantages and disadvantages of each of the scales, it is fair to say that there is no one scale better overall than any other scale. The scale to which various model railways should be built depends entirely on the purpose that the model railway has, the amount of space that the builder has in which to build the layout, and the physical capabilities of the builder.

If you are not yet committed or want to change scales then stop to consider the advantages and disadvantages of the various scales. What is it that you want to achieve and which scale is the most suitable with which to achieve your objectives? Considering carefully all the factors in choosing the right scale before you start can make all the difference to your model train layout.

John Vanse who provides a number of sites with information for model train enthusiasts:

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railway modelling books

Find books about model railways

The Model Railway Design Manual by C.J. Freezer
"A comprehensive guide for all modellers .."

Ramsay's British Model Trains Catalogue Edited by Pat Hammond
"Whether an ardent collector, seeking precise detail to complete your collection, or an adult dreaming of his youth, there is surely something here for all tastes.."

Adventurous Model Railway Plans Alan Postlethwaite
"especially aimed at enthusiasts who are fortunate enough to live in houses with ample space for a model railway layout, or those who have large gardens.."

Railway Modelling by Norman Simmons
"Originally titled " How to go Railway Modelling", this book has everything the budding Railway Modeller could possibly need.."

Building a Model Railway: Designing a Layout by Barry Norman
"I can't recommend this book too highly - buy it!"

Building Simple Model Steam Engines by Tubal Cain
"The book is a good introduction for anyone wanting to build steam engines.."

Complete Book of Model Railway Electronics by Roger Amos
"A practical guide to all model Railway Electronics aspects.."

Tri-ang Railways: the Story of Rovex 1965-1971 by Pat Hammond
"the book remains excellent value - it is truly a work of enthusiasm and affection.."

Tri-ang Hornby: the Story of Rovex Vol 2: 1965-1971 by Pat Hammond
"The cover price looks expensive, but for 500+ pages, all with high quality artwork, you should consider this book a bargain..."

Hornby: The Official Illustrated History by Ian Harrison
"Highly illustrated with photographs of rare railway sets.."

The Model Railway Manual by C.J. Freezer
"Ideal for everyone from Beginners to enthusiastic experts.."

Baseboard Basics and Making Tracks by Trevor Booth
Planning, Baseboard Construction, Track-laying, Wiring (Railway Modelling)


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