What Are The Different Model Train Scales?

Thinking about building a model railroad? It is a pastime that has grown in popularity, especially during the pandemic, and has had dedicated fans ever since it was first introduced as a hobby. Model train building, also known as railroad modelling, was initially used to assess the practicality of soon-to-be built trains. However, nowadays it has evolved into a hobbyist's paradise.

Model trains are scaled-down versions of trains and the tracks they run on. They have a functioning railroad and, other than its size, are exactly what you'd expect from an actual one. Some models even include fun little details such as landscapes and signalling devices, which add to the realism of the scale models. For those who are just getting started, the fact that it comes in a variety of sizes and scales can be confusing. But don't worry, this blog will cover all you need to know about model train scales and sizes. Let's get right into it!


  1. Model train scales and sizes explained
  2. Most common model train scales
  3. Difference between the scale and gauge

Model Train Scales & Sizes Explained

Model trains, much like other models, come in a variety of scales and sizes. Each has their own charm, so all that is left is to pick which size and kind of model train you prefer best. Here is our take on the different model train scales and sizes. Plus, each scale's advantages and disadvantages help you decide which scale is for you!

What Are The Most Common Model Train Scales?

1. Z scale – 1:1220

Although there are smaller scales, the Z scale is generally regarded as the smallest scale that is widely available on the market. The Z scale is 220 times smaller than its life-sized equivalent because of its 1:220 scale. While attempts have been made to commercialise on a smaller scale, none has been as successful or as well-liked as this one. Its track voltage is typically 10 V and it is typically displayed inside everyday objects to emphasise its small size.

  • Can fit into most small spaces (e.g. briefcases, chests, and small boxes)
  • Can fit a scene in without seeming crowded
  • Can model longer trains.
  • Parts can easily be lost due to their small size
  • It requires constant maintenance as small parts can be ruined by dust and minuscule debris
  • Unfit for people with dexterity issues and/or poor eyesight
  • A small selection of accessories and models

2. N scale – 1:160

The N scale is one of the most popular model train scales available to date, second only to the HO scale, and is roughly half its size. Because it is smaller than HO scale models, it makes it harder to accessorise to scale. However, its advantage is that it takes up less room to build a full layout. Its track voltage operates at a maximum of 12V and is powered by DC motors. N scale is 1:160 scale, which makes it 160 times smaller than its life-sized equivalent, although in some countries, like Japan, some scale models are up to 1:150.

  • Can incorporate more details
  • Can model longer trains as it consumes less space
  • Ideal for building a realistic scenery-to-train ratio
  • Parts are delicate and easy to lose
  • High maintenance
  • Modification options are limited
  • Unsuitable for people with dexterity and vision problems.

Check out our full collection of N Locomotives here.

3. HO scale – 1:87

HO is the most common model train scale in the world and is by far the most popular model train scale in the United States and Canada. HO trains have a 1:87 ratio to the original train and use DC motors, typically operating at a voltage of 12V-18V. HO scale modellers often have the widest number of models available for rolling stock, locomotives, and buildings and have a better assortment of models and accessories to pick from.

  • It offers a large selection of accessories and models
  • Parts are easily procured and widely available
  • Customizable
  • Detailed and easy to work with
  • Unsuitable for small spaces

Check out our full collection of HO Locomotives here.

4. S scale – 1:64

S-scale model trains are few in number. The selection of models and accessories available at this scale is limited. At a 1:64 ratio, it is 64 times smaller than a life-sized train and roughly half the size of a G-scale model. Both DC and AC motors can power it.

  • Modifiable
  • Complex details can be easily observed
  • Limited selection of parts and models
  • Unfit for small spaces

5. O scale – 1:48

O scale is one of the most popular commercial model scales at present. It is at a ratio of 1:48 in contrast to its real-life counterpart and is one of the most common model train scales that are used today. Because their engines are big, O-scale model trains typically require 12V–20V to operate using DC motors.

  • Can be easily altered
  • Intricate details are highlighted and showcased
  • Parts are relatively easy to obtain


  • Space-consuming

6. G scale – 1:24 to 1:32

Model trains that are bigger than O scale can be referred to as G scale. This scale usually comes in 1:24 and 1:32 train-to-model ratios, although ratios differ slightly depending on where it is manufactured. The majority of G-scales contain automated components but are highly robust, making them suitable for outdoor spaces and even rough play. It is commonly powered by a DC motor and has a track voltage that ranges from 18V to 24V.

  • Durable and can be played with by children
  • Can be placed outdoors
  • Highly customizable


  • Needs a dedicated setup space
  • Costly

The Difference Between Scale and Gauge

Though often confused with one another, scale and gauge refer to two distinct concepts. In model train lingo, "scale" refers to the model’s size compared to the actual train, and "gauge" refers to the distance between the rails of its track.

Different types of gauges:

1. Standard Gauge

Standard gauges have a particular size, fit together flawlessly with the scale, and closely follow a pattern. Because it promotes uniformity among all train tracks, it is also frequently used on real train tracks and railways.

2. Narrow Gauge

Narrow gauges refer to larger train scales combined with a smaller gauge. This type enables even those with a smaller space to have more room to work with, customise, and design.

Shop here for all your model train building needs

In Conclusion

There are a variety of sizes available out there; ultimately, it is up to you to decide on which scale or gauge you like. We hope this guide has enlightened you about the different model train scales and sizes. If you want to learn more, feel free to browse through our blog posts.

At Hearns Hobbies, we offer a wide range of model railways from beginner models to high-quality models for experienced modellers. Find the best one for your needs and preferences here!

Did we miss anything? Let us know at hh@hearnshobbies.com.

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