Most Popular Model Train Scales

  • By: Richard
  • Date: March 12, 2023
  • Time to read: 13 min.

Model trains have been a beloved hobby for generations. They are miniature replicas of actual locomotives, capturing the essence of steam engines to modern diesel-electric trains. In recent years, model railroading has skyrocketed in popularity, and new scales are continually emerging.

As a scale modeler, I’ve seen firsthand the various types of model trains in different scales. In this post, I’ll examine the most popular ones and what sets them apart. Whether you’re a seasoned hobbyist or just starting out, this information will give you a better understanding of the diverse world of model trains.

What Is the Model Train Scale?

Model train scales are how railroad modelers measure how big a scale (or size) their model trains and track should be. The most common scales used in modeling are N, HO, OO/Gauge II, S Gauge, and Z Scale. To figure out what scale is right for you, it’s important to understand the basics of each different type!

Why Use Model Trains In The First Place?

Model trains are a great way to model old-timey railroads affordably and easily. They can be used for simple layouts or as complicated projects that span the length of your basement! Something is relaxing about building your own miniature world with figurines, scenery, tracks, and locomotives. It’s also therapeutic, dusting off all those tiny little pieces every once in a while (though I would recommend getting some help if you have more than 20 trains).

The best part is that it doesn’t really matter what scale you choose because there are so many different things to do with them! You could build a small section of track on top of one another – like making LEGO buildings – then add figures from various scales to make them even more realistic.

Popular Scales Of Model Trains And What They Are Used For

As a scale modeler, I know that the scale of model trains is an important factor in determining the level of detail and realism in your train set. There are six popular scales to consider: HO, OO, N, TTs/Nn, Z/Zn, and S. Out of these, HO is the most widely used.

HO Model Train Scales

The HO Scale is the most popular type of model train scale. It stands for Half O, half as big as a real locomotive or car in full size. The average length of an H0 railway track is approximately 18″, while the average length of a real train is approximately 48″.

The HO Scale is perfect for those who want to take their model trains on an “over the countryside” adventure. They can be used in dioramas or even set up like towns and cityscapes with buildings, people, cars, trees, etc. This scale size has become very popular because it offers more room than other scales while also being affordable, so you don’t need a big budget just to get started!

O Model Train Scales

The O Scale is the most popular type of model train scale. It stands for One Quarter, meaning one quarter as big as a real locomotive or car in full size. The average length of an O railway track is approximately 24″ while the average length of a real train is about 72″.

O Scale trains are often used to recreate scenes from old steam and diesel eras because they’re not too small (like HO) but also not too large, so it’s easier on your eyes when you look at them up close since there isn’t any detail lost!

N Scale Model Trains

I’m a big fan of N Scale trains. They’re the most popular type of model train scale and for good reason. N Scale stands for Nine-tenths, meaning that the models are nine-tenths as big as their full-sized counterparts. This makes them the perfect size for many modelers, providing just the right amount of detail without sacrificing the overall look of the model.

A typical N Scale railway track is about 36 inches long, while the average length of a real train is around 144 inches. Despite their smaller size, N Scale trains offer plenty of interest and detail. You can see everything that’s going on from all angles, making them a popular choice among modelers.

Z Scale Model Trains

I’m always on the lookout for the latest and greatest in the world of model trains. And one scale that’s been capturing my attention lately is Z scale. It’s the most popular type of model train scale and it stands for Zillionth, meaning zillionth as big as a real locomotive or car in full size. The average length of an Z scale railway track is approximately 72 inches, while the average length of a real train is about 288 inches.

But why has Z scale become so popular among scale modelers? There are a few key factors that have made this scale a favorite. First, it offers more detail than other scales. You can see tiny, intricate details on the locomotives and cars that you just can’t see on larger scales. Second, it doesn’t take up too much space. This is especially important for those of us who don’t have a dedicated room for our model trains, but still want to display our collections.

For example, I have a stunning Z scale model of a classic steam locomotive that’s just 2 inches long. Despite its small size, every detail has been captured perfectly, from the smokestack to the wheels. And because it’s so small, I can display it on a bookshelf in my office, where I can admire it every day.

G Scale Model Trains

G Scale, also known as the Grand Scale, is the most popular and sought-after type of model train scale among enthusiasts and hobbyists alike. As the name suggests, it is grand in size, offering a realistic representation of full-size locomotives and cars. On average, a G railway track measures approximately 120 inches, while its full-size counterpart measures approximately 480 inches.

For those who have always dreamed of creating their own railway empire, G Scale is the perfect scale to bring those childhood dreams to life. The average length of a G Scale locomotive is 18 inches, which means it takes up a considerable amount of space. But don’t let that discourage you! This larger size offers a world of possibilities, allowing you to create intricate landscapes, stunning scenic views, and captivating train journeys.

Scale Comparison

Scale Comparison

Scale Ratio to full size Track gauge (approximate)
G Scale 1:22.5 1.75″/45mm
O Scale 1:48 1.25″/31mm
HO Scale 1:87 .625″/16mm
N Scale 1:160 .375″/9mm
Z Scale 1:220 .25″/6mm

Ho Scale Trains Are The Perfect Size For Both Indoor And Outdoor Layouts

One of the most popular scales among model train enthusiasts is HO, which is “half-O.” It was introduced around 1949 by a German company called Marklin, and it means that every inch on the rail corresponds to one foot. The scale offers plenty of details, but not too many, as they are more suited for indoor layouts than outdoor ones due to their size (the track alone takes up lots of space). This makes them perfect for beginners who would like to preserve their investment since these trains can be kept inside your home if you want!

  • The first reason why this type of model railroad has become so popular is that there are tons of accessories available from different manufacturers worldwide. Hence, people have an easy time obtaining the perfect set for their needs. The most popular ones are from Marklin, Atlas, and Besco, which offer various bridges, buildings (including European models), cars, train sets with different gauges, and regional layouts to choose from!
  • The second reason is that the HO-scale model railroad has become more affordable over the years due to declining prices of raw goods like metal sheets and plastic parts plus cheaper manufacturing costs thanks to machines. This made them accessible even for people on limited budgets to enjoy these miniature worlds without breaking the bank!
  • A third aspect is that this railway system uses standard track widths instead of scale sizes, so you don’t have to buy new pieces when switching between manufacturers.
  • The fourth reason is that HO scale trains are compatible with other scales, so people can mix and match them for a more realistic feel. This makes it easier to create the perfect layout no matter how big or small your space is!
  • A fifth aspect, which many enthusiasts consider as one of the major benefits, is that this railway system uses standard track widths instead of scale sizes. Hence, it means you don’t have to buy new pieces when switching between manufacturers. And last but not least: these tiny models require very little maintenance because they do not need electric power since most (but not all) locomotives run on air pressure thanks to their integrated toolbox, which houses pneumatic tools like compressors and generators!

There Are Many Different Types Of Models To Choose From – Steam Engines, Diesel Locomotives, Passenger Cars, Freight Cars, And More

  1. Steam Engines: Steam engines are what most people think of when they hear the word ‘train.’ They make a more realistic sound than diesel locomotives. The downside to steam models is that their size and price tend to be bigger, making them less popular among HO scale enthusiasts. Some modelers will build kits for older trains like Big Boy or Union Pacific’s Challenger engine.
  2. Diesel Locomotive: Diesel locomotives use electricity as power instead of coal or oil. This means they can run on batteries and don’t need a track system with an overhead wire, so you can display your train in any setting without worrying about running out of power! There are many different types, from American Flyer to Union Pacific, and if you want something a little more realistic than the traditional train set – this is your best bet.
  3. Passenger Cars: Passenger cars are just that – they carry passengers! They make great additions to any model railroad layout where you need them for either freight or passenger service. HO scale trains can be costly, so sometimes it’s better to buy an inexpensive box car to save money on these models (or purchase them separately).
  4. Freight Cars: Freight cars have many different purposes depending on what type you’re looking for; some are used strictly as cargo, while others include livestock carriers, tankers, and lumbering cars. The most popular scales among those who build layouts with freight cars are N, HO, and O scales.
  5. Passenger Trains: Passenger trains are used to transport people daily. When it comes to model railroads, passenger models can be as simple or complex as you want them to be – they don’t have any moving parts, so the level of detail doesn’t matter! The most popular scales among builders with this type of train are G and Z (G being more common).

You can find more information about these types of scales in our article 6 Best Digital Command Control Systems.

Model Train Scales Can Range Anywhere Between 1/24th (The Smallest) To 1/87th (The Largest). The More Detail, The Better!

  • On the smallest scale, trains are as small as two inches long. The largest train of this size is made by Atlas and measures close to four feet! This makes it perfect for those who want a large model that takes up little space on shelves or tables. It’s also great for younger children because of its relatively low price point.
  • The next most popular scale is HO at about one foot in length, with an average piece costing around $36-$50. The detail here can be perfect but not quite life-like compared to what would come out of a regular-sized hobbyist’s basement workshop (N Scale). The other downside? Due to their smaller size, they are less visible from across the room.
  • N Scale trains measure around 18” and can cost anywhere between $25-$50 each, depending on the size of the locomotive or car you get. They are a great option for people who have lots of space to display their model train collection because they take up less physical space than HO scale pieces and offer more detail when compared with other scales in its class (HO). However, due to this level of detail, it is not as good an option if your goal is to keep things affordable!
  • G Scale trains tend to be about two feet long but come at prices ranging from $100-$400 per piece, so they will work better for those looking for something special instead of someone interested in getting into modeling.
  • Lastly, we have the largest scale of them all: the S Scale. These size trains are around four feet long and can cost anywhere from $100-$450 per piece! These larger models are perfect for those looking to recreate a realistic scene with lots of detail that will make any train lover drool. They take up plenty of space, so they’re best in an extra room or basement when not on display for guests but some enthusiasts like having one set aside as their private model railroad system just because it looks fantastic.

To help you decide on the perfect size for your collection, this comparison table will provide information on five different scales, including their lengths, prices, and the level of detail they offer.

Scale Size Average Price Detail Suitable for
1/24th (Smallest) 2 inches to 4 feet Relatively low Less detail Younger children, those who want a large model that takes up little space
HO 1 foot $36-$50 Perfect but not quite life-like People who want a detailed model but have limited display space
N Scale 18 inches $25-$50 More detail than HO People who have lots of display space
G Scale 2 feet $100-$400 High level of detail People looking for something special
S Scale 4 feet $100-$450 Very detailed People looking to recreate a realistic scene with lots of detail

Common Mistakes People Make When Choosing A Scale And Why It’s Important To Do Research Before Making A Purchase

One of the most important things to consider when choosing a scale is what you’ll be using it for. The larger scales are perfect if you’re looking for something more like an operating model railroad, while smaller ones can be used in dioramas or as tabletop models.

Those who plan on purchasing new trains will want to know which size wheel axles their cars require because this impacts how they run (most small and medium-sized scales use 11mm, whereas large-scale trains may have 16mm). If someone wants to operate their train outdoors, metal tracks need to be purchased instead of plastic tracks that won’t hold up well in inclement weather conditions. There also needs to be consideration about whether one would prefer overhead wire or not and where the train will be placed about power sources.

The most popular scales were O Scale, HO Scale, S Gauge, and G Gauge, all developed in the 20th century. Many collectors still consider these four as the best option for model trains due to their accuracy in replicating real-life railroad environments from one part of America or another.

For example, a collector could purchase an Eastern Lines Kato Tinplate Locomotive with Sound & Light modeled after Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor service line between Boston, Massachusetts and Washington D.C., Georgetown Branch (also known as “the Old Main Line”). This manufacturer also offers models like the Union Pacific GE ES44AC Evolution Series Diesel Engine that look real.


Model Train Scale is a beloved pastime that has been around since the 1930s. As a scale modeler, you have a plethora of scales and trains to choose from, but if you’re new to the hobby, it’s crucial to determine what size works best for you. If you’re limited on space, such as in an apartment, or have small children who may play with your layout, HO scale trains are a great option as they are suitable for both indoor and outdoor setups.


What is the best model train scale?

As a scale modeler, I believe that there is no one “best” model train scale. The most important thing is to choose a scale that you will have fun with. However, if you are looking for a popular option, the HO scale is a great choice. It has a scale ratio of 1:87 and an average track spacing of 16-22 inches. This makes it a good option for those with limited space or who want to display their models in a living room or play area. The HO scale allows for incredibly detailed trains, including intricate car designs and realistic track layouts. When building scenes with this scale, you can recreate the quiet and rural moments of the past, such as farming with hand tools or stopping at small station towns to deliver goods to families.

What is the best scale for narrow gauge model railroading

I’ve found that all the usual scales are available for narrow gauge model railroading. The most popular scale for this type of modeling is 0 scale, where 1 inch (about 25 mm) on the model represents 30 inches (about 760 mm) on the real narrow gauge railway.

It’s important to note that the term “narrow gauge” can mean different things in different regions. In Colombia, a narrow gauge railway is any rural railway with a track gauge narrower than standard. In Japan, it refers to lines with a track width between and, regardless of their load capacity or method of operation. This also includes light industrial branch lines with an AAR loading gauge greater than but less than standard.

Which scale model has the best support?

There are many good scale models available on the market. One popular choice is Daedalus (Russian), which is known for its excellent support. However, there are other well-known brands that are worth considering. When researching scale models, it’s important to consider what your specific needs are for a 1/35th scale model. Finding the right balance between features and your personal criteria may require some trial and error. For instance, AFV modelers often prioritize details both inside and out, while aircraft modelers prioritize accurate exteriors. Those who focus on military modeling may place less importance on accuracy for aircraft or armor, and more importance on the detail of figures and uniforms.

What is the best scale to work in if I want to build a model train layout?

When building a model train layout, choosing the right scale is a critical decision. It’s important to keep in mind that the scale you select will determine the size of the finished product. A smaller scale means a more compact design, while a larger scale can make for a more impressive and detailed model. However, space is a crucial factor to consider when making your decision.

As a beginner, HO gauge is a great choice because it’s widely available, affordable, and offers a good balance of detail and space requirements.

Hey there! I'm Richard Baker, a miniature painter who's been in the game for a solid decade now. I've been painting miniatures for ten years and I've got a ton of tips and tricks to share with you all. My website is a treasure trove of knowledge that I've gathered from both my own personal experiences and from reading all sorts of books.

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