Model Train Scales: What they Mean

Model Train Scales: What they Mean

When building a train layout one of the first decisions you will need to make is what size layout you want to build.

Model trains are classified according to both scale and gauge. “Scale” describes the size of a miniature in proportion to the size of the prototype (actual train). “Gauge” refers to the distance between the rails of the track.

Model trains come in a variety of scales, from those you might see outside in a garden, to ones you might see setup on a coffee table. The ratios used are listed below, or for those who want a visual, G scale boxcars are approximately the size of a bread box (20 inch) whereas a Z scale boxcar is only the size of grasshopper (2.25 inch).

G Scale -- 
1:32
O Scale -- 1:48
HO Scale -- 1:87
N Scale -- 1:160
Z Scale -- 1:220

Midwest Model Railroad carries both HO and N scale model trains, as they are the two most popular scales.

Which scale is right for me?



There is no one right scale, all of them come with their own benefits, which we will discuss more in our next blog post.

Before choosing a scale you might want to visit some hobby shops, look at existing layouts, and talk with people in the hobby. Come into Midwest Model Railroad and we will happily show you our N and HO layouts and answer any questions you may have.

Next, you’ll want to look at the space you have available, the money you have to spend, and what type of layout you want to build. Do you want simple layouts with one train and little scenery, or do you envision a large layout where multiple trains run amongst an elaborate layout with extensive scenery?


We know money comes into play with every hobby and while there is a price difference when you get into some of the larger scales we are happy to report that Midwest Model Railroad is able to offer HO and N at a comparable price point.

If you live in a small apartment or are a full time RVer you’re probably going to want to stick with N scale, whereas if you have a home with a large area HO may be more your speed. In general people using HO scale typically start with a 4’x8’ layout, the equivalent layout in N scale would be 2’x4’.


While looking at what’s available in both model trains and scenery you’ll notice that www.midwestmodelrr.com has everything sorted by scale, and you’ll find the same thing when you visit our store in Independence, Missouri.

Whichever scale you choose, we are confident that you’ll thoroughly enjoy your new model railroading hobby, and we hope you’ll visit us again soon at Midwest Model Railroad.

*All layout pictures in this article are taken of co-owner Gary Atwell’s N scale layout. Which is designed around Missouri train lines. 

25th Mar 2022

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