Knowledge > Scale Types > What's It All About?

What's it all about?


What are model trains?


Model trains are small copies of real trains - locomotives, carriages, trucks, stations and so on.

Are model trains toys?

Some are, some are not, depending on the quality and detail of the models concerned. Some manufacturers deliberately make simple models, built strongly and with only limited detail especially for younger people - these are often called toy trains.

What are scale models?

Scale models are usually those which have lots of detail, and are very similar to the real train in terms of their dimensions. They tend to be far more expensive.

Which are the best?


The cheaper trains are often very carefully designed and can operate well for years but because they don't look as real, more serious modellers tend to avoid them. As railway modellers become more serious about their models they usually want more detail and more realism and so they prefer better quality. Lima, Hornby and Powerline Marklin, Roco, Fleischann, Grafar, LG.B, offer quality sets at reasonable prices.

Can the two kinds work together?

Of course. However toy trains tend to look unreal close to the better scale so most serious modellers do not operate them together.

Does this mean I will have to throw about my toy trains?

No. It is very possible that the toy trains may be used as a starting point for your own super-detailed model. Adding realistic details to toy models can vastly improve them.

What is the difference between locomotives and trains?

Usually in model railway language they both mean much the same. A locomotive is a model of a steam, diesel or electric powered railway machine. It is the machine which actually does the pulling or pushing of carriages and trucks. Sometimes the word "engine" is used when referring to steam engines.

What is rolling stock?

Most items with wheels but particularly those that are not locomotives.

Are all model trains the same size?

No. There are a variety of gauges and scales. Some are very large and some are very small. Others are about anything in between.

What are the most popular sizes?

HO scale trains are probably the most common. These are models scaled down to 3.5mm per foot and run on rails 16.5mm apart. (Very similar is the OO scale of 4mm per foot on 16.5 mm gauge track, especially popular in the U.K). N ggauge is also very common. It runs on rails 9mm apart and to a scale of 2mm per foot.

Which scale do I begin with?

This really depends on how much space you have. If there is enough room, Ho/OO is certainly the best choice. However, if space is very limited N Scale should prove ideal.

Do I need to have room for my railway?

Not necessarily. It would be ideal but few of us have the space. A corner somewhere, part of a garage or hobby room - almost any spare space can work.

How much space do I need?

In N scale an area large enough to set up a 1.8m by 0.9m railway will be adequate. In HO about double this space (2.4m by 1.2m) is necessary for a small railway.