How do I start?
How do I decide what to buy?
- Your own likes and dislikes;
- The amount of money you want to spend; and
- How exact you want the models to be.
What do I buy to get started?
All you need to get started is the train (locomotive and rolling stock) track and a power pack.
How much money do I need to begin?
This depends entirely on you. If you choose detailed models the cost will be greater. The amount of money you spend will also depend on how many extras such as scenery, track, additional rolling stock, and so on, you want.
However, if you purchase, as many do, a train set including a locomotive, two or three pieces of rolling stock, an oval of track, and a power pack to provide the electricity needed to operate your train, you will need to spend around $150.00 for a realistic but not super-detailed train. Battery powered train sets are usually cheaper. They are more suitable for young children but not too satisfying for adults.
What do I choose?
Something which you like that is a suitable size for yourself and your home and will allow you to add extra pieces if you wish.
Hint - If you have young children you might wish to consider the Hornby range of train sets in HO/OO based on the universally popular Thomas the Tank Engine books by Reverend Christopher Audry. These sets consist of quality locomotives and rolling stock in the colours and styles of the book railways. There is a complete range of trains, accessories and scenery items all of which operate on the usual HO/OO scale track. They will also connect with all the other items in the Hornby range. This could be an ideal way to introduce the whole family to a really rewarding hobby.
What brand do I choose?
There is no right or wrong answer. Common brands such as Hornby (British), Lima (Italian), or Tyco and Athern (American) offer reasonable quality, some good detail, fair prices and plenty of accessories. They are probably amongst the best to start with. But, be careful to notice the couplings.
What are couplings?
These are the connectors between the rolling stock. There are many different ones and some do not connect together. When starting a train set choose items that couple together (train sets contain items that do connect) and a coupler that will allow you to buy a wide range of items. In HO/OO scale Hornby and Lima couplers are very common, in N scale Arnold (German) couplers are very common.
Should I buy a train set or separate pieces?
It doesn't matter. Usually a packaged set is cheapest but by buying the separate items you can choose exactly what you like. (Watch out for couplings that connect though.)
Should I choose a special type of train?
The most common trains are goods trains, but it isn't important in the beginning stages of modelling to choose one particular type of train on even settle on a particular railway company. If you intend to take modelling seriously it may be well to spend time deciding on a particular time period, country and even railway you wish to model before buying.
Does this mean I can buy anything?
Basically yes. If you decide to model a special type of railway, a particular railway or company or a particular time period, these decisions will help limit your choices.
What type of engine is it best to buy?
The kind you like. There may be other reasons but modelling railways is all about having fun and so your choice is entirely up to you. Many modellers love steam engines and there a wide range of these in many scales. To begin with, a six-wheeled shunting tank is an affordable steamer. Generally, sets with diesel are slightly cheaper and many children tend to prefer these.
What does a train include?
A train is usually a locomotive (the powered machine), several items of rolling stock (carriages or trucks) and a suitable ending item, such as a guards van, caboose or whatever.
What makes the train work?
Electricity from batteries or through a transformer connected to a household power point. Battery powered trains do not need a transformer.
What is a transformer?
This is an electrical arrangement that changes (or transforms) high voltage power (240 volts in Australia, 110 volts in the USA) to a lower, safer voltage (usually 12 volts) which works the motor of your engine. Many transformers have built-in control to adjust the power to the train from 0 volts up to 12 volts and in this way give the speed control needed to run the train from start to full speed.
What is a good transformer?
One which meets your government safety regulations and which has enough outputs to suit your need.
How many outputs are needed?
One controlled 12 volt DC output is essential - this powers and controls your train.
An extra 12 volt DC output will allow you to connect a second train when you get it. If this second output is not controlled a separate controller will be needed for the second train.
A 12-15 volt AC output will allow you to connect most powered accessories such as lights, working windmills, railway crossings etc...
What are the main types of rolling stock?
There are generally three basic groups:
- passenger cars;
- goods trucks; and
- permanent way vehicles (track repair, etc).
What types of passenger cars are common?
Two types, bogie and fixed wheel. The fixed wheel types are much less common today as they are usually shorter and so carry fewer people. Their wheels are fixed firmly to the carriage frame.
What are bogie carriages?
These are carriages which may be quite long and which have their wheels grouped together at either end. The wheels are grouped on a small frame which pivots below the long carriage frame. The arrangement allows long carriages to move easily around even very sharp curves.
Which model is best?
In most cases it is better to begin with the bogie sort. They will travel around tight curves easily and often over the uneven track common on first model railways.
How many carriages make up a train?
There is no set number. Some trains consist of only one or two carriages. Check out the books you have on your favorite railways looking closely at pictures of passenger trains.
Are all goods trucks the same?
No. There are fixed wheel ones which are quite common and and bogie ones. There are many different types of for many different jobs. Most common are the plain open trucks for carrying general goods, coal, ore, timber, etc and the covered ones for more easily damaged goods. Most trains also have a special truck or van for a guard at the tail of the train.
What are hoper cars?
These are large boxes on railway wheels with a funnel type of arrangement at the bottom to allow the contents to be dropped out easily.
What are tank cars?
They are tanks on railway wheels used to carry oil, petrol, gas, chemicals, and any other liquid products.
Scales and Gauges
HO or OO scale.
These are by far the most common scales in use with the largest range of items available. To sort out any confusion (?) HO models are built to 1:87th scale. This simply means all the dimensions of the full size item (the 'prototype') are divided by 87. So 87 models all lined up would be the same length as the prototype. 87 stacked up would equal the height of the prototype. To put it another way. HO is also known as 3.5mm scale. 3.5mm on the model represents 1 foot (12 inches) on the prototype or full size item. HO scale actually stands for Half O. See the O scale entry for more information. HO trains run on a 16.5mm gauge track.
OO scale is generally only used for models of British prototype. It is 1:76th scale or 4mm to the foot. The trains still run on the same 16.5 mm gauge track as HO models. OO models are slightly larger than HO, but the difference is not normally noticeable. Historically, the reason for this discrepancy appears to be that HO was first introduced in Germany in the 1920's. Naturally, there was soon demand for similar sized models for the British market. Due to tighter clearances in tunnels, under bridges, in platforms etc., full size British trains are lower and narrower than those of most other countries. Therefore there was difficulty fitting the motors of the time into most British models made to HO scale. And so they were made slightly larger to overcome this problem. This also made them more visibly compatible size-wise. Although the scale was larger than HO, the 16.5mm gauge was retained for compatibility.
Today, the scale is too well established to change it. A few companies have previously tried to introduce British HO scale, but had not been successful. Some more experienced modellers, dissatisfied with the scale/gauge discrepancy of OO have replaced the 16.5mm gauge track and wheels with 18mm gauge track and wheels. This is known as EM scale (or gauge). EM stands for Eighteen Millimetres. This is a specialist scale not commonly seen in Australia.
Both HO and OO scales have by far the largest range of trains and accessories available of all the scales. Small enough to fit a reasonable amount of railway in a reasonable space, and large enough to be easily handled and seen.
This is the next most popular scale. The models are nearly half the size of HO / OO and as a result you can fit about 4 times as much track and scenery into the same space as those scales. N is generally 1:160th scale, or 2mm to the foot. The track gauge is 9mm. N stands for Nine. Cost of N item for item is comparable with HO. But as you tend to end up with more of it over time, it can be considered slightly more expensive. However, for a small layout, you might find it is actually cheaper to work with.
Ideal when space is at a premium or if you like long trains, sweeping curves or making lots of scenery. Can be fiddly if your eyesight isn't as good as you wish it was or if you consider yourself a 'fumblefingers'.
Or LGB as it is often known. G gauge was introduced in 1968 by Lehmann of Germany. G scale is generally 1:22.5 scale. However, the models are produced in various scales just to confuse things, So the term G gauge tends to be used instead of G scale. It's also known as Large scale or Garden Railway. The gauge is 45mm. LGB, by the way, is a brand name. It stands for Lehmann Gross Bahn (Lehmann being the manufacturer, gross bahn being German for large railway) The models are weatherproof and look great set up in the garden.
Great for outdoor use or large rooms. Very easy to handle and generally very well constructed. If you like trains that run when they are supposed to and easy to set up, then consider G gauge. Not ideal if you are short on space. Models seem expensive at first, but do actually represent value for money if you investigate further.
On30 means the models are O scale (1:48 running on 32mm gauge track). But the 'n' signifies Narrow gauge. 30 means 30 inches, or 2.5 feet. This means the full size train runs on 2 foot, 6 inch gauge track (Puffing Billy in Victoria is a famous example of a 2.5 foot gauge railway). So the model must also run on narrower track. It just so happens that 16.5mm gauge (HO) track is an almost exact match for 30 inches in 1:48 scale, so what we have is O scale trains running on HO track. This size is gaining popularity due to Bachmann's ready to run models in On30 scale. It allows a layout that takes no more room than HO scale, but the extra size to construct more detailed models.
Has many of the advantages of G scale without the serious cash outlay. You also don't need so much space.
There are many other scales available, including:
This is the smallest commercially supported scale. Introduced by Marklin of Germany in 1972, it is 1:220 scale and runs on 6.5mm gauge track. It is still available and a large range is manufactured by Marklin as well as a number of others in the USA and Europe. Hobbies Plus was once a stockist of this range and would consider it again if there was the demand.
Relatively expensive compared with N scale (probably the main reason it has never become as popular as N), and with a much more limited range of models available. It does not use a great deal less space than N scale.
This was the forerunner to N scale, being 9.5mm gauge. Virtually extinct now. The name for this scale seems to be a logical step from O, to OO and then OOO scale. In Australia, most OOO gauge was from Lone Star Locos which was a range of die-cast push-along trains made in the UK (although with some items made in Australia). They ran on metal track closer to 8.5mm gauge. Later some electrically powered models were made, but they are relatively rare today. See the photos on the History of model railways page.
This is one of the scales considered obsolete by the trade. It is 1:100 or 1:120 scale and 12 mm gauge. Although supported by a very small number of manufacturers, it was superseded by N in the 1960's before it had much of a chance to establish itself. TT stands for Table-Top as it was an ideal size to set up on an average sized table. In Australia, most use of TT is track and mechanisms for HOn3½ which represents 3'6" gauge in HO scale.
Another virtually extinct scale in Australia. That is apart from Sn3½ narrow gauge models which use HO track to represent 3'6" railways. The scale is 1:64 and the gauge 22.22mm (an entirely non-metric scale). S stands for Seven, Sixteenths and Sixty-four. Numbers which are commonly used in this scale when not trying to use metric equivalents. S scale has a larger following in the USA where it was made by American Flyer and in the UK there is also some support for this scale.
O scale can't be considered obsolete. In fact it is regaining former popularity. The well known Hornby tinplate trains of the pre 1960's were O gauge (32mm). In the past (about 100 years ago), the model train sizes were referred to by numbers. Gauge 3, gauge 2 and gauge 1 (45mm) being the smallest. So when a smaller size was introduced, the "baby" trains were known as 0 gauge. Today 0 or O gauge is considered large and few really have the room for it inside. Models are to 1:43 (UK) to 1:48 (US). HO gets it's name from being Half O scale. In Australia, O gauge is mostly used by modellers who build trains from detailed kits or from 'scratch' (raw materials). Very little is available off the shelf in ready to run form. The case in the USA is quite different, but it is not the subject for this page.
You don't normally encounter this one in Australia, but it is very popular in the USA. This is 3-rail O gauge made by Lionel and some others. The 27 simply refers to 27" diameter curves of the track. Introduced in the days of tinplate trains, it is still produced today.
Although models for this size (45mm gauge, 1:32 scale) are still made by Marklin of Germany, it has been somewhat eclipsed by G gauge, which has the same track gauge, but a larger scale.
The foregoing is by no means a complete list of all scales and gauges ever made or still available. It only covers the more common varieties that the beginner may read about. There are also many narrow gauge scale / gauge combinations. To briefly explain (?) the confusing names, I offer the following.
When models of narrow gauge trains are made, there are a number of methods of describing the scale and gauge combination. One popular scale / gauge combination is using HO scale models running on N gauge track. This effectively simulates trains running on 2'6" gauge track. Puffing Billy in Victoria is the most well known railway of this gauge in Australia.
To indicate this scale / gauge combination of such models, we usually say that they are HOn2½. The "HO" indicates HO scale, naturally enough. The 'n' indicates narrow gauge. "2½" means 2 and a half feet or 2 feet, 6 inches (2'6"). However, just to confuse things, in Europe the same scale / gauge is known as HOe. The OO equivalent in the UK is known as OO9. This refers to OO scale running on 9mm (N) gauge track. OO9 is generally used to represent 2 foot gauge railways. All three names effectively refer to the same thing.
Most narrow gauge modellers in Australia use the US method describing the scale, followed by 'n' and the prototype gauge in feet and inches. eg. HOn2½. British modellers instead describe the scale followed by the model track gauge in millimetres. i.e. OO9.
Here are some of the more common names and what they mean. Using this information, you should be able to work out the meanings of any other narrow gauge scale names you may come across.
HOn3. This is HO scale on track representing 3ft gauge railways. Very popular in the USA where many such lines existed. Track gauge is 10.5mm. Has a comparatively minor following in Australia.
HOn3½. HO scale on track representing 3'6" gauge tracks as used in Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia. This uses 12mm gauge (TT) track.
HOm. This is a European size. It is HO scale representing metre gauge railways. It uses 12mm gauge track and so is effectively the same as HOn3½.
HOb5¼. Not so common, and not narrow gauge either. However, I include this to explain that some modellers run HO models on about 18mm gauge track to represent broad gauge (5'3") trains as run in South Australia and Victoria. For those confused by imperial measurements, 3 inches is the same as a ¼ of a foot (12 inches).
Nn3. This scale uses 6.5mm gauge (Z) track in N scale. Known in the UK as N6.5
G45. Gm. This is the same as G gauge. G45 is used by Peco to describe G gauge which is 45mm gauge. Gm is simply another way to describe G gauge representing metre gauge trains.
SM 32. This is Sixteen Millimetre scale (16mm on the model equalling 1 foot on the prototype) running on 32mm gauge (0) track. This is a size not often seen in Australia, but is used by some live-steam enthusiasts.
O16.5. This is O scale on HO (16.5mm gauge) track. It is the same as On30 (O scale, "n" narrow gauge, 30 inch prototype gauge) and On2½ (O scale, "n" narrow gauge, 2½' or 2'6"). 30 inches being the same as 2 foot 6 inches. So simple, isn't it?
Should I model in N or HO scale?
The answer is six of one and half a dozen of the other.
If you are short of space N scale is the go. A reasonably complex layout can be achieved in a small area, say 2.4 metres by 1.2 metres ( 8’ x 4’ in the old language) even smaller, say 1.8 metres x 900mm.
However it is wise to realise that a railroad empire must occupy an “empire” sized space. A branch line or short line styleplan suits a smaller space in either HO or N scale.
If you have plenty of space HO or OO (see FAQ #1) is probably the better choice. There is more range of product available and usually the product has a better reliability especially in the cheaper ranges. If you intend to model Australian prototype most certainly HO is more appropriate because of available range.
However ultimately the choice is with the modeller, some like to model small and others lar
Track Conversion Table
|Quarter straight (38mm)||R610||36-610|
|Standard Straight (168mm)||ST-200||R600||36-600|
|Double Straight (335mm)||ST-201||R601||36-601|
|ISO. Standard Straight and Switch||ST-205||R618|
|First Radius Standard Curve (371mm radius)||ST-220||R604|
|First Radius Double Curve (371mm radius)||ST-221||R605|
|Second Radius Standard Curve (438mm radius)||ST-225||R606||36-606|
|Second Radius Double Curve (438mm radius)||ST-226||R607||36-607|
|Second Radius Half Curve (438mm radius)||ST-227||R643||36-643|
|Third Radius Standard Curve (505mm radius)||ST-230||R608||36-608|
|Third Radius Double Curve (505mm radius)||ST-231||R609||36-609|
|852mm Radius Curve for use with Y point||ST-238||R628||36-628|
Points / Turnouts
|Right Hand Point (Turnout)||ST-240||R8073||36-873|
|Left Hand Point (Turnout)||ST-241||R8072||36-872|
|Right Hand Curved Double Radius Point (Turnout)||ST-244||R8075||36-875|
|Left Hand Curved Double Radius Point (Turnout)||ST-245||R8074||36-874|
|Medium Radius Y Point (Turnout)||ST-247||R8076||36-876|
|Right Hand Express Point (Turnout)||R8078||36-878|
|Left Hand Express Point (Turnout)||R8077||36-877|
|Medium Crossing 22 1/2 Degree Angle||ST-250||R614 Left|
|Straight Add On Track for Level Crossing||ST-264|
|Straight Level Crossing||ST-268|
|Uncoupling Ramp (not interchangeable)||ST-271||R617|
|Track Underlay Foam Roll||SL-50||R638|
|Rail Joiners / Fishplates||SL-10||R910|
|Buffer Stop, Rail Built||SL-40||R083|
Power And Control Equipment
|Point Motors (Turnout)||PL-10||R8014|
|Surface Mounted Point Motors (Turnout)||PL-10E||R8243|
Point motors are not interchangeable without modification. Click here to see how
|Passing Contact Switch (for point motors)||PL-26||R044|
What is the difference between OO and HO?
Nothing as far as the gauge of the track is concerned, i.e. gauge refers to the distance apart of the rails and not the scale size. HO and OO gauge is 16.5mm between the rails.
Scale is a different matter altogether, OO scale is 1/76th of true size or 76 times the model length equals one life size item. Another way of referring to OO scale is 4mm to the foot. i.e. 4mm on the model equals a foot in real life so therefore a six foot tall person in model size is 6 times 4mm or 24mm tall. Funny that two different measuring systems are utilized but that’s the way it goes.
HO on the other hand is 1/87th of true size or 3.5mm to the foot. i.e. that six foot person is now 6 times 3.5mm or 21mm tall.
How come two different scales use the same track I hear you say?
The 2 scales are so close that many years ago the manufacturers opted for one gauge for compatibility.
Just as an aside, at standard gauge of 4’ 8 ½” HO scale is more correct being 4.71 times 3.5mm equalling 16.49mm.
OO is actually undersize and strictly speaking should be 4.71 times 4mm equalling 18.84mm.
This actual discrepancy is catered for by people modelling in EM or P4 gauge.
Most often OO scale is off
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.