Although the hobby has not received quite as much attention over the past couple of decades, model railroading is still very much alive, with a huge and dedicated community of model train enthusiasts. On this site we hope not only to help you find the model trains, scenery, and accessories you're looking for, but also to help you develop a greater knowledge and appreciation of the our favorite pastime.
Why do we love model railroading so much? Some people see model trains as mere toys. But for us, the trains represent the building up of civilization itself. These little trains represent the triumph of man over distance, the great success of modernization, and the ability of the individual to plan and oversee the building of incredible monuments. When you spend your time building a model railroad set, you get to exercise creativity, industriousness, and craftsmanship all at once. It's the same reason people love games like SimCity, but the fact that the trains and their environments are so tangible heightens one's sense of wonder beyond anything a video game player can hope for.
How To Get Started With Model Trains
If you're just getting started, then your first task will be to set aside a space where you'll be able to build and tinker with your trains in peace. Half of the joy of this hobby is the time you get to spend alone with your thoughts. It's meditative to build trains, to use your mind toward a pure goal, always working toward the next plateau, when you'll unveil your spectacular creation to the masses.
Once you've set aside a space for yourself to work, you'll next need to decide what scale of model trains you prefer. The scale that you select will determine the balance that you will strike between intricacy and proportion. The smaller the scale you choose, the more detail you'll be able to fit into a small space. So if you have just a small den to play in, then a smaller scale is advisable, although with every scale down you go, you miss out on a little more of the impressiveness of some of the larger structures that you can buy and build. The model train scale you select will also influence the specific types of hobby trains and accessories that are available, as each manufacturer tends to focus their product line on a specific scale.
Model Train Scales and Sizes
Below is a diagram of the different scales of hobby trains:
- G Scale Model Trains are big and beautiful! These are usually used outside, as for garden railways.
- G scale was introduced by Ernst Paul Lehmann Patentwerk under their brand name of LGB, intended for use as indoor/outdoor train sets. Until its recent bankruptcy, Lehmann was the major European manufacturer of G scale trains, and considered the one that really made garden railways popular. Their trains are sold as the Lehmann Gross Bahn (or "Lehmann Big Train"). Lehman Patentwerk was founded in 1881 and started producing LGB in 1968. The remains of the company, subject to seemingly endless litigation, have been bought by Marklin, and production of certain items seems to be continuing. The US side of the company, known formerly as LGB of America [LGBoA], has somewhat less clear position in the newly-arranged company under the Marklin aegis. LGB produces models of European and US originals, of steam, diesel and electric prototypes as well as a large range of coaches, trucks and accessories.
- Unlike some other scales of model trains, G Scale does not refer to a particular rate at which trains and accessories are scaled down from their full-sized cousins. Rather, G Scale (or G Guage) refers to the distance between the rails that are used for these trains, which is 45mm.
- The most popular manufacturers of these G scale garden train sets are:
- O Scale Model Trains are also named after the size of their rails rather than the size of the trains and accessories. "O" Scale comes from 0 Scale, which in turn comes from 0 Gauge. O Guage train sets run on rails which are 0 guage, meaning that the sides of the rail run 1 1/4" apart. Trains that run on these scales can be 1:48, 1:60, or sometimes whimsically proportioned according to the designs of the manufacturers.
- S Scale Model Trains and their associated scenic accessories are manufactured to an exact scale based on the size of the actual trains which they are designed to resemble. S Scale trains and accessories are made to a 1:64 scale. Despite this, they are still often referred to as "S Gauge model train" within the hobby train community, simply because these terms have been used interchangeably for so long. While there is still a diverse community of S Scale modelers, this is probably the least popular scale for modern trains right now.
- HO Scale Model Trains are the most popular current scale size for model trains in almost every region of the world. These models provide a good balance between display detail and portability, and there are many options to choose from. In H0 scale, 3.5 mm (0.14 in) represents 1 real foot (304.8 mm); this ratio works out to about 1:87.086. In H0, rails are usually spaced 16.5 mm (0.650 in) apart which models the standard railroad gauge of 1,435 mm (4 ft 81⁄2 in). By the way, you pronounce H0 as "H-oh!", not "H-zero" or "ho." :)
- N Scale Model Trains are also very popular, for a lot of the same reasons as the H0. As it is slightly smaller than H0, it allows hobbyists to build more intricate layouts while still being a good enough size that you can see everything well and work with it sufficiently. Depending upon the manufacturer or country, the N scale ranges from 1:148 to 1:160. In all cases, the gauge is 9 mm, or 0.354 inches.
- Z Scale Model Trains, which have gained a lot of popularity in recent years as more city-dwellers with limited space have taken up model railroading, are tiny! The scale size is based on the track gauge, which is just 6.5mm! One of the big benefits of working with these tiny trains is that it is very easy to find what you're looking for. Z scale is probably the most commercially available scale for model railway parts & accessories.
- Z scale was introduced by the German model train manufacturer Märklin in 1972. They chose the letter Z because they thought no one would ever want to introduce a smaller scale than this. Since 1972, there have been attempts to bring even smaller scales to the market, but they remain niche products because most people just find anything smaller than Z scale to be too small to work with. Even as it is, Z scale is so small that many older model railroad enthusiasts have trouble manipulating the tiny pieces.
- The most popular manufacturers for Z scale trains are: