Introduction to N Scale Model Trains

N Scale steam engine
Despite its small size, N scale still offers believable realism and detail. This steam lomotive is by Bachmann.

Ryan C Kunkle

N scale model trains are all proportioned 1:160 to the prototype. In other words, they are 1/160th the size of a real train. It makes N scale roughly 1/2 the size of HO trains.

What began as a niche market in the 1970s is now among the top most popular scales worldwide. Although they are no longer the smallest scale, N scale trains are the smallest of the most common scales. N scale is small enough to offer continuous-running loops in a small space, yet still just large enough to operate, customize and maintain without great difficulty or expense.

Choosing N Scale

If you are considering choosing N scale trains for your model railroad, here are some thoughts to keep in mind.

  1. Availability: Product availability in N scale is now nearly as good as it is in HO, the most popular scale. Chances are good you'll find representatives of your favorite prototype railroad or locomotive, even if some models lack the all the road-specific details found in larger scales. A good selection will be found at almost any hobby shop that specializes in model trains.
  2. Cost: Most N scale products are priced comparably to HO scale counterparts of similar quality. As with most scales, you'll pay more for better models. There are however many decent models priced for the entry level.
  3. Size: N scale's small size can make it hard to work with, especially if you have any shortcomings in your vision. Because the cars are harder to get on the tracks, it may be more frustrating for children than larger scales. It is also more difficult, but not impossible, to super-detail or customize N scale models. While N scale may lack the "mass" of real trains, it does offer the potential to recreate their length. With a large enough layout and attention to standards, long trains are possible.
  1. Space: N scale's small size suites it for two very different styles of layout: small and portable or large displays with big scenery and long trains. One concept which combines the best of both is Ntrack. Members of Ntrack clubs build small modules of standard dimensions that can be combined to create a large layout. Because the modules are standard, multiple clubs can join together and create even bigger displays. It is not uncommon to find 100+ car trains running around such displays.