Model Train Scales Explained

HO scale. N Scale. O Scale. S Scale. What’s the difference between the most popular model train scales? It’s relatively simple: Scale refers to how much something is scaled down relative to its original size. Scale is not to be confused with gauge; they are two different terms. Gauge is the distance between the rails.

Model Train Scales Comparison Chart

When it comes to the model train hobby, refer to this simple chart to differentiate between the most common scales:

Model Gauge

Proportion Ratio

Rail Gauge





  • With its size and durability, often used outdoors

  • Introduced under the brand name LGB (Lehmann Big Train) in 1968

  • Is a popular garden railway model in Europe




  • Originally debuted around 1900

  • Declined in popularity prior to WWII with introduction of smaller scales

  • Vintage trains remain popular among collectors




  • One of the oldest model railroad scales

  • Early working models hit the scene in Englad during the early 1900s

  • Sometimes confused with toy train standard gauge, which isn’t the same




  • Most popular scale

  • HO moniker comes from it being half that of O scale

  • Introduced to be smaller and more cost effective to manufacture




  • Contemporary commercially manufactured models first rolled out in 1962

  • Also a very popular scale for model railways with a large following worldwide

  • Layouts often take up less space than HO scale, which is advantageous to many model railroaders




  • Debuted in 1972, it’s one of the smallest commercially available scales

  • The small scale makes it attractive to space-conscious hobbyists

  • The minuscule weight of locomotives can make dependable operation a challenge; tracks must be kept very clean to support smooth operation.

Why HO Scale Is My Favorite

My personal favorite is HO scale, for several reasons. It’s just the right size, and I appreciate the level of detail and realistic appearance. For me and many others, there’s a bit of a sentimental factor too: it’s what I had when I was young.

Since HO scale models are 1/87 the size of a real-life model, here’s an example from Railroad Model Craftsman to give you a good mental visualization: “If you had an HO scale model of a forty-foot boxcar, you would need 87 of them to match the length of the real thing.

HO is Space Conscious & Budget Friendly

The smaller size of HO scale models has long appealed to hobbyists – as far back as the 1940s and 50s when folks were moving into smaller homes and apartments, HO scale gave model railroad enthusiasts the ability to fit more into less space.

HO scale trains are available from a large number of well-known manufacturers, ranging in price to work with almost any budget. Want to learn more about some of the more common HO train manufacturers? Click here to read this article.

The Ever Popular HO Train Scale

I’ll leave you with this fun fact: The Great Depression created a demand for a scaled down, more cost effective alternative to O scale. The answer? HO scale, which quickly burgeoned in popularity both with manufacturers and hobbyists.

Especially post-WWII, model railroaders sought models that strongly represented real trains – manufacturers leveraged this demand and the HO scale continued to soar in popularity. Today, HO scale is still widely considered the most popular.