commonly used scale ratios

Scale Is Make-Or-Break For Model Railroading, And Here Are The Most Commonly Used Scale Ratios You Need To Know Of

If you are a model railroad enthusiast, you may know what a scale is but not why it is important for railroading. Model railroading is a popular chore for men, and those who love collecting or building model trains pick up the habit from a young age and continue it well into adulthood.

To build a very good model railroad, you must get the scale sizing right, and scales are of different sizes ranging from tiny scales to extra large scales. Some popular scales in Europe may not be as popular in America and vice versa, so if you want to build your railroad with a particular scale, you may not find it in your area. But let’s review what scale is and why it is important to the success of a model railroad.

What Is Scale For Model Railroading?

Scale has to do with sizing or percentages, and it is used to measure rail models, so they are close to real life counterparts. In North America, one popular scale used is the 1:48 scale which many modelers prefer to use. For a standard ruler, the measure of 1-inch of an O scale amounts to 48-inches for the rail, meaning that it is 48 inches smaller than a real rail line.

Scales also have hash marks used to indicate their length in inches or feet, and they come in standard or non-standard forms. However, some railroad modelers use non-standard scales to build their railroad if standard or commercial scales are unavailable.

Commercial Model Scales

Production lines in North America develop commercially viable scales with standards set by the registered National Model Railroad Association, which regularly publishes a scale table that model scale manufacturers must adhere to.

Why Scales Are Important

Getting the rail sizing right is important because this guarantees the functionality of the rail line and its ability to carry a significant load placed on it. Without scales, builders may build a rail line that is either too big or too small for the model train they use.

Most Commonly Used Scales Ratios

There are different scale ratios, but some are more common than others. While no scale ratio can be adjudged to be the best, some ratios are more common than others. Let’s look at some of the most common scale ratios.


Model Railroad builders in Canada and North America use the HO ratio a lot; in fact, this ratio is widely used more than any other scale ratio because they have the widest sizes and are great for buildings, locomotives, and rolling stocks. Modelers who use HO place their equipment on a flat sheet or any hard object like plywood to display the layout.


N is another popular scale ratio in North America and Europe. N scale is about half the size of HO at a 1.160 ratio. This one is ideal for building complicated layouts that HO will not be feasible for. N allows greater flexibility in tiny spaces than you can with many other scales; besides, you can use it to create life-like or scenic nomenclatures.


Any scale ratio with 1:48 is an O scale and is one of the earliest scales used in History by model railroad manufacturers. O scales were the gold standard for building toy trains as far back as the 1800s but have remained popular till this day. This is why many toy trains you find at display events and in the homes of collectors use the O scale. This scale ratio works well for areas with abundant space and can be used to create detailed scenes that many other scale ratios cannot.


The G scale is one of the biggest scale ratios still in vogue today and is much larger than scale O. Also, there are different types of G Scale ratios, such as 1.12, 1.19, 1.22.5, 1.24, 1.29, and 1.32. These ratios all fall under the G scale and are best for. Building large scenes like zoos, parks, and life-like settings. The G scale is also quite popular in Germany and parts of Europe.


The S scale is used for smaller trains and displays below the O scale size. This scale is not common in North America, but it is in Europe. S scale measures 1.64 ratios, and many of the scales used today were manufactured years ago.


Then we have perhaps the smallest scale size of all, which is the Z scale, and it is 1.220 in size or about 220 times smaller than a real train. Z scale layouts are not as common as the others on this list but are the scales of choice for those looking to build small and complicated layouts.

Scales are very important to get model railroad sizes right, and the scales mentioned in this article are common ones though there are many other ratios in vogue as well.

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