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N scale is a popular model railway scale/track gauge. Depending upon the manufacturer (or country), the scale ranges from 1:148 to 1:160. In all cases, the gauge (the distance between the rails) is 9 mm. The term N gauge refers to the track dimensions, but in the UK in particular N gauge refers to their 1:148 scale, 9 mm track gauge modeling. The terms N scale and N gauge are often used interchangeably. An advantage of N scale is that it allows hobbyists to build layouts that take up less space than HO scale, or put longer track runs into the same amount of space, because the models are smaller (by nearly a half) than they are in HO scale (1:87). The name comes from an abbreviation for Nine millimetres, which is the distance between the inside edges of the rails. N scale however, is not the smallest commercially available scale, as Z scale is smaller yet at 1:220.


Although trains and accessories of similar gauge and/or scale existed as early as 1927, modern commercially produced N scale models only appeared in 1962. Unlike other scales and gauges, which were de facto standards at best, within two years N scale manufacturers defined the gauge, voltage, as well as the height and type of couplers.

N scale has a large worldwide following. Models are made of very many standard gauge prototypes from every continent. N scale's popularity is second only to HO scale's. In Japan, where space in homes is more limited, N scale is the most popular scale, and HO scale is considered large. Not all modellers select N because they have small spaces, some use N scale in order to build more complex or more visually expansive models.

N scale in Australia has become more popular over the years, with modellers modelling mainly US, British and European prototypes, and until recently, the Australian market has had no N scale models of local prototype, which is now a flourishing "cottage" industry, Australia N scale modelling becoming more popular each year.

N gauge track and components are also used with larger scales, in particular HOe scale|HOe and OO9 scale for modelling narrow gauge railways. N scale models on Z scale track are used to model metre gauge (Nn3). A small amount of 2' industrial narrow gauge modelling in N scale using custom track is done but there are few suppliers of parts. And N scale trains and structures are often used on HO or larger layouts to create forced perspective, or the illusion that an object is further away than it actually is.

Standards Edit

Standards useful to both manufacturers and modellers are maintained by MOROP in Europe and the NMRA in North America. These standards are generally the same for such elements as track gauge, scale ratio, couplings, and electrical power and differ for clearances and other factors that are specific to the prototype being modelled.

N scale locomotives are powered by Direct current|DC motors which accept a nominal maximum of 12 V DC. In traditional DC control, the speed of the train is determined by the amount of voltage supplied to the rails. The direction of the train is determined by the polarity of the power to the rails. Since the end of the 20th century, an increasing number of enthusiasts have started using Digital Command Control (DCC) to determine the speed and direction of their trains. This has in part been made possible by surface mount technology and new motors that draw very little current (typically 0.2amps).

The initial agreed-to standard coupling is known as a 'Rapido' coupler from the manufacturer (Arnold (models)|Arnold). Most companies developed their own variants of this coupler to avoid Arnold patents on the spring system. Graham Farish initially adopted a plastic flexible U rather than a spring, Peco used a compatible weighted coupler system (Elsie) and Fleischmann cunningly sidestepped the problem by using a sprung plate. All however were compatible.

The Rapido coupler system works well but is difficult to use for automatic uncoupling and also relatively large. U.S., Canadian and Australian modellers are making more and more use of a more realistic looking proprietary coupler system, available from Micro-Trains Line Co.. The MT couplers (as they are known) are more delicate and closer to scale North American appearance than Rapido couplers. Other manufacturers are now making couplers that mate with Micro Trains couplers although without all the features of the MT couplers due to MTL owned patent rights.

European modellers have the option to convert the couplings on their rolling stock to the Fleischmann (model railroads)|Fleischmann Profi-Coupler system for more reliable operation should they wish to do so, but most N scale rolling stock continues to be manufactured with Rapido couplers - a design which is fairly robust and easy to mold. Modern N scale stock uses a standard NEM socket for couplers which allows different coupling designs to be used by simply pulling out the old coupler and fitting a new one of a different design.

Variants Edit

In the United States and Europe, models of standard gauge (4ft 8.5in) trains are built to 1:160 scale and made so that they run on N gauge track, but in some other countries changes are made. Finescale modellers also use variants of normal N scale.

In the United Kingdom a scale of 1:148 is used for commercially produced models. In Japan, a scale of 1:150 is used for the models of 3 ft 6 in gauge trains, while a scale of 1:160 is used for models of standard gauge Shinkansen (Bullet Train) models. In the U.S. and Europe, a scale of 1:160 is used for models of trains, irrespective of the gauge of the real trains they are scaled from. All of these scales run on the same 9mm track gauge (N gauge). This means the track is a little too narrow for 1:148/1:150 but the difference is usually considered too small to matter. Strict 2mm fine scale modellers use slightly wider and usually hand built track.

In Britain, some N scale models are built to "2 mm scale" for "2 mm to the foot" which calculates to a 1:152 proportion. Early N scale was also known as "OOO" or "Treble-O" in reference to O scale|O and 00 gauge|00 and was also 1:152, though for an entirely different reason.

2 mm scale Edit

A number of modellers in the United Kingdom use 2 mm scale, a closer-to-scale standard than N scale. 2 mm scale, as the name implies, is scaled at 2 mm to the foot (1:152) with a 9.42 mm track gauge. Nearer to scale appearance is achieved by finer rail, flange and crossing dimensions than commercial N gauge (9mm gauge) components. A variation of the 2mm standards is used by the FiNe group for 1:160 scale. It uses the same rail, flange and crossing dimensions as 2mm (1:152) standards, but with a track gauge of 8.97mm, and corresponding reduction in back-to-back. FiNe is dominated by European modellers.

OOO models Edit

In 1961 Lone Star Toys|Lone Star introduced some of the very first (1:160) N scale models branded as Treble-0-Lectric (OOO) into the United Kingdom. The original die-cast metal models were push along and gauged to run on a die-cast trackwork having a gauge that was closer to 8 mm. Coupling was via a simple loop and pin arrangement. The novelty of the "Lone Star Locos" line was such that they even found their way to the United States and were sold in the toys area of major department stores like J.J. Newberry.

Electrified models followed soon after. The track gauge was widened to a nominal 9 mm and rails were isolated with non-conductive ties (sleepers) for Direct current|DC operation. A different coupling based on a shrunken OO scale coupling was fitted. The OOO couplings and specifications have long since been replaced by commercial N scale manufacturers.

Japanese N scale Edit

Japanese N scale uses 9mm gauge track with a model scale of 1:150 to represent the narrow gauge railway|3'6" gauge lines common in Japan. This is a different prototype gauge and scale to standard N scale with the narrower prototype gauge represented by enlarging the models. Japanese standard gauge prototype N gauge Shinkansen models are constructed to a scale of 1:160 and therefore do not sit well together.

Notable layouts Edit

  • One of the largest N scale layouts in the world is located at the San Diego Model Railroad Museum. Pacific Desert Lines [1] is a 1200 sq. ft. layout featuring hand laid code 40 rail. Each piece of rail is 0.040 (forty thousandths) inches high and is manually affixed to the roadbed by solder to copper clad ties placed every 5th tie. There is approximately 33 scale miles (1,089 actual feet) of mainline track on this massive layout as well as over 500 hand made turnouts. Many models of local San Diego structures can be identified on the layout, including an intricate scale model of San Diego's Santa Fe Depot[2], the Western Metal Supply Building, the Carriso Gorge's Goat Canyon Trestle,[3], Palomar Observatory, the American Agar building, and the Carlsbad, California flower fields and power plant. The model of the Santa Fe depot was constructed using the actual building's blueprints and has been featured on the cover of Model Railroader magazine. The Spanish revival architecture is reproduced using epoxy castings of scale model adobe roof tiles. The Western Metal Supply Building (now part of the left field foul line in the San Diego Padres' Petco Park) was constructed using historic photographs and contains brick castings, brass-etched fire escapes, and computer-generated window panes. The detail on the Goat Canyon Trestle includes the prototype's railings, catwalks, and fire suppression system. The power plant contains fibre optic strobe lights in its chimney. Many buildings have detailed interiors, right down to the napkin dispenser and placemats on the tables at the corner cafe. If you look real close, you'll even spot some surfers in the water off the coast. The layout can be operated by manual or computer control. Trains can run completely unattended or a single operator can control the layout with the click of a mouse.
  • In the United States, a landmark N scale project layout, the Clinchfield, was built in 1978 by the late Gordon Odegard and featured in a series of articles for Model Railroader magazine. The article series was also reprinted in the book Modelling the Clinchfield in N Scale by Kalmbach Publishing. The Clinchfield layout measured 6 by 13 feet and was noteworthy for a number of reasons: 1) it was highly portable because of its modular construction, 2) showed the potential of high scenery to track ratios possible in 1:160, 3) used a unique aluminum frame and (at the time revolutionary) styrofoam construction to cut down on weight and 4) was highly prototypical for the era. The Clinchfield layout is one of the most famous American N scale layouts ever constructed and was awarded as the grand prize in a 1984 sweepstakes. The layout was also displayed at a number of train shows and has traded ownership several times by private collectors. The prototype Clinchfield Railroad was an operating and holding company for the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway.

Weathering Edit

Most models come out of the packaging looking brand new. Most real trains however, are affected in some way by the weather from the moment they are rolled out of the paint-shop. After even a short period of time, most real trains become very dirty, especially if they are not subjected to a regular cleaning schedule. For many years model train enthusiasts have been detailing their locomotives and rolling stock to look like real trains, and this includes adding the accumulation of dirt and grime that can be seen on real trains. Weathering makes the tiny details on N scale models more visible and makes the models seem more "real" to the casual observer.

Manufacturers Edit

  • Arnold
  • Athearn Produces U.S. prototype locomotive and freight cars
  • Atlas Model Railroad Co Highly regarded manufacturer of U.S. N scale locomotives, track, freight cars, and more
  • BLMA Models. Fine-Scale Locomotive, Freight Car & Scenery Accessories
  • Dapol Maker of British outline model trains
  • Fleischmann (model railroads) German maker of model trains
  • Graham Farish Maker of British model trains
  • Kato Japan Maker of Japanese model trains
  • Kato U.S.A. Maker of U.S. Prototype model trains
  • Kawai Hobby Maker of Japanese steam model trains
  • Micro Ace Maker of Japanese model trains
  • Micro-Trains Well detailed high end U.S. freight cars as well as the de facto standard for couplers
  • Minitrix Part of the Trix company, owned by Märklin
  • Peco Manufacturer of track, a loco and wagons, including N gauge
  • An ever expanding selection of high quality downloadable N scale kits
  • Showcase Miniatures. Makers of exceptional vehicles, structures and scenery details.
  • Tomix Makers of Japanese model trains
  • Wm. K. Walthers A distributor/manufacturer of model railroading products that publishes a yearly catalog. Offers a line of structures under the "Cornerstone" name as well as a limited line of N scale freight cars. Had acquired the former train lines manufactured by Life Like in 2005.

External linksEdit

Groups Edit

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