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What is N-scale? | Model Railway Hints, Tips, How To Articles and Reviews at Model Trains Online

N scale with Pencil

Model trains come in a variety of sizes known as scales. The scale is a ratio expressing the relationship of the model to its actual size counterpart. N-Scale is expressed as 1:160 proportion. In other words, if you could take an N-Scale locomotive and enlarge it 160 times, you would have a full size locomotive.

Where did N-Scale come from?

N-Scale was original developed in Germany by the firm of Arnold. Later the tooling was sold to the Hornby company which now produces some of the former Arnold line in China. While no sources seem to agree on the exact year N-Scale was conceived, they all agree that the time frame was the early 1960’s.

The letter “N” actually stands for the German word ‘Neun’ which translates as ‘Nine’ meaning there are nine millimeters between the rails of N-Scale track. Originally it was referred to as N-Gauge and the models were very toy-like. Today, most serious hobbyists refer to it as N-Scale recognizing the fact it has evolved into an actual scale. This means that every effort is made to make sure that the models conform to exact scale prototype proportions.

What are the main advantages of N-Scale?

There are many but perhaps the greatest advantage actually is the small size. In this day and age, it can be difficult to devote a large area of living space to a model railroad. With N-Scale, you can a have a very large railroad in a very small space. If you live in an apartment and think you can’t have a model railroad, you definitely need to give N-Scale a look. In countries like Japan, as well as many countries in Europe where living space is at a premium, N-Scale has actually become the preferred scale surpassing even the larger HO-Scale for popularity.

For those that do have a large space, N-Scale offers another advantage since it will allow you to run prototypical length trains of 100 cars or more! You can create layouts where the scenery dominates the railroad just like in real life.

Can such a small size train really run well?
Yes! Back in the 60’s, 70’s and even up into the late 80’s, N-Scale was considered to be a novelty at best. Today, thanks to companies like KATO of Japan, N-Scale trains can run and look just as good if not better than trains in larger scales. KATO is credited by most hobbyists as actually “saving” N-Scale. They invented a propulsion system that allows N-Scale locomotives to operate very smoothly and quietly and yet they are still able to offer their models at reasonable prices.

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