What are N Scale Model Trains?

It is very common to notice model trains rolling around their railroad on display when attending hobby shops, science exhibitions, showcases and country fairs. However, the most popular and captivating of all the trains is an N scale model train. N scale model trains refer to a track scale railroad system of between 1:148 to 1:160 and 9 mm.  However, this may slightly vary in several countries depending on the manufacturers of the trains.  Regardless, the one factor that should be consistent is the train’s 9 mm gauge.

Although accessories and trains of similar scale have existed since 1927, the various N scale train manufacturers at the time were competing among one another.  The development of true standards did not emerge until the first N scale trains were commercially produced around 1962 by K. Arnold & Company of Nürnberg.  Within two years after commercial availability, the N scale manufacturers defined the standards for gauge, height, voltage, and various forms of couplers.

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The manufacturers have maintained a realistic appearance unique to these trains that the demand and popularity of N Scale model trains grew rapidly. Train hobbyists including children of different ages, the young, and the old have swamped the manufacturers with demand for the best market price and quality of the model train. Though the N scale train is smaller as compared to the HO trains, it offers an enormous thrill with the range of train collections, variety of building construction and accessories, as well as options to create a large or small model train layout.  In fact, N scale trains also require minimal space in the yard and living room due to its small size.

Some of the most popular N scale train suppliers are Lionel, Marklin, Walthers and Athern. There are even manufacturers such as America Flyer, Atlas O and MTH who have introduced a ready-to-run model train kit ideal for beginners. This type of kit was easy to assemble and understand. In contrast, other kits such as the one from Craftsman were meant for the skilled model train hobbyist. Specifically designed and cut prefabricated plywood parts were built from scratch and made available by layout prints, tools and layout.

When buying a ready-to-run kit the prices will vary from US$80 to US$500.  Moreover, because of its popular size, it is quite easy to obtain a wide range of buildings, boxcars, and locomotives to increase the model train display.  In part, the popularity and wide variety of accessories make the N scale model train less expensive compared to other larger model train scales.

Both adults and children have been charmed by these model trains all over the world. Many people, including model train hobbyists, cannot help but admire how these trains can accurately negotiate the railway curves and turns with precision.  Moreover, the popularity of the N gauge model train has also made it possible for fans to build their own sceneries and layouts without any limits or boundaries to their imagination.  The N scale train is truly a model for all ages, providing continuous hours of entertainment for everyone.

The History of HO Model Trains

Since the invention of real railways, the world has seen toys and models of trains. Indeed there are some early locomotive models that were initially made as promotional sales tools for the early railways. Later during the Victorian era, toy locomotives and model trains came in different categories. This included live steam engines which were expensive and just meant for the wealthy. There were also the pull-along trains which came in all shapes and sizes. Most toy model trains originated from Germany while the better class type of steam engines came from France and Britain.

The HO model train is among the most popular railway model in the US. This model is thought to have obtained its name from Half-O, mainly because its scale is 1:87, which is approximately half of the O scale. HO trains were first seen in the UK around 1930s. Originally it was an OO scale which later became more popular in the US around the 1950s. These trains were introduced in the US because interest in model trains began and more emphasis was placed on practicality. Although the HO size is more delicate compared to O scale, the small size allows the modelers to use more scale miles and fit more details into a model train layout.


The defining occurrence in HO model train history was launched in 1891 by Marklin, a German toy company best known for model railway trains. The initial models of HO trains were derived from the Marklin’s initial model train products; these trains had a series of normal track gauges that were ready to utilize the track sections. The trains also had a wide range of rolling stock, accessories and locomotives to match. This is significant because people could have their first complete train set, then expand and add up continually until their small railroad territory was complete.

The first Marklin HO model trains were created in 3 gauges known as 1, 2 and 3. The main material that was used was soldered, painted tinplate. Though the materials were crude, the range (locomotives, rolling stock and accessories) was a huge success. So after adding a small fourth gauge O within a short period of time, Marklin decided to improve and expand its range of products. At the same time, other competitive products were introduced by toy makers in Germany, especially Bing.  Despite diverging standards among different manufacturers, the German toy model train makers eventually adopted Marklin’s gauge standard, as they tried to come up with new production skills. These new techniques included using printed (lithographed) tinplate which allowed more colorful and affordable products.

Since the German toy business was strictly export oriented, the HO model train spread all over the world. The key markets where the HO model train flourished were France, Britain, and the United States. Thanks to the German companies such as Marklin and Bing, HO model trains and accessories are widely available from a large selection of manufacturers.

The Different Types of Model Railway Trains

When you think about model railway trains, what is the first image you see? It’s probably a miniature form of an actual railway train. Moreover, the picture you’ve imagined is probably not just the locomotive by itself. The train more closely resembles a long snake with many railroad cars attached together.

You’re probably asking, “What does this have to do with model trains, right?” When people refer to model trains, they are referring to the locomotive and the railroad cars. The locomotive is the motor or engine that powers the entire train along the tracks; the railroad cars are the cars coupled to the locomotive that collectively forms the train.


Just like the real train, the replica must serve a purpose. After all, it would be odd to see a single locomotive chugging along the train track by itself. The railroad cars attached to the locomotive serve one of two primary, revenue-generating purposes. The train is either transporting passengers or freight from one location to another. This sounds simple enough so far, but most people are not familiar with the different types of railroad cars. Let’s explore the different types of railway cars in each category.

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First, let’s take a closer look at passenger cars. The passenger-carrying cars have different functions and configurations. For instance, the following examples below highlight different types of passenger cars:

Coach – This is the most common passenger car where the interior rows of chairs are similar to the interior of a commercial passenger airplane. Two specific examples of this type of railway car are mass transit systems and long distance luxury trains.

Dining Car – This car resembles a long, narrow restaurant and provides full-service, sit down meals to passengers. This car is also referred to as a restaurant car or a diner.

Lounge – A lounge car is also known as a buffet or club car. This type of car is different because there is more space for passengers to move around, socialize, enjoy the view, purchase food from a grill, or order drinks from a bar. Some lounge cars even feature live music to entertain the passengers.

Observation – This is the last car in a passenger train. The main feature of this railway car is the tail end of the car; it is U-shaped and features larger windows. This design allows the passenger to enjoy the views.

Sleeping Car – This car was also called a “sleeper” or “Pullman car”. These cars provide sleeping facilities for riders travelling overnight.

A freight car (also called goods wagon) are used to transport freight. There are a wide variety of freight cars. Some of the more common types include:

Box Car – The box car has a roof and doors either at the side or end. It is also known as a covered wagon or goods van in the UK. This type of car is used to carry general freight.

Hoppers – This type of freight car is used to transport commodities such as coal, iron ore, grain, sugar, fertilizer, etc. The hopper can either be an open or covered design.

Stock Cars – The stock car transports livestock such as cattle, horses, sheep, pigs and poultry.

Refrigerator Cars (also called reefers) – A reefer is simply a refrigerated box car.

Tank Wagons (also called tank cars) – This car transports liquid or gaseous commodities such as milk, gasoline, liquid hydrogen, etc.

As one can see, the model train enthusiast has a lot of choices when it comes to designing the train. This is definitely one of the reasons why this hobby is so appealing to many. You may even feel the urge to go out and build your very own model railway train!