Model Railway Gauges in Britain

All railways, whether real or modelled, have a particular gauge.  It’s a simple concept and it means the distance between the two lines of rail.  Across the world different gauges are used in modelling, as in real life.


The gauge of a model railway will clearly affect the trains and scenery that can be used with it. Sometimes the terms “gauge” and “scale” are used inappropriately and gauges are referred to as scales– they are related, but technically different.  Whereas gauge refers only to the track width, scale refers to the size of the trains and the other objects, relative to their real-life sizes. For example, the common 00 gauge has a scale of 4mm to the foot, meaning that every 4mm distance on the models represents one foot on the real-life equivalents.


In the UK there are several popular gauges.


The most common is 00.  It means that the track width is 16.5mm. For UK modellers, this is the gauge for which most locomotives and carriages are designed, so trains and other equipment are easily obtainable from any model shop. For advanced modellers, however, the scale problems with 00 gauge mean that it is not always the best gauge to use.  The scale used in 00 railways is slightly smaller than in real life, meaning that to the experienced eye, 00 gauge railways can appear to be too narrow for the models.


Very similar to 00 gauge is H0 gauge. It is a different scale from 00, meaning that trains are sized differently – in the eyes of many modellers, more appropriately than for 00 gauge. The actual gauge is usually the same, 16.5mm, but it can vary. H0 gauge is the most common one used in the USA, and the 16.5mm track is interchangeable with British 00 gauge track.


00 gauge railways do need a fair amount of space for a large model, however, and sometimes this is a problem. Smaller sized models can be built with N gauge, which has a track width of 9mm. The difference between N gauge and 00 gauge means that modellers can build far more complex set-ups in the same space. However, there are fewer trains available for N gauge and it is not as common in theUKas 00 gauge.


Model railways do go smaller than N gauge, although in the UK these are not common. Z scale railways, for example, have a track width of 6.5mm.


At the other end of the scale, model railways have been built outside for a long time – in gardens, parks and in model village layouts. The Bekonscot model village in Buckinghamshire, built in the 1930s, features an extensive model railway in Gauge 1, with a track width of 44.5mm.  This gauge was popular among modellers in the first half of the last century, and although much less widespread now, remains popular among specialists. Finally, X scale, which has a gauge of 256.25mm, is used for model railways which people can ride.


There are other gauges, used all around the world, but these will often have a more specialised use, such as to model specific narrow or wide gauge railways. If an enthusiast is starting out, or even building a substantial model inBritain, 00 gauge will be the most likely gauge of choice.

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