Guide to Lionel Model Trains Scale and Gauge

By: Kanooga

Although Lionel offers several kinds of model trains and track, most of their sales come from O gauge trains. What’s an O gauge train? To better understand that, you first need to know a few things about scale and gauge.

Let’s start with scale. Model trains are scaled down trains--that is, smaller versions of real trains. A model train’s scale tells us its proportion in relation to the real train version. For example, a Lionel train is an O27 train, with a scale of 1:48 . This means that the Lionel train is 48 times smaller than its real train counterpart, with one-quarter inch equal to one scale foot. Due to their larger size, Lionel trains are easy to work with, especially for beginners.

Gauge--gauge is the distance between the rails of a railroad track. Standard track gauge is 4’ 8.5”. O gauge tracks are 1.25” apart. Something to be aware of, though, is that gauge and class specifications can vary internationally, so always check the exact measurements before buying internationally.

As O27 trains, Lionel trains are a bit different from standard O gauge trains. They run on O27 track, which is a bit shorter and narrower than standard O track. The difference can be seen when O27 track is laid out in a circle--an 8 piece circle of O27 track will be 27” across (an 8 piece circle of standard O track is 31” across). Love Lionel trains but have a lot of O track from other set-ups? That’s okay because you can use O track and O27 track together without any problem. Raise your track a little by using a shim, widely available at hobby shops.

Some companies, like Conrad, NZG, and Corgi manufacture die-cast, or metal, model trains that are also compatible with O scale track. This can lead to some interesting track set-ups, and die-cast trucks, cars, buses and construction equipment are popular with collectors.

Lionel trains are a good choice for many reasons. Beyond the ease of running an O27 train, they are also great for modelers looking to perfect model and replica trains. Their size is easy to work with (unlike the smaller N and Z gauge trains), and a great choice for children interested in railroading.

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Joe Kanooga is a father of two kids, a successful business owner and the author of numerous articles about Lionel trains toys. Click here to download a free model trains guidebook filled with hobby tips, ideas and information.

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