What Scale are Large Scale Trains?

Last Updated: 16 May 2023

Scale versus Gauge

  • Scale = refers to the proportional relationship between a given model and the prototype it is supposed to represent.
  • Gauge = refers to the distance between the two rails upon which our model trains operate.

Prototype Gauges

Full scale railways may have rails with a lot of different gauges. However, in general we can define two major gauges:

  • Standard Gauge (SG)
    • Europe & America = 1.435 mm
  • Narrow Gauge (NG)
    • Europe = aka Meter Gauge = 1.000 mm
    • America = aka Three Foot Gauge = 914 mm

Besides gauge, you could say trains running on Standard Gauge are generally larger than trains running on Narrow Gauge, although many many exceptions apply.

Modeling the Prototype in Large Scale

In Large Scale, a common denominator is the use of 45 mm scale track for our model railways. A gauge of 45 mm, what does it mean for scale? For simplicity, we’ll consider European railways for this example.

  • Standard Gauge = 1.435 mm / 45 mm = 1:32 Scale
  • Narrow Gauge = 1.000 mm / 45 mm = 1:22,5 Scale

Basically, this means the 45 mm gauge model track can be used to model two different prototypes in two different scales on the same track. However, if you put a Standard Gauge locomotive next to a Narrow Gauge locomotive, the SG locomotive will be dwarfed by the NG locomotive as the 1:32 scale SG is just that much smaller than 1:22,5 scale NG.

The confusing part is in the fact that we’re trying to use 45 mm track to model two different things. If you stick to a single scale (1:32) and you’re thinking about both SG and NG, you end up with two different track gauges (one wide at 45 mm, one narrow at 31,25 mm), and this makes much more sense “scale wise”.

So why did Large Scale end up with 45 mm? There’s no definitive answer, but it’s really simple: someone started with 45 mm, and everyone else followed over time.

The Different Scales of Large Scale

So what scales are part of Large Scale? What is G Scale? What is 2m Scale? What is 1 Scale? Let’s try to further build the story with some in-depth calculations / examples below.

1:32 Scale / 1 Scale / I Scale

  • 1 / I Scale – Standard Gauge (1.435 mm) – 45 mm Gauge
  • 1m / Im Scale – Narrow Gauge (1000 mm) – 32 mm Gauge
  • 1e / Ie Scale – Narrow Gauge (750 mm, 760 mm, 800 mm) – 22,5 mm Gauge
  • 1f / If Scale – Feldbahn (500 mm, 600 mm) – 16,5 mm Gauge

1:22,5 Scale / 2 Scale / II Scale [European]

  • 2 / II Scale – Standard Gauge (1.435 mm) – 64 mm Gauge
  • 2m / IIm Scale – Narrow Gauge (1.000 mm) – 45 mm Gauge
  • 2e / IIe Scale – Narrow Gauge (750 mm, 760 mm, 800 mm) – 32 mm Gauge
  • 2f / IIf Scale – Feldbahn (500 mm, 600 mm) – 22,5 mm Gauge

1:20,3 Scale / F Scale [American]

  • F Scale – Standard Gauge (1.435 mm) – 70,64 mm Gauge
  • Fn3 Scale – Narrow Gauge (3 ft Gauge – 914 mm) – 45 mm Gauge

G Scale

G Scale is used as a collective term for anything that runs on 45 mm Gauge, where generally less attention is paid to accurate scaling.

  • European Prototype Narrow Gauge in 1:22,5-ish scale (e.g. LGB, Train Line)
  • American Prototype Narrow Gauge in 1:24-ish scale (e.g. Bachmann, USA Trains)
  • European Prototype Standard Gauge in 1:27-ish scale (e.g. LGB, PIKO)
  • American Prototype Standard Gauge in 1:29 scale (e.g. Accucraft AML, Aristo-Craft, Bachmann, USA Trains)
  • American Prototype Standard Gauge in 1:32-ish scale (e.g. PIKO Mainline Series)
  • Feldbahn on 45 mm track (e.g. LGB)

For example: a very long passenger car is modeled to be roughly 1:22,5 scale in height and width, but its length is shortened by a few centimeters (or an inch) to make sure it runs better through tighter curves. With a height and width scale of 1:22,5 and maybe a length scale of 1:25, the overall model is not considered a “pure” 1:22,5 scale and thus not “worthy” of the IIm / 2m Scale label. “G” it is.

So in general, everything that is correctly scaled in 1:32 Scale [1 Scale], 1:22,5 [2(m) Scale) or 1:20,3 Scale [F(n3) Scale] will be granted that specific label, everything else is considered “G Scale”. The hobbyists that care a lot about scale usually also care a lot about fidelity and realistic operation. Therefore, you’ll see that offerings in 1 Scale, 2(m) Scale and F(n3) Scale typically are more accurately scaled, more detailed and built with premium materials. All this comes with a higher price tag of course.

What does this mean in practice?

  • G Scale European SG (e.g. PIKO) = Great selection, usually plastic models, affordable.
  • G Scale American SG in 1:29 (e.g. Accucraft AML, USA Trains) = Great selection, usually plastic models, affordable.
  • G Scale European NG (e.g. LGB, Train Line) = Great selection, usually plastic models, pricier.
  • 1 Scale 1:32 European SG (e.g. Märklin, KM-1) = Limited selection, limited runs, often metal construction, expensive, purist vibe.
  • 1 Scale 1:32 American SG (e.g. MTH RailKing) = Very limited selection, Build Your Own.
  • 2m Scale 1:22,5 European NG = Limited selection, limited runs, often metal construction, expensive, purist vibe.
  • Fn3 Scale 1:20,3 American NG = Very limited selection, Build Your Own.