HO verses O scale

Discussion in 'G / O / S Scale Model Trains' started by gfmucci, Dec 30, 2006.

  1. gfmucci

    gfmucci Member

    I am debating the cost-benefit of the HO versus the O scale train systems. I hope I am on the correct forum for this question.

    I had an small, basic HO setup about 15 years ago. I have an entry level Lionel O system now. I note a 2 to 3 fold difference in the cost of cars, buildings, engines, track, switches...just about everything between HO and O.

    I am wondering about the benefits of these higher costs with the O system compared to HO.

    Could you provide your opinions about such things as:

    Accessory, component options
    Ease of modifying and repairing
    Action accessories
    Club availability
    Ease of set-up and operation, electrical etc.

    I am a near retirement adult wanting to make a long term commitment to building a moderate sized layout, perhaps 40-50 feet of track, 4 or 5 switches, two or three engines, 20-30 cars, a dozen or so buildings and other accessories. (sorry if this sounds like a dating service inquiry:) ) I will have a 10 by 12 foot area to create this layout. However, I do not want to spend a small fortune which it looks like Lionel accessories cost. This setup sounds like a $2,000 to $3,000 investment in O, and less than $1,000 in HO - of course, depending on the quality level in each system. This would be a mid-level system. I know that much money can be spent on just a single engine.

    I remember some challenging performance issues with HO regarding switch operation and uniform electrical contact of the engine with the tracks, no matter how much I cleaned the surfaces.

    My understanding of the pros and cons of these two scales are these:


    One half to one third the cost of components
    Greater availability and variety of accessories - more manufacturers - more competition
    Operate in smaller area for similar layout.
    More people involved; greater opportunity for interaction, clubs, etc.
    Greater realism without 3rd rail

    O scale

    Better reliability, more rugged
    Bigger size may be easier to work with for aging adults
    Availability of animated accessories
    Easier electrical hookups (is this really true?)

    Are these pros and cons valid? What other factors should be considered that I might have missed?

    What other sources of unbiased information is available to make an objective comparison? Is there a different forum on this site I should post this question to?

    Thanks for all of your opinions.
  2. Cannonball

    Cannonball More Trains Than Brains

    O costs more because it's bigger. It also tends to be a bit more rugged. You would think it would be more detailed as well but that doesn't always seem to be the case. HO track and accessories tend to be more prototypical and in the proper scale. MTH makes accessories that are closer to scale than Lionel though. One big advantage of O is they are easier to handle. If you go with a larger layout for O gauge, my biggest piece of advice is to burn the Fastrack and go with regular tube track. It will save you a pile of money.
  3. Dave Farquhar

    Dave Farquhar Member

    Pretty much all are valid except for space. Remember, an O36 curve is 18" radius, so the standard curve is the same in HO and O. If you're going to run all scale-sized equipment, then HO takes less space, but for semi-scale, O is equal and with some compromises can actually take up less space.

    O is definitely easier to wire and gives you a lot more options. That third rail lets you do some neat tricks with an insulated outside rail that isn't possible in 2-rail. It also tends to make the track more resistant to voltage drop. Voltage drop still happens, but run a few feeder wires and you take care of that. And since the voltages are higher, you can get away with a little more dirt on the track.

    The bigger size is easier to see and handle, which is important as age becomes a factor.

    There are things to be said for both scales, as you've stated. Ultimately you have to decide the most important factor for you. Cost can be mitigated in either scale (used equipment is cheaper than new), but availability is tougher. If realism is paramount for you, go HO. If you want the hobby to be as easy as possible, O will still let you down sometimes, but generally less than HO does. It probably won't be an easy decision. I don't envy you.
  4. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    When comparing costs, remember that O takes up 4 times the area of HO, and twice the length. If you have an area to work with, you'll only need a quarter the number of cars in O; along a shelf it's half as many.
    O also comes in two varieties: the 3-rail and the 2-rail. 2-rail can be a bit harder to find.
  5. Gil Finn

    Gil Finn Active Member

    HO is cheaper cost wise by half.

    Good high quality HO is just that and costs more than that starter set stuff, same for O.

    Basicly you get what you pay for.

    I have both.

    I like HO as I get more train for my money. $25 frieght cars verses $50 and up for scale O if you want to pay that much.

    There are more buildings and they are far less expensive too.

    Either gauge has high quality stuff. Walthers, Bachman Spectrum, Atlas Trainman in HO and MTH, Lionel, Atlas, Weaver and others.

    So as I see it amounts what you want to play with, work with and build in coming years.

    Go visit open houses at train clubs, most are HO and go to all the shows you can and study the layouts O vs HO ad then make the leap.

    Buy some magazines at you local hobby shop like O Gauge Rail Roading, and Model Railroader.

    Think about On30 too. You can get lots in that scale/gauge

    Best of luck with your choice.

  6. Elcoholic

    Elcoholic New Member

    A general rule could be that HO (scale) is for DETAILED RAILROAD MODELING and O (gauge) is for PLAYING WITH TRAINS. Once you decide WHAT you want to do, you'll know which scale to use.
  7. Jim Krause

    Jim Krause Active Member

    HO scale has developed a great deal in the past 15 years. I don't know if you ever had experience with some of the older toy quality trains in HO but it soured a lot of people on HO. Today you can get quality levels from yuk to very good. The Lionel stuff, as you may have noticed here on The Gauge, seems to be either the best thing since sliced bread or the worst thing that man invented. Check out some of the threads. Do lots of research. Plan, plan, plan. Pick an era that you want to model. Plan, plan, plan. Don't buy anything until you plan, plan, plan.
  8. Cannonball

    Cannonball More Trains Than Brains

    Have I already mentioned that this man is a freakin' genius? :D
  9. gfmucci

    gfmucci Member

    Well golly then. That about clinches it. We are much more "play with it people" than we are terra-formers, surveyors, civil engineers, urban designers, arhcitects, contractors, carpenters, and painters.

    At the same time I realize that both HO or O can benefit by the use of all sides of the brain exercising these various disciplines. I intend to do a modest share of modeling (that's what I say now - I'll probably become a fanatic:D). As my wife admitted to me a day after I set up the train she bought me for Christmas, "I've created a monster, haven't I".

    But the gentleman from out in Left Field pretty much nailed it.
  10. Gil Finn

    Gil Finn Active Member

    MY K line shay has more detail than my Bachman spectrum and if it didnt, I counldnt see itLOL.
  11. spankybird

    spankybird OTTS Founder

    Gil - you hit that one on the head.

    Elcoholic - does this mean that you do NOT run your trains. If you do, are you not then PLAYING with them??????

    Remeber these are all toys, just different scales. They do not generate any revenue that can support your family, they do not ship real freight like NS or CSX. They are all toys.
  12. steamhead

    steamhead Active Member

    I consider myself a "serious" modeler & try to achieve as high a degree of realism on my layout as my very limited abilities allow me to....But do I ever love PLAYING with my trains....!!!

    P.D. Sometimes the playing can be more work than work...:thumb:
  13. Elcoholic

    Elcoholic New Member


    You somehow missed the point, I think. Playing is ALL I DO! I have zero time for creating little towns with park benches, running streams, parked cars and little people trying to look like they're doing something.

    I DEAL IN TRACK........as much as I can squeeze into my 12x16 space. When I ran out of lateral room, I went UP.....four levels total. Do I run trains? I can place 18 complete trains on tracks and run any eight of them at once....the noise is deafening! I have bridges that span nothing and an airport hanger on a piece of real estate so small you'd be lucky to land a helicopter. The few buildings I do have are placed totally haphazzard, with no regard to any plan. I'm too apathetic to add lighting to them.

    The "advantages" of being a responsible adult are highly over-rated. My approach, which I strongly recommend, allows a part-time total regression into childhood. Additionally, it's much cheaper than psychiatry and more preferrable to stress-related strokes.
  14. Ralph

    Ralph Remember...it's for fun!

    I think its good to remember that there is O gauge equipment out there developed as scale models with excellent details for use with layouts intended to model the prototype. In St. Paul there is an excellent club layout with trains adorned with beautiful details running in very convincing O gauge renderings of local scenes.
  15. gfmucci

    gfmucci Member


    I like the way you think:thumb: The drummer in you is showing. I look at the detail in some of the layouts and break out in stress induced sweat. On the other hand, thinking of getting my first milk can distribution station is like anticpating my first date.
  16. Alan Bickley

    Alan Bickley Member

    Personally I prefer to model in HO as I'm more inclined to model other things besides the trains and tracks, and when it comes to trackside accessories the availability in HO is absolutely vast.
  17. gfmucci

    gfmucci Member

    That is so true - availability, competition, variety for HO.
  18. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

  19. Ralph

    Ralph Remember...it's for fun!

    Yep, that's the kind of O I'm talking about when it comes to scale model integrity and realism. I found a link for the club I mentioned before. Scroll down to the track plan and click on the arrows to see photos of various locations on the layout.


  20. michael4449

    michael4449 New Member

    Somewhat less common in 'O' is the '2-rail' O Scale, don't forget that. One must often get to know a bit about models to find the style that suits oneself.

    All non-1:1 size trains have to have some compromises or they won't work properly. In HO, I think an 18" radius scales about 1.5 times as sharp as a 40 foot railroad car had to be designed to negotiate in 1:1.

    I do like scale models like P:48 like http://www.proto48.org/ and it is good to know early on if that is what fits you best.

    The essence of something can be exhibited by a caricature of it; I don't mind good ones. And sometimes having limited choices in what to get is a blessing. I happen to like Marx 'O' 6" tin that ended production some 33 years ago, but locomotives of about 55-70 years in age.


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