HO vs. N

Discussion in 'Track Planning' started by dmcgeoch, Jan 31, 2007.

  1. dmcgeoch

    dmcgeoch New Member


    I am currently in the process of converting part of my basement into a train room. I'm trying to decide which would be better to model in (HO or N). The room is approximately 14x8 with a 1 ft wide ledge on 3 sides. If I include the ledge, the area is increased to 15x10. I am looking to build a folded dogbone layout for continous running. I am interested in both passenger and freight. I am not planning on modeling any particular area so almost anything goes. What I would like to do is create a layout that allows for "high-speed" passenger lines mixed with freight and the complications that come from sharing track.

    I currently have a small HO platform, but I was not planning on reusing anything other than the trains and the controller. I know if I switch, I would have to start over as far as the trains go.

    So, is it worth the switch to N or should I stick to HO.
  2. Nomad

    Nomad Active Member

    Hello:wave: , I had the same problem when I restarted modeling. What made me stick with ho was my age, poor eye sight, and clumsy fingers. If you think finding a ho scale part you drop is hard, drop something in n scale and try to find it !

  3. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    I think this is a tough one for anybody but you to answer. The n scale guys are going to say go with n scale, ho guys will say go with ho, and you may even get some garden railroaders telling you to forget the little stuff and go with large scale. You really have to decide what you want and how well the size works for you. My understanding is that n scale stuff is made to run as well as ho now days, so it really comes down to the question of what your prefer and what you can see, and how well you can model in the size you choose.
  4. ezdays

    ezdays Out AZ way

    Russ is right, everyone chose what scale they have for their own reasons. First I tried HO, and then for the sake of being able to do four times as much in the same space, I went over to N. Before I did, I made darn sure my eyes and fingers could handle it so I bought some trains, rails and a few kits and gave it my best. Since I worked in electronics for forty-some years, I found it easy to work in that scale since I was used to handling small parts.

    The biggest downside, for me anyway, is that at N scale I can't always obtain the close up detail that I would like. For many, that's not a problem, for me it is. The second downside is that at N scale, your trackwork has to be really close to perfect, no room for errors or your going to get a lot of derailing. N scale is about half the size of HO, but requires at least twice the patience.
  5. Doc Holliday

    Doc Holliday Member

    My thoughts exactly!
  6. pgandw

    pgandw Active Member

    As other have said, choice of scale is often a highly personal choice. From a strictly rational point of view (but remember choice of scale is often highly emotional), you will much better success in trying to achieve your stated goals in N scale.

    20th Century passenger cars were often 80ft long. Full scale models of these cars are a hair short of 12" long in HO, and a hair over 6" in N. Recommended minimum radius for these cars for reliable running with body-mounted couplers, diaphrams, and good underbody detail is at least 30" in HO, and 15" in N with 3 times the car length being the preferred minimum (36" and 18").

    These minimum radii will make it difficult to design a dog bone style layout in HO with accessible turn-back loops.

    • A doughnut approach would be more likely to be successful, possiby with a narrow center peninsula for a passenger terminal or other yard.
    • You could back up to shorter 19th Century passenger trains or use "shorty" passenger cars to get good results with a smaller minimum radius in HO.
    • The other alternative is to plow ahead with say 24" minimum radius, and be prepared to carefully test your track and chosen passenger cars before scheduling operations.
    my thoughts, your choices
  7. dmcgeoch

    dmcgeoch New Member

    Thank you all for your insight. I'm still not sure which scale to go with. However, I am definitely thinking about an around the room layout with a duckunder. I think my next step is to come up with a plan that suits me.

    Thank again,

  8. jetrock

    jetrock Member

    An around the room layout with a swing-out bridge or duckunder (the former is far, far preferable) is quite feasible at one foot thick, for either HO or N scale--so the decision will have to rest with whichever scale you like more. Not very helpful, I realize. 10 feet (I'd recommend using the existing shelf and just building layout modules to rest on top of it, assuming it is between 36 and 60 inches off the ground) is plenty wide for 30" curves, in HO or N scale, meaning that factors like minimum radius are not going to be a big worry when it comes to deciding on a scale.
  9. bigsteel

    bigsteel Call me Mr.Tinkertrain

    i think the most important thing is size,an N scale layout that big will be huge!,and N scale is very tedious.but if you want to display HUGE size differences go with N,if you want more forgiving easier to handle stuff with out the need for huge size differences go with HO.
  10. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic

    It really comes down to a) your eyesight, and b) your train preferences. Really, if you find your arms aren't long enough to handle the small stuff anymore, go HO.

    In the space you have, in HO scale you're going to have tight-ish curves, even if you go around the walls, for passenger equipment. It'll look funny. You'll have short-ish trains - unless you want to play chase-the-tail, your freight trains will be 12-15 cars long.

    If you go with N scale, you can run much longer trains without ovewhelming the layout, and have passenger cars on curves that look more realistic.

    If you go with HO scale, you can add as much detail as you like (although the eyesight will come into this as well). Figures, interiors, etc...

    If you go with N scale, you can have a much higher scenery:track ratio that will give you a much more realistic overall view of the layout scenes.

    As far as operations go, both HO and N scale equipment run very well, you can equip both with DCC, and both scales can use magnetic couplers. On the last point, most new equipment comes standard with magnetic knuckle couplers, so you don't need to worry about converting it.

    I like both scales. There's an amazing variety of equipment available for both scales, although there's more to choose from in HO. The level of detail and quality is incredible. The new stuff in N scale is really quite sharp - the equipment doesn't have the thick, heavy details that were quite common 10-15 years ago.
  11. Hoghead

    Hoghead Member

    You may even get some 1:1 scale guys tell you to hire out on class 1.
  12. Hoghead

    Hoghead Member

    The size of room you have, both scales would give you a decent layout, but being partial to N scale myself -- I would have to say N gives you a better scenery to train ratio and the ability to run longer trains.
  13. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    You might want to buy a locomotive and a few n-scale passenger cars with a loop of track and a couple of switches and set them up on a board temporarily. Then see how you like operating n-scale and see if the size is a problem for you. It should not cost very much to get something very basic going for test purposes, and if you decide that you need the larger size of ho, you could probably sell the n-scale stuff for 1/2 of what you paid for it. If you watch the buy & sell section of the gauge or watch for local swap meets, you might even find some good used n-scale trains for a bargain price. If they need a little repair so much the better, you will find out if you can work with the small parts necessary to repair them. The idea is to get into n-scale for as low a cost as possible to see if you like it, before spending a lot of money on trains and discovering that you really can't work in that small a scale and would rather go ho.
  14. dmcgeoch

    dmcgeoch New Member

    Well I took the plunge and purchased some N equipment and I am setting up a small "test" layout to see how I like it. It is a simple loop with a switched curve. So far I like working with N. I now have to start working on scenery and see how that goes.

    Thank you all for the information and hints.

  15. sumpter250

    sumpter250 multiscale modelbuilder

    I have built in 1/24, 1/35, 1/48, 1/64, 1/87 (and narrow gauge), 1/120, 1/130, 1/144, and 1/700 scales. They each have their "goods" and "bads". I believe you are doing the right thing in experimenting with N scale. The great benefit there is less "selective compression", and more realistic overall look (as previously mentioned). ezdays brought out the one really major issue, that of trackwork accuracy. The smaller the scale, the more perfect your trackwork has to be. .002" in HO is about 7/64"(scale), in N, it is 1/4"(scale). Now a scale quarter inch isn't much, but, get to .01", and now you have a scale inch and a quarter. Think how an inch and a quarter error can affect the prototype, and you'll have about the same effect in scale..."bump, rattle, crash". That's only ten thousandths of an inch error, easy enough to do, in any scale.
    I have to side with, choice of scale being directly dependent on your ability to maintain tolerances in your assemblies. We all would like "bigger empires"(smaller scale), but we have to build them so that they work, or we get no joy from them, only more problems to fix.
  16. Squidbait

    Squidbait Recovering ALCO-holic

    I don't know how picky you are about appearance, but my gripe with N scale has always been the toy-like appearance of the code-80 track. It always looks huge when you compare it to the size of the trains.

    Now that Atlas has code 55 turnouts and flextrack, it looks a lot better (to my eye), and is just as easy to work with as the code 80 stuff - easier, in fact, if you're cutting flex track.

    It might be something to consider before you take a big plunge for code 80 on a layout.
  17. Rector

    Rector New Member

    Dear Dmcgeoch,

    If you want to create a layout that simulates "high speed" passenger trains then modeling in N scale will give you the maximum amount of what may be called "distance realism." High speed trains only go fast in between points - and in real life need a lot of track to safely get up to that speed.

    My great frustration modeling in HO is that given my available space (which if I was really creative is similar to what you have in actual square footage) I can't accurately give the impression of speed and distance.

    Go with N - and post some pictures as the model develops! train97

  18. rsn48

    rsn48 Member

    You don't mention what your interests are in the hobby, by that I mean what era do you want to model. I love the modern era which N scale is best suited for, you can have a realistic 8 foot long train in N with a double lash up of SD90's; try that in HO and it will be a joke. HO is the better "transition era" scale of the two; more available and the larger engines are more enjoyable to see. Sound is better in HO, sound is available in N but it doesn't have the same dynamic.

    I personally believe both scales are very enjoyable and no matter which one you pick, you will have fun. I also agree that an HO layout will be tight in your area. I opted for N scale because I wanted an empire in my study layout; HO would have been to tight and too limited. Good luck in your choice.
  19. Russ Bellinis

    Russ Bellinis Active Member

    If you want sound with n-scale in a small area, you can use external sound with large speakers. In a small room, you don't really need ot have the sound follow the trains. You can tie your sound to your throttles so that the sound accelerates with the locomotives. Build something in surround sound and your n-scale can sound like the prototype!
  20. sumpter250

    sumpter250 multiscale modelbuilder

    First, there is a misconception about the size difference between HO, and N. N is 72.5% of HO, only slightly smaller that HOn3.
    An 8' train in N, is a scale 960', I have run a 60' train on the modular layout, modern freight, with an SD-50,SD-60,SD40-2. this is a scale 5220' in HO. I run 10'-12' trains, modern, and steam, on the Lake County Model Rail Road Club layout, these are about the same scale length as the 8' N scale train. Typically, now, I run 20' trains on the modular, which are 1740 scale feet, usually with a single articulated loco, or 3, 8wheel diesels.
    With the current availability of superb N scale steam, this may no longer be as true as it used to be. A pair of 2-8-8-2s with a long coal drag is a sight to behold in N scale. Of course, the same train, in O, with an allegheny on the head end......well, and if it has a decent sound system? bounce7

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