For anyone about to start building a model railway, one of the biggest decisions will be determining the correct scale and gauge to build it in.
If you're a seasoned railway modeller, then you'll no doubt be familiar with the terms 'gauge' and 'scale'. However, if you're new to the world of model trains, then you may first be wondering exactly what these terms mean. Simply put, the gauge is the distance between the rails, and the scale is the ratio to full-size that the model is built to.
There are several model railway gauges to choose from, with each having their own advantages and disadvantages. 00 gauge model railway layouts are the most popular type available, but are they always the best choice?
What is 00 Gauge?
00 gauge is the most widely available of the model railway gauges in the UK, with a wealth of models and train sets available from a range of manufacturers. Over time this has meant it has become the most popular gauge available. Purchasing new items is usually simple due to a wide range of stock being available from a host of retailers. The used market is also very strong, meaning it's often very easy to find good examples at competitive prices.
00 gauge models are built to a scale ratio of 1:76, meaning they are 76 times smaller than their real-world equivalent, while the gauge of the track (distance between the rails) is 16.5mm.
In other parts of the world, such as the USA, Australia, and continental Europe, H0 gauge is mainly used in place of 00. This has the same track gauge of 16.5mm, but with a scale ratio of 1:87. This makes H0 a smaller scale than 00. Many railway modellers believe this is a more accurate representation of 'true scale' - however it is rare to find H0 gauge in the UK, so if an H0 gauge layout is something you would like to explore, then you will most probably need to find a supplier in Europe or the USA.
00 Gauge vs N Gauge Layouts
The main alternative to 00 gauge model railway layouts are N gauge layouts. These are of a smaller 9mm gauge compared to the 16.5mm of 00 gauge. The scale ratio varies by the region of manufacture - in the UK this is usually 1:148. This smaller size allows more track to fit into a smaller area, making it ideal for scenarios where space is limited.
The smaller size allows more track to fit into a given space, meaning N gauge is more suited to small rooms where space is at a premium. Perhaps you're building a layout in a shed or spare room where space is limited? If so, then N gauge may be for you. The smaller gauge promotes more efficient use of the available space by allowing more track to be placed than if a larger gauge was used.
However, there are many reasons to use 00 gauge model railway layouts, instead of N gauge. One of these is the price. There are simply more suppliers of 00 gauge model trains, meaning that prices are usually less expensive. Whilst these can initially seem like small differences for single items, over time this mounts up and a significant amount can be saved by choosing to run 00 gauge trains.
The second-hand market also heavily favours 00 gauge over N gauge due to the wider range of choice available. If you're looking for a specific locomotive, it's highly likely that you'll be able to find it on the used market. This is not always the case with N gauge as there is simply less available choice, and prices are more expensive as a result. However, this may change in the future as N gauge becomes more popular there will be more choice on the used market.
If you're going to be running DCC model trains then you'll also be better off with 00 gauge. Manufacturers can produce DCC fitted locomotives in 00 gauge with relatively ease, due to the ample space provided by the body shells for the additional components. The smaller bodies of N gauge locomotives make it very difficult to fit the extra encoders needed for all DCC features. Whilst basic DCC motor control is present, extra features such as smoke, lighting, and sounds are often not. Even then, manufacturers tend to only fit these to the larger N gauge locomotives. If these extra features are important to you, then you will certainly be better off running 00 gauge model trains.
00 gauge is best for most people
00 gauge model railways are the most suitable gauge for most people. It's the most popular model railway gauge, so the prices are lower. The locomotives and track are readily available on the second-hand market, meaning further savings can often be achieved relatively easily. The used market for other gauges (such as N gauge) is not as extensive, meaning there is simply less of these items for sale, and the prices are often higher as a result.
If you have limited space you may choose not to opt for 00 gauge model railway layouts, and instead choose N gauge, which will make better use of the available space. Larger gauges such as 0 gauge are more complex and you will often need to be a more experienced railway modeller if you're considering this gauge.
To summarise, 00 gauge model railway layouts are the best choice if you're either building your first model railway, or are a seasoned modeller simply looking to stick with the most popular gauge and the advantages that brings. However, if you're looking for something different and enjoy the challenges of working with either a smaller or larger gauge, then an alternate gauge such as N gauge or 0 gauge may be for you.