What Are the Different Types of Model Trains?

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What Are the Different Types of Model Trains?

Model trains have long been popular, among modellers and collectors, and a wide variety of different types and sizes of model train are available. These can range from very small; highly detailed models suited to enthusiast modellers, to large, durable trains which are most suited to outdoor use.

As well as different sizes, different power sources are also available, and can include battery, electric, steam and even clockwork power. A wide variety of accessories including track, scenery and carriages is also available.

Whether looking for an antique wooden train set, or a modern electric model, the right model train can be found on eBay.

Model Train Scales

One of the most important characteristics of a model train is the scale of a model. This can have an impact on the accessories available for the model, as well as where it should be used. There are a number of commonly available scales for model trains.

Z Scale

Z scale model trains were the smallest available models for many years. With a scale of 1:220, these model trains first emerged in Germany, and quickly became popular in other parts of the world. These model trains most frequently use electricity as their power source, and due to their very small size they are most suited to indoor use, being less able to withstand outdoor conditions. Sets of Z scale trains can take up little space, making them an ideal choice for those with limited storage space. These small models have become particularly popular in Japan.

The ZZ scale is also available. At 1:300, these models were briefly the smallest scale of model trains. However, ZZ scale trains, and relating track and accessories, are very unusual, with only a few types of train manufactured for this scale. An even smaller scale, T scale, has also emerged in Japan. These tiny trains are of a 1:480 scale, and are usually powered by electric rail.

N Scales

The N scale has long been one of the most popular scales for model trains. Due to this, N scale trains are widely available, and collectors of this size will be able to choose from an enormous selection of engines, accessories and scenery. N scale trains, so called due to the fact that many of the models measure at around nine millimetres are highly suited to indoor use, with a wide choice of ready to run and kit models available.

TT Scale

TT scale trains, often referred to as ‘table top’ or 3mm scale, are between1:120 and 1:100 in scale, often depending on the country of manufacture. This scale is popular in Europe, particularly in Germany, though some have been produced in the UK. These trains bear similar characteristics to the N scale, and are most suitable for indoor use. TT scale trains and accessories are not as widely available as other scales.

HO Scale

HO, or ‘Half 0’ scale, is the most popular scale of model train all over the world, with the exception of the United Kingdom, and is around 1:87 in size. Due to their popularity, HO scale trains are widely available, as are a variety of accessories, track and scenery. These trains can vary in detail greatly, with some models being intricately detailed collectables, while others being less detailed toys built primarily for operation. HO trains make a good choice for younger collectors for whom a mroe durable model is desirable.

OO Gauge

The OO gauge, 1:76.2 in size,, is the most popular scale of model in the United Kingdom. OO gauge models are widely available, as are the carriages, track and scenery for use with them. OO gauge models can often use HO scale track, offering an even wider choice of model track. Highly detailed collectors models are available, as are less detailed and more durable toys. As is the case with many of the smaller scales of train, these trains are most suited to indoor use. The OO gauge is a popular choice for those who emphasise the operation of their models over assembly and display.

O Scale

The O scale of trains, often ranging from 1:43.5 to 1:48 in size depending on the country of manufacture, are another popular choice. Many models of this scale are designed as moderately detailed, durable toys, making O scale a good choice for younger enthusiasts. Scale modellers have also taken an interest in the O scale, and are often differentiated between ‘hi-railers’, those who run the toy models on an oversized track, and scale modellers who run scale models on scale track.

G Scale

G scale covers numerous sizes, and G scale models are most often used for outdoor sets and garden railways. G scale trains are large and durable, and their size often means a high level of detail can be achieved by scale modellers, as well as on many ready to run kits. This size is also where steam powered models become more widely available. 1 gauge models, of 1:32 scale, are of a similar size to G scale trains, and G scale trains can often use 1 gauge tracks. A wide selection of accessories, ready to run models and model kits are available for G scale trains.

Kit or Ready to Run Model Trains

Many model trains are divided between ready to run and kit models. The main difference between these models is that ready to run models arrive with much, and sometimes all, of the work required to make them operate completed, meaning they can be used immediately. Kit models, on the other hand, can require a great deal of time and effort to complete. It is also possible to buy built and un-built kit models on eBay.

Train Power Sources

Model trains can make use of a number of different types of power source in order to achieve motion. These can range from simple battery operated models, to functioning scale steam engines.

  • Clockwork power is one of the oldest methods of powering a model train and is more commonly found on older vintage and antique model trains. Some manufacturers produced stopping and slowing tracks for use with these models, which could then allow for station shops. These accessories can be difficult to obtain, and many clockwork model trains and related accessories are considered to be desirable collectables.
  • Steam, sometimes referred to as live steam, is another popular and longstanding power source used with model trains. Due to the complexity of steam engines, these types of model train are often larger in scale, with smaller steam powered models being unusual. These models can be expensive to maintain, requiring fuel such as methylated spirit or solid fuel tablets to heat the water to steam.
  • Many more recent models make the use of electricity for power, and can use batteries, electrified rails or overhead lines to deliver power to the engine. All sizes of train can feature electric motors, and this is a popular choice of power source for smaller scales. These trains are also easier to run and maintain, requiring no fuel and few moving parts.

Model Train Accessories

A wide range of accessories are available for use with model trains of various different sizes and power sources. Track is necessary to run a model train, and the right scale and gauge of track should be matched to the right model. Furthermore electric tracks will be needed to run electric trains. Flexible track is a good option for train sets which are intended to be permanent, such as garden railways. Carriages, often referred to as rolling stock, are a widely popular option and can add a great deal to a model engine.

Another popular kind of accessory is scenery, which can include a variety of pieces such as trees and shrubbery and buildings. Steam models also have unique requirements, and can need fuel such as methylated spirit or fuel tablets to run. Cylinder oil is another useful accessory for steam powered models, and can help maintain the engine and keep it running smoothly.

How to Buy a Model Train on eBay

A wide range of model trains can be found on eBay. The full listing of available models can be found under Trains/Railway Models, under Collectables. Results can be arranged by categories such as condition, price, manufacturer and scale. Auction and Buy it Now buying options are also available, offering flexibility in how a model train can be purchased.

Key specifications such as the scale and type of a model train are generally prominently displayed in the item listing, making it easy to quickly identify whether a model train meets any specific requirements. More detailed information about a particular model can be found on the item page, which also features information about the seller such as feedback ratings and item reviews. This ensures that a purchase can be made with confidence. If any further information is needed it is also possible on this page to ask the seller a question regarding the item.

If a specific model train or accessory is required, it may be easier and more effective to use the search function available at the top of every page. Further information on getting the most out of the search function can be found on the Search Tips page.


Model trains have long been a popular hobby, and there is a wide variety of different types and sizes of model train which can be suitable for many different interests. It's easy to find the right model train on eBay.

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