Are Lionel trains O gauge? Lionel’s brand name practically became synonymous with O gauge, but not all O gauge trains are Lionel. And not all Lionel trains are O gauge either.
Lionel G gauge/G scale
If you bought a Lionel train at retail after, say, around 2009, there’s a really good chance it’s G scale rather than O gauge. Switching to G scale allows them to sell battery-operated trains with remote control running on plastic track to meet a lower price point without worrying about backward compatibility with the O gauge trains. Lionel can’t sell a traditional O gauge set for $99, but they can come close to hitting that price point in G scale with battery operation and plastic track. And for the demographic Lionel wants to hit, $99 is an impulse buy. It’s something nicer than the cheap $50 sets that home center sell but still a fraction of the cost of a high end LGB set.
Lionel dabbled in G scale in the 1990s as well, when G scale was more popular and for a time looked like it could overtake O gauge in popularity. Frequently they called these “Lionel Large Scale.”
Lionel HO scale
Lionel’s history with HO scale is tumultuous, but the HO scale market is too large for Lionel to ignore and they charge into it every 20 years or so. The odds are against Lionel ever becoming the dominant player in HO scale, but as long as they think they can sell enough product in that large ecosystem to turn a profit, Lionel will be in it.
Lionel changed strategies in its last entry, acquiring tooling that two other companies used successfully for decades, and going for the lower end of the market rather than the high end. If this time seems different, that’s why.
Lionel also briefly sold OO scale trains from 1938 to 1942, which are about 15% larger than HO scale. While not a total flop, they didn’t sell well enough to continue production after World War II.
Lionel Standard Gauge
Before Lionel made O gauge trains, their big seller was a nonstandard large scale they called Standard Gauge. They were similar in size to modern G scale, at around 1:28 scale in theory, made of metal and painted bright, often garish colors. It was like getting the whole 1920s in a big, spectacular piece of tin. The Great Depression cooled the market for these trains and forced Lionel to focus on something smaller, more affordable and more practical.
In the 2010s, Lionel licensed its name to MTH to use when selling reproduction tinplate trains. These included Standard Gauge and O gauge. But the reproduction Standard Gauge trains got more attention.