HO scale is the most popular scale for model railroading, partly because its size represents a good compromise. It’s small enough that you can fit a decent layout in a reasonable space without it taking over your basement. But it’s big enough that you can see it. But how big is HO scale? How big is an HO scale train?
How big is an HO scale train?
Here’s how to do the math to figure out how big an HO scale train is. HO scale is 1:87, which works out to 3.5 mm on the model representing one foot on the real thing. A typical HO scale car is 140-175mm in length, or between 5.5 and 7 inches. If you buy a starter set, you can expect the train in the set to be around three feet long (approximately a meter) if it comes with a locomotive and about four cars.
You can expect the locomotive to be about 35 mm wide and 56 mm tall. Or in US measurements, about 1 3/8 inches wide and 2 1/4 inches tall. The cars will typically be a bit shorter and perhaps not quite as wide.
An HO scale train is approximately twice the size of a comparable N scale train, and theoretically half the size of an O scale train. Lionel trains don’t adhere very closely to standards. So an HO scale set can end up taking up about the same amount of space as a Lionel O gauge set, but Lionel sacrifices some scale fidelity in order to do so.
How big is HO scale? How big is an HO scale layout?
But there’s more to an HO scale layout than just the train. The train needs track to run on, so the size of an HO scale layout is another consideration.
A circle of HO scale track has a radius of 18 inches. So a full circle ends up being 3 feet in diameter. If you buy an HO scale starter set, the oval of track it comes with will probably be about three feet wide and about five feet long when you put it together.
A popular size for HO scale layouts is 4 feet by 8 feet. That’s slightly smaller than a ping pong table. This gives you enough space to have some options for how you run your layout.
HO scale in a 4×8 space
If you want to do some operations and build up trains in a yard like a real railroad, 4×8 is enough room for a small yard. If you just want to watch a train go in circles and relax, 4×8 is enough room to have a couple of trains going. It also allows them to do something a little more complex than just a circle.
HO scale in 18 square feet
Another option is to do a shelf layout, with two tables on either side of the room and a long shelf with two lines of track connecting them. In the simplest setup, you just have a 3-foot table on each side and lay a circle of track for the train to turn around in. Add one short straight piece so the train can turn around. Finishing the layout is easy. Put a backdrop along the wall, then put some scenery and/or buildings on the two tables. The result is an HO scale layout in about 18 square feet.
Over time, you can add complexity if you wish. You can put a yard on one table and a town on the other, for example.