N scale is the second most popular scale for model railroading, because it’s small enough that you can fit a big layout in a reasonable space without it taking over your basement, or build a small layout in a very small space, as small as a coffee table. But how big is N scale? How big is an N scale train?
How big is an N scale train?
A simple N scale train tends to be about 1.5 feet, or half a meter, long between the locomotive and a few cars. It will also be about 3/4 inches wide and 1 1/2 inches tall.
Here’s how to do the math to figure out how big an N scale train is. N scale is 1:160, which works out to 1.905 mm on the model representing one foot on the real thing. A typical N scale car is 3-3.75 inches in length, or between 75 and 100 mm. If you buy a starter set, you can expect the train in the set to be around 1.5 feet long (approximately a half meter) if it comes with a locomotive and about four cars.
You can expect the locomotive to be about 17 mm wide and 28 mm tall. Or in US measurements, about 3/4 inches wide and an inch tall. The cars will typically be a bit shorter and perhaps not quite as wide.
An N scale train is approximately half the size of a comparable HO scale train, and theoretically 1/4 the size of an O scale train. Lionel trains don’t always adhere very closely to standards. So an N scale set’s size difference will be more consistent between HO scale than it will be with Lionel, especially if you compare starter sets.
How big is N scale? How big is an N scale layout?
But there’s more to an N scale layout than just the train. The train needs track to run on, so the size of an N scale layout is another consideration.
A circle of N scale track has a minimum radius of 9 3/4 inches. So a full circle ends up being 19.5 inches in diameter. If you buy an N scale starter set, the oval of track it comes with will probably be about two feet wide and about four feet long when you put it together.
You can set up an N scale starter set in 2 feet by 4 feet, or 1/4 the size of a typical HO scale layout. But another popular option is to go with 4 feet by 8 feet, the most popular size for other scales, and fit more layout into the same space. That’s slightly smaller than a ping pong table. This gives you enough space to have some options for how you run your layout.
N 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.
N 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 N 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.