On30 scale vs HO scale

Last Updated on September 5, 2019 by Dave Farquhar

On30 trains are bigger than HO scale trains, yet they run on the same track. How can that be? It all comes down to scale and gauge. Here’s On30 scale vs HO scale explained.

On30 scale vs HO scale

On30 scale vs HO scale
This is an On30 layout. The trains and track are smaller than what you see on more common large trains such as those run by Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, CSX, or Kansas City Southern. Photo credit: Zabdiel/Flickr 

On30 is 1:48 scale, the same as O scale. It’s a subset of O scale. HO scale is 1:87 scale, about half the size. It turns out that HO scale track is about 30 inches wide in O scale, making it convenient for modeling narrow gauge trains. 30-inch gauge wasn’t common in the United States, but since HO scale track is cheap and plentiful, On30 caught on, especially among modelers whose eyesight isn’t what it once was. In theory an aging HO scale modeler could replace the buildings and scenery to convert an existing layout to larger, easier-to-see On30 trains.

Narrow gauge exists in HO scale too. HOn30 is HO scale trains running on N scale track, and it’s popular for the same reason–N scale track is cheap and readily available.

Why On30 cars and engines are only about 25% larger than HO

On30 gear isn’t twice as big as HO scale, generally speaking, even though the scale suggests it should be. Narrow gauge trains tended to be smaller than standard gauge trains, like the ones you see every day on lines operated by the large railways such as Union Pacific, BNSF, Norfolk Southern, CSX, or Kansas City Southern. Narrow gauge is for short runs where full-sized trains are impractical for any number of reasons, whether it’s because the terrain is too steep for a full-sized train, or if the loads are too small to justify a train of that size.

The television show Thomas and Friends has some narrow gauge railroads in it. They’re smaller than Thomas, and sometimes Thomas gets into trouble running on their track, because he doesn’t fit. Narrow-gauge engines actually exist; it’s not just something they made up for the TV show.

On30 scale vs HO scale manufacturers

On30 is a bit of a niche scale, but one of the biggest players in On30 is Bachmann, who happens to be a big player in HO scale as well. Even though On30 is far off the beaten path and can even be a bit of a connoisseur scale, On30 equipment tends to be cheaper than regular O scale trains. Since it’s not hard to put a larger body on an HO scale chassis, it makes sense for companies like Bachmann to make both HO scale and On30 scale trains.

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One thought on “On30 scale vs HO scale

  • February 16, 2018 at 10:03 pm

    A lot of lumbering outfits used narrow gauge in the western forests.

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