What is N Scale Model Railroading?

Our club members are familiar with much of the terminology and definitions associated with our hobby, but if you are a beginner then it can be daunting getting to grips with what everything means.

Hopefully this page will give you a head start in understanding what it is our club is all about.


You will often hear people speak of “N Gauge” and / or “N Scale”, and while the two phrases get used interchangeably, they are not technically the same thing.

Gauge refers to the distance between the rails, and for our club we use N Gauge track, which is 9mm (or 0.354″) between the rails. 9mm is the distance between the rails when real-life standard gauge tracks – which are 1435mm wide – are divided by 160. So, the track we use represents standard gauge railway lines.

As a side note, the letter “N” actually stands for the German word “Neun” (translation: Nine) because there are nine millimeters between the rails of N-Gauge track, and this size of track and model became popular in Germany around 1962.


Scale refers to the ratio between real life and the models we are using. As mentioned above, the track used for our model railways is 1/160th of real-life size, so the Scale of our models is generally 1:160.

Of course, nothing is ever totally straightforward, and different countries have developed models for N Gauge track to different scales as a result of local circumstances. For example, in Britain models are 1:148, in Japan they use 1:150, and America uses 1:160.

Despite these differences, models from all these countries run on the same track, and work together. A keen eye might recognise the variation in scale, but overall, there is little to differentiate models from one region to another, and our club doesn’t bother about it at all.


Given that the track we use is 9mm wide, that must be all that matters, right? Not quite!

We also need to consider ‘code’, type and manufacturer.

Track ‘Code’

The other dimension that is modelled is the height of the rail, and this is typically measured in thousands of an inch, and the height is referred to as “code”.

There are 2 common rail heights in use in N Gauge track – code 80 and code 55.

Code 80 track is 80 thousandths of an inch (0.080″) or 2mm high and is very common. Code 55 track is 0.055″ or 1.4mm high. Technically, both these rail heights are too big (code 55 is equal to rails that are 223mm, or nearly 9″ tall, while code 80 equates to rails that are 325mm or over 12″ tall), however the rail height is not a major factor for most people and is a trade-off between realistic scale and ease of laying track and running trains. Modellers doing ‘fine scale’ modelling usually use Code 55 track as it appears more realistic.

For those people who want their track to be correct, some manufacturers do produce code 40 track, which is about 1mm high, however it requires extra effort to lay the track and get it right so that you don’t end up with lots of derailments. Some modellers, few and far between, use code 40 track for freight sidings. Because of its low height, wheel flange size on rolling stock may become a problem.

You will mostly see code 80 track at our club because most of the trackwork is on “modules” that are built to a standard to work with everyone’s similar modules, and the track that is specified is code 80 as code 80 is the most commonly used rail code over many years.

Track of different codes is not always able to be mixed with each other without some effort to ensure that the top surface of the rails meets smoothly. Fortunately, Peco track, which is the most readily available track in Australia, allows for both codes (80 and 55) to be connected together using the same track joiners, and the rails will still meet smoothly.

Track Type – Fixed or Flexible

Another consideration for track is whether the track comes in pieces that clip together to form a track system, or whether it is designed to be cut to the desired length and bent by hand to form curves. The former option is easier to deal with because the pieces are designed to fit together on complex layouts (with some constraints), while the latter allows for customised layout designs, but requires more effort to lay. For example, after bending flexible track into a curve, the inside rail must be cut to line up with the outside rail.

Track Brand

Finally, track from different manufacturers may or may not fit together, so it pays to research what you want to achieve, together with what you can readily obtain before you start.


We mention modules on our website – for example “We will be running a few trains on T-TRAK modules …” – but what are modules?

Put simply, modules are small sections of track and scenery that join together to make a complete train track where trains can be run. These smaller sections might be made by one person, or might be from several people, but they all connect together because the modules are all built to a set standard.

The most important aspect of a modular system is that the track(s) must be at the same location at the module interfaces. On large modules, the track within the modules may ‘move around’ or even have siding tracks to service industries or motive power depots.

A common modular system used by many of our members is called T-TRAK. The T-TRAK standard allows for straight sections of track, inside corners, outside corners and T-Junctions, all of which can join together to create track schemes that are as simple as a loop of track, to quite complex systems.

You can find out more information on T-TRAK at the T-TRAK in Australia Guidelines website.

There is another form of modules that exist, and they are modules of varying shapes besides rectangular shape and the system is known as a free-form modular system. The Australian Free-moN pages can explain more about this system.

Further Information

If you would like further details about any of the information on this page, please use our Contact Us page, or come along to one of our monthly meetings shown on our Events page and have a chat with us.

Suggestions for other topics

If there are other topics that you would like to see explained here, please use our Contact Us page and ask us to incorporate your request.