N Scale Rail Road The Basics
N Scale Rail Road scale is a popular model railway scale/track gauge. Depending upon the manufacturer (or country), the scale ranges from 1:148 to 1:160. In all cases, the gauge (the distance between the rails) is 9 mm (0.354 in). The term N gauge refers to the track dimensions, but in the UK in particular N Scale Rail Road gauge refers to a 1:148 scale with 9 mm (0.354 in) track gauge modelling.
The terms N scale and N gauge are often used interchangeably. An advantage of N scale is that it allows hobbyists to build layouts that take up less space than HO scale, or put longer track runs into the same amount of space, because the models are smaller (by nearly a half) than they are in HO scale (1:87). While N scale is quite small, it is not the smallest commercially available scale, as Z scale is smaller yet at 1:220 and T scale is 1:450 or 1:480.
N Scale Rail Road History
A modern Kato model of SBB Re 460 electric locomotive, featuring the ubiquitous Arnold "Rapido" coupler
SW-8 switcher.Although trains and accessories of similar gauge and/or scale existed as early as 1927, modern commercially produced N scale models were first launched by the Arnold company of Nuremberg in 1962. Unlike other scales and gauges, which were de facto standards at best, within two years N scale manufacturers defined the gauge, voltage, as well as the height and type of couplers. For example Arnold developed the now ubiquitous "Rapido" coupler to provide a simple and robust releasable coupler design. Although the original Arnold coupler has been joined by more functional and aesthetically pleasing designs (see discussion below), Arnold allowed use of the Rapido design by other manufacturers and so established a common standard to couple together rolling stock from different sources.
N scale has a large worldwide following. Models are made of very many standard gauge prototypes from every continent. N scale's popularity is second only to that of HO. In Japan, where space in homes is more limited, N scale is the most popular scale, and HO scale is considered large. Not all modellers select N because they have small spaces; some use N scale in order to build more complex or more visually expansive models.
N scale in Australia has become more popular over the years. Modellers model mainly US, British and European prototypes because until recently the Australian market had no N scale models of local prototype. The creation of local prototypes is now a flourishing "cottage" industry, making Australia N scale modelling more popular each year.
N Scale Rail Road gauge track and components are also used with larger scales, in particular HOe and OO9 scale for modelling narrow gauge railways. N scale models on Z Scale Track are used to model metre gauge (Nn3). A small amount of 2' industrial narrow gauge modelling in N scale using custom track is done but there are few suppliers of parts. Nn18 layouts use T scale track and mechanisms to represent minimum gauge railways. N Scale Trains and structures are often used on HO or larger layouts to create forced perspective, or the illusion that an object is further away than it actually is.
N Scale Rail Road Standards
N scale locomotives are powered by DC motors which accept a maximum of 12 V DC. In traditional DC control, the speed of the train is determined by the amount of voltage supplied to the rails. The direction of the train is determined by the polarity of the power to the rails. Since the end of the 20th century, an increasing number of enthusiasts have started using digital train control systems to determine the speed and direction of their trains. This has in part been made possible by surface mount technology and new motors that draw very little current (typically 0.2amps). The most popular digital control systems used in N scale model railways are NMRA-DCC and Selectrix.
The initial agreed-to standard coupling was known as a 'Rapido' coupler from the manufacturer (Arnold); this coupler had been produced under a license from TT-manufacturer Rokal. Most companies developed their own variants of this coupler to avoid Arnold patents on the spring system. Graham Farish initially adopted a plastic flexible U rather than a spring, Peco used a compatible weighted coupler system (Elsie) and Fleischmann cunningly sidestepped the problem by using a sprung plate. All however were compatible.
The Rapido coupler system works well but is difficult to use for automatic uncoupling and also relatively large. In the U.S., Canada and Australia it has been largely superseded by a more realistic looking magnetic knuckle coupler, originally made by Micro-Trains. The MT couplers (as they are known) are more delicate and closer to scale North American appearance than Rapido couplers. Also, they can be opened by a magnet placed under the track. Other manufacturers, such as Atlas and Kato, are now making couplers that mate with Micro Trains couplers.
European modellers have the option to convert the couplings on their rolling stock to the Fleischmann Profi-Coupler system for more reliable operation should they wish to do so, but most N scale rolling stock continues to be manufactured with Rapido couplers - a design which is fairly robust and easy to mold. Modern N scale stock uses a standard NEM socket for couplers which allows different coupling designs to be used by simply pulling out the old coupler and fitting a new one of a different design. In the United Kingdom vendors are increasingly shipping both NEM sockets for couplers and buckeye (knuckle) couplers for the N Scale Rail Road.