OO gauge vs N gauge

OO or N gauge

What I wish someone had told me before.

I run both OO and N gauge model trains, actually I run a few other gauges too but that’s another story, and enjoy working with both.

Trains are trains of course and they’re both just as entertaining but here’s what I wish someone had told me when starting from scratch.

Oh, and these aren’t the obvious things (like you can fit more N gauge track into a smaller space) but three hard realities of the differences between in N or OO I’ve learned over time. It’s taken years to appreciate these, maybe I’m a slow learner, but either way you gain.

Anyway, on with the article.

For Price, go Double O

And not just the cost of the locos either.

It’s no surprise that trains in OO gauge are cheaper than their N gauge equivalents. Take the A1 Tornado. The Graham Farish N gauge version costs around £130 to £140 from the main dealers while the OO gauge version from Hornby comes in under £100. Other locos have a similar price difference.

And if you go to for-budget locos, the cheapest Hornby locos such as the Smokey Joe can’t be beaten on price.

But while locos are the centre of attraction on a layout and the saving there matters, what really surprised me is that this price difference carries through to every aspect of the layout.

Pretty much everything from track to models costs just slightly more in N gauge.

A single piece of Peco N gauge set track (ST1-N) for example costs around £1.50 while its Peco OO gauge equivalent (ST-200) has — at the time of writing — an average price of £1.20.

There is also the second-hand market  Because OO is the market leader there’s a huge second-hand market for it and this doesn’t exist yet for N gauge. So if you’re prepared to take a few risks buying second-hand you can save even more.

Sure the price differences don’t seem much for individual parts but over an entire layout, this all mounts up.

OO equals greater gratification

I love my little N gauge trains.

But I also enjoy model making. And, while I can deny it as much as I want, if I’m being honest modelling in N gauge isn’t as much fun or pleasing as in 1:76th scale.

The smaller size makes making the models more challenging both in terms of being able to see what you’re doing and also actually making some of the small details. But what experience has really taught me is that even when you’ve gone to the trouble of modelling something in N it’s just not as satisfying once finished.

Most of the detail is so small as to make it unnoticeable when done.

Yes, it’s pleasing to me to know that I’ve made a 1 or 2mm high sign for a doorway and that the wording, etc is correct but when operating the layout later these and all the other tiny details that I’ve spent painstaking hours, days and weeks creating and positioning just aren’t big enough to notice and disappear.

More to the point, N gauge requires more precision just to set up and operate. If I want a quick run of the trains, I can “grab” my OO models, place them on the track and get going. For N gauge it’s all a bit more fiddly and takes longer. Yes, re-railers, etc help but it still delays train-on-track time.

DCC is better BIG

With my preferred DCC controller, I now work in DCC on my OO gauge layout and good ‘ol DC on my N gauge layout, and for good reason.

I did experiment with N gauge DCC for a while but found that while manufacturers are increasingly offering their models with DCC fitted or ready (for fitting later) this is typically only for basic motor control and even then only in the medium to big locomotives.

The smaller engines and small body shells of N-scale locos just don’t have space for extra decoders.

End result: the range of OO gauge locomotives with DCC functionality is far larger and there is a greater range of features (lights, sounds, and smoke for example) available in them.

I’m sure in time this will come to N scale but for now at least when I want to use digital, OO gauge is a better choice.

This is my experience, what’s yours?

Overall, N is fun and I’ll continue to model in it and run trains but if I was starting from scratch or perhaps returning to the hobby after a break and wanted a train set to kick off with and start over I’d stick with OO.


> A final, personal, note: I spend a huge amount of time testing, photographing, writing and researching techniques for these articles and pay for all the running costs of MRE out of my own pocket. If you found this article useful you can support me by making a donation on my fund-raising page. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.

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Founder of ModelRailwayEngineer, Andy Leaning

Andy is a lifelong modeler, writer, and founder of modelrailwayengineer.com. He has been building model railways, dioramas, and miniatures for over 20 years. His passion for model making and railways began when he was a child, building his first layout at the age of seven.
Andy’s particular passion is making scenery and structures in 4mm scale, which he sells commercially. He is particularly interested in modelling the railways of South West England during the late Victorian/early Edwardian era, although he also enjoys making sci-fi and fantasy figures and dioramas. His website has won several awards, and he is a member of MERG (Model Railway Electronics Group) and the 009 Society.
When not making models, Andy lives in Surrey with his wife and teenage son. Other interests include history, science fiction, photography, and programming. Read more about Andy.

Afflliate disclosure:The links on this page may take you to carefully selected businesses, such as Hornby, Amazon, eBay and Scale Model Scenery, where you can purchase the product under affiliate programmes. This means I receive a small commission on any orders placed although the price you pay does not change. You can read my full affiliate policy here. I also sell my my own ready to use, pre-made and painted buildings and terrain features. browse the range.
  1. Incoming dumb question; the answer is probably in the article and I looked right past it:

    So I have an existing N gauge layout. Can I run an OO train on it?

  2. Andy, Thanks for the reply. I tried to reply directly to your answer, but I’m doing something wrong. My first set was a TYCO HO set as a child (I’m in the US – Wyoming). I’ll start investigating layout size for HO versus what I had planned for N. I’ve actually been considering modeling a railroad through part of Colorado from the 1890’s through early 1900s. It was a narrow gauge line, so I’m looking into HOn3 options.

    PS – love your site, the info, and all the useful messages and responses. Stay safe over there and all of you have a Happy New Year. 🙂

    • Thanks Dave! I really enjoy narrow gauge modelling, it’s the best of both worlds. You get the small track size of N but the larger model scale of HO/OO. It’s definitely my preferred format going forward although I still build N or OO for fun. The only limitation is the limited RTR range of rolling stock. Let me know what you decide on. Cheers, Andy

  3. Thank you Andy for a very interesting article. I had 00 in my last house and would normally agree with you that it is the best scale. However, my new house has very limited space, no garage and a freezing loft! so decided to go for N gauge. I’ve put it on a board 150cm by 70cm and found it to be very satisfying., Incidentally I use DCC.

  4. Stupid question here – is OO the same as HO? I started purchasing N-scale years ago due to space restrictions. I now have a larger home with ALOT of unused basement space, which is crying out for a model railroad layout. Being able to cram twice as much railroad into the same space with N-scale is still appealing, but I’m in my 50s and the eyes aren’t as good, and arthritis is starting to plague me.

    • Hi Dave, for the reasons mentioned in the article, I’d go with with OO/HO rather than N.

      HO and OO have the same size track and compatible but the rolling stock is to a different scale, HO being 1:87 while OO is 1:76. If you’re in the UK, OO is more popular with greater choice of models, in other countries, HO is easier to get.


  5. Great advice thank you! Just started to look into setting my husband up with the beginnings of a collection for a big birthday. I had no idea where to start but I have now 00 it is!
    I was thinking of getting our builder in to set up a system on a pulley system to pull up to the ceiling when not in use in our den. Any ideas where I can get suggestions on the best sizing, lay out etc?

    • Hi Sally, that would be an amazing birthday gift. Whole books have been written on layout design and size! It really depends on how much space you have available. My recommendation would be get the boards fitted as large as possible and get a book on layouts that he can then design – there’s a lot of personal preference in layout choice. Let me know if you want some pointers on the books. Andy

  6. I will be starting in N-scale. Yes, scale…..

    There will be no new locomotives, everything will be from the used market, all by German brands except Arnold. I won’t purchase anything that has Hornby associated with it.

    • Hi, I’m a big fan of Märklin engines! I’m guessing you’ve had an unfortunate experience with Hornby in the past but have you looked at their rolling stock recently. It’s got a lot better under the new management. Andy

  7. Hey Andy,

    Thanks for the great website. Just getting started at the age of 54 and looking forward to involving my grandchildren in the journey.

    Best to you,
    Eric W.
    Utah, USA

  8. Hi,
    I have just finished making the baseboard for a 9×2 garage layout, my first, and have been deliberating over whether to go for OO end-to-end or N gauge loop.
    Having read your very helpful article I have made up my mind – OO it is. In the space I have I can create a reasonable end-to-end with fiddle yard.

  9. I’m a complete novice in this field. My 6 year old son is fascinated by trains. He loves his wooden tracks and spends hours making new track layouts. We spend many days out looking at model railways (our favourite so far in Victoria Fort IOW), going to miniature railway ways and to steam engines. So naturally he wishes to build his own model railway and with his 7th birthday around the corner I thought I’d better do some research and found your website- thank you! From the little I have so far I already feel less daunted by where to start!

  10. Very useful, thank you. I am just starting to build my first layout. And as I was not sure which way to go, OO or N, I stated to do both ! But due to the costs involved I can not do this. So I have to decide which way to go. I was going to search for similar parts in both scales. However, you have already done this. Pricing Locos and track, even buildings. And although you might expect OO to be more expensive, basally as it is bigger, it is NOT the case. And, as I am modelling in DCC, it also has better sound, probably due to the increased space. So once again, I say thank you. I just now have to decide on what I want to operate. I have already built a simple loop, with 2 sidings. And I have added a set of points which takes my track off to a second board, and possibly third. I have bought a class 25 and a class 47. Both are DCC sound but the 25 also has lights. I am controlling them with a Bachmann controller. However I also have the Rocco i-pad system, which I am going to try.

  11. I just can’t fit enough trackwork in the shed in OO to make it interesting. N gauge is certainly challenging and the painstaking attention to detail that doesn’t really show once it is on the layout is a fair point. However I have a descent layout taking shape all DCC with servo/megapoints control of points, signals and level crossing.
    Six locos have sound some retro fitted – hard wired. Enjoying spending mi pension.

  12. I was seriously considering N gauge but I have found like yourself that it is a lot pricier than oo. Therefore I am now rethinking after buying quite a bit of N gauge bits and pieces.

  13. Had OO gauge years ago but I’m kind of liking N gauge it’s a challenge. Hope I’m not wrong. Anyway I’m retired so as Louis Armstrong said “We have all the time in the world”


    Kenny Bell
    Ps. If I encounter any problems I will certainly contact you

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