Z Gauge Vs OO Gauge

OO gauge vs Z gauge locomotivesOO gauge is the most popular UK model railway gauge, Z gauge is the smallest commercially available model trains. Both have strengths and weaknesses. Here’s what you need to know before starting.

Most people in Britain have heard of OO gauge model railways. They’re what Hornby make and have been around for donkey’s years.

Z gauge is still relatively new but gaining popularity fast due to its tiny size. As houses in the UK get smaller, more and more people wanting a model railway are struggling to find room for a traditional Hornby OO railway and looking for alternatives.

This essentially boils down to two choices, N gauge or Z gauge.

I’ve covered N gauge compared to OO gauge before so won’t dwell on that further, instead, this article looks at the more diminutive Z gauge.

It’s OO for overall range and availability but only in the UK

First up, can you get the rolling stock (the trains, wagons and carriages) to match your interest? And here it’s a clear win for OO for UK modellers although this is not so clear cut for American, German and Japanese railroaders.

In the UK, OO has been around for much longer and as the most popular and not surprisingly has the widest range of rolling stock from Hornby and Bachmann Europe but also Dapol, Heljan, and many others. By contrast, there are no manufactures currently producing British locomotives in Z gauge.

For non-UK use, it’s more varied.

Not surprisingly, given Z gauge was introduced by German manufacturer Märklin there is more German rolling stock available, including steam, electric and diesel locomotives.

And Märklin’s range doesn’t stop at German trains either. They, along with MTL and AZL in America, produce a number of North American prototypes.

And, OO being a mainly UK gauge has limited options in Germany and the US.

Overall, I would say OO is the winner for range and availability but for Germany and the US, Z gauge has the edge.

For price, OO gauge is cheaper

While Z gauge was created in 1972, OO gauge has a much longer history and as such there are more OO gauge products around and more suppliers which results in lower prices. Märklin Z scale locos start at around £180 (199,99 €) while Hornby OO models start under £50 for railroad models and £100 for the finer quality ranges.

And there’s the second-hand market. Again, a quick check on eBay for example found 210 Z scale locomotives verses 19,000 OO models and this naturally results in far lower prices for Hornby, Bachmann, Lima and Triang etc.

For unusual fun, Z gauge zaps OO 

If you want a model railway but want something a bit different to just another model railway on a board, a layout in a wine box, guitar case or coffee table for example, Z gauge offers more options.

It’s tiny size means you can get very believable, fun-to-operate, layouts in spaces that just wouldn’t be possible with OO trains.  The smallest space required for an OO gauge oval layout is 3ft by 3ft where this can be achieved in half the size of its smaller brother for example. This means you can build layouts in unusual places for something different and if you have the space, you can get more track, do more and have more fun in the space with Z gauge.

Overall, Z gauge vs OO gauge

Z scale modellers are more limited in their trains and pay more but can do far more in the space available than their OO gauge counterparts.

If you want a small British-themed layout, OO gauge should be your choice but if you’re not worried about the actual trains running and just want a lot of track and rolling stock in the space you have, Z gauge should be seriously considered.

If this has sparked your interest in Z gauge and you’d like to know more, read my comprehensive guide to common z gauge questions and answers. If you’re confused by the whole gauge concept see this definitive guide to model track gauge.

> 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.
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. I am an “N”gauge modeler and would like to add a narrow gauge line to my layout. I assume that I would need N gauge narrow gauge stock and run them on z gauge track. Is this combination possible and if so where from?

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