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.

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

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. And other locos have a similar price difference.

But while locos are the centre of attraction on a layout and so 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 it’s Peco OO gauge equivalent (ST-200) has – at the time of writing – an average price of £1.20.

And then there’s the second-hand market  Because OO is the market leader there’s a huge second-hand market for it and this doesn’t really 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 differences in price 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.

Obviously, 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 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 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

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 great range of digital 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 starting over I’d stick with OO.

A final, personal, note: I spend a LOT of time testing, photographing, writing and often wrecking my own layouts researching techniques for these articles and don’t charge a penny for them. If this article is useful to you or helpful, please add a comment to say so, it gives me encouragement to continue. Thanks and happy modelling, Andy.



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9 comments
  1. 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”

    Regards

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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!

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