Model trains which scale is best?

When it comes to model trains which scale is best?

Of course, there isn’t an answer because everyone has different likes, and different amounts of space.

Mike jumped back into the hobby after decades and it was a sharp learning curve when it came to finding the best scale for him.

And his missive below just goes to show that creating a layout is a learning process from start to finish.

Everybody has different budgets, spaces and available time – they all have a bearing on what is possible.

Mike’s post below is a good example of this.

It will make more sense if you remind yourself of his earlier post, which is here.

“My friend AL:

It has been a while since I checked in on progress with latest n-scale layout.

After a minor stroke and five days in hospital back in November, I am finally ready to continue my model train adventure.

First, I must say, we never stop learning from our mistakes. A few years ago, I thought a train layout would be a great way to engage my grandson into the hobby.

It worked at first, but I soon realized these video game kids today need to be active in real time.

My poor decision of choosing old style DC motivated trains where all trains were either moving or stopped was the wrong decision.

My grandson most enjoyed the brief time we had Lionel LionChief trains that could be run individually by remote controllers from an iPad.

But those trains occupied too much space inspiring a move to HO-scale and then finally n-scale.

Instead of going with DCC, I took the cheap way out and settled for a nice large layout powered by one control source.

So, with that mistake made, I am going to start over again, but I have a lot of research to do with regard the best, yet economical way to create a DCC layout. Advice is welcome.

Meanwhile, here in photographs is what I managed to accomplish before coming to this point.

Some may recognize what I tried to accomplish with the Western village from Old Tucson, AZ. and the backlot location from “Back to the Future.”

It was fun building it, but now it is time to move up.

Cheers, and thanks for all the inspiration gained from all the train fans who post on your site.

Michigan, USA”

which scale is best N scale

model trains N scale court house

model trains N scale town square

which scale is best town buildings

model train town buildings N scale

wild west N scale model train

wild west street

which scale is best model railroad

A big thanks to Mike. It just goes to show that when it comes to model trains which scale is best, only you will know.

And do you know what I like most about Mike’s layout? Simply that he made a start. That’s what this hobby is all about.

He just rolled his sleeves up and had a go.

I think some are put off by the mess making a start creates – but as the saying goes, you can’t make an omlette without breaking eggs.

Pete’s a good example of this – have a look below.

He’s not new to this, and as you can see, he’s not scared of the choas his new layout will bring:


just sending a few pics of my dismantling of my 10’x26’ HO scale layout to begin a new one

I will keep you posted as I go along but still not sure of my theme yet but one thing I am doing is splitting the table to work from the middle out

I want to run more steam engines they are my favorites I have some beauties in brass as well

All the best I will keep in touch

Happy railroad to you all 🇺🇸😃”

So there you go – roll your sleeves up and make a mess. Of course, I’m biased, but I think you’ll be glad you did.

That’s all for today folks – a big thanks to Mike for sharing his journey so far.

Please do leave a comment below if you can add / help / encourage about making a start. I’d really like to hear your thoughts.

And if today is the day you get started on your layout, the Beginner’s Guide is here.

Please do keep ’em coming.



PS Latest ebay cheat sheet is here.

PPS Please do leave a comment below on ‘model trains which scale is best’ because I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this one.

16 Responses to Model trains which scale is best?

  1. Rod Mackay says:

    A DC layout does NOT have to be all wired together so everything goes or everything stops, you just have to feed the power from the controller through on/off switches to sections of track that are isolated from each other by insulating rail joiners. Indeed, if you use double pole double throw switches, you can have the track sections you choose fed from either of two controllers, so two of you can drive trains independently, switching the next section you need to your controller as you go. I grant you, DCC achieves a more realistic effect of driving the train not the track, if you can bear the cost. And it can bring lots of extra features like sounds, lights, point motors etc under control. I can see why your lad would prefer it, if he’s into computers etc perhaps he could help instal it with you?

  2. John Frye says:

    You may want to check out Ring Engineering for your DCC work. their approach is more user friendly that the number codes and programming stuff that has many throwing up their hands in computer induced frustration (like me!).
    Impressive layout, nothing like a long train on a long straightaway!
    John from Baltimore

  3. Good to hear you are recovered from the Stroke and ready to get stuck in with your new N gauge layout ..all the best with it …Dangerous Dave

  4. George Zaky says:

    Start off with the NCE starter pack- 2 amps-that can run 2 or 3 N scale DCC equipped engines. The only thing is every engine must have a no kill device to make it thru dead frog turnouts if you have those. I became too frustrated with N that I tried to make for my Grandkids. My HO is marginally operative and I am going back to S scale because they are brutes and my poor eyes & gorilla fingers like bigger. But that’s me so forge ahead and keep us posted.
    Good luck with the new plan. I always started with a track plan and then tried to fit in the scenery which I think may be the wrong way. I tried to put in a country/lumber mill theme then a city theme and could never get that right so I accepted the fact that I am not a good scenery guy. It is too late for me to try again due to income & space but for you guys that are redoing it let us know your approach
    All be well
    George from LI, NY

  5. Erick says:

    Nice!!!!! Would like to see more.

  6. Rob Schweitzer says:

    Hay Mike, what part of Michigan are you from, it’s a big state?

  7. Wayne Rybak says:

    You are inspirational. And I see what Im attracted to, no clutter and space. I see what I need to get me inspired on my layout. So thank you for sharing.

  8. Robert Methe says:

    What is the size of the “L” shaped N scale layout? Like the long elevated loop! Good job!

  9. Jim AZ says:

    Nice start and well done. I think you’ve captured “Old Tucson Studios” quite well. Your modeling of these structures is spot on. Hope to see more.

  10. Duncan Macdonald says:


    I like NCE DCC control system. It seems to be most popular today and there are very good tutorials on You Tube for those of us that just don’t get it the first, second or third time. Digitrax is also good and I rate at #2. MRC bad and appears to be a failing company for DCC. I definitely would not buy that system.

    DCC programing is all by numbers and if you want something has a little more explanation of what is being done to program a device look into JMRI. JMRI is free open source software produced by a group of model railroaders for DCC systems and other aspects. Signaling, train detection, crossing gates/lights and much more, works on PC or MAC.

  11. Richard Hane says:

    Love the pics of the buildings, very nice work. May I ask what you are using for the base of the buildings?

  12. EARL S CORY says:

    In general, wiring a DC system, is more complicated than wiring a DCC system. That said, think about conversion over destruction. Your existing DC wiring can be used by a DCC controller. You can find several You Tube videos addressing conversions. It is not hard.

    There are a couple of comments above about which DCC system to use. I prefer Digitrax over NCE, but there are arguments for each. The Digitrax Zephyr ($185) or the NCE Power Cab Starter Set ($195) are a good place to start.

    A third option, that might entice your grandson even more, is DCC+. It is an open source, free, DCC system that runs on an Arduino. With an old laptop and a very small investment, he can put together the system. The combination of JRMI and a few components, he can be running multiple trains using a smart phone or tablet. (Reference:,, and The system would cost abou $45 and would be a great leaning experience.

    You have such a great start on an N-Scale layout, it would be ashame to start over when a simple conversion is all you need.

    Looking forward to seeing what you decide to do and the results.

    Earl Cory – The Monterey Branch

  13. ScenicsRme says:

    I too recommend starting with the NCE powercab system. Everything you need to start in one box, hook up two wires (just like ol DC) and you are off and running. Don’t worry about programming and such just yet, you can work your way into that at your own pace, and there is a large user base to help. Nothing like being able to individually control each loco, even on the same track, and sound equipped locos makes running a DC layout seem like watching TV with the sound turned off.
    The advantages of the NCE are that it is completely expandable without obsoleting any previous parts, and the powercab is a walk around (albeit tethered) handheld throttle rather than a base (fixed) controller. It’s a feature that immediately goes from “I didn’t think I needed that…” to “I never want to go back to the other way again…”.

  14. Peter says:

    I run DC with 6 tracks (plus 3 spurs) and 6 controllers, lots of trains doing their thing! 2 are figure 8’s

  15. Hey Mike
    One of the up sides to starting a layout with a younger person is that if they get fed up of it it becomes yours, right 😉
    Its a great starting point though, I did recognise the back to the future area and the old west section is great, I would point you to FORT BRAVO TEXAS in Spain for further inspiration, its a location in Spain where Sergio Leone filmed all his spaghetti westerns (you should go, its a great place) fully maintained and some grand shows, can’t wait to see how it grows.

  16. Mike Bifulco says:

    Thanks to all who have given some sound advice. Specifically to George on LI, NY, and Duncan Macdonald, my research is leading me to NCE starter set for exploration. However, Earl Cory suggested another path regarding DCC+ using Arduino circuitry. A big learning curve to be sure, but as my grandson is also being introduced to remote control robotics (he’s only 11 years old), this programmable system might really appeal to him as well. I do work with Mac computers. In any event, we may be testing the old adage of whether an old dog like me can learn new tricks. To Rob, I live in Western Michigan, lower peninsula. Again, thanks to all who responded to my post, and especially to Al who makes all this possible.

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