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What is On30 Scale?



On30 is a nice compromise between HO and O scale trains.

©2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Model trains come in a variety of standard scales. "O" scale trains are 1/48 the size of the real thing for example. So what is "On30" scale? Like other O scale trains, they are 1:48 scale. The "n" is for narrow gauge. And "30" signifies a gauge of 30 scale inches. This gauge conveniently works out to the same distance used on HO scale tracks. In other words, On30 trains are O scale but run on HO tracks.

Narrow Gauge

Strictly speaking, narrow gauge is any track with rails spaced less than 56 1/2 inches apart, or "standard gauge." Although some extensive narrow gauge systems exist throughout the world, most are associated with smaller industrial railroads and tramways. Narrow gauge lines are cheaper and faster to build but also have a more limited cargo capacity.

Narrow gauge trains come in many sizes. The most common narrow gauge in North America is 36 inches. Some noteworthry 30 inch lines were also built, mainly in the state of Maine.

Modeling narrow gauge lines has always been a niche market in the hobby, with commercial products available limited to expensive brass and craftsman kits. By far, 36 inch gauge trains dominate the narrow gauge hobby.

Enter On30

Like the prototypes, On30 trains are slightly smaller in stature than traditional O scale trains. This makes them appealing to several groups including:

  • Holiday Village Displays
  • Collectibles
  • Narrow Gauge Enthusiasts and Novices
Because they use HO track, one major modeling challenge is already averted. The difference in gauge between On30 and On3 (36 inch) works out to just 1/8 inch. For many modelers, the minor inconsistency is a small price to pay for widely available and affordable narrow gauge models.

Who Makes On30 Trains?

On30 took off in recent years thanks to Bachmann Trains. Bachmann now has an extensive line of On30 including steam and diesel locomotives, freight and passenger cars. Many are based on popular 36 inch gauge prototypes, allowing On3 modelers to make simple modifications to wheels and acquire inexpensive rollingstock for their own pikes.

With the success of Bachmann's line, other manufacturers have joined in. One remaining challenge is that although HO track may be the right gauge, it doesn't have the right look. Ties are too small and placed too close together to represent real O scale narrow gauge. You could modify HO tracks for a compromise, or try a new line of On30 tracks from Peco.

Other manufacturers with On30 products include:

Of course since it is still O scale, you can use any of the thousands of structures, vehicles, figures and other scenic or operating accessories already available.

If you've been looking for an easy and affordable way to get into narrow gauge or O scale, On30 may be for you!

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