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Model trains are quite different from the “toy trains” of yesteryear. As a hobby, model railroading can be a very elaborate undertaking. The scale models include model trains (locomotives, rolling stock, streetcars,) tracks, signals and scenery. The scenery can be as simple as you like or very realistic, artistic reproductions of roads, buildings, lights and natural features such as streams, mountains, hills and canyons.

Early model railroads date to the 1840s and were called carpet railways. The first electric trains appeared around the turn of the 20th century. These early toys were crude likenesses of real trains, while the model trains of today are generally far more realistic. Today railroad modelers all over the world create sophisticated railroad layouts that often depict real locations and periods in history. Involvement in the hobby can range from owning a single train set to spending many hours and large sums of money on a large and painstakingly executed model of a railroad and the scenery through which it passes, which is called the "layout.” Some model trains and layouts are even large enough to ride. Model railroad clubs exist for the model train enthusiasts to meet and sometimes put on displays of models for the general public. One specialist branch of railway modelers concentrates on larger scales and gauges, most commonly using track gauges from 3.5 to 7.5 inches. Models in these scales are usually hand-built and are powered by live steam, or diesel-hydraulic, and the engines are often powerful enough to haul even dozens of full-scale human passengers. Often model railways of this size are called miniature railways.

There are several different scales used for model trains. They can vary from around 700 mm (28") tall for the largest live steam scales such as 1:8, down to matchbox size for the smallest ones in Z-scale (1:220.) The words scale and gauge seem at first to be used interchangeably in model railways, but their meanings are different. Scale is the model's measurement as a proportion to the original, while gauge is the measurement between the two running rails of the track. The five most popular scales used are: G scale, O scale, H0 scale (in Britain, the similarly sized 00 is used), TT scale, and N scale , and there is also a growing interest in Z scale. H0 scale is the single most popular scale used by most model railroaders. Popular narrow-gauge scales include HOn3 Scale and Nn3, which are the same scale as HO and N, except with a narrower spacing between the tracks (in these examples, a scale three feet instead of the 4'8.5" standard gauge.) The largest common scale is 1:8, with 1:4 sometimes used for park rides. G scale (Garden, 1:24 scale) most easily fits into a garden landscape. Gauge 1 is also popular for garden layouts. 0, H0 scale, and N scale are more often used indoors. The popular children’s Lionel trains are 0 scale.

Brass model trains traditionally offer finer detail than traditional die-cast and plastic models, and are considered collector pieces and are often used for display purposes, due to their museum quality, rather than model railroad operations. They are considerably more expensive than other types of models due to the limited production quantities and "handmade" nature of the product itself.


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