Model train track is measured in gauges, that coincide a great deal with the scale of the model train. for instance, ‘N’ scale is one sixtieth of the size of a full size train.
The ‘N’ stands for nine, which means the 9mm, the distance between the inside of the tracks. These tracks are small, and many of these train layouts will fit in a rather small space.
It is also a good size if you are thinking about running long strings of cars, since the train cars will be lighter, they will use less electricity. You could read about all the different train rail gauges, and there are plenty of great, highly detailed specifications, drawings, and layouts.
If you are a beginner, or just a casual hobbyist you don’t have to get so technical. You do want to learn the basics the scale letter also give what standard gauge it is. Your most popular scale, HO, has a track width of 16.5mm, or 5/8th of an inch.
There may be other gauges for HO, but they will be clearly defined, like ‘HON3.’ This means that it is HO scale, but has a narrow gauge, and the track gauge is three scale feet wide, rather than the standard real life gauge of 4′, 8″ long.
Sounds really confusing doesn’t it? Don’t worry about that as long as you are sticking to standard scales.
The only time you may have to deal with this more is when you start getting up into larger model train track gauges, for of 1/8 scale model trains. This is really where you have to start dealing with heavy, weight bearing tracks.
When you first get your kit or set and want to set up your track design, it is a good idea to open the individual pieces, lay them out on your work surface, and look at the instruction manual. Look at the different designs they have included and lay out the tracks, without attaching anything as of yet.
You will want to make sure that the tracks lay flat, and don’t have any warps in them. Check that the connecting ends are in good condition, and that the switch controllers function smoothly and will fit snugly together.
If you are a beginner, you should be using EZ-Track, or Tru-Track, so these parts should all just snap together. Now before you hook up anything else, you should make sure you are using a clean sturdy flat surface, even if you are just putting it together to make sure it works.
Now no matter what kind of system you use, you will have terminal joiners that will have to have wires connected to them. While some Lionel sets include three rail terminals, most common ones have only two.
It is a good idea to just use the standard screws that come with it, even if you plan to permanently connecting them. For convenience, many new sets just ‘plug in,’ meaning you just strip the ends of the wires and put it in the plug, no muss no fuss.
For obvious safety reasons, make sure that everything is unplugged before you start working with the electrical aspects of laying track. Then you’re ready to go.