Traditionally, N Scale has never been considered equivalent to HO in terms of potential, and rightly so. When it comes to size and reliability, HO scale hits that sweet spot of not to big, not too small category – big enough to achieve great level of detailing and add enough weight to the models for reliable electrical connection, but small enough to Keep it manageable for most in terms of space demand. N Scale is typically to model trains and large landscapes whereas HO Scale is for all around modeling – if you have space you can model large layouts, but if you want, you can even make a small switching layout that will run reliably. Undoubtedly, you see the best of model trains still in HO scale.
So was it really a ‘mistake’ for me to chose N Scale for my pure switching layout, Wrightsville Port? May be from a 3rd person point of view – ‘Yes’. If I can hitch a ride with Doctor Who in his (her!) TARDIS and go back to my very early days of model railroading, would I throw N Scale away and chose HO? DEFINITELY NOT. And that’s the fun part – somehow I always find more potential in this scale than what people tend to believe. In the models and scenes of my Wrightsville Port layout you can already see that it is possible to achieve very fine detail in N Scale that can be as good as HO in scale to scale comparison – you can achieve that ‘photo accurate’ finish in N Scale. But leave me aside… I consider myself to be an average model maker. Look at the works of Shunichi Matsuba (Twitter, Facebook), the N Scale legend from Japan – If that doesn’t prove that absolute photo accurate models in N Scale is possible, nothing will!
But when it comes to model railroading, scale accurate static detailing is one thing, but there is another, and arguably more critical aspect from model railroading standpoint that one has to consider: Realistic operations. With the technological advancements of last 15 years the boundaries of N Scale capabilities have been pushed much further, and when it comes to running long trains headed by long wheelbase locos and consists, it is a no brainer – today, N is as good as HO, but what about realistic switching?
A typical top of the line standard gauge N Scale switcher would weigh around 1.5 to 2 ounces, i.e. in the range of 40-60 grams. One of the smallest and lightest HO scale switcher, Bachmann’s GE 45 tonner weighs twice as that at 4 ounces. Any decent HO switcher would weigh anywhere between 5-12 ounces depending on the size and quality of the loco. Clearly, when it comes to that critical wheel-rail contact, N scale switchers are clearly at a disadvantage. But is that the end of all conversations?
I believe not! You can still get N Scale to work pretty good (and I admit, may be not as good as HO) when it comes to switching. My layout is a very humble 2 cab DC layout with a stock Bachmann and a Hornby controller, and if you are interested how my layout runs, take a look here:
So, arguably, with all the modern tech and DCC, one should be able to achieve top switching performance even in a N scale layout. However, it won’t be as easy as HO, for sure. You need frequent maintenance of your track and loco wheels – slightest of dust or ‘gunk’ accumulation on either will hamper your performance severely. You also need to take more care of your layout with a dust cover, and if you are really serious, there are a few other things that can be done to reduce oxidation of your nickel-silver track.
But more on that later. The point of this post was to see if N Scale can be as good as HO in all aspects, and the short answer is, it pretty much can be with more effort and time investment. In smaller scale you need to grind a little more to achieve that quality which, arguably, is easier to achieve in HO or larger scales. But when it comes to the immense advantage on real estate that N scale presents, I think that is a very acceptable trade-off.