British N Scale Standards.

The following are the N Gauge Society standards that the major manufacturers have adopted.

Note that if you look over the Graham Farish Web site you may notice a description of British N that’s remarkably similar to some of the material below. This is not because I lifted it from their site. Quite the reverse, in fact - the maintainers of the Graham Farish Web site copied and pasted some of my material and used it on their site without permission. (seriously - they even left in some of my original punctuation when they edited it and forgot to correct it to match their reworked sentences)

Ratio: 1:148

This is the major difference. The British take great pleasure in doing things differently from everyone else, and so unlike the rest of the world (which uses a ratio of 1:160), British N is standardized to a larger scale.
Apparently this stems from the fact that, for historical reasons, British prototype trains have a considerably smaller loading gauge than European and North American prototype trains. In other words, real British trains aren’t as tall or wide as their European and North American counterparts.

And so, the story goes, in the early days of N scale, British makers were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to manufacture working model engines to as small a scale as 1:160 on 9 mm track. So they altered the scale to 1:148 while preserving the track gauge. The same logic is apparently why American and European HO scale trains use a ratio of 1:87 whereas British OO scale trains use a ratio of 1:76, on the same 16.5 mm track gauge.

The inaccuracy of British N offends some purists, but that’s how it is. If you don’t like this you can always model in British 2 mm scale, which is to a 1:152 ratio and thus more accurate. This scale uses 9.42 mm gauge track, and is for people who aren’t interested in ready-to-run equipment. The 2 mm Scale Association page is at:

At least so far the N and 2 mm world hasn’t broken into the confusing factionalism of British OO, which has splintered into EM, P4, S4 and probably other variants by now.

Scale: 2 1/16 mm = 1 foot

Buffer height C/L: 0.266"

Coupling centre line above track: 0.171"

Track gauge: 9 mm

Since British N has the same gauge as other types of N, only with a different ratio, the gauge is obviously slightly too narrow for detail-oriented people. Oh, well. Additionally, British N is usually called British N Gauge and not N Scale, accordingly.

But I call these pages the British N Scale Pages, despite this convention, for no particular reason other than I like the sound of it. If you hadn’t gathered by now I tend not to be terribly fussy about total accuracy. Life’s too short, and besides which I’m preternaturally lazy.


Back to back: 0.290"
Flange depth: 0.035"
Flange thickness: 0.018"
Overall width: 0.085" / 0.090"

Couplers: Rapido-style.
Like other types of N scale, British N standardizes on the large blocky square couplers designed by Arnold back in the 1960s. There are no real alternatives. Some manufacturers (notably Peco and Graham Farish) have produced and continue to produce models using minor variants on the Rapido theme, but nobody really sells any non-Rapido couplers in any quantity. 2 mm modellers usually eschew Rapido couplers in favour of less obtrusive handmade metal designs, but these aren’t commercially available in large quantities.

In large part this is because British prototype trains have historically used short metal chains to couple wagons and coaches together, and such three-link or screw-link couplings do not scale down to N particularly well - only really dedicated detail fanatics will have the patience to use them. They also can’t be made to operate in a realistic fashion remotely - you have to go in and manually uncouple them.

This is very different from the world of North American N scale, where Rapido is snubbed and Micro-Trains magnetic couplers are the de facto standard with serious modellers. These couplers, originally made by Kadee before Kadee split into two separate firms, are designed to resemble the standard North American knuckle-style coupler. In addition they are considerably smaller than Rapido couplers, work much more reliably and can be uncoupled remotely with a convenient magnetic delayed-action system.

These couplers aren’t common in the UK, however. Partly because they don’t look at all like three-link or screw-link couplers (though frankly Rapido couplers don’t look so realistic either, and are considerably bigger and uglier as well) and partly because they are rather expensive, especially outside the US.

Usual disclaimer

Because we live in an absurdly litigious world, please note the following. First, I have no personal financial interest in any companies mentioned here, one way or the other. Second, all trademarked names are owned by their respective owners and are mentioned here purely for identification purposes. Third, no guarantees, express or implied, are made regarding the accuracy, fitness, whatever the hell about any of the information or opinion presented here. And finally, much of this is opinion of the author; nothing more.

Text copyright © 1997 tela design.

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