New guy here. Looking to learn about N scale, where do I start?

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So I bought an O Gauge train for the Tree this year and I really enjoy it. I'd like to have more than a loop but don't room for it with that scale. So I'm looking into N Gauge because I have a 2x4 work bench that I could convert to a train layout.

I've read some into DCC already, but my real questions are around what brand N gauge should I start out with. I'd like to start with a rtr train set versus piecing everything together.
Just FYI: it is N scale not gauge. Scale is the ratio of the model to the full size train. Gauge to the width to the track on the full size, ie, standard gauge trains run on a track width of 4'-8.5" wide. Then there are several widths on Narrow Gauge tracks.
These details can be found in the Standards and RP at NMRA:

A good place to learn more about N scale is this forum. Just spend some time reading through the many threads. I'll bet you'll find answers to questions you didn't even know to ask. Have fun and welcome to the forum.


Engineer in Training
Everyone seems to be going with Kato Unitrack. Kato makes some very nice starter sets. I have some old Kato engines that when compared to those by Bachman and others the Kato stuff really stands out as higher quality pieces. I am a bit of a beginner too though. And I here the new stuff from Atlas and Bachman is a lot better quality than that of years ago. Anyway, welcome to the forum. And check out waltr's layout in his sig above. It's quite impressive.


Active Member
MaxZeus -


Kato certainly makes good equipment. So do Atlas and other manufacturers. Of course, you can run any brand of N-scale locomotives and rolling stock on any other manufacturer's track. You are not restricted to one manufacturer -- you can mix and match.

Kato Unitrack is an example of what is known as "sectional" track. Each track piece is of a particular length and shape. This is opposed to "flex track" available from other manufacturers, which comes in long lengths that you cut and bend to the length and shape you need.

The advantage of sectional track is that the pieces fit together with minimal effort on your part. The disadvantage is that you are somewhat limited in the design of your layout because you are restricted to using the track pieces that the manufacturer makes available. Nevertheless, there are some fantastic layouts built with sectional track.

The advantage of flex track is that you can configure the track to any length and shape you wish. The disadvantage is that you need the skills and tools to cut the track pieces and join them together. It's definitely more work to use flex track, but you have more, well, flexibility with it.

- Jeff
Thanks for the replies. I have a lot of reading to do. I like waltr's layout, that's very similar to what I would have room for as I expand.


Engineer in Training
Good points jdetray. I am designing a layout. Without the flexibility of flex track I could not do what I want to do with it. Also, if you have a local hobby shop that specializes in trains those guys love to have people come in and show interest in the hobby. So they love to talk to people about it. The guys at my local hobby shops are just awesome at answering questions. There are also model railroad clubs with people that are just as nice. And don't forget Youtube videos. I have a dozen or so people on there I follow that have very informational videos on all kinds of model railroading subjects from railfanning to bench work design to hand building turnouts. One of the best sources for info though for me has always been books and magazines.

Hope this helps.
As already stated, Atlas and Kato both have RTR sets that are top notch. If you are not wanting to sink that king of money into a set, Bachmann also has sets from about $50 up. It all depends on what you want to do with the set.
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I use mostly sectional (atlas) track, but for long straights, some sidings etc I use flex track, mixing atlas code 80 sectional and flex track is no problem.. I build my own tables, I use peg-board as the base, with 2x4 wood frame and a layer of Styrofoam for the top. No drilling required to run wires (poke holes from underneath w/nail. I PIN my track to the foam and use a cork roadbed. I can change my track plans whenever I need or desire.

DC vs DCC. Today if I were just starting I would go DCC. I have an affordable Digitrax Zephyr Xtra based system (I converted from DC to DCC this summer) I may never use all the features of the Digitrax system, but its flexable and expandable galore. It can do things, some basic even, that other are not able to do. I have converted most (not all) of my locos to DCC. I can easily run BOTH DC & DCC locos on it, at the same time even. Many newer locos are DCC ready, some use a plug//drop in decoders.

Local Clubs are usually a great source of info and HELP when needed. My local club is not handicap accessible (an upstairs location) so its no longer practical for me.

I agree 100% that Bachman has improved but Kato in my book is the best affordable locos and worth the little extra over other rtr brands.

To the best of my knowledge, Bachmann locos are either DC or DCC equipped. The DC units will run on a DC layout though. The DC locos can be converted to DCC with the addition of a decoder but I have never done one. I have mostly Atlas and Kato locos and one Lifelike GP20. Most of my DCC conversions have been drop ins but the GP20 and a couple of my Atlas locos I used Train Control Systems CN-GP decoders which require quite a bit more work than a simple drop in decoder.

Don't be afraid of buying used equipment after you have learned more about what N scale has to offer. A good resource for locos and other equipment is You can checkout the quality of items before buying and is an extremely valuable resource for most things N scale.


Active Member
Bachmann "Spectrum" series locos will run on both DC and DCC out of the box. In fact, nearly all DCC decoders can be configured to run on DC.

When I first built my small N-scale layout, I ran it for a while on DC. When I purchased my DCC controller, I disconnected the DC power pack, connected the DCC controller in its place, and immediately began running my Bachmann locomotive. The conversion from DC to DCC can be that simple!

I've since installed DCC decoders in my DC locos one at a time. Most now have decoders in them.

- Jeff
Does the Spectrum series come in kits or would it just be for the locomotive? Also, what the best website for purchasing an N-Scale kit? I mostly look at Amazon but their selection is limited.
Does the Spectrum series come in kits or would it just be for the locomotive? Also, what the best website for purchasing an N-Scale kit? I mostly look at Amazon but their selection is limited.
I get my model RR stuff from various sources. One very good site is They carry both NEW & USED Nscale equipment. I use them more for good running budget priced locos. It always pays to look around. I find their descriptions on used locos accurate. They test all their locos before sale and if they say it runs good, it runs GOOD. They have a lot more than locos, they have DCC equipment, building rolling stock etc.

The best running Bachman I have is a spectrum dash-8, DCC ready. I had to solder in the decoder, no big deal. It had several jumpers to remove and install the DCC decoder, was easy!

I guess I am too picky but I am replacing a few Bachman locos and one nearly new Kato, (the F7 Kato runs great, good slow speed and screams around my test oval in under 8 seconds, (most take 12 to my big AC12 cab forward's 22seconds, ) but it sounds more like a Bachman). If you want email me off list. I have over 100 locos, so I need to thin the heard of sorts. (I could also part with a DC power pack, I have more than I use or need)

The best thing to do when buying N scale locomotives and rolling stock is to buy individual items rather than "train sets". Kato, Atlas and Intermountain make excellent diesel locomotives. Of the three, I prefer Kato disels. Their performance is outstanding. If you want good steam locomotive Bachmann Spectrum makes outstanding steam locomotives in the past few years such as the Spectrum 2-8-0 and Spectrum 4-6-0. These are excellent steam locomotives for the beginner and they have decoders that will run on DCC or DC.

I suggest you run your layout using DCC. NCe makes very friendly DCC systems for the beginner such as the NCE Power Cab.

For track, I suggest using N scale Kato Unitrack which is code 80 track. It has a plastic road bed that can easily be ballasted and the rails can easily be weathered.

Micro Trains and Atlas make the best rolling stock. Of the two I prefer Micro Trains rolling stock.You can get some good info from my blogs which are posted below.

Have fun with it.:):)
I too have purchased stuff from Nscale Supply in the past. I also buy from Tex-N-Rails too. Both are fine online shops. As for packaged sets having DCC locomotives in them, I am not aware of any. Atlas and Kato sets will have DCC ready locos so you can just drop in a DCC decoder when you are ready.
Bachmann just released N scale DCC equipped locomotives within the last 2 months. The shop I go to got 5 in and they sold in less than a week. I think they were ALCO switchers without sound and I think they were straight up Bachmann, not Spectrum. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to - An online railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used railroad books. Railroad pictorials, railroad history, steam locomotives, passenger trains, modern railroading. Hundreds of titles available, most at discount prices! We also have a video and children's book section. - An online model railroad bookstore featuring a curated selection of new and used books. Layout design, track plans, scenery and structure building, wiring, DCC, Tinplate, Toy Trains, Price Guides and more.