Z scale (z gauge) model trains

Z gauge (or Z scale) is the smallest (1:220) model railway scale. Its micro track scale measures only 6.5 mm. Z gauge was introduced by Märklin, a German model railway manufacturer in 1972 at the Nuremberg Toy Fair. It was invented by Märklin's head design engineer Helmut Killian. Letter Z was chosen to designate the new gauge as it was thought at the time that there would not be a commercial model railway scale even smaller than Z, in the future. Hence the last character of the alphabet in German & English languages.

These Z scale trains operate on 8-10 volt DC and offer the same operating characteristics as all other two-track, direct-current, analog model railways.

Z scale in a suitcase:

In 1978 a Märklin Z scale locomotive pulling six coaches made its entry to Guinness Book of Records by running nonstop 1219 hours and travelling a distance of 720 km before the train stopped.

Z gauge layouts

The extremely diminutive size of Z scale makes it possible to build very compact train layouts that can easily fit a normal size briefcase. Z scale can also be beneficial when there is a need to fit more scale space into the same physical layout that would be used by a larger-scale model. Several transportation museums, for instance, have used Z scale to present some real world railway sceneries in smaller scale. Theoretically Z scale allows longer trains and smoother curves, and more realistic operation than is possible in larger scales.

However, due to the extreme size of Z scale, and the reduced weight of the locomotives (a small Z scale engine can weigh as little as 20 grams, well under one ounce), it can be challenging to assure reliable operation of a layout. In particular, the track must be kept clean - spots of dirt or oxidized track can stop the locomotive instantly. Poorly installed trackwork can be a source of constant derailings of rolling stock. The low weight of Z scale locomotives contributes also to their difficulty to pull trains uphill and in practice the grade should be kept rather moderate. For trains of reasonable length (six four-axle cars) 2% grade is about the maximum for reliable operation. For shorter trains it is possible to go up to 4%.

Pulling power of locomotives can be increased by adding weight inside, but due to the limited space available, it is vital that the substance chosen has a relatively high density. Tungsten powder and lead are popular choices among Z scale enthusiasts for this purpose. Some recent Z scale locomotives are also built in a somewhat heavier style, which shows as an improved pulling capacity.

While Märklin remains still the most important Z scale rolling stock manufacturer, there are smaller manufacturers of Z scale rolling stock both in Europe and in North America targeting some niche areas of Z scale demand. For instance, the German company Freudenreich Feinwerktechnik has introduced a complete narrow-gauge z-scale system with only 4.5mm gauge track which corresponds to metric gauge in prototype and is designated as Zm scale following the NEM standard scale naming system.

Z scale is predominantly European scale, but it has an increasing number of loyal followers in other parts of the world too. Z scale enthusiasts throughout Europe and North America participate regularly at most national and regional model railroad exhibitions and shows, where they have demonstrated the outstanding operational and layout design characteristics of the scale.

As early as 1988, Märklin announced their intention to offer digital train control systems in Z scale and Märklin's 1988 Z scale product catalog listed three locomotives with a built-in digital decoder. Unfortunately, the technology was not developed enough and the manufacturer had to cancel these plans mainly due to heat dissipation problems of locomotive decoders. Since then, these problems have been solved, and Z scale has embraced advanced electronics. An increasing number of modellers have converted their locomotives to use third party digital train control systems. Popular systems are the European standard Selectrix, which offers some of the smallest decoders with thicknesses of less than 2 mm, and also the universally popular Digital Command Control (DCC).

Today Z scale, while still considered to be a curiosity by some, is a legitimate, mature, modelling scale. However, Z scale rolling stock, buildings and figures remain still somewhat less widespread and higher priced than their counterparts in more popular HO scale, OO scale, and N scale.

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Michael Vardanis - January 9, 2012

Would appreciate a list of "Z" scale decoder manufactureres in Europe USA
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Best is I think to ask on this Z scale forum.

- July 6, 2011

looking for a completed z guage layout

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Bachmann 16 Piece E Z Track Graduated Pier
Bachmann 16 Piece E Z Track Graduated Pier$14.40
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Bachmann Trains The Yard Boss Ready to Run N
Bachmann Trains The Yard Boss Ready to Run N$72.99
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Locomotive Wheel Cleaning Brush Minitrix
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Bachmann Trains Thunder Valley Ready to Run N
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Marklin Mini Club Train Railcar 8620 Z
marklin mini club train$29.45
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AZL 62510 4 EMD GP38 2 Soo Line SOO 4449 Z
azl 62510 4 emd gp38 2 soo4 bid(s)ends in 3h$120.68
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AZL 50001 1 USRA Light 2 8 2 Union Pacific UP
azl 50001 1 usra light 2 8 21 bid(s)ends in 3h$166.46
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Trains billboards N or Z scale signs B O CNW
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Hostess Twinkies billboard N or Z scale sign
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Marklin Mini Club 8802 Track Cleaning Railbus
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MARKLIN Z SCALE ONE OF A KIND 8605 BOX CAR
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Z Scale Lighted Maintenance Shed Building w
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MARKLIN Z GAUGE 8686 SET OF FOUR ALASKA
marklin z gauge 8686 set of1 bid(s)ends in 11h$129.99
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Z Scale Coal Coaling Tower Assembled
z scale coal coaling tower5 bid(s)ends in 21h$27.00
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Marklin Mini Club Train Railcar Freedom
marklin mini club train$38.99
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N Z Scale Deer Creek Coal Coaling Tower
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Marklin Z Scale Mini Club 81465 Santa Fe
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S4815 50pcs Model Pine Trees Deep Green For N
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MARKLIN MINI CLUB Z GAUGE 8648 DINKEL ACKER
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Z SCALE TRAINS MARKLIN 88446 SWISS FEDERAL
z scale trains marklin 884462 bid(s)$50.99
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Marklin Mini Club Train Railcar Special
marklin mini club train$39.99
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4 billboard N or Z scale signs 67 68
4 billboard n or z scale signs2 bid(s)$1.04
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Micro Trains 60th anniversary z scale Natl
micro trains 60th anniversary1 bid(s)$10.99
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Marklin Z scale 4x8 train layout with lots
marklin z scale 4x8 train$993.00
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Marklin Mini Club Train Railcar 8612 Z
marklin mini club train$44.99
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Tech 4 MRC 260 O thru Z scale train
tech 4 mrc 260 o thru z scale1 bid(s)$20.00
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S3812 100pcs Model Pine Trees Deep Green For
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American Z Line 90913 1 Z Scale Milwaukee
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American Z Line 90303 1 Z Scale Soo Line
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MARKLIN MINI CLUB Z SCALE 8884 STEAM
marklin mini club z scale 8884$68.95
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AZL 90302 1 Z Scale Burlington Northern
azl 90302 1 z scale burlington1 bid(s)$69.88
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Z scale CRANE built crane only
z scale crane built crane only$20.00
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Marklin Mini Club Z Scale 8622 Gondola Car
marklin mini club z scale 86221 bid(s)$14.99
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