Lionel Model Train Question

I have a Lionel 027 gauge train set. This is what I know as the “traditional” size I grew up with in the 1950’s. How does this size compare with an “0” gauge? Are they compatible? Is the 027 gauge still made?

O27 and O gauge are, theoretically, the same “scale” (1:48), and have the same track width. However, O27 trains are traditionally toys, and are built with less of an eye towards a true realistic scale.

O27 gets its name from the fact that, if you made a circle of O27 track, it has a diameter of 27 inches (“true” O gauge track curves have a diameter of 31 inches, or even more). A lot of O gauge equipment (especially longer locomotives and cars) won’t function on O27 track, because the curves are far too tight.

To answer your other question: yes, Lionel is still around, though they’ve gone through a number of ownership changes over the years. They (and several other companies) still make trains in both O27 and O scale (and they can be very expensive).

I have a Lionel set which I got about 15 years ago – it was a special commemorative set, made for employees of the company where I worked at the time. Other than the decorations on the cars, the set looks very similar to comparable sets from the 1950s.

An O27 train can run on O track, but not vice versa as the curvature of the two different tracks is different (O27 has sharper turns which will run an O gauge train off the track.)

O27 gauge track is still made in the “new” style. You can find a ton of the older, traditional 027 gauge track used on ebay in excellent condition.

The old style O27 track had three silver colored rails and two or three black colored cross-bars, all metal.

The new O27 track has three mails but beneath it is a large thick sheet of plastic. Not sure whether the two styles are compatible, but the new stuff is a lot more expensive than the old stuff when it was new.

I have a friend who’s deeply into model trains. She suggests you start here for the basic differences between O gauge, Super O and 027.

Here’s the Wiki article on model railroad gauges.

For what it’s worth, growing up in the 70s there was basically big (O gauge), medium (HO gauge) and small (N gauge). HO was vastly the most popular. At that point O gauge was marketed for little kids (with small hands) and N gauge was kind of a niche product mostly meant for static ‘ship-in-a-bottle’ type displays.

How can you tell which rolling stock that lionel make is comparable to the MTH premier line? Also which engines.

My older brother had a Lionel train when I was just a crumb-snatcher (about 5). What a fantastic train that was, that engine was steel and weighed a TTOONN!!!

A few years ago I ran across a Lionel train set while Christmas shopping and immediately picked it up for our grandson. What a disappointment when he finally unwrapped it Christmas morning. Everything was plastic and light weight.


Lionel VisionLine is going to be the closest thing to a MTH Premier Line. But, so many things like control, sounds, etc, all factor into the prices of them so no easy direct comparison. But, if you are looking for that “level of detail” in the train, that’s it.

They still make the heavy metal locomotives your brother had. But you’re not likely to find them in a chain toy store. Hobby shops carry them and you might get some serious sticker price-shock. Look at Lionel’s on-line catalogs. Your mainly plastic starter sets can cost under $200. Your top of the line metal sets can cost $1800.

Growing up in the 80’s we had the following scales:

Z (really, really tiny) < N (still really small) < HO (the most popular scale) < O & O27 (larger) < G (friggin’ huge).

Between O & O27, O was geared more toward the serious hobbiest, while O27 was more for kids’ toy trains.

HO was really popular with hobbiests because it hit the happy medium of being small enough that you could have a large layout, but still large enough to show a certain amount of detail. A decent-sized layout (with a couple of branches and several buildings) could fit on a 4x8 sheet of plywood. With the smaller scales (N or Z), stuff was too small to have much detail, and as a result they looked more like toys. G (and the even-larger No. 1 scale) were really only appropriate for outdoor/garden lines, because almost nobody had the room create a layout indoors at those scales.

While “O” and “O-27” are the same scale (1/4" is the equivalent of 1 foot) and same gauge (in other
words the width of the track is the same) they are not compatible. The thickness of the wheels
and flanges are different and would prevent smooth operation if you tried to run one on
the other’s track. Also the electric current for “O” is a two rail system - one rail is
positive while the other is negative. “O-27” uses a three rail system - the outer rails are positive
while the center rail is negative (and visa versa if you reverse the direction of the train). The
three rail system make wiring your model train layout easier while the two rail system duplicates
the appearance of a full-sized railroad track.

Interesting you should point that out; my dad is a sometime collector and refurbisher of Lionel trains.

He has a 1950s-era engine that must weigh like 2 lbs, and the modern version of that same real-world engine that’s plastic and must weigh about 8 oz.

He showed me the difference between them- he hooked up the modern one to 6-7 cars, and it struggled to go around the track. Then he put the old engine on, and it ripped around the track at a really good clip.

The modern ones are basically a little mabuchi-style motor in a larger plastic engine-shaped housing, while the old ones are more akin to an electric motor the size of the housing.