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Title: Evolution of N Scale Flange Size

Collection: N Scale Model Trains
Category: Modeling
Publication Date:
Last Modification Date: 2018-01-18

Over time, N Scale flange sizes have evolved to better match prototypes and appear closer to scale. There are three basic kinds of flange varieties: High, Low and Standard Profile.

Early N Scale locomotives and rolling stock were all equipped with high profile / deep-flange wheels. These deep flanges were very good at keeping the cars on the tracks but due to the unrealistic appearance of the flanges, these wheels were known throughout the hobby as 'pizza cutters." These wheels, though a bit of an eyesore, worked just fine with early N Scale track and as long as the cars were on the track, the flanges were hidden by the rails.

This all changed with the introduction of Code-55 N Scale track in the 1990s. This new track was much thinner (vertically speaking) than its predecessor (now known as Code-80). The new track looked much more realistic to the eye, but unfortunately was incompatible with the deep flanges of older locos and rolling stock. The flanges were deeper than the track was high causing erratic running and poor behavior when passing through turnouts.

In response, the manufacturers began to reduce the size of the flanges so that their products would run well on either kind of track. These new wheels were known as "low profile / fine scale" Although these new wheels have the advantage of running on Code-55 and Code-80 track, the reduced flange size has a major disadvantage: they can derail far more easily than their pizza-cutting siblings. The deep flanges allow for more tolerance of poor track-work. As a result, NTRAK categorically rejected (until just recently) the use of Code-55 on their specification, which requires all modules to be tracked with Code-80 track. They did make an exception for hybrid track such as made by Peco, where the external appearance of the track was Code 55 but the internal height allowed for deep flange. NTRAK members frequently have fleets of older cars with deep-flange wheels and furthermore due to the heterogeneous nature of track work on an NTRAK layout, the deep flanges simply work better.

This in turn created a dilemma for the manufacturers. Should they go with deep flanges and make the NTRAK folks (a major customer base) happy or instead make the modelers happy with more realistic looking low-profile products?

Micro-Trains settled on a compromise between High Profile and Low Profile: the "Standard" wheel flange. Most other companies went with low profile wheels as even though they don't run as well on questionable track work, they *always* run.

Here are the facts:
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