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in a scale of 1 : 160



fiNe-scale or FS160 standards

With fiNe-scale we refer to applying 2mm SA standards to the scale 1:160, generally called N-scale. The capital N referring to the gauge width of nine mm, a scale introduced by Arnold in last century sixties. This is one of the scales on the continent that was normalised in the NEM standard. As around 1960 manufacturing hadn't reached current accuracy we view upon these wheel/track standards as coarse nowadays. We see a gradual demise of manufacturers in this scale over the last decade. One of many reasons is not adapting the standard to more demanding modern consumers. The ridiculous minimum radius requirement causes absurd compromises in cylinder position. Over-width wheels and the large black clumpy N-coupling spoil many models. Although there have been many attempts to the introduction of so-called close-couplings none of these have seen a breakthrough and all can be arranged as expensive different clumps of black plastic. Just as in 2 mm scale, the serious modeller can do much to better this situation. As a result of 10 years experimenting and developing we can now definitely lay down FS160 as a working fiNe-scale standard. As the gauge width is not the best way to refer to a scale we adopt FS160 as general indicator.

Origin of fiNe-scale

As all good things come in threes, this also holds for the origins of FS160. Viewing Barry Norman's Petherick layout and recognising his introduction of artistry into railway modelling. Then there was the introduction of the 2mm SA by reading an article about Keith Armes' Chipping Norton layout in the English magazine Railway Modeller, December 1991. And thirdly becoming acquainted with the FREMO club as breeding ground. Starting off by mid 1992 with the first fiNe-scale module within FREMO we now have an established standard and a serious group of modellers advocating it.

FREMO is a European club, which advances the state of the art in railway modelling by a concept of modular railways in most generic scales and/or gauges. By organising meetings all over Europe it gives its members the occasion to set up railway systems in endless varying combinations due to its modular character. The focus is on the operational side of railways by running these systems using timetable, freight bills, loco crews and dispatchers for the particular system on hand. Nowadays control is by NMRA-DCC compatible equipment often developed by members. But particularly in the landscaping scale N the possibilities to create vivid images of a train rolling through a landscape are exploited.

The differences and similarities between N and Fremo-N and fiNe-scale

One of my mottos is that standards only exist to be able to say that you do things differently. This seems also to hold true for most N manufacturers. Basically the NEM standard has such wide tolerances that you can hardly speak of a standard and still not one manufacturer fully complies with it. Measure their point work products and compare with the standard.

The normal FREMO-N practice is based on a coherent set of dimensions within the NEM standard that will give the best possible visual appearance. This means that the rail height is the minimum allowed and based on code 40. In order to give trouble free running on this, the flange height of the wheels is reduced to about 0.5 mm. The same holds for point work with the minimum dimension of the flange way set to 0.85 mm. This already brings an enormous step forward in the appearance of track. However it doesn't bring much on the appearance of steam loco's. If you make use of soldered code 40 track then it is in principle possible to use ready-to-run material straight from the box without flange reduction. This does not hold for the American plastic flex rail which requires flanges < 0.6mm due to the rail-spikes presentation nor for the models from the Stone Age of N with flanges > 1.0mm.

If you also want to get rid of the steamroller wheels under your loco's the FREMO FS160 fiNe-scale standard is of interest. This is based on an analogy of the 2 mm standard. Using a tyre width of 1.0 mm + 0.3 mm flange width giving a nominal width of 1.3 mm. The smaller flange width leads to a wider dimension for the back to back, a nominal width of 8.2 mm instead of 7.4 mm for NEM. The flangeways in point work can thus be reduced to 0.5 mm maximum width. The flange height is here reduced to a maximum of 0.5 mm however on loco's a nominal 0.3 mm is advised for better visual appearance. Apart from the visual improvement on your loco, you will appreciate the extra frame width obtained, when you start to built your own loco's. When your modelling reaches this stage, you will realise that it just takes as much effort to built a much better looking fiNe-scale loco as one with standard N-wheels. That makes it an easy choice.
A quick step in is to adapt the flanges of NEM wheels to fiNe-scale standards. This involves just as much effort as making them suitable to Fremo-N. The difference is to reduce the flanges as well as in width as in height. The standards are not that fine that you need special tools or exceptional effort to reach this goal. (Such would be the case if fully scaled down values had been chosen.) A minidrill, a good file and calipers suffice for this operation. The drawback of fiNe-scale is of course that pointwork and wheels are no longer compatible with standard-N, thus you cannot mix stock. A fiNe-scale loco will not run reliably on NEM width pointwork and the other way around an unmodified loco is not able to pass a fiNe-scale point without wobbling over the crossing. However this is not a large drawback as for better appearance you need a coupling with low visibility anyway, thus all rolling material is no longer interchangeable with normal N. That makes fiNe-scale the only sensible option in the long run. However FREMO-N can be considered a viable solution as first step in a gradual changeover to fiNe-scale


Data sheet: NEM, Fremo-N and FS160 standards









nominal gauge width G min 9.0 9.0 6.5 9.0 6.25 6.65
max. gauge width G max 9.3     9.2    
check gauge C min 8.1   5.9 8.5 5.75 6.15
between checks S max 7.3   5.2 8.0 5.25 5.65
flangeway width F max 1.0 0.8 0.75 0.5 0.5 0.5
flangeway depth H min 0.9 0.6 0.6 0.5 0.5 0.5
check gauge K max 8.1   5.9 8.5 5.75 6.15
back to back B min 7.4   5.25 8.1 5.35 5.75
tread width N min 2.2   1.55 1.3 1.3 1.3
flange width T min 0.5   0.5 0.25 0.25 0.25
flange width T max 0.6   0.5 0.3 0.3 0.3
flange height D max 0.9 0.6   0.5 0.5 0.5
flange height D min       0.2 0.2 0.2
railheight R   code 40 code 40-code 32 code 40-code 32 code 32 code 32

All dimensions in this table are in millimeters rounded to nearest nice value of 0.05 mm. The dimensions in this table for Nm (narrow gauge meter track 1000 mm ) and Nc (Cape track 1067 mm) are proposals, currently implementation is undertaken and experience with this standard is being collected. For dual gauge track the rail height to apply will be defined by the main track rail height.

The minimum gauge (9 mm) - 2x the flange width (2 x 0.3) mm - the back to back (8.2 mm) = track tolerance (0.2 mm = 2 x 0.1 mm). This dimension is also the maximum acceptable tolerance from ideal dimensions due to manufacturing and mounting practicalities. The wheelset should be running free in all positions (wheel wobble + dimensional errors around circumference). Test criterium is the clear running through dimensional correct and error free pointwork. To define all dimensions and clearances with exact tolerances will lead to dimensions that can not be manufactured and measured with the normal hobby equipment of the average modeller. This extreme accuracy is not necessary as the above maximum tolerance of 0.2 mm is kept. The above dimensions have been eased to make modelling more practical and are based on the 40 years engineering practice of the 2 mm Scale Association.
We don't give a dimensonal drawing for the wheel standard here. For practical reasons the wheel standard is chosen to be compatible with 2 mm Scale Association. However if you choose to produce your own wheels take notice that the recommended wheelprofile according to the Fremo Handbook has a flange height of 0.4 mm, which leads to less acute angles of the flange, more close to the prototype. This results in an easier way-finding in critical areas such as found at the tip area of point tongues. This type of flange has preference when NEM wheels are reduced in width by means of a lathe to the nominal flange width of 0.3 mm. About 0.2 mm is used in the tapered section to the tread. This is also the range necessary for tolerances in track lineout (transverse offset) between modules and in the range of tongues in pointwork. Narrower flanges are possible (min. about .2 mm), but the track keeping properties due to dimensional track failures will be low. The wheelset will show a strong tendency to climb over obstacles when the track is not constructed without dimensional errors. The actual flange tyre radius and conus are not very critical to collected experience. Particularly the surface flatness of the tapered section of the flange is important and the width of the tapered section should preferably have a ratio of about 2/3 to the total flange width. The flange-tyre radius should not be too large. The ideal track play is circa 0.1 mm. With a flange-tyre radius larger than 0.15 mm the wheelset will be running on the radius section and this will lead to a continuous rocking of the chassis along its main axis. Particularly "Fleischmann" wheels have a very large radius between flange and thread. When you use these as semi-manufactured product than this radius should be machined. When the transition looks as an obtuse angle it is about right.
The working range of the flange height lies between 0.25 and 0.5 mm. The flange height bears a relation to wheelbase and frame construction. Frames with fixed axles and long wheelbases profit from the maximum flange depth in order to compensate for track failures such as uneven track. Short wheelbase frames and equalised or compensated axle techniques that guarantee track-wheel contact under all track circumstances may use wheelsets that are close to prototypical dimensions. Different flange depths may come to use within a single chassis depending on the application. Particularly the highly visable pony and bogie wheelsets can often profit from finer flanges due their independent suspension from the main chassis. A wheel with a prototype tyre with a width of .9 mm will not run faultless over turnouts and crossings.  

Data Sheet: track and sleepering dimensions for continental UIC railways


standard gauge

narrow gauge

length 2600/16.25 1800/11.3
width 260/1.6 260/1.6
distance between sleepers main 600-650/3.8-4.1 650/4.1
distance between sleepers sub 650-750/4.1-4.7  
min. distance between tracks 3500/22  
reccom. distance between tracks 4000/25  
reccom. distance for 'rollwagen' operation 4500/28  

This table shows the recommended sleeper dimensions for UIC track for standard gauge as well as for narrow gauge of 1 m. The first number is the original dimension and behind the slash the scale length.For modelling the thickness of sleepers is not important and thus not quoted here. For pointwork the length of the sleepers is different, but contrary to UK practice the cross dimension is equal to normal track sleepers. The distance between sleepers as well as between tracks differs for main railways and secondary railways. The largest sleeper distances are found on secondary tracks on stations and light yards. Also the type of traffic can influence the distance between tracks. 'Rollwagen' traffic concerns the transport of standard gauge wagons on narrow gauge lorries, a common form of transport for rural areas in the first half of last century on the continent.


Data sheet: Loading Gauge for UIC Railways

loading gauge

The above sketch is based on the UIC dimensions. This profile is divided into 2 halves each with its own interpretation. The left half is for lines with passengertraffic, the right half for all other tracks. The shown extensions B and C for tracks in stations which may have various obstacles on stationplatforms, and signals between tracks, tunnelentrances, bridges and viaducts in the open which cannot be easily dismantled. For all other obstacles like signal and lighting masts extension A is valid. This profile is used for over-wide transports. The extensions D and E are for tracks with catenary support structures. There also exists gauge dimensions for wagons and motive power, which fit this loading gauge. These can be found in the Fremo handbook Modulhandbuch N-FREMO and/or on www.finescale.org

copyright: Henk Oversloot
date: 25 May 2002