Getting Started In Z Scale: Track

Choosing your z scale track is much easier than choosing your locomotive or rolling stock.  Choosing your layout…. that may be a little harder.  Let’s take a quick look at track.  For z scale layouts, you have a few basic choices.  The originator of z scale Marklin, Rokuhan, Micro Trains or hand laid track.  As with so many aspects of this hobby, your end goal will determine your track choice.  If you want the ultimate in realism you will likely hand lay your track.  Even your switches can be hand laid.  Check out Fast Tracks for supplies and jigs for laying your own track.   If you are going to add ballast to your track, you will want to either use Marklin or hand lay your track.   Marklin turnouts are very reliable and can even help avoid derailments if you go the wrong way over a switch.  They offer a variety of turnouts, straights, curves and even adjustable track to help you make your layout.

Rokuhan and Micro Trains line offer track with a pre installed roadbed.  While you cannot achieve the level of realism that adding your own ballast offers, you can achieve a very clean and operational layout using this type of track.  The Micro Trains Line of track is somewhat limited so my recommendation is the Rokuhan as they have a large selection of turnouts, crossings, flexible track along with the standard curves and straights.   I am biased towards Rokuhan.  I like their selection and and the way their controllers connect to the track and work with their power turnouts.

If you are just getting started, consider a starter bundle of Rokuhan Track.  The layout pictured above, the double oval, is a really nice starting point.  If you already have some railroading experience under you belt perhaps in another scale, search for some z scale layouts online or design your own with a program like AnyRail.  They have light version you can use for free.  The full version is awesome!

So we have our controller, our locomotive and our track.  But a train isn’t a train without cars.  Our next segment in getting started in z scale will talk about the ever growing offering of z scale rolling stock available.

Getting Started In Z Scale: Locomotives

Z Scale Locomotives

Z Scale Locomotives

Nothing is more important to any train than the locomotive.  No locomotive, no train!  Aside from being the key part of your z scale railroad, the locomotive is one of the more interesting aspects of the hobby.  Car after car may go by but your focus is on the locomotive.  Finally, the type of locomotive you prefer will have an impact on your layout, especially on radius of the turns.  So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the locomotives available.  If you missed part one on controllers, please check it out here.

One of the most iconic locomotives has to be the Marklin 0-6-0 that was introduced in so many starter sets in 1972.  These little locomotives are still around and you can find them on ebay used for around $50.  These little guys are still a great choice for small radius layouts, like 120mm or even less they did just fine.  So if you are modeling a small European railroad with tight curves these little locomotives do well.  But for the purposes of this series, we are focusing on US prototypes. which brings up one of the problems in my opinion with z scale, their simply isn’t enough small z scale switcher locomotives available.    Marklin offers several US locomotives including steam locomotives.  They have made available 2-8-2, 4-6-2 and 4-6-0 steam locomotives which seem to do ok on a 145mm radius.  Their F-7 diesel locomotives also do well on a smaller radius turns.  Marklin has recently released E-8/9 units, not sure what the recommended radius is on them, but on larger locomotives, a larger radius makes for smoother operation and looks better.  Another very cool Marklin unit is their GG-1 locomotive.

American Z Line, or AZL has really opened up the door to z scale railroading with very nice selection of locomotives.  Steam offerings include the Mikado, a real workhorse for many prototype and model railroads alike.  But their is also some real high end steam units available, including several versions of a Big Boy and a SP Cab forward, both in brass.  Sold out and very hard to come by are the AZL GS-4 units and Challengers.  While AZL recommends a 220mm radius on the Mikado, some report running them on 170mm.  195mm seems to be a realistic minimum.  As for the bigger locomotives really need 245mm plus.  

AZL also offers a wide variety of diesel locomotives as well.  Smaller GP38-2 locomotives can be had for under $100 and are billed as entry level locomotive.  They really are a great value and can be upgraded to DCC and Micron Art offers a super detail kit if you want to dress them up a little.  They do well on a 195mm radius and are available in variety of roads.  Other smaller diesel locomotives include GP-7’s and 9’s, and GP30’s.  A very nice series of SD70 and SD75 locomotives is also available with more modern diesel power promised this year.  The E8/9 units have been an awesome addition to the z scale line up as well.

Micro Trains Line has been offering diesel locomotives for some time.  While they have made some very nice SD40-2, GP35, GP9 and F7 units,  currently their F7 A&B units are by far the most readily available with a nice variety of road names.

Marklin, AZL and Micro Trains all use different couplers.  While AZL & Micro Trains couplers are compatible, Marklin is stands alone so you would have to convert them or use a conversion car to use them with cars and locomotives other than Marklin.  We will address couplers a little bit later.  In part 3, we will get to your track options in z scale.

Getting Started In Z Scale: Controllers

Rokuhan RC03 Controller

Rokuhan RC03 Controller

I have been around model railroading since I was a little boy.  My father was an avid model railroader, modeling the steam/diesel era on his own prototype, the Credit River Northern.  But I have to admit, that when it comes to z scale, I am relatively new to the hobby.  So with that in mind, I wanted to offer some very basic information on modeling in z scale to hopefully get you interested in this awesome little gauge train that is growing by leaps and bounds.  This first in the series is on controllers.

Z Scale Controllers
I know, the controller is really a boring thing to start with, but when you understand why we started with this,  you will see that even before the track and your first locomotive, the controller must be taken into consideration.   Z scale locomotives are incredible little pieces of equipment.  While the detail on these little gems is absolutely incredible, especially  when compared to the first z scale locomotives Marklin introduced in 1972, one thing has stayed the same over the years, they use tiny little motors that can be fried by controllers made for larger scales.  Buying an oval of z scale track, a locomotive and a few cars and then hooking it up to your controller used in N scale or HO scale, can make for an very disappointing z scale experience.  Not to worry, there are several good good choices for you, all fairly inexpensive.  Let’s start with the original, the Marklin Mini Club controllers.

Marklin Mini Club Controllers
When Marklin introduced z scale,they were smart enough to offer a complete set that came with the correct controller.   The familiar 6272A is available used on ebay, usually for around $40-$60 and is a real work horse.  The model 67271 usually sells for $125 or so new and used on ebay for around $75.  These are both excellent choices, I lean towards the 67271 as it is the more modern version and has easy to use hook ups.

The Rokuhan Company continues to add value and versatility to the z scale line.  Currently they offer the RC02 and the RC03 controllers which both offer the constant lighting feature.  They also both are expandable in that you can snap on turnout controllers and other controllers on the end of the controller.  The RC03 comes with two turnout control switches already installed.  Both can be operated on AA batteries or you can purchase a AC adapter.  Cost ranges for about $40 for the RC02 and $75 for the RC03.

While MRC does not offer a z scale controller per say, the MRC1300 is available modified for safe use for z scale.  Usually they are easily identified by the yellow sticker on the front of the controller.  Usually selling for around $50-$60.

DCC control has been around for years now and the pricing is starting to come down.  Most modern locomotives offered by AZL are very easy to switch to convert to DCC with simple drop in decoders.  We won’t spend time here on DCC, again, this is basic info to help you get your feet wet in z scale.

So there you have it.  Boring yes, important absolutely!!!  When you consider you will be spending between $100 to $250 on any given z scale locomotive, you want to make sure you have the correct controller.  In part 2, we will move on to locomotives.  Locomotives are much more fun to talk about and offer much more to look at.

Getting started in z scale?  Check out our store,

Denver & Rio Grande Western In Z Scale


denver & Rio Grande Western Z Scale

Denver & Rio Grande Western In Z Scale.  If you model the D&RGW you should be pleased with the increased selection of rolling stock and locomotives of late.  AZL has added a nice GP-7 locomotive that is DCC ready and available in  a couple of skirt variations.  Also available is a nice wide vision caboose that would match up nicely with the GP-7’s.  As for rolling stock, the AZL 2 bay ACF hoppers are out in 4 car sets as well as a couple of singles.  These little cars are really sharp and have incredible detail.  Full Throttle Z scale also offers a limited production set of two 2 cars sets of Denver & Rio Grande Western in z scale for a total of 4 road numbers.  These Full Throttle car sets usually sell out fast so if you are thinking about them, don’t think to long!  As interest in z scale continues to grow, so will selection of gear for all the roads.  It is nice to see more of late for the D&RGW.

Z Scale Amtrak

Z Scale AmtrakIf you are modeling Amtrak in z scale, the choices continue to grow. For a long time, the only choice for z scale Amtrak was products from Marklin. They offered a very nice F7 and a variety of different passenger cars. In addition to the classic Marklin line, you now have Amtrak in z scale from Micro Trains and AZL. Micro Trains is offering a nice Amtrak commuter set featuring an F7 locomotive, a baggage car and three coach cars. Really a nice looking set with aluminum sides. AZL offers an Amtrakz scale amtrak super liners F59PHI Locomotive in Amtrak West and Amtrak California, each with 3 different road numbers. You can also buy them as a commuter set, consisting of the locomotive and 4 cars. If you are modeling z scale Amtrak on your layout, check out these great options. Some of what is available on ebay is listed below.  AZL is now offer the Amtrak Super Liner in 4 car sets and singles along with a very sharp Genesis P-42 locomotive in several roads.   Below are just a few items offered on ebay right now, search for more or check out for the latest available.



End Date: Saturday Sep-7-2019 23:43:49 PDT
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Z - Marklin 8765 Amtrak Observation Car RD#3344 - No Box

End Date: Thursday Sep-5-2019 6:04:28 PDT
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Z Scale Marklin 8765 Amtrak Observation Passenger Car Caboose

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Marklin 8762 AMTRAK Passenger - Sleeper Car Z Scale

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End Date: Thursday Sep-12-2019 16:39:37 PDT
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AZL 63509 Z Scale Locomotive Amtrak P42 Genesis Heritage Phase III TESTED *NEW

End Date: Thursday Aug-29-2019 22:32:38 PDT
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Marklin Z Mini Club 8862a EMD F7 AMTRAK Diesel Loco #105 +CC & LED (Tested)

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Marklin Z Mini Club 8862 EMD F7 AMTRAK Diesel Loco #105 +CC+5Pole+LEDs (Tested)

End Date: Friday Aug-30-2019 11:18:22 PDT
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Z Scale Marklin Mini Club 8778 Orient Express SNCF Salon Bar Piano Car

Z Scale Marklin Mini Club 8778 Orient Express SNCF Salon Bar Piano Car

Z Scale Marklin Mini Club 8778 Orient Express SNCF Salon Bar Piano Car

The Z Scale Marklin Mini Club 8778 Orient Express SNCF Salon Bar Piano Car.  This is one very well detailed and very rare car that Marklin  produced.  With only 150 of these made, they are hard to come by.   This car was made to compliment the Marklin 8108 Orient Express set and is just as well detailed.  They are long sold out but you can still find them here and there, your main source is likely ebay.  Click here to search ebay for current Marklin 8878 offerings.  As for current price, there is quite a variance.  I have seen them selling for around $75 US to close to $200.  As with many of the classic Marklin cars, it’s supply and demand.  Unfortunately, this is just one of those rare ones that not many people want to part with!  The cheapest car  may not be the best buy especially on these that you will likely hold for some time.  The nice thing I have noticed about man of the classic cars including the Z Scale Marklin Mini Club 8778 Orient Express SNCF Salon Bar Piano Car is most are kept in excellent shape in the case.

LED Lighting For Z Scale

Z Scale LED Lighting

LED Lighting For Z Scale . As kids, it was imperative that a model train had a headlight.  It didn’t matter if if was really bright, yellowed or pointed off in the wrong direction,  it just had to have a light!  Then came taillights in the tender, then reversing lights.  I remember when my father installed fiber optics in an n scale diesel, again very cool.  In the early 70’s he built a flasher circuit and installed it in an HO scale Athearn caboose, and told me it would flash constantly for a year.  Unheard of, nothing on a battery could run that long, it did!  So, it is no surprise that sophisticated model railroaders today (really just big kids) are adding LED lighting to their layouts today.  Z scale can make it a little more difficult, but check out some to these z scale locomotives and more set up with LED directional lighting.    I think you will agree, this type of quality LED lighting really adds to the realism of a great z scale layout.

Using The Correct Controller For Z Scale

Rokuhan RC02 Transformer ControllerIf you are new to z scale you may think you can just grab an old controller and hook it up to your z scale track and you are ready to roll. You could do that…………however, to insure proper operation and avoid damaging your z sale locomotives, make sure you purchase a controller that meets the power requirements. There are a couple of choices for you, Marklin and Rokuhan being the most common. Rokuhan makes a very nice compact controller that has the proper power output for the tiny z scale engines. The RC02 controller features constant lighting and you can snap on remote turnout controls as needed. The unit can be operated on AA batteries or you can purchase a AC adapter separately. Click here for more info and a video on setting up the Rokuhan RC02 controller.

DCC is another option for controlling your z scale railroad.  Amazon offers some great books on the subject along with some nice DCC starter sets.

WDW Full Throttle Cylindrical Hoppers

WDW Full Throttle Cylndrical Hoppers

William Dean Wright is known for producing high quality z scale cars that represent some very interesting subjects.  The Full Throttle 51′ Cylindrical Hoppers are a great addition to any running z scale railway or as a collectors piece.  Each set comes packed in a hard shell chase that stacks easy and has colorful, accurate prototype information on the box.  The latest in the series have in my opinion been the sharpest to date.  The last four, The Old Dutch, Petrothene, Agway and now the Boraxo z scale cylindrical hoppers are proving very popular and as a matter of fact the Old Dutch sold out immediately and the Boraxo looks like it will move even faster.  I recommend it over and over again on the WDW Full Throttle line, if it catches your eye, buy it now!   Like us on facebook and you will be the first to know  when these collectible new releases become available.  Visit our store to see current stock on the WDW Full Throttle Line

Southern Pacific Z Scale Locomotives

Z Scale Southern Pacific LocomotivesIf you model Southern Pacific in z scale, your locomotive selection continues to grow thanks to AZL.  Currently AZL offers 4 scale locomotives in a total of 15 different road numbers.  You have the latest SP locomotive, the SD70M in 4 road numbers, the GP-9 Locomotive in z scale with 4 different road numbers, the GP-30 with 3 road numbers and finally the GP38-2 available in 4 different road numbers.  This collection of z scale Southern Pacific locomotives starts with a street price of around $100 on the GP38-2 to about $190 on the SD70M.   While the GP38-2 is considered an entry level z scale locomotive, it is a great unit for the money.  Micron Art makes a very nice detail kit for the unit as well.  All 4 locomotives are DCC ready and all but the GP30 have drop in decoders available from Digitrax.  In addition to the locomotives, you can also find a nice selection of z scale passenger cars, cabooses and freight cars for the Southern Pacific in our store at Zgauge.Com.