Kato model railways

The cover of Kato's 1990 catalogue

This well-known Japanese model railway manufacturer Kato is now active for over 30 years. They carry a large range of 'N' scale model railways and a small but growing range of HO scale railway models. Kato makes a track system for both scales and a range of strucutures for 'N' scale. Kato also acts as importing firm for a range of quality model railway accessories for the Japanese market.. Among them are Atlas, Micro-Trains, Noch and Woodland Scenics. A great part of Kato's reputation is built on contracting work, with Kato producing models which were and are traded under other names such as Atlas, Hobbytrain and Sachsenmodelle.

The real name of the Kato company is Sekisui Kinzoku, but that is hard to pronounce for those who don't speak Japanese.

I would like to introduce both 'N' and 'HO' ranges, starting with the 'N' scale range.

Kato Maintains two websites, one in the USA and one in Japan. The US website mainly promotes Kato's US outline products, the Japanese website caters for the Japanese interests, it is in Japanese only

Kato's N scale range

Kato's N scale range offers a wide choice of steam, diesel and electric locomotives as well as matching carriages, wagons and electric and diesel multiples units, further referred to as EMU's and DMU's. For frther information on liveries and prices I would like to refer to the Kato catalogue. Many models are relatively easily convertable to Micro-Trains Magne-Matic couplers. This image gives you an idea of what a Micro-Trains coupler is like, when fitted to a Kato EF81.

Steam locomotives:

Kato offers a good choice of steam locomotive models, most models are available in two or more varieties. Most models are based on old technology with the motor mounted in the cab. Only the latest model, a 9600 1D (2-8-0) freight loco has the motor mounted in the boiler and this allows the cab to be detailed. Fit a driver and fireman for realism! 

Electric locomotives:

A wide range of electric locomtive models is available, most are based on Kato's new chassis technology. These locos have flywheels and a circuit board that can be replaced by a DCC decoder board from Digitrax (DN-163K) to convert the loco to DCC operation. Only the older models (EF15, EH10 and the new EH500) have a different chassis. All Kato locos are known for their very smooth operation.

Diesel locomotives

The range of diesel locos is rather small, compared to the range of electrics, but contains useful models, suitable for every layout. Most diesels are very suitable for freight trains, shunting etc. The DF200 freight loco has the ultra-smooth chassis with flywheels fitted. This model is also easily converted to DCC operation by means of a Digitrax decoder board. The DD13 and DE10 classes are suitable for shunting and short freight trains, the DD51 is used on both freight and passenger trains. Two special liveries are available on the DD51.

Kato's 1994 catalogue had a class 251 'Super View Odoriko' EMU on its cover

Electric Multiple Units

These are available in an enourmous diversity, they can be divided in commuter, short distance, long distance and Shinkansen units. Many units are available in a choice of liveries.

Commuter EMU's

Classes available are 103, 201 and 205 classes, all in a variety of liveries.

Short-distance EMU's

Available are 113, 117, 211, 221, 415, 153, 165, 455 and 457 classes. The 455's and 457's are dual-voltage, the others are DC only.

Long-distance EMU's

Available are 181, 183-1000, 183, 185, 251, 253, 281, E351 tilting train (working tilt), 485, 583 sleeper EMU, 285 double-deck sleeper EMU, 651, 681 and 787 classes. New are the 885 class 'Kamome' and 883 class 'Sonic' tilting trains. Modellers familar with Kato products would not be surprised that this model has working tilt.

Shinkansen EMU's

The well-known Japanese high-speed trains. Available are the 0, 100, 200, E1 Max, E2 Nagano shinkansen and the new 500 and 700 classes.

Private railways' EMU's

Apart from JR, there are many private railways in Japan. Many use EMU's to cater for their passenger traffic. Kato makes a few models of EMU's used by some private railways.

Available are: Keikyu (Yokohama) DeHa 800, Hansin (Osaka) 6300, Seibu (Tokyo) 101, Izu-Kyuko (Tokyo-Izu, co-operation with JR) 2100, Odakyu (Tokyo-Odawara) HiSE 10000 and the Kintetsu (Osaka-Kyoto-Nagoya) 21000 units. All these units are EMU's.

Diesel multiple units

DMU's are used in Japan on routes where traffic-density is smaller, but these routes can be long, so both short-distance and long-distance units exist.

Available are the follwing classes: Kiha 20, Kiha 52, Kiha 40, Kiha 110, Kiha 58, Kiha 65, Kiha 56 short-distance units and Kiha 81, Kiha 82, Kiha 82 Furano Express and Kiha 85 express units.

In Japan there are only a few private railways operating diesel trains, the largest is Meitetsu from Nagoya, offering a long distance-service in co-operation with JR Central, and some short-run diesel railbus services. The other non-JR diesel trains are operated by so-called 3rd sector railways, these are mainly owned by local authorities and usually co-operate with local bus operators and sometimes JR or a local private railway.

Passenger cars

Again, a large selection is available. There are vintage cars, including a very nice 12-wheeled observation car and modern cars, as well a few types from the 1950's and 1960's. Of interest are the luxurious 'Joyful trains', special charter trains, rebuilt from normal stock and usually in very colourful liveries. Also note the dining cars, some even have working table lamps!

Freight cars

It gets boring, again a wide choice of mostly modern types, but also a few vintage types, suitable for layouts set in a period up to the mid-1970's. Nearly every basic type of car is available, some in different liveries. The blue container cars have interchangable containers, and are compatible with the Tomix containers.

Kato HO scale range

This E1 'MAX' Shinkansen EMU was on the 1997 catalogue

Kato is making a small HO scale range. Originally Kato made only American outline (protoype) models in this scale, but growing interest from Japanese modellers started the Japanese outline HO-scale range. The models are made to Japanese HO-scale ( 1/80 th scale on 16.5 mm track gauge). The wheels are compatible with NMRA standards. All models have Kato 'buckeye' couplers, which can easily be replaced by Kadee nr.5 or compatible couplers to suit your taste.


There are only a few locomotives available, a class 56 steam loco, an EF58 electric in brown and blue livery, an EF65 electric in two different blue liveries, a DD51 diesel, the DE10 diesel is the latest addition to the range. All locos are beautifully detailed, run super smoothly and are priced at the same level as quality European models. All in all, these Japanese models are still better than their European counterparts!

Multiple Units

Are available in both electric and diesel varieties, the choice in EMU's being bigger with 165 and 40 classes from JR and as a contrast the 21000 class from Kintetsu A JR class 485 is planned, although no release date is known. This class has now been released by Tomix.

Until now the only DMU class available is the widely spread class Kiha58 diesel railcar. This class operates on all Japanese islands covered by the JR system, no layout is complete without at least one of them! Latest plan is to make the KiHa 82 class express DMU. A welcome model, as it was used all over Japan during a long period.

Passenger cars

Four differrent classes are in the range, mostly vintage, but suitable for many layouts. All classes are express cars. Classes available are class 35, class 43, class 12 and finally the class 20 sleeper cars in a nice streamlined design.

Freight cars

A small range, but steadily growing. All cars are made to the high Kato standards, cars have opening doors and opening filling hatches.

Kato products are available at Japan Model Railways.

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