So, after being a LEGO fan for 40+ years, I'd like to try my luck at building some scale models of train sets (for example, an ICE 2). In planning my build, I ran into some difficulties or doubts determining the proper scale, specifically I was wondering what scale "L-gauge" models typically use.

If you directly relate the LEGO track geometry to a real-life standard gauge track you end up with a scale of 1435mm/37.5mm ~ 1:38.27 - which is somewhat in line with the "1:40" answer to a related question.

Now, per this link, an ICE 2 is 3.07m wide, which would translate to just under 10 studs wide (9.59, to be exact). Alarmingly, this would also mean that each train car model would be over 2 feet long, which is most likely problematic even with third-party R108 or R120 tracks.

On the other hand, when using a smaller scale (e.g., 8 studs wide, roughly 1:48 scale), it becomes basically impossible to create a to-scale interior (e.g., you could only place two seats/minifigs next to each other).

Is there a "standard" scale for LEGO train models or some other best practice to solve this conundrum?

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    Is there not a model rail club - any kind of model club - near you whose members would be happy to spend hours not just explaining but quite likely demonstrating all you could ever want to know? – Robbie Goodwin May 16 at 0:18

It looks like the best practice is to adjust the proportions to the constraints imposed by the media.

For example, the closest LEGO rendition of a modern high-speed train, the 10233 Horizon Express has cars that are built on a 6x28 chassis piece, which gives a very different width-length ratio than the ICE2 (3.02 m : 26.40 m). And it just works and looks fine, even though the math is completely off the charts.

For other examples, see how LEGO manages to translate the iconic Star Wars vehicles into the Microfighters line, or famous cars into the Speed Champions line. So I'd say it is more than possible to keep the design essence (and thus the recognizability) intact, while adjusting the proportions even to ridiculous ratios, as demanded by other constraints.

The radius of the curved track pieces and the speeds attainable by LEGO trains give completely insane results as well, when viewed as real-world engineering solutions, but in this medium, it is fine. Maybe it necessiatates widening the track gauge a bit compared to real trains (LEGO trains have their wheels almost in line with their sides), or lowering the center of gravity, but even if the physics win over the engineering, it is easy to reassemble the pieces after a crash :)

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TLDR: Scale for train MOC is a personal preference based on the needs.

Longer version:

There is a lot of personal preferences here. Like, how do you decide if the LEGO track geometry should translate to standard gauge? Why not any other track gauge available in other countries? How do you scale the model if it originally use slightly wider gauge? So there's already some flexibility in how strict you should be considering the scale of your train based on the track gauge.

Next thing is to decide if you want your train to operate within your LEGO city layout or just for the looks? LEGO trains are built in 6-stud wide size. People tend to design their own trains in 6-, 7- and 8-stud width size. They look good in city layouts - not too big and do not cause any serious troubles operating even on LEGO tracks. And somewhat to scale. I've made 48 cm (1.5748 feet) long 8-stud wide scale model of a train loco myself. It could operate on standard LEGO train tracks. And yes, it looks a little ridiculous on curves, but still works. However this scale doesn't let you design detailed interior, so compromises must be made.

Now if you prefer designing your train for the looks and operate it on some train layout (that could be made from LEGO compatible 3rd party elements) only from time to time you can go with whichever scale that fit your needs. It could be wider, longer, so train track geometry is the limit. As you mentioned your initial scaling suggested your train is going to be 2 feet long, which is less than half a foot longer than my model and you are not limiting yourself with just LEGO tracks, there shouldn't be a problem running your model on larger radius 3rd party (LEGO compatible) train tracks.

It is also worth mentioning some people use LEGO tracks as a narrow gauge. In such case train model, is obviously quite wide and it no longer fit into LEGO city (minifigure scale) layout. However there is plenty of space for details.

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