Rail gauge

A diagram that shows the different gauges in relation to each other.

Track gauge refers to the distance between the rail-heads of the track. Therefore limiting the the number of different types of locomotives or multiple units that can run on a said piece of track; to those with the matching gauge to the track. Generally speaking, the wider the gauge, the more stable the train will be, is a true statement; though costs have to be included in such a rationalization. It is much cheaper to build in narrow-gauge.


In the early days of locomotives engineers were developing the steam locomotive, and built their designs as they pleased. This was particularly prevalent in the United Kingdom, and, in the mid-1800s, railways that had been growing in popularity since the 1830s could not simply communicate goods and passengers between the Brunel built Great Western Railway, and other Stephenson inspired railways. Everything had to change trains to travel down a different network. This made industry suffer, and consumers unhappy.

Parliament finally acted in 1846, by forcing GWR to adapt — from the broad-gauge — to the majority gauge; which was the 4 ft 8½ in (1,435 mm) standard-gauge. Eventually, by 1892, the entire UK main-line network was in standard gauge.

In the United States, various gauges were utilized, being 6ft (1,829 mm), 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm), 5 ft 2.5 in (1,588 mm), 5 ft (1,524 mm), 4 ft 10 in (1,473 mm), 4 ft 8.5 in (1,435 mm), 4 ft 8.25 in (1,429 mm), 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm), 3 ft (914 mm), 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) and 2 ft (610 mm) to name a few. Like Britain there was a referendum on the gauge issue, which led to the first transcontinental railroad being built to standard gauge of 4 ft 8.5 in (1,435 mm) and the railroad network was to be built to standard gauge. From thereon out the entire railroad network was standardised in the 1880's. The only broad gauge lines in the U.S are dedicated metro lines (bit basic, if someone more knowledgeable could flesh this out that'd be great). Canada originally adopted the broad gauge of 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) as their national network, however they converted their entire rail network to standard gauge in the 1880's to allow seamless logistical connectivity and interchange with U.S railroads which by then were completely converted to standard gauge

In India, the main-lines were originally built in 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) gauge. But finance problems meant that the government approved a second 'main-line' network to be built in meter-gauge — 3 ft 3 3/8 in (1,000 mm). This became such an issue that some meter-gauge lines have been standardized to 5 ft 6 in, a vast majority of the Indian network is now 5 ft 6 in under 'Project Unigauge'. India also includes some 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) and rare 2 ft (609 mm) gauges. Work is still ongoing to convert all non-heritage lines to 5ft 6 in

Australia is perhaps the most notorious victim of being plagued by a multi-gauge network. This is due to the fact that many of the states have gone their own separate way, leading to communication problems in the past between states. Railways in New South Wales and the Trans-Australian Railway between Port Augusta, South Australia (later extended to Port Pirie, South Australia) and Kalgoorlie (Western Australia) were built in standard-gauge, Victoria and South Australia both chose the 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) gauge and Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania run 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) narrow-gauge. However, conversion to standard gauge has occurred over the decades resulting in New South Wales-like standard-gauge lines joining that state with capitals of the other states: Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland, with some branch lines in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia being converted to allow them to continue operation post standardization (might expand this later).


This is when a country makes all its rail networks the same gauge. Not to be confused with the 4 ft 8½ in gauge, since countries can be standardized on any particular gauge.

Gauge conversion Edit

This is a process where a railway line, rail system or even an entire network is converted from one gauge to another by moving one rail to another, as ideally most rail systems should have a completely compatible gauge

See also: List of gauge conversions

Dual gauge Edit

This is where tracks have a third rail to accommodate a narrower gauge. This is a viable option when the gauges have that much of a disparity (eg. Standard Gauge and Cape Gauge), however are impractical when the gauges are very close to eachother (Standard Gauge and Irish Gauge or Metre and Cape Gauge)

Principle gaugesEdit

This is a list of the main gauges used around the world, and where they are mainly used:

  • 1 ft 3 in (381 mm) _ minimum gauge_ North America and Europe
  • 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) — India, Sri Lanka
  • 3 ft 3 3/8 in (1,000 mm) — 'meter-gauge' — East Africa, south-east Asia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Iraq, Portugal, Greece, Switzerland and Argentina.
  • 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) — narrow-gauge or 'Cape-gauge' — Australia (used in Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia), New Zealand, southern Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Sudan, Indonesia, Japan, Newfoundland and Ecuador.
  • 4 ft 8½ in (1,435 mm) — 'standard-gauge' — The majority of Europe, Australia (used in New South Wales, the interstate rail network as well as several branch and main lines in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia and the Pilbara Iron Ore heavy haul lines), north Africa, Israel, Iraq, Iran, China, South Korea, Japan (Shinkansen lines), Peru, Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Mexico, United States of America and Canada (entire North American railroad network).
  • 5 ft (1524 mm) — Russia, Mongolia, Belorussia, Kazahkstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, Turkmenistan
  • 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) — broad-gauge, 'Irish-gauge' — Ireland, Australia (used in Victoria and South Australia) and Brazil.
  • 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) — broad-gauge — Spain, Portugal, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Argentina and Chile.


  • Book: The Railway Data File published by Silverdale Books. ISBN: 1-85605-499-3.

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