How Much Do You Know About Railway Track Gauge?


Railway track gauge is the distance between the inner faces of the head of two rails. You might be wondering what different types of gauges are currently found around the world? About 60% of the world’s railroad tracks use the standard 1435mm (4 ft 8 12 in) gauge today. The other 40% use either a narrow gauge or a broad gauge. The gauge wider than 1435mm is called the broad gauge, including 1676mm, 1524mm, 1520mm, etc. The gauge narrower than 1435mm is called the narrow gauge, including 1067mm, 1000mm, 762mm, 600mm, etc.

Why the standard track gauge is 1435mm?


About the origin of the standard track gauge, some believed it originated from the wheel spacing of ancient Roman chariots. However, this conclusion is very controversial. It’s more likely that the choice of this width is arbitrary.

The standard gauge was proposed by the United Kingdom. George Stephenson, a British engineer who designed and built the Stockton and Darlington Railway, proposed a gauge of 1435 and successfully persuaded the train manufacturer to produce locomotives and vehicles with a gauge of 1,435 mm. Stephenson’s successful design of the railway is an object that many people imitates. It also makes this gauge popular. In 1845, the British Royal Commissioner suggested using 1435 as the standard gauge. In 1846, the British Parliament passed a bill requiring all railways in the future to use standard gauges.

Different railway track gauges around the world

In the early days of rail travel, there was no universal standard for track gauges. Many engineers, private companies and countries would simply build tracks to their designs. Often train tracks were built to link neighbouring towns together or designed for private use. Since these tracks didn’t need to connect, there was little need to standardize. Some countries chose not to use the standard gauge for political reasons such as to avoid being invaded by other countries.

It is also worth remembering that replacing or regauging track is a pretty expensive affair. For this reason, it is not unusual to find a mixture of gauges in use in countries where converting gauges is not necessary.

railwaty track gauges around the world
Railway Track GaugeCountries
2134mm ( 7ft )UK
1829mmMoscow-St. Petersburg Line, U.S. Erie Line
1674mm (5ft 5in)Spain
1665mm (5ft 5in)Portugal
1600mmIreland, Northern Ireland (UK), Australia (Victoria and South Australia), Brazil
1524mm (5 feet) 1520mmRussia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armeria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Mongolia, Finland (Grand Duchy of Russia in the 19th century), Peak Cable car (Hong Kong, China)
1435mm (4ft 8½in)  China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan (Tokaido, Sanyo and other Shinkansen), Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia, Mauritania, Gabon, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, United Kingdom, France, Monaco, Italy, Vatican, Yugoslavia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Greece, United States, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, Dominica, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Peru, Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Australia, Taiwan High-Speed Rail, Taipei MRT and Kaohsiung MRT-Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport MRT (China Taiwan), East Rail Line-West Rail Line-Light Rail and Maanshan Line (Hong Kong, China), Madrid-Serbia High-Speed Railway (Spain)
1432mmLondon Underground (UK), Tsuen Wan Line-Island Line-Tung Chung Line-Machine Line Express-Tseung Kwan O Line (Hong Kong, China)
1372mmKeiking Electric Railway – Tokyu Shinjuku Line – Hakodate Shibuya Line – Dotoku Line (Japan)
1067mmJapan (80%), Australia (Queensland), New Zealand, Taiwan Province (China), India, Pakistan, Ghana, Congo, Tanzania, Zambia, Indonesia, South Africa, Angola, Botswana, Jordan, Algeria, Morocco, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria, Angola, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Namibia, Sudan, Ghana, Lesotho, Honduras, Costa Rica, Dominica, Ecuador, the Philippines, Hainan Province (China), South Sakhalin ( Sakhalin) (Russia)
1050mmPalestine, Angola
1000mmChina (Kunming to Hekou), Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Mali, Guinea, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Tunisia, Djibouti, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar, Switzerland, Spain, Puerto Rico, Brazil
914mmPanama, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru
762mmSugar Railway, Alishan Forest Railway, Eastern Taitung Line (Taiwan, China)
760mmIndia, Nepal, Indonesia
different railway track gauges across the world

The best railway track Gauge

Since the emergence of railways in the 19th century, there has been debate about which gauge is the best. From a modern point of view, there is no obvious advantage in performance of wide or narrow gauge.

1. The heaviest truck in the world can run on standard gauge rails in the United States and Australia. The broad gauge does not necessarily carry more weight.

2. High-speed railways use standard gauges, and broad gauges are not necessarily faster.

3. Trains on narrow gauge (1067mm) railways in Queensland, Australia and South Africa are still very heavy. Narrow gauges do not necessarily carry less load.

4. The price difference between the standard-gauge light railway and the narrow-gauge railway is not much different.

5. Narrow gauge railways can also be built to reach the same load capacity as standard gauge railway tracks.

Only when narrow-gauge railways less than 3 feet will cost slightly less than standard gauges. However, the carrying capacity of this type of gauge is limited, and it is usually only used on mountain railways with limited carrying capacity.

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