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Standard gauge

Track gauges
By transport mode
Tram · Rapid transit
Miniature · Scale model
By size (list)
Graphic list of track gauges

  Fifteen inch 381 mm (15 in)

  Two foot and
600 mm
597 mm
600 mm
603 mm
610 mm
(1 ft 11 12 in)
(1 ft 11 58 in)
(1 ft 11 34 in)
(2 ft)
  750 mm,
Two foot six inch,
800 mm
750 mm
760 mm
762 mm
800 mm
(2 ft 5 12 in)
(2 ft 5 1516 in)
(2 ft 6 in)
(2 ft 7 12 in)
  Swedish three foot,
900 mm,
Three foot
891 mm
900 mm
914 mm
(2 ft11 332 in)
(2 ft 11 716)
(3 ft)
  Metre 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in)
  Three foot six inch,
Cape, CAP, Kyōki
1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)
  Four foot six inch 1,372 mm (4 ft 6 in)

  Standard 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)

Five foot
1,520 mm
1,524 mm
(4 ft 11 2732 in)
(5 ft)
  Irish 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in)
  Iberian 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 2132 in)
  Indian 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in)
  Brunel 2,140 mm (7 ft 14 in)
Change of gauge
Break-of-gauge · Dual gauge ·
Conversion (list· Bogie exchange · Variable gauge
By location
North America · South America · Europe
World map, rail gauge by region

The standard gauge (also Stephenson gauge after track gauge. Approximately 60% of lines in the world are this gauge (see the list of countries that use the standard gauge). Except for Russia, Uzbekistan, and Finland, all high-speed lines are this gauge.

The distance between the inside edges of the rails is usually called 1,435 mm but in the United States, and Canada it is still defined 4 ft 8 12 in.


  • Naming 1
  • History 2
    • Origins 2.1
    • The beginnings of the 4 ft 8 12 in gauge 2.2
      • Non-standard gauge 2.2.1
      • Almost standard gauge 2.2.2
      • Standard gauge 2.2.3
      • Dual gauge 2.2.4
    • The Royal Commission 2.3
    • Regrets 2.4
  • Road vehicles 3
  • Legislation 4
  • Installations 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
    • Sources 8.1
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


Standard gauge was originally called "narrow gauge" in contrast to Brunel's broad gauge. When smaller gauges appeared, it was renamed "standard gauge".

It is also called "international gauge", "UIC gauge",[1][2] or "UIC track gauge"[3]

It is called European gauge in the EU,[4] as well as in Russia.[5]

It is called "uniform gauge" in Queensland.


As railways developed and expanded one of the key issues was track gauge (the distance, or width, between the inner sides of the rails) to be used. The result was the adoption throughout a large part of the world of a “standard gauge” of 4 ft 8 12 in allowing inter-connectivity and inter-operability.

In England some early lines in colliery (coal mining) areas in the northeast were 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm); and in Scotland some early lines were 4 ft 6 in (1,372 mm) (Scotch gauge). By 1846, in both countries, these lines were widened to standard gauge. Parts of the United States, mainly in the Northeast, adopted the same gauge because some early trains were purchased from Britain. However, until well into the second half of the 19th century Britain and the USA had several different track gauges. The American gauges converged as the advantages of equipment interchange became increasingly apparent; notably, the South's 5 ft (1,524 mm) broad gauge was converted to be compatible with standard gauge over the course of two days beginning May 31, 1886.[6] See Track gauge in the United States.

With the advent of metrication, standard gauge was redefined as 1,435 mm,[7] a reduction of 0.1 mm, but well within existing tolerance limits. The exception is the United States, where standard gauge continues to be defined in terms of customary units.


A popular legend that has been around since at least 1937[8] traces the origin of the 4 ft 8 12 in gauge even further back than the coalfields of northern England, pointing to the evidence of rutted roads marked by chariot wheels dating from the Roman Empire.[Note 1] Snopes categorized this legend as false but commented that “... it is perhaps more fairly labelled as 'True, but for trivial and unremarkable reasons.'"[9] The historical tendency to place the wheels of horse-drawn vehicles approximately 5 feet (1,500 mm) apart probably derives from the width needed to fit a carthorse in between the shafts.[9] In addition, while road-traveling vehicles are typically measured from the outermost portions of the wheel rims (and there is some evidence that the first railroads were measured in this way as well), it became apparent that for vehicles travelling on rails it was better to have the wheel flanges located inside the rails, and thus the distance measured on the inside of the wheels (and, by extension, the inside faces of the rail heads), was the important one.

There was no standard gauge for horse railways, but there were rough groupings: in the north of England none were less than 4 ft (1,219 mm).[10] Wylam colliery's system, built before 1763, was 5 ft (1,524 mm); as was John Blenkinsop's Middleton Railway, the old 4 ft (1,219 mm) plateway was relaid to 5 ft (1,524 mm) so that Blenkinsop's engine could be used.[10] Others were 4 ft 4 in (1,321 mm) Beamish or 4 ft 7 12 in (Bigges Main and Kenton and Coxlodge).[10]

The English railway pioneer County Durham. He favoured 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm) for wagonways in Northumberland and Durham and used it on his Killingworth line.[10] The Hetton and Springwell wagonways also used this gauge.

Stephenson's Stockton and Darlington railway (S&DR) was built primarily to transport coal from mines near Shildon to the port at Stockton-on-Tees. The initial gauge of 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm) was set to accommodate the existing gauge of hundreds of horse-drawn chaldron wagons[11] that were already in use on the wagonways in the mines. The railway used this gauge for 15 years before a change was made to 4 ft 8 12 in gauge.[10][12]

The beginnings of the 4 ft 8 12 in gauge

George Stephenson used the 4 ft 8 12 in gauge (including a belated extra 12 in (13 mm) of free movement to reduce binding on curves[12]) for the Robert being employed to engineer several other larger railway projects.

Non-standard gauge

Almost standard gauge

Standard gauge

During the "gauge war" with the Great Western Railway, standard gauge was called "narrow gauge". The modern use of narrow gauge for gauges less than standard did not arise for 20 years, until the first such locomotive-hauled passenger railway, the Festiniog.

Dual gauge

The Royal Commission

In 1845, in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, a Royal Commission reported in favour of a standard gauge. In Great Britain, Stephenson's gauge was chosen on the grounds that lines of this gauge were eight times longer than those of the rival 7 ft (2,134 mm) gauge adopted principally by the Great Western Railway. The subsequent Gauge Act ruled that new passenger-carrying railways in Great Britain should be built to a standard gauge of 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in), and those in Ireland to a new standard gauge of 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm). It allowed the broad-gauge companies in Great Britain to continue with their tracks and expanding their networks within the "Limits of Deviation" and the exceptions defined in the Act. After an intervening period of mixed-gauge operation (tracks were laid with three rails), the Great Western Railway finally converted its entire network to standard gauge in 1892.

The Royal Commission made no comment about small to-be-called "narrow"-gauge lines, such as the Festiniog Railway, which allowed a future multiplicity of small gauges in the UK; it also made no comments about future gauges in British colonies.


Robert Stephenson was reported to have said that if he had a second chance to choose a standard gauge, he would choose one wider than 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in).[23][24] "I would take a few inches more, but a very few".[25]

Road vehicles

Several states in the United States had laws requiring road vehicles to have a consistent gauge to allow them to follow ruts in the road. These gauges were similar to railway standard gauge.[26]



Country/territory Railway Notes
Albania National rail network 339 km (211 mi)[27]
Algeria National rail network

Algiers Metro, Algiers tramway, Constantine tramway, Oran tramway, Oran Metro

3,973 km (2,469 mi)[28]
Argentina Railroad Development Corporation,[29] formerly the Urquiza Line Other lines are mostly 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) broad gauge (Indian gauge)
Australia Pacific National, Pilbara Railways Of the Australian states only NSW adopted standard gauge. However, all mainland state and territory capitals are now linked by a standard gauge network.
Austria Österreichische Bundesbahnen The Semmering railway has UNESCO World Heritage Site status
Belgium NMBS/SNCB, Brussels Metro and tramway
Bosnia and Herzegovina Željeznice Federacije Bosne i Hercegovine and Željeznice Republike Srpske,
Sarajevo tramways
Brazil Estrada de Ferro do Amapá;[30] from Uruguaiana to the border of Argentina and from Santana do Livramento to the border of Uruguay (both mixed gauge 1,435 mm and 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) );

Remaining tracks at Jaguarão (Rio Grande do Sul) currently inoperable

194 km (121 mi)
Bulgaria National Railway Infrastructure Company (NRIC),
Bulgarian State Railways (BDZ),
Sofia Underground,[31]
Part of Sofia Tramway system[32]
Canada National rail network 49,422 km (30,709 mi)
China National rail network 103,144 km (64,091 mi)
Croatia Hrvatske Željeznice
Colombia Metro de Medellín, Tren del Cerrejón, Metro de Bogotá
Cuba Ferrocarriles de Cuba
Czech Republic České dráhy
Prague metro
all tram systems in the country (Liberec has dual gauge 1000/1435 mm, with one meter-gauge interurban line to Jablonec nad Nisou)
Funicular in Prague
Denmark Banedanmark and Copenhagen Metro
Egypt Egyptian National Railways
France SNCF, RATP (on RER lines)
Germany Deutsche Bahn
Greece TrainOSE) All modern Greek network, except in the Peloponnese
Hong Kong MTR (former KCR network - East Rail Line, West Rail Line, Ma On Shan Line, Light Rail) Other MTR lines use 1,432 mm (4 ft 8⅜ in), instead of 4 ft 8 12 in[33][34][35]
Hungary MÁV, GySEV
Budapest metro, HÉV (Suburban railway)
Tram systems in Budapest, Debrecen, Miskolc, Szeged
Budapest cogwheel railway
India Only used for rapid transit systems: Delhi Metro (Phase 2), Bangalore Metro, Kolkata Metro (Line 2), Kolkata tram, etc. Indian heavy rail systems (Indian Railways) use 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) Indian broad gauge. The majority of under construction and future Metro Rail systems prefer Standard Gauge.
Indonesia Built in Aceh Province
Iran Islamic Republic of Iran Railways
Iraq Iraqi Republic Railways
Ireland Railway Procurement Agency Luas in Dublin
Israel Israel Railways, CTS - operating the Jerusalem Light Rail
Italy Ferrovie dello Stato
Japan Shinkansen, JR Hokkaido Naebo Works (see Train on Train), Keisei Line, Keikyu Line Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Tokyo Metro Marunouchi Line, Toei Asakusa Line, Toei Oedo Line, Kintetsu Corp (not including the Minami-Osaka Line (1,067 mm), etc.), Keihan Railway, Hankyu Railway, Hanshin Railway, Kyoto Municipal Subway, Osaka Municipal Subway.[36] All other subway lines in Japan, except for the Toei Shinjuku Line (1,372 mm (4 ft 6 in) scotch gauge) and the Sapporo Subway (which is a rubber-tired system), use 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) cape gauge.
Kenya network under construction
Lebanon All lines out of service and more or less dismantled
Libya network under construction
Luxembourg Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Luxembourgeois
Macedonia Macedonian Railways
Malaysia RapidKL (Kelana Jaya Line, Ampang Line), KLIA Ekspres
Montenegro Željeznice Crne Gore 3
Morocco Rail transport in Morocco
Netherlands Nederlandse Spoorwegen and regional railways.
North Korea Railways of the DPRK.
Norway Norwegian National Rail Administration, Rail transport in Norway
Panama Panama Railway since 2000
Paraguay Ferrocarril Presidente Don Carlos Antonio López, now Ferrocarril de Paraguay S.A. (FEPASA) Now working on 36 km out of Asunción as a tourist steam line; also on 5 km from Encarnación to the border of Argentina, carrying mainly exported soy; the rest of the 441 km of the line awaits its fate, while redevelopment plans come and go with regularity. The section from west of Encarnación to north of San Salvador and the complete San Salvador - Abaí branch have been dismantled by the railway itself to get funds through selling scrap.
Peru Railroad Development Corporation[38] Ferrocarril Central Andino Callao - Lima - La Oroya - Huancayo, La Oroya - Cerro del Pasco ; Ferrocarril del sur de Peru operated by Peru Rail Matarani - Arequipa - Puno and Puno - Cuzco; Ilo - Moquegua mining railroad; Tacna - Arica (Chile) international line, operated by Tacna province; Electric suburban railway of Lima
Philippines Manila LRT Line 1, Manila MRT Line 2 and Manila MRT Line 3.
Poland Polskie Koleje Państwowe, Warsaw Metro, most tramway systems throughout the country
Portugal Planned high-speed lines; Braga and Oporto (Guindais) funiculars; Lisbon Metro; Oporto Metro (partly adapted from former 1000 mm tracks); Metro Transportes do Sul light rail in Almada. All other 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 ⅔ in) (broad gauge), some 1,000 mm (3 ft 3⅜ in) (meter gauge), at least one 500 mm (Decauville).
Romania Căile Ferate Române
Russia Rostov-on-Don tramway, lines connecting Kaliningrad with Poland
Saudi Arabia Rail transport in Saudi Arabia
Serbia Serbian Railways
Singapore MRT
Slovakia Železnice Slovenskej republiky, Košice tramway system
Slovenia Slovenske železnice
South Africa Gautrain in Gauteng Province Rest of country uses Cape Gauge
South Korea KRNA
Spain AVE High-Speed Train lines from Madrid to Seville, Málaga, Saragossa, Barcelona (-Perthus), Toledo, Huesca and Valladolid, Barcelona Metro L2, L3, L4, L5 lines. Barcelona FGC lines L6, L7, and Metro Vallès S1, S2, S5, S55. All other 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 ⅔ in) (broad gauge) and some 1,000 mm (3 ft 3⅜ in) (meter gauge).
Sweden Swedish Transport Administration, Storstockholms Lokaltrafik (Stockholm metro, commuter and light rail lines), tram networks in Gothenburg and Norrköping
Switzerland Swiss Federal Railways, BLS, Rigi Railways (rack railway)
Syria Chemins de Fer Syriens
Taiwan Taipei Rapid Transit System, Taiwan High Speed Rail, and Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit
Thailand Bangkok Skytrain, Bangkok Metro and Suvarnabhumi Airport Link.
Tunisia Northern part of the network
Turkey Turkish State Railways (also operates Marmaray), metro networks, and tram networks Some tram networks use metre gauge.
United Arab Emirates Rail transport in the United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom (Great Britain) Entire rail network in Great Britain (but not Ireland) (since standardisation by the Regulating the Gauge of Railways Act 1846) The Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway has UNESCO World Heritage Site status (shared with entire Blaenavon Industrial Landscape area)
United States Modern national railroad network See: Track gauge in the United States

The Washington Metro uses 4 ft 8 14 in (1,429 mm) gauge, which is 6 mm or 1/4" closer than standard gauge.

Vietnam North of Hanoi[39] Includes dual gauge (standard/metre) to the PRC border.

See also


  1. ^ The gaps in the pedestrian crossings in Pompeii could give credence or otherwise to this statement, but no relevant studies appear to have been made.


  1. ^ Francesco FALCO (2013-01-23). "TEN-T Executive Agency || EU support to help convert the Port of Barcelona’s rail network to UIC gauge". Retrieved 2013-08-20. 
  2. ^ "Spain: opening of the first standard UIC gauge cross-border corridor between Spain and France - UIC Communications". Retrieved 2013-08-20. 
  3. ^ "Displaceable rolling bogie for railway vehicles". Retrieved 2013-08-20. 
  4. ^ Francesco FALCO (2012-12-31). "TEN-T Executive Agency || 2007-EE-27010-S". Retrieved 2013-08-20. 
  5. ^ "Japan". 1964-10-01. Retrieved 2013-08-20. 
  6. ^ Conversion
  7. ^ "Guidance on Gauging", Railway Group Guidance Note (London: Rail Safety and Standards Board), October 2004, retrieved 29 January 2012 
  9. ^ a b "Urban Legends Reference Pages: Railroad Gauges and Roman Chariots". Snopes. 
  10. ^ a b c d e baxter 1966, p. 56
  11. ^ Chaldron wagons
  12. ^ a b Vaughan, A. (1997). Railwaymen, Politics and Money. London: John Murray.  
  13. ^ Whishaw (1842). p 91
  14. ^ London and Blackwall Railway; London, Tilbury & Southend Railway Public transport in and about the parish - London and Blackwall Railway; London, Tilbury & Southend Railway
  15. ^ Docklands Light Railway - Tower Gateway to West India Quay
  16. ^ Whishaw (1842). p 260
  17. ^ Whishaw (1842). p 363
  18. ^ a b The Rocket Men, by Robin Jones, p33; Mortons Media Group.
  19. ^ (Whishaw 1842, p. 54)
  20. ^ Whishaw (1842). p 273
  21. ^ Whishaw (1842). p 303
  22. ^ Whishaw (1842). p 319
  25. ^ Jones, Stephen K. (2009). Brunel in South Wales. II: Communications and Coal. Stroud: The History Press. pp. 64–65.  
  26. ^ "The Narrow-Gauge Question". The Argus (Melbourne: October 2, 1872. Retrieved April 14, 2012. 
  27. ^ CIA World Fact Book - Albania
  28. ^ CIA World Fact Book - Algeria
  29. ^ "ALL Mesopotamica". Railroad Development Corporation. 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  30. ^ João Bosco Setti (2008). Brazilian railroads. Memória do Trem. p. 25.  
  31. ^ Sofia Underground
  32. ^ Sofia Tramway system
  33. ^ "香港鐵路(MTR)". 2006-02-15. Retrieved 2013-08-20. 
  34. ^ [1]
  35. ^ Allen, Geoffrey Freeman, Jane's World Railways, 1987-88, Jane's Information Group, 1987 (ISBN 9780710608482)
  36. ^  
  37. ^ "Mexlist". 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  38. ^ "Ferrocarril Central Andino". Railroad Development Corporation. 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 
  39. ^ "Railway Infrastructure". Vietnam Railways. 2005. Retrieved 2007-11-29. 


  • Baxter, Bertran (1966). Stone blocks and iron rails (Tramroads). Industrial Archaeology of the British Isles. Newton Abbot:  

Further reading

  • Pomeranz, Kenneth and Steven Topik (1999). The World That Trade Created: Society, Culture, and World Economy, 1400 to the Present. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.  
  • Puffert, Douglas J. (2009). Tracks across Continents, Paths through History: The Economic Dynamics of Standardization in Railway Gauge. University of Chicago Press.  

External links

  • "The Sydney Morning Herald.".  , A discussion of gauge in Australia, c.1892
  • A learned text of standardisation of gauge
  • "STANDARD RAILWAY GAUGE.".   Roman gauge origin.
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