Standard gauge

This article is about railway track gauge. For loading gauges, see Standard loading gauge. For gauge in toy trains, see Standard Gauge (toy trains).
Track gauge
By transport mode
Tram · Rapid transit
Miniature · Scale model
By size (list)

  Fifteen inch 381 mm (15 in)

  600 mm,
Two foot
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)
  Six foot 1,829 mm (6 ft)
  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 · Australia

The standard gauge (also Stephenson gauge after George Stephenson, International gauge, or normal gauge) is a widely used railway track gauge. Approximately 55% of the lines in the world are this gauge (see the list of standard gauge usages). All high-speed rail lines (except those in Russia, Uzbekistan, and Finland) are standard gauge. The distance between the inside edges of the rails is defined to be 1,435 millimetres (4 ft 8 12 in) (except in the United States, where it is still defined in Imperial and US customary units as 4 feet 8 12 inches (1,435.1 mm)). It is also called the UIC gauge or UIC track gauge,[1][2][3] the European gauge in the EU[4] and Russia,[5] or uniform gauge in Queensland.


As railways developed and expanded, one of the key issues was the 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). In both countries, these lines had been widened to standard gauge by 1846. 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 used 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 on 31 May 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, with the exception of the United States and Canada, where standard gauge continues to be defined in terms of feet and inches.


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.[lower-alpha 1][9] Snopes categorized this legend as "false", but commented that "... it is perhaps more fairly labelled as 'True, but for trivial and unremarkable reasons.'"[10] 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.[10] 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 was less than 4 ft (1,219 mm).[11] 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.[11] Others were 4 ft 4 in (1,321 mm) (in Beamish) or 4 ft 7 12 in (1,410 mm) (Bigges Main and Kenton and Coxlodge).[11][12]

The English railway pioneer George Stephenson spent much of his early engineering career working for the coal mines of County Durham. He favoured 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm) for wagonways in Northumberland and Durham, and used it on his Killingworth line.[11] 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[13] 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.[11][14] The historic Mount Washington Cog Railway, the world's first mountain-climbing rack railway, is still in operation in the 21st century, and has used the earlier 4 ft 8 in gauge since its inauguration in 1868.

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[14]) for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, authorised in 1826 and opened 30 September 1830. The success of this project led to Stephenson and his son Robert being employed to engineer several other larger railway projects.

Non-standard gauge

Almost standard gauge

Standard gauge

authorised 1829, opened 1834, isolated from LMR, engineered by Robert Stephenson.

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 on Railway Gauges 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) (later 7 ft 14 in (2,140 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 had a second chance to choose a standard gauge, he would have chosen one wider than 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in).[25][26] "I would take a few inches more, but a very few".[27]

Modern almost-standard gauge railways

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.[28]



Country/territory Railway Notes
Albania National rail network 339 km (211 mi)[29]
Algeria National rail network

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

3,973 km (2,469 mi)[30]
Argentina General Urquiza Railway (except for Ferrocarril Económico Correntino, which uses 600 mm or 1 ft 11 58 in)
Buenos Aires Underground
Metrotranvía Mendoza
Tren de la Costa
Other major lines are mostly 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) broad gauge, with the exception of the 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge General Belgrano Railway.
Further information: Rail transport in Argentina
Australia Pacific National, Pilbara Railways, Sydney Metro Victoria (Australia) built the first railways to the Irish broad gauge. New South Wales then built to the standard gauge, so trains had to stop on the border and passengers transferred, which was only rectified in the 1960s. Queensland still runs on a narrow gauge but there is a standard gauge line from NSW to Brisbane.
Further information: Rail gauge in Australia
Austria Österreichische Bundesbahnen The Semmering railway has UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Bangladesh Only used for rapid transit systems: Dhaka Metro
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;[31] from Uruguaiana to the border with Argentina and from Santana do Livramento to the border with Uruguay (both mixed gauge 1,435 mm and 1,000 mm or 3 ft 3 38 in metre gauge); remaining tracks at Jaguarão, Rio Grande do Sul (currently inoperable); Rio de Janeiro Light Rail; São Paulo Metro lines 4 and 5; Salvador Metro 194 km (121 mi)
Bulgaria National Railway Infrastructure Company (NRIC),
Bulgarian State Railways (BDZ),
Sofia Underground,[32]
part of Sofia Tramway system[33]
Canada National rail network 49,422 km (30,709 mi)
China National rail network 103,144 km (64,091 mi)
Croatia Hrvatske Željeznice
Further information: Transport in Croatia
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 1,000/1,435 mm, with one meter-gauge interurban line to Jablonec nad Nisou),
funicular in Prague
Denmark Banedanmark and Copenhagen Metro
Djibouti Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway
Egypt Egyptian National Railways
Ethiopia Addis Ababa-Djibouti Railway; Addis Ababa Light Rail Other standard gauge lines under construction.
France SNCF, RATP (on RER lines)
Germany Deutsche Bahn, numerous local public transport providers 43,468 km
Greece Hellenic Railways Organisation (operated by TrainOSE) All modern Greek network, except in the Peloponnese
Hong Kong MTR (former KCR networkEast Rail Line, West Rail Line, Ma On Shan Line, Light Rail) Other MTR lines use 1,432 mm (4 ft 8 38 in) instead of 4 ft 8 12 in[34][35][36]
Hungary MÁV, GySEV,
Budapest metro, HÉV (Suburban railway),
Tram systems in Budapest, Debrecen, Miskolc, Szeged,
Budapest Cog-wheel Railway
India Only used for rapid transit systems: Bangalore Metro, Chennai Metro, Delhi Metro (Phase 2 onwards), Gurgaon Metro, Hyderabad Metro Rail, Jaipur Metro, Kochi Metro, Kolkata Metro (Line 2 onwards), Trams in Kolkata, Lucknow Metro, Mumbai Metro, Navi Mumbai Metro Indian heavy rail systems (Indian Railways) use 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) Indian broad. The majority of under-construction and future rapid transit systems prefer standard gauge.
Indonesia Railways in Aceh Province and Sulawesi Rest of the country uses 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in).
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 Railway (not including the 1,067 mm Minami-Osaka Line, etc.), Keihan Railway, Hankyu Railway, Hanshin Railway, Kyoto Municipal Subway, Osaka Municipal Subway, Fukuoka City Subway Nanakuma Line, Sendai Subway Tozai Line. All other subway lines in Japan, except for the Toei Shinjuku Line (which uses 1,372 mm (4 ft 6 in), scotch gauge) and the Sapporo Subway (which is a rubber-tired system), use 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) (cape gauge).
Kenya Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway Network under construction
Lebanon All lines out of service and essentially 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
Further information: List of Mexican railroads
Montenegro Željeznice Crne Gore 3
Morocco Rail transport in Morocco
Netherlands Nederlandse Spoorwegen and regional railways.
Nigeria Lagos-Kano Standard Gauge Railway; Lagos Rail Mass Transit Under construction; Abuja to Kaduna section operational.
North Korea Railways of the DPRK.
Norway Norwegian National Rail Administration, Rail transport in Norway
Panama Panama Railway; Panama Metro Regauged from 5 ft (1,524 mm) in 2001
Paraguay Ferrocarril Presidente Don Carlos Antonio López, now Ferrocarril de Paraguay S.A. (FEPASA) 36 km out of Asunción (used as a tourist steam line), plus 5 km from Encarnación to the border with Argentina, carrying mainly exported soy; the rest of the 441-km line awaits its fate, while redevelopment plans come and go with regularity. The section from west of Encarnación to north of San Salvador, plus the entire San Salvador–Abaí branch, have been dismantled by the railway itself and sold for scrap to raise funds.
Peru Railroad Development Corporation,[38] Ferrocarril Central Andino (Callao–Lima–La Oroya–Huancayo and La Oroya–Cerro del Pasco lines), Ferrocarril del sur de Peru (operated by Peru Rail) MataraniArequipaPuno and Puno–Cuzco, Ilo–Moquegua mining railroad, Tacna–Arica (Chile) international line, (operated by Tacna province), Lima electric suburban railway
Philippines Manila LRT Lines 1 and 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 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge; tracks), Metro Transportes do Sul light rail in Almada. All other railways use 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 2132 in) (broad gauge); some use 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge; Decauville uses 500 mm (19 34 in) gauge.
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 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)
South Korea KRNA
Spain AVE high-speed rail lines from Madrid to Seville, Málaga, Saragossa, Barcelona (-Perthus), Toledo, Huesca, and Valladolid, Barcelona Metro (L2, L3, L4, and L5 lines), Barcelona FGC (lines L6 and L7), and Metro Vallès (lines S1, S2, S5, and S55). All other railways use 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 2132 in) (broad gauge) and/or 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre 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 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge.
Further information: Rail transport in Turkey
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
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 (0.24 in) narrower than standard gauge.
Uruguay National rail network
Vietnam North of Hanoi[39] Includes dual gauge (standard/metre) to the Chinese 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 (23 January 2013). "EU support to help convert the Port of Barcelona's rail network to UIC gauge". TEN-T Executive Agency. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  2. "Spain: opening of the first standard UIC gauge cross-border corridor between Spain and France". UIC Communications. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  3. "Displaceable rolling bogie for railway vehicles". Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  4. Francesco FALCO (31 December 2012). "2007-EE-27010-S". TEN-T Executive Agency. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  5. "Japan". 1 October 1964. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  6. "The Days They Changed the Gauge". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  7. "Guidance on Gauging" (PDF). Railway Group Guidance Note. London: Rail Safety and Standards Board. October 2004. Retrieved 29 January 2012.
  8. "Standard Railway Gauge". Townsville Bulletin. 5 October 1937. p. 12. Retrieved 3 June 2011 via National Library of Australia.
  9. "Standard Rail Gauge Set By Old Ox-Carts". Worker. 58, (3122). Queensland, Australia. 19 May 1947. p. 17. Retrieved 13 April 2016 via National Library of Australia.
  10. 1 2 "Railroad Gauges and Roman Chariots". Urban Legends Reference Pages.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 Baxter, Bertram (1966). Stone Blocks and Iron Rails. Newton Abbot: David and Charles. ISBN 0 715340 04 2. OCLC 643482298. p.56.
  12. Tyne and Wear HER(1128)
  13. "". Retrieved 1 June 2016. External link in |title= (help)
  14. 1 2 Vaughan (1997).
  15. Whishaw (1842), p. 91.
  16. "Public transport in and about the parish". London: St George-in-the-East Church. London and Blackwall Railway; London, Tilbury & Southend Railway.
  17. "" (PDF). Retrieved 1 June 2016. External link in |title= (help)
  18. Whishaw (1842), p. 260.
  19. Whishaw (1842), p. 363.
  20. 1 2 Jones (2013), p. 33.
  21. Whishaw (1842), p. 54.
  22. Whishaw (1842), p. 273.
  23. Whishaw (1842), p. 303.
  24. Whishaw (1842), p. 319.
  25. "Trans-Australian Railway. Bill Before The Senate". Western Mail (Western Australia). Perth, WA. 2 December 1911. p. 17. Retrieved 15 March 2013 via National Library of Australia.
  26. "Peoples' Liberal Party". Bendigo Advertiser. 27 February 1912. p. 5. Retrieved 21 November 2013 via National Library of Australia.
  27. Jones (2009), pp. 64–65.
  28. "The Narrow-Gauge Question". The Argus. Melbourne. 2 October 1872. Retrieved 14 April 2012 via
  29. "The World Factbook". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  30. "The World Factbook". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  31. Setti (2008), p. 25.
  32. "". Retrieved 1 June 2016. External link in |title= (help)
  33. "". Retrieved 1 June 2016. External link in |title= (help)
  34. "香港鐵路(MTR)". 15 February 2006. Retrieved 20 August 2013.
  35. Allen (1987).
  36. "Mexlist". 2007. Retrieved 29 November 2007.
  37. "Ferrocarril Central Andino". Railroad Development Corporation. 2007. Retrieved 29 November 2007.
  38. "Railway Infrastructure". Vietnam Railways. 2005. Retrieved 29 November 2007.

Works cited

  • Allen, Geoffrey Freeman (1987). Jane's World Railways, 1987–88. Jane's Information Group. ISBN 9780710608482. 
  • Baxter, Bertran (1966). Stone Blocks and Iron Rails (Tramroads). Industrial Archaeology of the British Isles. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. 
  • Jones, Robin (2013). The Rocket Men. Mortons Media Group. ISBN 9781909128279. 
  • Jones, Stephen K. (2009). Brunel in South Wales. vol. II: Communications and Coal. Stroud: The History Press. pp. 64–65. ISBN 9780752449128. 
  • Setti, João Bosco (2008). Brazilian Railroads. Rio de Janeiro: Memória do Trem. ISBN 9788586094095 via Google Books. 
  • Vaughan, A. (1997). Railwaymen, Politics and Money. London: John Murray. ISBN 0-7195-5150-1. 
  • Whishaw, Francis (1842). The Railways of Great Britain and Ireland: Practically Described and Illustrated. London: John Weale (republished 1969, David & Charles reprints: Newton Abbot). ISBN 0-7153-4786-1. 

Further reading

  • Pomeranz, Kenneth; Topik, Steven (1999). The World that Trade Created: Society, Culture, and World Economy, 1400 to the Present. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe. ISBN 0-7656-0250-4. 
  • Puffert, Douglas J. (2009). Tracks across Continents, Paths through History: The Economic Dynamics of Standardization in Railway Gauge. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-68509-0. 

External links

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