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Broad gauge railways use a rail gauge (distance between the rails) greater than the standard gauge of .


For a list see: List of broad gauges, by gauge and country


In Britain the Great Western Railway, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, pioneered broad gauge from 1838 with a gauge of , and retained this gauge until 1892. A number of harbours also used railways of this gauge for construction and maintenance. These included Portland Harbourmarker and Holyheadmarker Breakwater, which sold a locomotive into industrial hands for working nearby sidings. As it was not connected to the national network, this broad gauge operation continued until 1913 when the locomotive wore out.

While Parliamentmarker was initially prepared to authorise lines built to the broad gauge, it was eventually rejected by the Gauge Commission in favour of all railways being built to standard gauge for compatibility. Broad gauge lines were gradually converted to dual gauge or standard gauge from 1864, and finally the last of Brunel's broad gauge was converted in 1892.

Many countries have broad gauge railways. Irelandmarker (see History of rail transport in Ireland) and some parts of Australia (see History of rail transport in Australia) and Brazilmarker have a gauge of , but Luas, the Dublin light rail system, is built to standard gauge. Russiamarker and the other former Soviet Republic use a (originally ) gauge while Finlandmarker continues to use the gauge inherited from Imperial Russiamarker (the two standards are close enough to allow full interoperability between Finland and Russia).

In 1839, the Netherlandsmarker started its railway system with two broad gauge railways. The chosen gauge was after a visit of engineers in England. This was applied between 1839–1866 by the Hollandsche IJzeren Spoorweg-Maatschappij (HSM) for their Amsterdam-The Hague-Rotterdam line and between 1842–1855, firstly by the Dutch state, but soon by the Nederlandsche Rhijnspoorweg-Maatschappij for their Amsterdam-Utrecht-Arnhem line. But the neighboring countries Prussia and Belgium already used standard gauge so the two companies had to regauge their first lines. In 1855, NRS regauged its line and shortly after connected to the Prussian railways. The HSM followed in 1866. There are replicas of one broad gauge 2-2-2 locomotive (De Arend) and three carriages in the Dutch Railway Museummarker in Utrecht. These replicas were built for the 100th anniversary of the Dutch Railways in 1938–39.

The Baltic states have received funding from the European Union to build new lines with standard gauge. Portugalmarker and the Spanishmarker Renfe system use a gauge of called "Ancho Ibérico" (see Iberian gauge & Rail gauge). In Indiamarker, Pakistanmarker and Bangladeshmarker, a gauge of is widespread. This is also used by the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system of the San Francisco Bay Areamarker. In Torontomarker, Canadamarker the gauge for TTC subways and streetcars was chosen in 1861, years after the establishment of 'standard gauge' in Britain, but well before 'standard gauge' in the US and Canada. Toronto uses a unique gauge of , an "overgauge" originally stated to 'allow horse-drawn wagons to use the rails', but with the practical effect of precluding the use of standard gauge equipment in the street. In 1861, the province was supplying subsidies only to broad 'provincial gauge' railways.

Irish broad gauge tracks

The value of interoperability was not obvious to the industry at first. The standardization movement was gradual, and over time the value of a proprietary gauge diminished, being replaced by the idea of collecting money for equipment used on somebody else's railroad lines.

Most non-standard broad gauges get in the way of interoperability of railway networks. On the GWR, the gauge was supposed to allow for high speed, but the company had difficulty with locomotive design in the early years (which threw away much of their advantage), and rapid advances in permanent way and suspension technology saw standard gauge speeds approach broad gauge speeds within a decade or two in any case. On the and gauges, the extra width allowed for bigger inside cylinders and greater power, a problem solvable by outside cylinders and higher steam pressure on standard gauge. In the event, the most powerful engines on standard gauge in North America far exceeded the power of any broad gauge locomotive.


On BART, the wider gauge is supposed to prevent lightweight trains from being blown over by the wind. . Stability in monsoons was supposed to be a reason for the wider gauge in Indiamarker. During the Super Outbreak (a 1974 outbreak of tornados in the eastern U.S.), standard gauge trains were blown over.

Canadian gauge

The first railway in British North America, the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad, was built in 1835-36 to gauge, setting the standard for Britain's colonies for several decades. Today, this is commonly known as Indian gauge, but in 1851 the broad gauge was officially adopted as the standard gauge for the Province of Canada, becoming known as the Provincial gauge, and government subsidies were unavailable for railways that chose other gauges. However, this caused problems in interchanging freight cars with northern United States railroads, most of which were built to standard gauge or a gauge similar to it. In the 1870s, mainly between 1872 and 1874, Canadian broad gauge lines were changed to standard gauge to facilitate interchange and the exchange of rolling stock with American railroads. Today, all Canadian freight railways are standard gauge, with only the Toronto Transit Commission operating streetcars and subway vehicles on its own unique overgauge of .

Indian and Pakistani gauge

See also Indian rail gauge
The British Raj in India adopted gauge, although some standard gauge railways were built in the initial period. The standard gauge railways were soon converted to broad gauge. Reputedly, broad gauge was thought necessary to keep trains stable in the face of strong monsoon winds. Attempts to economise on the cost of construction led to the adoption of gauge and then and narrow gauge for many secondary and feeder lines, particularly in mountainous terrain.

However broad gauge remained the most prevalent gauge across the Indian Subcontinent, reaching right across from Iranmarker into Pakistanmarker to Burmamarker and Kashmirmarker to Sri Lankamarker. After Independence, the Pakistan Railways and Indian Railways adopted as the standard Indian Gauge, and began Project Unigauge to convert metre gauge and narrow gauge to broad gauge. Some of the newest rail projects in India, such as the Konkan Railway and the Delhi Metro, use broad gauge. There was a move to use standard gauge for the Delhi Metro, but the decision was made to use broad gauge to maintain compatibility with the rest of the rail network in India. The new Bangalore Metro, Mumbai Metro, and Hyderabad Metro systems, all in planning or under construction as of 2009, will be on standard gauge. Few remaining narrow gauge sections in Pakistanmarker are being converted to broad gauge.

Because of the broad gauge, trains in India and Pakistan carry double-stacked shipping containers on standard flatcars. Double-stacking containers is highly economic, but standard gauge railways in North American and elsewhere must use special double-stack cars to lower the center of gravity and reduce the loading gauge. Indian Railways is able to carry containers double-stacked on standard flatcars at 100 km/h. (Triple-stacked operation with lower, containers, is planned ). Flatcars, in addition to being much less expensive than well cars, allow more containers in a given length of train.

Iberian gauge

See also Iberian rail gauge
As finally established, the Iberian gauge of is a compromise between the similar, but slightly different, gauges first adopted as respective national standards in Spainmarker and Portugalmarker in the mid-19th century. The main railway networks of Spain were initially constructed to a gauge of six Castilian feet, those of Portugal to a gauge of five Portuguese feet – close enough to allow interoperability in practice.

Irish gauge

See also Irish rail gauge
Irish gauge of is used Ireland and parts of Australia and Brazil.

Russian gauge

Russian gauge or CIS gauge is the second most widely used gauge in the world and spans the whole of the former Soviet Unionmarker/CIS bloc including the Baltic states and Mongolia. Finland uses 1524 mm. The difference is clearly lower than the tolerance margin, so through running is usually no big problem, although Finland uses only specially designated rolling stock with some bogie adjustments for passenger trains headed into Russia.

The original standard of was approved on September 12, 1842 with re-standardisation to 1520 mm taking place during the 1960s.

United States

Ohio gauge redirects here
Originally, various gauges were used in the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker. Some railways, primarily in the northeast, used standard gauge; others used gauges ranging from to . Problems began as soon as lines began to meet and in much of the north-eastern United States, standard gauge was adopted. Most Southern states used gauge. Following the American Civil War, trade between the South and North grew and the break of gauge became a major economic nuisance. Competitive pressures had forced all the Canadian railways to convert to standard gauge by 1880, and Illinois Central converted its south line to New Orleans to standard gauge in 1881, putting pressure on the southern railways.

In the early days of rail transport in the United Statesmarker, railroads tended to be built out of coastal cities into the hinterland, and systems did not connect. Each builder was free to choose its own gauge, although the availability of British-built locomotives encouraged some railroads to be built to standard gauge. As a general rule, southern railroads were built to one or another broad gauge, mostly , while northern railroads that were not standard-gauge tended to be narrow-gauge. Most of the original track in Ohio was built in Ohio gauge, and special compromise cars were able to run on both this track and standard gauge track. When American railroads' track extended to the point that they began to interconnect, it became clear that a single nationwide gauge would be a good idea.In 1886, the southern railroads agreed to coordinate changing gauge on all their tracks. After considerable debate and planning, most of the southern rail network was converted from gauge to gauge, then the standard of the Pennsylvania Railroad, over two remarkable days beginning on Monday, May 31, 1886. Over a period of 36 hours, tens of thousands of workers pulled the spikes from the west rail of all the broad gauge lines in the South, moved them east and spiked them back in place. The new gauge was close enough that standard gauge equipment could run on it without problem. By June 1886, all major railroads in North America were using approximately the same gauge. The final conversion to true standard gauge took place gradually as track was maintained .

In modern uses certain isolated occurrences of non-standard gauges can still be found, such as the and gauge tracks of the Philadelphia streetcars, the Philadelphia Market-Frankford subway cars and the New Orleans streetcars. The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system in the San Francisco Bay Area chose gauge. The San Franciscomarker cable cars use a narrow gauge of .

Pennsylvania Trolley Gauge

Used on the former (defunct) Pittsburgh Railways and the current Pittsburgh Light Rail, the defunct West Penn Railways ( ) and still used on some SEPTA lines ( & ) as well as in New Orleans ( ).

Broader gauges

Some applications require broader gauges, including:

These applications might use double track of the country's usual gauge to provide the necessary stability and axle load. These applications may also use much heavier than normal rails, the heaviest rails for actual trains being about 70 kg/m.

See also


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