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Railway Gauges - Types of Railway Gauges

By: Haseeb Jamal / On: Nov 30, 2017 / Railway Engineering
Railway Gauges


Gauge is the measure of distance between the railroad rails. The distance is usually measured from the inside top edge of the parallel rails.

Standard Gauge

  • Standard gauge probably in many countries of the world is 1435 mm. This measurement was developed by George Stephenson, a British railway engineer, using the width of coal wagons that were in use before the invention of the steam locomotive.
  • In the United States, gauge can vary slightly between 4 feet, 8.5 inches to 4 feet, 9.5 inches (1,460 mm).
  • All rail cars and locomotives built to this specification can use any standard gauge railroad line in the world. However, not all railroads have been built to standard gauge.

Types of Gauges

Narrow Gauge (2 ft to 2 ft 6 inches)

Some railroads use smaller distances, known as narrow gauge railroads. Narrow-gauge railways are cheaper to build and better adapted to mountainous terrain. Some narrow gauges are in use in mining operations, and in short-run railroads that must account for sharp curves and steep slopes. However, narrow-gauge railways are limited in their weight capacity and operating speed.

Meter Gauge

  • This type is 3 ft 6 inches or 1.069 meter, mostly used in Japan, South Africa and New Zealand

Broad Gauge (5 ft to 5 ft 6 inches)

  • Broad gauges are useful for heavy loads and higher rates of speed. Broad-gauge railways are standard in Russia, Finland, Ireland, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Portugal, and Spain.
  • When different gauges adjoin, for example at a nation's border, a break of gauge occurs. Some lines solve the problem by building dual gauge lines, which contain several different rails on a single rail bed for different gauges.
  • Dual-gauge railways are in use in Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Vietnam, and Switzerland. Some locomotives and rail cars are built with adjustable wheels that can adapt to different gauge sizes.

Difference in Gauges

  • Gauge should be uniform otherwise it will cause problem for passengers as they have to change train where there are two different gauges
  • No suitable for commercial goods. There will be load and unload of goods and will increase the cost of goods imported or exported
  • Will require wagons of different gauges, thus create shortage or over crowed of wagons
  • Difficult in an emergency or in war if it is needed to transfer army or people from one corner of the country to the other
  • For different gauges, there will require a station consist of duplicate facilities such as platform, siding etc.


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