Track gauge
By transport mode
By size (list)
Graphic list of track gauges

  Fifteen inch 381 mm (15 in)

  • 600 mm
  • 610 mm
  • 686 mm
  • (1 ft 11+58 in)
  • (2 ft)
  • (2 ft 3 in)
  • 750 mm
  • 760 mm
  • 762 mm
  • (2 ft 5+12 in)
  • (2 ft 5+1516 in)
  • (2 ft 6 in)
  • 891 mm
  • 900 mm
  • 914 mm
  • 950 mm
  • (2 ft 11+332 in)
  • (2 ft 11+716 in)
  • (3 ft)
  • (3 ft1+1332 in)
  Metre 1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in)
  Three foot six inch 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)
  Four foot 1,219 mm (4 ft)
  Four foot six inch 1,372 mm (4 ft 6 in)
  1432 mm 1,432 mm (4 ft 8+38 in)

  Standard 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in)

  • 1,445 mm
  • 1,450 mm
  • (4 ft 8+78 in)
  • (4 ft 9+332 in)
  Leipzig gauge 1,458 mm (4 ft 9+1332 in)
  Toronto gauge 1,495 mm (4 ft 10+78 in)
  • 1,520 mm
  • 1,524 mm
  • (4 ft 11+2732 in)
  • (5 ft)
  • 1,581 mm
  • 1,588 mm
  • 1,600 mm
  • (5 ft 2+14 in)
  • (5 ft 2+12 in)
  • (5 ft 3 in)
  Baltimore gauge 1,638 mm (5 ft 4+12 in)
  • 1,668 mm
  • 1,676 mm
  • (5 ft 5+2132 in)
  • (5 ft 6 in)
  Six foot 1,829 mm (6 ft)
  Brunel 2,140 mm (7 ft 14 in)
  Breitspurbahn 3,000 mm (9 ft 1018 in)
Change of gauge
By location
World map, rail gauge by region

Railways with a railway track gauge of 5 ft (1,524 mm) first appeared in the United Kingdom and the United States. This gauge became commonly known as "Russian gauge", because the government of the Russian Empire chose it in 1843. Former areas and states of the Empire have inherited this standard.[1] However in 1970, Soviet Railways re-defined the gauge as 1,520 mm (4 ft 11+2732 in).[2]

With about 225,000 km (140,000 mi) of track, 1,520 mm is the second-most common gauge in the world, after 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge.[3]


Great Britain, 1748

In 1748, the Wylam waggonway was built to a 5 ft (1,524 mm) gauge for the shipment of coal from Wylam to Lemington down the River Tyne.[4]

In 1839, the Eastern Counties Railway was constructed. In 1840, the Northern and Eastern Railway was built. In 1844, both lines were converted to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge. In 1903, the East Hill Cliff Railway, a funicular, was opened.

United States, 1827

See also: Track gauge in the United States and Confederate railroads in the American Civil War

5 ft (1,524 mm) gauge rail network in the Southern United States (1861)

In 1827, Horatio Allen, the chief engineer of the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road Company, prescribed the usage of 5 ft (1,524 mm) gauge. Many other railroads in the Southern United States adopted this gauge. The presence of several distinct gauges was a major disadvantage to the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War. In 1886, when around 11,500 miles (18,500 km) of 5 ft gauge track existed in the United States, almost all of the railroads using that gauge were converted to 4 ft 9 in (1,448 mm), the gauge then used by the Pennsylvania Railroad.[5]

Russian Empire, 1842

In 1837, the first railway built in Russia was a 6 ft (1,829 mm) gauge, 17 km long experimental line connecting Saint Petersburg with Tsarskoye Selo and Pavlovsk. The choice of gauge was influenced by Brunel's Great Western Railway which used 7 ft (2,134 mm). The Tsarskoye Selo railway's success proved that a larger gauge could be viable for railways isolated from the extant 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) gauge Western European network.[6][7]

In 1840, work started on the second railway in the Russian Empire, the Warsaw–Vienna railway in Congress Poland. It was a 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge, with the express intention of allowing through-freight trains into Austria-Hungary.[6][7]

The modern Russian railway network solidified around the Saint Petersburg–Moscow railway, built in 1842. There, the Tsar established a committee to recommend technical standards for the building of Russia's first major railway. The team included devotees of Franz Anton von Gerstner, who pushed to continue the Tsarskoye Selo gauge, and engineer Pavel Melnikov and his consultant George Washington Whistler, a prominent American railway engineer. Whistler recommended 5 ft (1,524 mm) on the basis that it was cheaper to construct than 6 ft (1,829 mm) and cheaper to maintain than 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in). His advice won over the Tsar.[6][7]

At the time, questions of continuity with the European network did not arise. By the time difficulties arose in connecting the Prussian railroads to the Russian ones in Warsaw in the 1850s, it was too late to change.[6]

A persistent myth holds that Imperial Russia chose a gauge broader than standard gauge for military reasons, namely to prevent potential invaders from using the rail system.[8] The Russian military recognized as early as 1841 that operations to disrupt railway track did not depend on the gauge, and should instead focus on destroying bridges and tunnels.[6][7] However, in both World Wars the break of gauge did pose some amount of obstacle to the invading Germans.


The 5-foot gauge became the standard in the Russian Empire and later the Soviet Union.

Russian engineers used it on the Chinese Eastern Railway, built in the closing years of the 19th century across the Northeastern China entry to provide a shortcut for the Trans-Siberian Railway to Vladivostok. The railway's southern branch, from Harbin via Changchun to Lüshun, used Russian gauge. As a result of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, its southernmost section from Changchun to Lüshun was lost to the Japanese, who promptly regauged it to standard gauge, after using the narrow 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) for a short time during the war.[9] This formed a break of gauge between Changchun and Kuancheng, the station just to the north of Changchun, still in Russian hands,[10] until the rest of the former Chinese Eastern Railway was converted to standard gauge, probably in the 1930s.

Unlike in South Manchuria, the Soviet Union's reconquest of southern Sakhalin from Japan did not result in regauging of the railway system. Southern Sakhalin has continued with the original Japanese 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge simultaneously with the Russian gauge railway, constructed in the northern part of the island in 1930-1932 (Moskalvo-Okha). The railway has no fixed connection with the mainland. Before 2019, rail cars coming from the mainland port of Vanino on the Vanino-Kholmsk train ferry, operating since 1973, had to have their bogies changed in the Sakhalin port of Kholmsk.[11] In 2004 and 2008 plans were put forward to convert it to the Russian gauge. The conversion was completed in 2019.[12]

There were proposals in 2013 for north-south and east-west lines in Afghanistan, with construction to start in 2013.[13]

Panama, 1850

The Panama Canal Railway, first constructed in ca. 1850, was built in 5 ft (1,524 mm) gauge. During canal construction (1904–1914), this same gauge was chosen for both construction traffic, canal operating services along the quays, and the newly routed commercial cross-isthmus railway. In 2000 the gauge for the commercial parallel railway was changed to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) to use standard gauge equipment. The original gauge was chosen under the influence of the pre-conversion southern United States railway companies. The electric manoeuvering locomotives along the locks (mules) still use the 5 ft gauge that was laid during canal construction.

Finland, 1862

Main article: History of rail transport in Finland

The first rail line in Finland was opened in January 1862. As Finland was then the Grand Duchy of Finland, an autonomous state ruled in personal union by Imperial Russia where railways were also built to the (5 ft) broad track gauge of 1,524 mm (5 ft).[14] However the railway systems were not connected until the bridge over the River Neva was built in 1913.[15] Russian trains could not have run on Finnish tracks, because the Finnish loading gauge was narrower, until the connection was made and the Finnish structure gauge was widened.



In the late 1960s the gauge was redefined to 1,520 mm (4 ft 11+2732 in) in the Soviet Union.[3] At the same time the tolerances were tightened. As the running gear (wheelsets) of the rolling stock remained unaltered, the result was an increased speed and stability.[14] The conversion took place between 1970 and the beginning of the 1990s.[14]

In Finland, the Finnish State Railways kept the original definition of 1,524 mm (5 ft), even though they also have tightened the tolerances in a similar way, but to a higher level.

After its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Estonia redefined its track gauge to 1,524 mm, to match Finland's gauge.[16] The redefinition did not mean that all the railways in Estonia were changed immediately. It was more a rule change, so that all renovated old tracks and new railways would be constructed in 1,524 mm gauge from then on. (See Track gauge in Estonia.)


Finland allows its gauge to be 1,520–1,529 mm on first class lines (classes 1AA and 1A, speed 220–160 km/h).[17]

If the rolling stock's tolerance is kept within certain limits, through running between 1,520 mm (4 ft 11+2732 in) railways and Finnish 1,524 mm (5 ft) railways is allowed. Since both 1,520 and 1,524 mm tolerances overlap, the difference is negligible. The international high-speed Allegro's gauge between Helsinki and St. Petersburg was specified as 1,522 mm.[18]

Loading gauge

The loading gauge, which defines the maximum height and width for railway vehicles and their loads, is larger for Russian gauge. This means that if a standard gauge railway, in Europe, is adapted for dual gauge, bridges must be rebuilt, double tracks must be placed further apart and the overhead wire must be raised. Or there must be restrictions on permitted rolling stock, which would restrict the benefit of such a railway. Dual gauge needs more width than single gauge. For double stacking on Russian gauge tracks, maximum height shall be 6.15 or 6.4 m (20 ft 2 in or 21 ft 0 in) above rails.

For standard gauge railways, double stacking maximum height shall be 6.15 m (20 ft 2 in). For Indian gauge railways, double stacking maximum height shall be 7.1 m (23 ft 4 in), and minimum overhead wiring height shall be 6.5 or 6.75 m (21 ft 4 in or 22 ft 2 in) above rails. Minimum overhead wiring height for double stacking, standard gauge railways shall be 6.5 m (21 ft 4 in), and Indian gauge railways shall be 7.45 m (24 ft 5 in) above rails, respectively. This would apply to Russia and Europe (or North America), rather than to Russia and China (or Iran).

Current status

Primary usage

The primary countries currently using the gauge of 5 ft or 1,520 mm, include:[19]

Extended usage

Short sections of Russian or 5 ft gauge extend into Poland, eastern Slovakia, Sweden (at the Finnish border at Haparanda), and northern Afghanistan.[20]

There is an approximately 150 km long section in Hungary in the Záhony logistics area close to the Ukrainian border.[21]

Following renovations in 2014, a 32 km section of dual Standard/Russian gauge was installed between Tumangang and Rajin stations in North Korea.[22]

The most western 1,520 mm gauge railway is the Polish LHS (Linia Hutnicza Szerokotorowa) from the Ukrainian border to the eastern end of the Upper Silesian Industrial Region.

Use in rapid transit and light rail systems

Although broad gauge is quite rare on lighter railways and street tramways worldwide, almost all tramways in the former USSR are broad gauge (according to terminology in use in these countries, gauges narrower than 1,520 mm (4 ft 11+2732 in) are considered to be narrow). Many tramway networks initially built to narrow gauges (750 mm or 2 ft 5+12 in or 1,000 mm or 3 ft 3+38 in metre gauge) were converted to broad gauge. As of 2015, only a few out of more than sixty tram systems in Russia are not broad gauge: 1,000 mm in Kaliningrad and Pyatigorsk, 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) in Rostov-on-Don. There are two tram systems in and around Yevpatoria that use 1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in) gauge.[note 1]

Finland's Helsinki trams and Latvia's Liepāja trams use 1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in). Estonia's Tallinn trams use similar 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in). Warsaw's tramway system, constructed with 1525 mm gauge, was regauged to 1435 mm during post-WWII reconstruction.[23] Tampere tramway, built in 2021, uses 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in).

Underground urban rapid transit systems in the former USSR, like the Moscow Metro, Saint Petersburg Metro, Kyiv Metro and Yerevan Metro use Russian gauge (1,520 mm). Outside the former USSR, the Helsinki Metro in Finland that utilizes a unique track gauge of 1,522 mm, falls between the Russian gauge (1,520 mm) and broad gauge 1,524 mm.

Similar gauges

Mixed between 1,520 mm (Russian gauge) and another similar gauge, result the bonus gauge is 7 ft 14 in (2,140 mm) (Brunel gauge).

These gauges cannot make 3-rail dual gauge with Russian gauge.

These gauges are within tolerance.

Dual gauge between Russian gauge and another similar gauge can make these bonus gauges.


Railways using 1,524 mm gauge

Country/territory Railway
China Chinese Eastern Railway (until 1930s); Rail North China (proposed)
Estonia Rail transport in Estonia
Finland Rail transport in Finland (except: Helsinki Metro uses 1,522 mm (4 ft 11+2932 in), and Tampere tram uses standard gauge (1,435 mm))
Iran Proposed for the south and east of Tehran and the north and east of Estafan. The 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) Indian gauge is proposed for the east of Kerman, the south of Mashhad, and the north and east of Chabahar, whereas the north and west of Tehran and the south and west of Estafan will continue the 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge.
Isle of Man Laxey Browside Tramway (closed by 1914), Second Falcon Cliff lift (closed 1990)
Japan Sakhalin-Hokkaido tunnel (proposed), with the break-of-gauge facilities between 5 ft (1,524 mm) and 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) in Northern Hokkaido.
Norway Proposed for Kolari-Skibotn-Tromsø and Nikel-Kirkenes-Rovaniemi lines.[25]
Panama Panama Canal Railway prior to conversion to standard gauge in 2000 to suit off-the-shelf supply.
Sweden Only a small freight yard in Haparanda. Used for exchanging cargo with Finnish trains.
United States The South, such as the Cartersville and Van Wert Railroad, the Cherokee Railroad, and the Western & Atlantic Railroad, until 31 May 1886. The Duquesne Incline and Monongahela Incline in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Railways using 1,520 mm gauge

Country/territory Railway
Afghanistan Rail transport in Afghanistan: The northern spur lines from CIS states. For Afghanistan's future network, 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge for the western spur lines from Iran, and 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) Indian gauge are proposed.
Armenia Armenian Railways, South Caucasus Railway
Austria Košice-Vienna broad-gauge line (proposed)
Azerbaijan Azerbaijan Railways
Belarus Rail transport in Belarus
Bulgaria Only at Varna ferry terminal for train ferries to Odesa and Poti; dual gauge track for changing wagon bogies with standard gauge ones, and parallel transhipping tracks of 1,520 mm and 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) gauge.
China Several short stretches from Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.
France A short section linking the assembly building to the Soyuz launcher launch pad, at the Guiana Space Center.
Georgia Georgian Railway
Germany Only at Sassnitz/Mukran ferry terminal for freight train ferries to Turku, Klaipėda and Baltijsk.
Hong Kong Peak Tram
Kazakhstan Kazakhstan Temir Zholy
Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyz Railways
Latvia Rail transport in Latvia
Lithuania Rail transport in Lithuania
Moldova CFM
Mongolia Rail transport in Mongolia
North Korea A 32-km stretch of 1,435/1,520 mm dual gauge between Tumangang and Rajin Stations.
Poland Almost exclusively on the Broad Gauge Metallurgy Line.
Russia Russian Railways
Slovakia Only on the "Širokorozchodná trať" (Uzhhorod - Maťovce - Haniska pri Košiciach) and from the border station of Dobrá pri Čiernej nad Tisou to Ukraine, both operated by ZSSK Cargo.
Tajikistan Rail transport in Tajikistan: Most in the West; Also 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) Indian gauge is proposed for the East.
Turkmenistan Railways in Turkmenistan
Ukraine Ukrainian Railways
Uzbekistan Uzbek Railways

See also


  1. ^ Yevpatoria is located in Crimea, a territory disputed between Ukraine (as the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) and Russia (as the Republic of Crimea) since the March 2014 Crimean status referendum.


  1. ^ "Paravoz". Retrieved 2008-07-20.
  2. ^ "Broad Gauge Track-1520". Russian Railways. Retrieved 2014-06-12.
  3. ^ a b 1520 Strategic Partnership, About gauge 1520 Archived 7 October 2008 at the Wayback Machine, retrieved 2008-07-20.
  4. ^ "Waggonway & Railway". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  5. ^ "The Days They Changed the Gauge". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  6. ^ a b c d e Haywood, R. M. (March 1969). "The Question of a Standard Gauge for Russian Railways, 1836-1860". Slavic Review. 28 (1): 72–80. doi:10.2307/2493039. JSTOR 2493039. S2CID 163934218.
    See also Haywood's full-length monographs on this topic,
     • The beginnings of railway development in Russia in the reign of Nicholas I, 1835-1842 (1969), Duke University Press, Durham, NC
     • Russia enters the railway age, 1842–1855. (1998) East European Monographs, Columbia University Press, Boulder, CO.
  7. ^ a b c d Siddall, William R. (January 1969). "Railroad Gauges and Spatial Interaction". Geographical Review. 59 (1). Taylor & Francis, Ltd.: 40. doi:10.2307/213081. JSTOR 213081.
  8. ^ Lotysz, Slawomir. "Narrowing is easier". Inventing Europe. Contrary to Lotysz's claim that "some railway historians" promote the myth, its only trace in the academic literature appears to be persistent warnings against the folklore. See, e.g., Haywood 1969 or Siddall 1969.
  9. ^ Luis Jackson, Industrial Commissioner of the Erie Railway. "Rambles in Japan and China." In Railway and Locomotive Engineering Archived 29 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine, vol. 26 (March 1913), pp. 91-92
  10. ^ "Provisional Convention ... concerning the junction of the Japanese and Russian Railways in Manchuria" - June 13, 1907. Endowment for International Peace (2009). Manchuria: Treaties and Agreements. BiblioBazaar, LLC. p. 108. ISBN 978-1-113-11167-8.
  11. ^ "Сахалинская узкоколейная железная дорога (The narrow-gauge railways of Sakhalin)". Archived from the original on November 15, 2013.
  12. ^ "История железных дорог – филиалов ОАО "РЖД"". Russian Railways. (in Russian)
  13. ^ UK, DVV Media. "Afghan railway ambitions awarded funding". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  14. ^ a b c "Historic reference". Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  15. ^ Jussi Iltanen: Radan varrella (tr. "Along the track ") (Karttakeskus 2009), page 390 ISBN 9515932149
  16. ^ Estonian railways today Archived 3 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, p. 32
  17. ^ "Ratatekniset määräykset ja ohjeet" (PDF). Finnish Rail Administration. p. 56. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2020-02-26. Retrieved 9 Feb 2020. The nominal track gauge on the rail network 1,524 mm. The max tolerance range in lowest quality lines (class 6, max speed 50 km/h) is −7…+20 mm
  18. ^ "Allegro high speed Pendolino train at Finland station in St Petersburg". Alstom. 7 October 2010. Archived from the original on 7 July 2011. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  19. ^ "Rail Gauges". Retrieved 2023-08-14.
  20. ^ "Construction of Afghan railway launched". Railway Gazette International. 2010-01-27. Archived from the original on 2010-03-03.
  21. ^ "Megújult a széles nyomtávolságú vágány a záhonyi térségben". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  22. ^ "Russia and North Korea sign deal to complete Khasan-Rajin railway reconstruction". Verdict Media Limited. 2013-06-17. Retrieved 2021-07-18.
  23. ^ "Tramwaje Warszawskie - rozwój sieci - lata 1990-2006".
  24. ^ "Perustietoja ja metroasemat" (in Finnish and English). Finnish Railway Society. Retrieved 30 August 2022.
  25. ^ Trellevik, Siri Gulliksen Tømmerbakke From Amund. "Agreement on Arctic Railway Planning and Implementation".