Different rail gauges in the world

The gauge is the distance between two rails, known as the standard gauge of 1435mm. However, the world is not all standard, and other gauge sizes still account for 40% of the total number of tracks in the world. What is their width? Why this size? Which countries are they used in?

In 1937, the International Association of Railways established 1435mm as the standard gauge (equal to 4 feet 81/2 inches in the British system) for 60% of the world’s railroads. This common gauge is also called standard gauge or international gauge. The gauge that is wider than the standard gauge is called the broad gauge, and the gauge that is narrower than the standard gauge is called the narrow gauge. A double-gauge or multi-gauge railway has three or four tracks to allow trains using different gauges to travel.

Gauge = wheelset width + activity


1. India 1676mm gauge

Indian railways are a multi-gauge system with broad gauge (1676mm), metre gauge (1000mm) and narrow gauge (762mm and 620mm). Most of them are broad-gauge railways, the main busy trunk lines are broad-gauge railways, and electrified lines are all broad-gauge railways

India is the largest country in South Asia, which makes it difficult for other countries bordering it to build railways, such as Afghanistan, which is located in the middle of Asia and has virtually no railways. If it decides to build a railway, there are three different gauges in the countries bordering it, and no matter which one is chosen, it is bound to be imperfect.

Iran in the west of Afghanistan and China in the east use the standard gauge, while Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan in the north of Afghanistan use the Soviet-era 1520mm gauge. As a result, there was no railway in Afghanistan until September 2010, when news broke that a Chinese company was ready to build Afghanistan’s first railway, with an estimated investment of more than $6 billion.

2.1520 club

The gauge in Russia is larger than the standard gauge and is broad. Russia has a vast territory, so when engineers built the first railway, in order to prevent the flat Russian hinterland from being freely opened by other countries, a large-scale invasion, so set a different gauge from other European countries of 1524mm, and later changed to 1520mm.

Under the influence of the former Soviet Union, there are still many countries using the 1520mm gauge: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Ukraine, etc., these countries using the 1520mm gauge are also known as the “1520 club”.

Because China uses standard gauge, it is not a small cost to transport goods with Kazakhstan and Russia.


3. Standard gauge

The standard gauge of 1435mm is widely used in the world, and it is the most common gauge in the world, with about 60% of the world’s railways belonging to the standard gauge.

Standard gauge has many origins, one of which is. In ancient Rome, there were mostly dirt roads, so the carriage ran up and down the road and slowly made two deep wheel marks on the road. Therefore, wagons as wide as the wheel mark will run with great ease, and those that are different from the wheel mark will run with great difficulty, because they will fall into the wheel mark if they are not careful. Over time, wagons in the same place will have the same wheel base.

Later, Rome simply mandated that all of Rome use the same wagon wheel gauge, 4 feet 9 inches, which is very close to the width of the standard gauge.

The International Association of Railways made 1435mm the standard gauge in 1937, making it the most widely used gauge in the world.

4. Cape gauge

The Cape gauge is 1067mm wide, wider than the standard gauge, so it is a narrow gauge. The gauge is named Cape Gauge because it was adopted in 1873 by the former Cape of Good Hope Province of South Africa, but the province was not the first to use the 1067 mm gauge.

Trams in Hong Kong, China also use 1067mm Cape gauge, and most parts of Taiwan Province, China also use 1067mm gauge, Japan’s railway gauge is mainly 1067 mm, only in the construction of high-speed rail (Shinkansen), in order to improve the stability of vehicles, the unified use of 1435 mm standard rail.

In fact, the Cape gauge was first developed by Norway, when Norway wanted to build the first railway, considering that Norway had a lot of mountains, and the volume was not large at that time, it used the 1067 mm gauge.

5. Meter gauge

Meter rail, as the name shows, is one meter wide, that is, 1000mm gauge. Many countries now use or partially use meter rail, and the most concentrated in Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia are mainly meter rail.

Due to its border with Vietnam, Yunnan in China is still connected by meter rails in some areas, the most important of which is the Yunnan-Vietnam Railway built by the French more than 100 years ago, which is also the first railway in southwest China and the first international railway opened to traffic in China.


6.762mm gauge

Meter rail is not the smallest gauge, there are smaller, such as 762mm gauge, the use of countries and regions are also many. Although the Japanese gauge is mainly 1067mm, the 762mm gauge is also used on some light railways. Taiwan’s light railway, such as the Taiwan Sugar Railway, Alishan Forest Railway, the gauge is also mainly 762mm.

Many industrial and mining enterprises in China adopt narrow-gauge railway, such as Bashi Railway; In addition, China’s forest railway also uses more 762mm rail, mainly distributed in Northeast China, Inner Mongolia and other forest producing areas.

In a remote mountain forest in Jiayang, Leshan, Sichuan Province, China, there is still a rusty full steam passenger train running at 20km/h, which is the only passenger steam narrow gauge train in normal operation in the world. The early gauge of the 19.84km long small railway in Jiayang was only 600mm!