5 ft and 1520 mm gauge railways

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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 later chose it in 1843 — former areas of the Empire have inherited this standard. [1] In the 1960s Soviet Railways re-defined the gauge as 1,520 mm (4 ft 11+2732 in). [2]


The primary countries using the gauge include Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Finland.

With about 225,000 km (140,000 mi) of track, Russian gauge 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; and 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

5 ft (1,524 mm) gauge rail network in the Southern United States (1861) Railroad of Confederacy-1861.jpg
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 and many other railroads in 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

The first railway built in Russia was built in 1837 to 6 ft (1,829 mm) gauge for a 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). While of almost no practical importance the railway did demonstrate that this gauge was viable. The second railway in the Russian Empire was the Warsaw–Vienna railway (Congress Poland was then a part of the Empire) which was built to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) and commenced construction in 1840.

For the building of Russia's first major railway, the Moscow – Saint Petersburg Railway, engineer Pavel Melnikov hired as 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) while still offering the same advantages over 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) and that there was no need to worry about a break-of-gauge since it would never be connected to the Western European railways. Colonel P.P. Melnikov, of the Construction Commission overseeing the railway, recommended 6 ft (1,829 mm) following the example of the first railway and his study of US Railways. Following a report sent by Whistler the head of the Main Administration of Transport and Buildings recommended 5 ft (1,524 mm) and it was approved for the railway by Tsar Nicholas I on February 14, 1843. The next lines built were also approved with this gauge but it was not until March 1860 that a Government decree stated all major railways in Russia would be 5 ft (1,524 mm) gauge.

Not selected for military purposes

It is widely and incorrectly believed that Imperial Russia chose a gauge broader than standard gauge for military reasons, namely to prevent potential invaders from using the rail system. In 1841 a Russian army engineer wrote a paper stating that such a danger did not exist since railways could be made dysfunctional by retreating or diverting forces. Also the construction of the Warsaw–Vienna railway in 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) was precisely so it could be connected to the Western European network, in that case to reduce Poland's dependence on Prussia for transport. Finally for the Moscow – Saint Petersburg Railway, which became the benchmark, the choice of track gauge was between 5 ft (1,524 mm) and the wider 6 ft (1,829 mm), not standard gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in). [6] However, it was just not selected with that in mind. When a railway has wooden sleepers, it is fairly easy to make the gauge narrower by removing the nails and placing them back at a narrower position, something Germany did during WWII. Destroying river bridges had a larger effect.[ citation needed ]


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

Russian engineers used it also 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 Transsiberian Railway to Vladivostok. The railway's southern branch, from Harbin via Changchun to Lüshun, used the Russian gauge, but 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). [7] This formed a break of gauge between Changchun and Kuancheng (the station just to the north of Changchun, still in Russian hands), [8] until the rest of the former Chinese Eastern Railway was converted to standard gauge, too (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, and rail cars coming from the mainland port of Vanino on the Vanino-Kholmsk train ferry (operating since 1973) have their bogies changed in the Sakhalin port of Kholmsk. [9] In 2004 and 2008 plans were put forward to convert it to Russian gauge. The estimated completion date now is 2020. [10]

There were proposals in 2013 for north-south and east-west lines in Afghanistan, with construction to commence in 2013. [11]

Panama, 1850

The Panama Railway, first constructed in ca. 1850, was built in 5 ft (1,524 mm) gauge. During canal construction (19041914), 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. Nowadays, the electric manoeuvering locomotives along the locks (mules) still use the 5 ft gauge that was laid during canal construction.

Finland, 1862

The first rail line in Finland was opened on January 31, 1862. As Finland was then the Grand Duchy of Finland; part of Imperial Russia, railways were built to the then Russian track gauge of 5 ft (1,524 mm), [12] although the railway systems were not connected until the bridge over River Neva was built in 1913. [13] Russian trains could not have run in the Finnish tracks, because the Finnish loading gauge was narrower until the connection was made, and the Finnish structure gauge was widened.

Currently, there are two passenger services between Finland and Russia: Allegro , a Pendolino service on the Helsinki–St. Petersburg route, which crosses the border at Vainikkala, and Tolstoi, an overnight daily service between Helsinki and Moscow. For cargo traffic, there are four border crossings in active use. [14]



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. [12] The conversion took place between 1970 and the beginning of the 1990s. [12]

In Finland 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. (Tolerance tighter than in the Soviet Union)

The other Finnic nation Estonia redefined its track gauge also to 1,524 mm to match with Finland's gauge after the end of Soviet occupation and annexation in 1991. [15] 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 construed in 1524mm 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). [16]

If the gauge of the rolling stock 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 are within tolerances, the difference is tolerable. However, certain Finnish rolling stock do have a tendency to get stuck in Russian railyards due to too narrow gauge.[ citation needed ]

The international high-speed train Allegro (Sm6) between Helsinki and St. Petersburg is specified as 1,522 mm gauge. [17] High-speed trains have less tolerance against gauge error, but this way through running works well.

Loading gauge

The loading gauge, that permits the height and width of trains, is larger for Russian gauge. This means that if a standard gauge railway shall be 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 the Russian gauge tracks, maximum height shall be 6.15m or 6.4m above rails, [18] and minimum overhead wiring height shall be 6.5m or 6.75m above rails, [19] respectively. This would apply to Russia and Europe (or North America), rather than to Russia and China (or Iran).

Current status


Short sections of Russian 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] During the recent renovation a 32 km section of dual Standard/Russian gauge was installed between Tumangang and Rajin stations in the DPRK. [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 Silesian conurbation.

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 ex-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 also two tram systems in and around Yevpatoria [23] that use 1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in) gauge. Finland's Helsinki trams and Latvia's Liepāja trams also use 1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in), and 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. [24]

Underground urban rapid transit systems in former USSR and Finland, like the Moscow Metro, Saint Petersburg Metro, Kyiv Metro and the Helsinki Metro use Russian gauge (1,520 mm) or 1,524 mm gauge.

Similar gauges

Mixed between 1,520 mm (Russian gauge) and another similar gauge, result the bonus gauge is
7 ft 1/4 in (2,140 mm) (Brunel gauge). Dual Gauge Afghanistan.png
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.

This gauge is within tolerance.

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



That is 5 ft (1,524 mm).

China China Eastern Railway (until 1930s); Rail North China (proposed)
Estonia Rail transport in Estonia
Finland Rail transport in Finland
Former Soviet Union Prior to narrowing the gauge on the paper by 4 mm to 1,520 mm (4 ft 11+2732 in) and narrowing the tolerances; the railways adjusted only when needed or upgraded.
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.
NorwayProposed for Kolari-Skibotn-Tromsø and Nikel-Kirkenes-Rovaniemi lines. [25]
Panama Panama Railway prior to conversion to standard gauge in 2000 to suit off-the-shelf supply.
SwedenOnly 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 May 31, 1886. The Duquesne Incline and Monongahela Incline in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


That is 1,520 mm (4 ft 11+2732 in).

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 Odessa 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.
ChinaSeveral short stretches from Russia, Mongolia and Kazakhstan.
Georgia Georgian Railways
GermanyOnly 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 Lithuanian Railways
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.
PolandAlmost 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

Related Research Articles

Transport in Russia Overview of the transport in Russia

The transport network of the Russian Federation is one of the world's most extensive transport networks. The national web of roads, railways and airways stretches almost 7,700 km (4,800 mi) from Kaliningrad in the west to the Kamchatka Peninsula in the east, and major cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg are served by extensive rapid transit systems.

Standard-gauge railway Railway track gauge (1435 mm)

A standard-gauge railway is a railway with a track gauge of 1,435 mm. The standard gauge is also called Stephenson gauge, International gauge, UIC gauge, uniform gauge, normal gauge and European gauge in Europe. It is the most widely used railway track gauge across the world, with approximately 55% of the lines in the world using it. All high-speed rail lines use standard gauge except those in Russia, Finland, Portugal and Uzbekistan. The distance between the inside edges of the rails is defined to be 1435 mm except in the United States and on some heritage British lines, where it is defined in U.S. customary/Imperial units as exactly "four feet eight and one half inches" which is equivalent to 1435.1 mm.

Broad-gauge railway

A broad-gauge railway is a railway with a track gauge broader than the 1,435 mm standard-gauge railways.

Track gauge Spacing of the rails on a railway track

In rail transport, track gauge or track gage is the spacing of the rails on a railway track and is measured between the inner faces of the load-bearing rails.

Dual gauge

A dual gauge railway is a track that allows the passage of trains of two different track gauges. It is sometimes called a "mixed gauge" track. A dual gauge track consists of three rails. There will be two vital rails, one for each gauge close together and a third rail, a "common" rail further away. Sometimes, four rails are required using two outer and two inner rails to create the dual gauge. Dual gauge is not to be confused with a "third rail" or "check or guard rails".

Lithuanian Railways

Lithuanian Railways is the national, state-owned railway company of Lithuania. It operates most railway lines in the country.

Break of gauge

With railways, a break of gauge occurs where a line of one gauge meets a line of a different gauge: specifically a different track gauge. Trains and rolling stock cannot run through without some form of conversion between gauges, leading to passengers having to change trains and freight getting transshipped. A break of gauge adds delays, inconvenience and costs.

Train ferry

A train ferry is a ship (ferry) designed to carry railway vehicles. Typically, one level of the ship is fitted with railway tracks, and the vessel has a door at the front and/or rear to give access to the wharves. In the United States, train ferries are sometimes referred to as "car ferries", as distinguished from "auto ferries" used to transport automobiles. The wharf has a ramp, and a linkspan or "apron", balanced by weights, that connects the railway proper to the ship, allowing for the water level to rise and fall with the tides.

Rail transport in Finland

The Finnish railway network consists of a total track length of 9,216 km (5,727 mi) of railways built with 1,524 mm Old Russian gauge track having electrified track length of 3,249 km (2,019 mi). Passenger trains are operated by the state-owned VR which covers track length of 7,225 km (4,489 mi). They serve all the major cities and many rural areas, though railway connections are available to fewer places than bus connections. Most passenger train services originate or terminate at Helsinki Central railway station, and a large proportion of the passenger rail network radiates out of Helsinki. VR also operates freight services. Maintenance and construction of the railway network itself is the responsibility of the Finnish Rail Administration, which is a part of the Finnish Transport Agency. The network is divided in six areal centres, that manage the use and maintenance of the routes in co-operation. Cargo yards and large stations may have their own signalling systems.

Rail transport in Russia Overview of rail transport in Russia

Rail transport in Russia runs on one of the biggest railway networks in the world. Russian railways are the third longest by length and third by volume of freight hauled, after the railways of the United States and China. In overall density of operations /length of track, Russia is second only to China. Rail transport in Russia has been described as one of the economic wonders of the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.

Rail transport in Estonia

The rail transport system in Estonia consists of about 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) of railway lines, of which 900 kilometres (560 mi) are currently in public use. The infrastructure of the railway network is mostly owned by the state and is regulated and surveyed by the Estonian Technical Surveillance Authority.

Bogie exchange

Bogie exchange is a system for operating railway wagons on two or more gauges to overcome difference in the track gauge. To perform a bogie exchange, a car is converted from one gauge to another by removing the bogies or trucks, and installing a new bogie with differently spaced wheels. It is generally limited to wagons and carriages, though the bogies on diesel locomotives can be exchanged if enough time is available.

Track gauge conversion

Gauge conversion is the change of one railway track gauge to another. This may be required if loads are too heavy for the existing track gauge or if rail cars are of a broader gauge than the existing track gauge. Gauge conversion may become less important as time passes due to the development of variable gauge systems, also called Automatic Track Gauge Changeover Systems.

Iberian-gauge railways Railway track gauge (1668 mm)

Iberian gauge is a track gauge of 1,668 mm, most extensively used by the railways of Spain and Portugal. This is the second-widest gauge in regular use anywhere in the world. The Indian gauge, 5 ft 6 in, is 8 mm wider.

Estonia mainly uses a track gauge of 1,520 mm or 1,524 mm, inherited from the Russian Empire times.

Track gauge in Europe

Most railways in Europe use the standard gauge of 1,435 mm. Some countries use broad gauge, of which there are three types. Narrow gauges are also in use.

Sakhalin–Hokkaido Tunnel A proposed tunnel between Russia and Japan

The Sakhalin–Hokkaido Tunnel is a proposed connection to link the Russian island of Sakhalin with the Japanese island of Hokkaido. Cost estimates by Russia in the year 2000 put the project to span the 45-kilometre (28-mile) strait at $50 billion.

Track gauge in the United States Widths of railway tracks

Originally, various track gauges were used in the United States. Some railways, primarily in the northeast, used standard gauge of 4 ft 8+12 in ; others used gauges ranging from 2 ft to 6 ft. As a general rule, southern railroads were built to one or another broad gauge, mostly 5 ft, while northern railroads that were not standard-gauge tended to be narrow-gauge. The Pacific Railroad Acts of 1863 specified standard gauge.


TU8P (ТУ8П) is a Soviet, later Russian diesel locomotive, railcar or draisine for gauge 750 mm.

Europe inherited a diversity of rail gauges. Extensive narrow-gauge railway networks exist in Spain, Central Europe and Southeastern Europe.


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