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A narrow-gauge railway (narrow-gauge railroad in the US) is a railway with a track gauge narrower than standard 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in). Most narrow-gauge railways are between 600 mm (1 ft 11+5⁄8 in) and 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in).
Since narrow-gauge railways are usually built with tighter curves, smaller structure gauges, and lighter rails, they can be less costly to build, equip, and operate than standard- or broad-gauge railways (particularly in mountainous or difficult terrain).Lower-cost narrow-gauge railways are often used in mountainous terrain, where engineering savings can be substantial. Lower-cost narrow-gauge railways are often built to serve industries as well as sparsely populated communities where the traffic potential would not justify the cost of a standard- or broad-gauge line. Narrow-gauge railways have specialized use in mines and other environments where a small structure gauge necessitates a small loading gauge.
In some countries, narrow gauge is the standard; Japan, Indonesia, Taiwan, New Zealand, South Africa, and the Australian states of Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania have a 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge, and Malaysia and Thailand have metre-gauge railways. Narrow-gauge trams, particularly metre-gauge, are common in Europe. Non-industrial, narrow-gauge mountain railways are (or were) common in the Rocky Mountains of the United States and the Pacific Cordillera of Canada, Mexico, Switzerland, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslavia, Greece, and Costa Rica.
A narrow-gauge railway is one where the distance between the inside edges of the rails is less than 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+1⁄2 in). Historically, the term was sometimes used to refer to standard-gauge railways, to distinguish them from broad-gauge railways, but this use no longer applies.
The earliest recorded railway appears in Georgius Agricola's 1556 De re metallica , which shows a mine in Bohemia with a railway of about 2 ft (610 mm) gauge. During the 16th century, railways were primarily restricted to hand-pushed, narrow-gauge lines in mines throughout Europe. In the 17th century, mine railways were extended to provide transportation above ground. These lines were industrial, connecting mines with nearby transportation points (usually canals or other waterways). These railways were usually built to the same narrow gauge as the mine railways from which they developed.
The world's first steam locomotive, built in 1802 by Richard Trevithick for the Coalbrookdale Company, ran on a 3 ft (914 mm) plateway. The first commercially successful steam locomotive was Matthew Murray's Salamanca built in 1812 for the 4 ft 1 in (1,245 mm) Middleton Railway in Leeds. Salamanca was also the first rack-and-pinion locomotive. During the 1820s and 1830s, a number of industrial narrow-gauge railways in the United Kingdom used steam locomotives. In 1842, the first narrow-gauge steam locomotive outside the UK was built for the 1,100 mm (3 ft 7+5⁄16 in)-gauge Antwerp-Ghent Railway in Belgium. The first use of steam locomotives on a public, passenger-carrying narrow-gauge railway was in 1865, when the Ffestiniog Railway introduced passenger service after receiving its first locomotives two years earlier.
Many narrow-gauge railways were part of industrial enterprises and served primarily as industrial railways, rather than general carriers. Common uses for these industrial narrow-gauge railways included mining, logging, construction, tunnelling, quarrying, and conveying agricultural products. Extensive narrow-gauge networks were constructed in many parts of the world; 19th-century mountain logging operations often used narrow-gauge railways to transport logs from mill to market. Significant sugarcane railways still operate in Cuba, Fiji, Java, the Philippines, and Queensland, and narrow-gauge railway equipment remains in common use for building tunnels.
In 1897, a manganese mine in the Lahn valley in Germany was using two benzine-fueled locomotives with single cylinder internal combustion engines on the 500mm gauge tracks of their mine railway; these locomotives were made by the Deutz Gas Engine Company (Gasmotorenfabrik Deutz), now Deutz AG. hp petrol locomotive for the Richmond Main Sewerage Board sewage plant at Mortlake. This 2 ft 9 in (838 mm) gauge locomotive was probably the third petrol-engined locomotive built.Another early use of internal combustion was to power a narrow-gauge locomotive was in 1902. F. C. Blake built a 7
Extensive narrow-gauge rail systems served the front-line trenches of both sides in World War I.They were a short-lived military application, and after the war the surplus equipment created a small boom in European narrow-gauge railway building.
The heavy-duty 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) narrow-gauge railways in Queensland, South Africa, Japan, and New Zealand demonstrate that if track is built to a heavy-duty standard, performance almost as good as a standard-gauge line is possible.
Two-hundred-car trains operate on the Sishen–Saldanha railway line in South Africa, and high-speed Tilt Trains run in Queensland. In South Africa and New Zealand, the loading gauge is similar to the restricted British loading gauge; in New Zealand, some British Rail Mark 2 carriages have been rebuilt with new bogies for use by Tranz Scenic (Wellington-Palmerston North service), Tranz Metro (Wellington-Masterton service), and Transdev Auckland (Auckland suburban services).
Another example of a heavy-duty narrow-gauge line is Brazil's EFVM. 1,000 mm (3 ft 3+3⁄8 in) gauge, it has over-100-pound rail (100 lb/yd or 49.6 kg/m) and a loading gauge almost as large as US non-excess-height lines. The line has a number of 4,000-horsepower (3,000 kW) locomotives and 200-plus-car trains.
Narrow gauge's reduced stability means that its trains cannot run at speeds as high as on broader gauges. For example, if a curve with standard-gauge rail can allow speed up to 145 km/h (90 mph), the same curve with narrow-gauge rail can only allow speed up to 130 km/h (81 mph).
In Japan and Queensland, recent permanent-way improvements have allowed trains on 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge tracks to exceed 160 km/h (99 mph). Queensland Rail's Electric Tilt Train, the fastest train in Australia and the fastest 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge train in the world, set a record of 210 km/h (130 mph). The speed record for 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) narrow-gauge rail is 245 km/h (152 mph), set in South Africa in 1978.
A special 2 ft (610 mm) gauge railcar was built for the Otavi Mining and Railway Company with a design speed of 137 km/h. Curve radius is also important for high speeds: narrow-gauge railways allow sharper curves, but these limit a vehicle's safe speed.
Many narrow gauges, from 15 in (381 mm) gauge and 4 ft 8 in (1,422 mm) gauge, are in present or former use. They fall into several broad categories:
4 ft 6 in (1,372 mm) track gauge (also known as Scotch gauge) was adopted by early 19th-century railways, primarily in the Lanarkshire area of Scotland. 4 ft 6+1⁄2 in (1,384 mm) lines were also constructed, and both were eventually converted to standard gauge.
1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) between the inside of the rail heads, its name and classification vary worldwide and it has about 112,000 kilometres (70,000 mi) of track.
As its name implies, metre gauge is a track gauge of 1,000 mm (3 ft 3+3⁄8 in). It has about 95,000 km (59,000 mi) of track.
According to Italian law, track gauges in Italy were defined from the centre of each rail rather than the inside edges of the rails. This gauge, measured 950 mm (3 ft 1+3⁄8 in) between the edges of the rails, is known as Italian metre gauge.
There were a number of large 3 ft (914 mm) railroad systems in North America; notable examples include the Denver & Rio Grande and Rio Grande Southern in Colorado and the South Pacific Coast, White Pass and Yukon Route and West Side Lumber Co of California. 3 ft was also a common track gauge in South America, Ireland and on the Isle of Man. 900 mm was a common gauge in Europe. Swedish three-foot-gauge railways (891 mm or 2 ft 11+3⁄32 in) are unique to that country.
A few railways and tramways were built to 2 ft 9 in (838 mm) gauge, including Nankai Main Line (later converted to 3 ft 6 in or 1,067 mm), Ocean Pier Railway at Atlantic City, Seaton Tramway (converted from 2 ft) and Waiorongomai Tramway.
800 mm (2 ft 7+1⁄2 in) gauge railways are commonly used for rack railways. Imperial 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) gauge railways were generally constructed in the former British colonies. 760 mm Bosnian gauge and 750 mm railways are predominantly found in Russia and Eastern Europe.
Gauges such as 2 ft 3 in (686 mm), 2 ft 4 in (711 mm) and 2 ft 4+1⁄2 in (724 mm) were used in parts of the UK, particularly for railways in Wales and the borders, with some industrial use in the coal industry. Some sugar cane lines in Cuba were 2 ft 3+1⁄2 in (699 mm). The rapid transit Line 15 of the São Paulo Metro uses a 2 ft 3 in (686 mm) gauge.
2 ft (610 mm) gauge railways were generally constructed in the former British colonies. 1 ft 11+3⁄4 in (603 mm), 600 mm (1 ft 11+5⁄8 in) and 1 ft 11+1⁄2 in (597 mm) were used in Europe.
Gauges below 1 ft 11+1⁄2 in (597 mm) were rare. Arthur Percival Heywood developed 15 in (381 mm) gauge estate railways in Britain and Decauville produced a range of industrial railways running on 500 mm (19+3⁄4 in) and 400 mm (15+3⁄4 in) tracks, most commonly in restricted environments such as underground mine railways, parks and farms, in France. Several 18 in (457 mm) gauge railways were built in Britain to serve ammunition depots and other military facilities, particularly during World War I.
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.
A light railway is a railway built at lower costs and to lower standards than typical "heavy rail": it uses lighter-weight track, and has more steep gradients and tight curves to reduce civil engineering costs. These lighter standards allow lower costs of operation, at the price of slower operating speeds and lower vehicle capacity.
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".
Rail transport in Australia is a component of the Australian transport system. It is to a large extent state-based. As of 2018, the Australian rail network consists of a total of 36,064 kilometres (22,409 mi) of track built to three major track gauges:14,814 kilometres (9,205 mi) of standard gauge ), 15,625 kilometres (9,709 mi) of broad gauge, and 4,225 kilometres (2,625 mi) of narrow gauge lines. Additionally, about 1,400 kilometres (870 mi) of 610 mm / 2 ft gauge lines support the sugar-cane industry.
Australians generally assumed in the 1850s that railways would be built by the private sector. Private companies built railways in the then colonies of Victoria, opened in 1854, and New South Wales, where the company was taken over by the government before completion in 1855, due to bankruptcy. South Australia's railways were government owned from the beginning, including a horse-drawn line opened in 1854 and a steam-powered line opened in 1856. In Victoria, the private railways were soon found not to be financially viable, and existing rail networks and their expansion was taken over by the colony. Government ownership also enabled railways to be built to promote development, even if not apparently viable in strictly financial terms. The railway systems spread from the colonial capitals, except in cases where geography dictated a choice of an alternate port.
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.
Railways with a track gauge of 3 ft 6 in / 1,067 mm were first constructed as horse-drawn wagonways. The first intercity passenger railway to use 3 ft 6 in was constructed in Norway by Carl Abraham Pihl. From the mid-nineteenth century, the 3 ft 6 in gauge became widespread in the British Empire. It was known as the Cape Gauge as it was adopted as the standard gauge for the Cape Government Railways. It was adopted as a standard in New Zealand, Japan, and Taiwan.
A level junction is a railway junction that has a track configuration in which merging or crossing railroad lines provide track connections with each other that require trains to cross over in front of opposing traffic at grade.
There were more than a thousand British narrow-gauge railways ranging from large, historically significant common carriers to small, short-lived industrial railways. Many notable events in British railway history happened on narrow-gauge railways including the first use of steam locomotives, the first public railway and the first preserved railway.
The rail network in Queensland, Australia, was the first in the world to adopt 1,067 mm narrow gauge for a main line, and now the second largest narrow gauge network in the world, consists of:
The Thamshavn Line was Norway's first electric railway, running from 1908 to 1974 in what is now Trøndelag county. Today it is operated as a heritage railway and is the world's oldest railway running on its original alternating current electrification scheme, using 6.6 kV 25 Hz AC. It was built to transport pyrites from the mines at Løkken Verk to the port at Thamshavn, as well as passengers. There were six stations: Thamshavn, Orkanger, Bårdshaug, Fannrem, Solbusøy and Svorkmo. The tracks were extended to Løkken Verk in 1910.
Rail transport in Australia involves a number of narrow-gauge railways. In some states they formed the core statewide network, but in the others they were either a few government branch lines, or privately owned and operated branch lines, often for mining, logging or industrial use.
Although most railways of central and eastern Canada were initially built to a 5 ft 6 in broad gauge, there were several, especially in Atlantic Canada and Ontario, which were built as individual narrow-gauge lines. These were generally less expensive to build, but were more vulnerable to frost heaving because vertical displacement of one rail caused greater angular deflection of the narrower two-rail running surface. Most of the longer examples were regauged starting in the 1880s as the railway network began to be bought up by larger companies.
The gauge for the most of the China national railway network is standard gauge. Currently, in the national railway network, only the 1,000 mmmetre gauge Kunming–Hai Phong Railway uses narrow gauge. In addition, there are some industrial lines still using narrow gauge, mostly 2 ft 6 in narrow gauge or 600 mm narrow gauge. As of 2003, 600+ km narrow-gauge railways, 50000+ km standard gauge railways, and 9.4 km broad gauge railways were in use in mainland China.
Railways in Nigeria consist of a 3,505 km Cape gauge national railway network and 669 km of standard gauge. The Cape gauge network is in poor condition due to lack of maintenance. In 2019, the single operational standard gauge line from Abuja to Kaduna generated as much revenue as the entire Cape gauge railway network combined. The Nigerian government plans to extend the standard gauge to replace most of the Western Line, while the Eastern Line will be rehabilitated as a Cape gauge line. All trains in Nigeria are operated by the Nigerian Railway Corporation.
Europe inherited a diversity of rail gauges. Extensive narrow-gauge railway networks exist in Spain, Central Europe and Southeastern Europe.
Asia has many narrow-gauge railways. The railways of Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines are predominantly 1,067 mm narrow gauge. Those in mainland Southeast Asia, which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia, are predominantly metre gauge. The proposed ASEAN Railway would be standard or dual gauge, using metre- and standard-gauge regional railway networks and linking Singapore through Malaysia, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam to China's standard-gauge rail network. In Western Asia, Jordan uses 1,050 mm narrow gauge.
Numerous narrow-gauge railway lines were built in [Oceania, most in 3 ft 6 in, 2 ft 6 in and 2 ft track gauge.
Narrow gauge is defined as anything less than the standard gauge of UK main lines