5 ft and 1520 mm gauge railways

Track gauge
By transport mode
Tram · Rapid transit
Miniature · Scale model
By size (list)

  Fifteen inch 381 mm (15 in)

  600 mm,
Two foot
597 mm
600 mm
603 mm
610 mm
(1 ft 11 12 in)
(1 ft 11 58 in)
(1 ft 11 34 in)
(2 ft)
  750 mm,
Two foot six inch,
800 mm
750 mm
760 mm
762 mm
800 mm
(2 ft 5 12 in)
(2 ft 5 1516 in)
(2 ft 6 in)
(2 ft 7 12 in)
  Swedish three foot,
900 mm,
Three foot
891 mm
900 mm
914 mm
(2 ft11 332 in)
(2 ft 11 716)
(3 ft)
  Metre 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in)
  Three foot six inch,
Cape, CAP, Kyōki
1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)
  Four foot six inch 1,372 mm (4 ft 6 in)

  Standard 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)

Five foot
1,520 mm
1,524 mm
(4 ft 11 2732 in)
(5 ft)
  Irish 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in)
  Iberian 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 2132 in)
  Indian 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in)
  Six foot 1,829 mm (6 ft)
  Brunel 2,140 mm (7 ft 14 in)
Change of gauge
Break-of-gauge · Dual gauge ·
Conversion (list) · Bogie exchange · Variable gauge
By location
North America · South America · Europe · Australia

Railways with a railway track gauge of 5 ft/1,524 mm were first constructed in the United Kingdom and the United States. This gauge is also commonly called Russian gauge because this gauge was later chosen as the common track gauge for the Russian Empire and its neighbouring countries.[1] The gauge was redefined by Russian Railways to be 1520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in).[2]

The primary region where Russian gauge is used is the former Soviet Union (CIS states, Baltic states and Georgia), Mongolia 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)

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).[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 the Imperial Palaces at Tsarskoye Selo and Pavlovsk; the choice of gauge was influence 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 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] Despite this the difference in gauge did play a role in hindering invading armies, especially in World War II (see Operation Barbarossa#Faults of logistical planning); it was just not selected with that in mind.


The 5-foot gauge became the standard in the whole Russian Empire, and its successor Soviet Union (now the CIS states). That includes the Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus, the Caucasian and Central Asian republics, Finland, and in the once Soviet-influenced Mongolia.

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 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 2030.[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 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; a region of Imperial Russia, railways were built to the then Russian track gauge of 5 ft (1,524 mm), although the railway systems were not connected until the Russian revolution in 1918. Russian trains could not have run in the Finnish tracks, because the Finnish loading gauge was narrower until the connection.



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 '90s.[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.

Estonia after independence redefined its track gauge to 1,524 mm to match Finland's.[13] The redefinitions did not mean that a lot of railways were changed. It was more a rule change regarding new and renovated tracks. See: Track gauge in Estonia.


Finland allows its gauge to be 1514–1554 mm (less tolerance for higher speed).[14]

If the gauge of the rolling stock is kept with 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 1520 and 1524 are well within tolerances, the difference can be said to be mostly a paper difference. However, certain Finnish rolling stock do have a tendency to get stuck in Russian railyards due to too narrow gauge.

The new international Sm6 high-speed train between Helsinki and St. Petersburg is specified as 1522 mm gauge.[15] High-speed trains have less tolerance against gauge error, but this way through running works well.

Current status


Short sections of Russian gauge extend into Poland, eastern Slovakia, Sweden (at the Finnish border at Haparanda), and northern Afghanistan.[16]

There is an approximately 150 km long section in Hungary in the Záhony logistics area close to the Ukrainian border.[17] During the recent renovation a 32 km section of dual Standard/Russian gauge was installed between Tumangang and Rajin stations in the DPRK.[18]

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 (2 ft 5 12 in) or 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in)) were converted to broad gauge. As of 2015, only several 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[19] that use 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) gauge. The Helsinki trams and Liepāja trams also use 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in), and the Tallinn trams use 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in).

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

Similar gauges

Mixed between 1520 mm (Russian gauge) and another similar gauge, result the bonus gauge is 2140 mm (Brunel gauge).

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



That is 5 ft (1,524 mm).

Country/territory Railway
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.
Norway Proposed for the north of Narvik which to connect with Finland and Russia.
Panama Panama 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 May 31, 1886. The Duquesne Incline and Monongahela Incline in Pennsylvania.


That is 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in).

Country/territory Railway
Afghanistan Rail transport in Afghanistan: Northern networks; Whereas 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) Indian gauge is proposed for central and southern networks.
Armenia Armenian Railways
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.
Georgia Georgian Railways
Germany Only at Sassnitz/Mukran ferry terminal for freight train ferries to Turku, Klaipėda and Baltijsk.
The 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) gauge is proposed for 2 new lines, one from Brest (Belarus) through Warsaw to Berlin, the other from Kaliningrad through Baltic coast to Hamburg.
Hong Kong Peak Tram
Kazakhstan Kazakhstan Temir Zholy
Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyz Railways
Lithuania Lithuanian Railways
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.
The 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) gauge is proposed for 2 new lines, one from Brest (Belarus) through Warsaw to Berlin, the other from Kaliningrad through Baltic coast to Hamburg.
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.
In 2008, the 1,520 mm gauge was proposed for a new line from Košice to Bratislava,[20] eventually as far to Vienna.
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. "Paravoz"., retrieved 2008-07-20.
  2. "Broad Gauge Track-1520". Russian Railways. Retrieved 2014-06-12.
  3. 1 2 1520 Strategic Partnership, About gauge 1520, retrieved 2008-07-20.
  4. "Waggonway & Railway". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  5. "The Days They Changed the Gauge". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  6. 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.
  7. Luis Jackson, Industrial Commissioner of the Erie Railway. "Rambles in Japan and China". In Railway and Locomotive Engineering, vol. 26 (March 1913), pp. 91-92
  8. "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 1-113-11167-4.
  9. Сахалинская узкоколейная железная дорога (The narrow-gauge railways of Sakhalin) (Russian)
  10. "http://www.rzd-partner.com/press/2008/07/07/327041.html". Retrieved 1 June 2016. External link in |title= (help)
  11. UK, DVV Media. "Afghan railway ambitions awarded funding". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  12. 1 2 "Historic reference". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  13. Estonian railways today, p. 32
  14. "http://rhk-fi-bin.directo.fi/@Bin/bef1003bfeb4366c62ae5a2096b67db0/1241375502/application/pdf/2135517/SIIRRETTY%20Verkkoselostus2008_GB.pdf" (PDF). Retrieved 1 June 2016. External link in |title= (help)
  15. "Allegro high speed Pendolino train at Finland station in St Petersburg". Alstom. 7 October 2010. Retrieved 12 February 2011.
  16. "Construction of Afghan railway launched". Railway Gazette International. 2010-01-27.
  17. "Megújult a széles nyomtávolságú vágány a záhonyi térségben". Retrieved 1 June 2016.
  18. "Khasan-Rajin line renovation". ITAR TASS. 2013-09-22.
  19. 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
  20. "Slovaks eye 4.3 bln euro railway for Russian goods" (Reuters, Thursday April 3, 2008)

External links

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