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5 Ft And 1520 Mm Gauge Railways


5 Ft And 1520 Mm Gauge Railways

Track gauges
By transport mode
Tram · Rapid transit
Miniature · Scale model
By size (list)
Graphic list of track gauges

  Fifteen inch 381 mm (15 in)

  Two foot and
600 mm
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)
  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
World map, rail gauge by region

Railways with a railway track gauge of 5 ft/​1,524 mm were first constructed in the United Kingdom and the United States. Later this gauge was chosen as the common track gauge for the Russian Empire and its neighboring countries, hence the name Russian gauge.[1] Later on it 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 (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]


  • History 1
    • England, 1748 1.1
    • United States, 1827 1.2
    • Russian Empire, 1842 1.3
      • Expansion 1.3.1
      • Redefinition to 1520 mm 1.3.2
    • Panama, 1850 1.4
    • Finland, 1862 1.5
  • Technical 2
    • Redefinitions 2.1
    • Tolerances 2.2
  • Current status 3
    • Network 3.1
    • Use in rapid transit and light rail systems 3.2
  • Similar gauges 4
  • Summary 5
    • Imperial 5.1
    • Metric 5.2
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


England, 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 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 standard gauge.[5]

Russian Empire, 1842

5 ft (1,524 mm) was approved as the new standard on September 12, 1842. Imperial Russia chose a gauge broader than standard gauge, widely believed to be for military reasons, to prevent potential invaders from using the rail system, but no clear standard had emerged.

Engineer Moscow – Saint Petersburg Railway. The selection of 1,500 mm (4 ft 11 116 in) gauge was recommended by German and Austrian engineers, but not adopted: it was not the same as the 1,524 mm (5 ft) gauge in common use in the southern United States at the time.

Whistler was a proponent of a broader gauge and his efforts helped in lobbying for the new gauge. It is quite possible that an "invasion" argument (alleging that it is easier to adapt trains to a narrower gauge than to a broader gauge) was used in lobbying since the Russian military was closely supervising the construction, but it is unlikely that such an argument was made by Melnikov during the selection process. Nazi Germany suffered problems with its supply lines during World War II as a result of the break-of-gauge, but also because bridges had been destroyed.


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).[6] This formed a break of gauge between Changchun and Kuancheng (the station just to the north of Changchun, still in Russian hands),[7] 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 have 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.[8] In 2004 and 2008 plans were put forward to convert to Russian gauge. The estimated completion date now is 2030.[9]

There are proposals for plans for north-south and east-west lines in Afghanistan, with construction to commence in 2013.

Redefinition to 1520 mm

In the 1960s, the Soviet Union redefined the gauge to be 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in), which is only 4 mm (532 in) narrower than 1,524 mm (5 ft), though rolling stock is interchangeable in practice.[2] The railways of Finland, from 1809 until 1917 a Russian Grand Duchy, retain the old 1,524 mm gauge definition, with a short section of dual 1524/1435 gauge to Haparanda in Sweden.

Panama, 1850

The Panama Railway, first constructed in ca. 1850, was build 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. 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).



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.[10] The actual conversion took place between 1970 and the beginning of the 90s.[10]

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

Estonia after independence redefined its track gauge to 1,524 mm to match Finland's.[11] The redefinitions did not mean that a lot of actual 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).[12]

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.

The new Sm6 high-speed train is specified as 1522 mm gauge.[13] 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.[14]

There is an approximately 150 km long section in Hungary in the Záhony logistics area close to the Ukrainian border.[15] During the recent renovation a 32 km section of dual Standard/Russian gauge was installed between Tumangang and Rajin stations in the DPRK.[16]

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 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 2012, only three out of 63 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).

The former Soviet Union is the largest operator of first-generation tramways in the world, and has been for many years. The St Petersburg network has some of the world's widest trams, and the widest in Europe (European trams are generally narrower than European buses and trains and also trams elsewhere such as America and Australia).

Underground urban rapid transit systems in former USSR and Finland, like 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 1520mm (Russian gauge) and another similar gauge, result the bonus gauge is 2140mm (Brunel gauge).

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



That is 5 ft (1,524 mm).
Country/territory Railway
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.
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
Armenia Armenian Railways
Azerbaijan Azerbaijan Railways
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.
Hong Kong Peak Tram
Kazakhstan Kazakhstan Temir Zholy
Kyrgyzstan Kyrgyz Railways
Lithuania Lithuanian Railways
Mongolia Rail transport in Mongolia
North Korea A short 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.
In 2008, the 1,520 mm gauge was proposed for a new line from Košice to Bratislava,[17] eventually as far to Vienna.
Tajikistan Rail transport in Tajikistan
Turkmenistan Railways in Turkmenistan
Ukraine Ukrainian Railways
Uzbekistan Uzbek Railways

See also


  1. ^ "Paravoz". , retrieved 2008-07-20.
  2. ^ a b "Broad Gauge Track-1520".  
  3. ^ a b 1520 Strategic Partnership, About gauge 1520, retrieved 2008-07-20.
  4. ^ Wagonway & Railway
  5. ^ The Days They Changed the Gauge
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ "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.  
  8. ^ Сахалинская узкоколейная железная дорога (The narrow-gauge railways of Sakhalin) (Russian)
  9. ^ Sakhalin to be converted to Russian gauge
  10. ^ a b Historic reference - Why it is so, that our domestic railway gauge is wider than European one?
  11. ^ Estonian railways today, p. 32
  12. ^ Finnish Network Statement 2008, see chapter
  13. ^ "Allegro high speed Pendolino train at Finland station in St Petersburg". Alstom. 7 October 2010. Retrieved 12 February 2011. 
  14. ^ "Construction of Afghan railway launched".  
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Khasan-Rajin line renovation".  
  17. ^ "Slovaks eye 4.3 bln euro railway for Russian goods" (Reuters, Thursday April 3, 2008)

External links

  • Broad Gauge Track-1520
  • 1520 Strategic Partnership
  • "Railway gauge width : 1 519 / 1 520 / 1 524 / 1 525".
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