Track gauge conversion

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"Change of gauge" redirects here. For other uses, see Change of gauge (disambiguation).
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
See also: Dual gauge

In rail transport, gauge conversion is the process of converting a railway from one rail gauge to another, through the alteration of the railway tracks. An alternative to gauge conversion is dual gauge track, or gauge conversion of the rail vehicles themselves.

Ideally railways should all be built to the same gauge, since a wide range of gauges from narrow to broad are of similar value in carrying heavy loads at low cost, while small differences of gauge create tremendous break-of-gauge costs and inconvenience.

Permanent way[edit]


Rails may be too light for the loads imposed by broader-gauge railcars and need to be replaced with a heavier rail profile.

Sleeper types[edit]

If the gauge is to be reduced, then the sleepers can continue to protrude from the side of the rails. If the gauge is to be increased, then the sleepers used for narrow gauge may be too short, and some at least of these 'short' sleepers will have to be replaced with longer ones.

Often gauge convertible sleepers are installed before the conversion of the rails themselves. Sleepers have to be long enough to take the wider of the gauges, and secondly, the sleepers must be able to take the fittings of both gauges. Gauge convertibility can also be a stepping stone to dual gauge. In cases where the differences between the gauges are small, such as 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in)/1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) and 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)/1,524 mm (5 ft), dual gauge with a third rail is not practicable, in these cases four rail dual gauge is necessary.

  • Timber sleepers, provided that they are long enough, are always gauge convertible, since additional holes for the dogspikes can always be drilled later. If the new gauge is wider than the old, a shorter than normal sleeper can be tolerated to a degree.
  • Concrete sleepers cannot be converted as an afterthought, but must have the future fittings cast in place when manufactured.
  • Steel sleepers should have the extra fitting incorporated when manufactured, though it might be possible to drill or weld the fitted sleeper after installation with some difficulty.

During the conversion of the Melbourne–Adelaide railway in Australia from 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) to 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm), dual gauge with heavy rails was not possible as the rail footings were too wide. A special gauge-convertible sleeper with a reversible chair for the Pandrol clip allowed a two-week conversion process.

In the Adelaide metropolitan area, broad-gauge timber sleepers are being replaced with gauge-convertible concrete sleepers. On June 5, 2008, the South Australian Government announced that the Metropolitan Network would be converted to standard gauge (1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)) in 2012.[1]

Loading gauge[edit]

Narrow gauge railways often have a significantly smaller loading gauge in both height and width. Conversion to a wider track gauge will often require enlargement of the loading gauge, by raising bridges and enlarging tunnels, if any.

The embankment could need widening too.

The minimum radius curve of a narrow gauge railway is often less than a wider gauge, which may require deviations to ease such curves.

Track centres at stations with multiple tracks will also have to be widened. This would be less of a problem on the usually single track main lines of the narrow gauge railway.

Gauge orphan[edit]

During gauge conversion work such as between Seymour and Albury, branch lines such as Benalla to Oaklands and stations such as Violet Town become gauge orphans as they cannot easily be served by trains until extra costly work is done.

In this instance, the loading gauge of the broad gauge and standard gauge lines are essentially the same.

Conversion rate[edit]

Rolling stock[edit]

Where vehicles cross a change of gauge, they must either be equipped for a change of bogie or have adjustable gauge axles. For example passenger trains crossing between the 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) system in France and the 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 2132 in) in Spain pass through a special installation which adjusts their variable gauge axles. This temporary alteration to allow through working is generally referred to as "gauge change".



Steam locomotives are difficult to convert unless this is already allowed for in the design, such as in some East African Railways Garratts, and in steam locomotives built for Victoria after the 1930s. In the event, few have been so converted, but one such is Victorian Railways R class R766.

Because boilers and fireboxes are in the way (unless allowed for) locomotives can be converted only to a wider gauge.

About 1860, the Bristol and Exeter Railway converted five 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) gauge locomotives to 7 ft (2,134 mm) gauge, and later converted them back again.

In the 19th century, in the US, some broad 1,524 mm (5 ft) gauge locomotives were designed for easy conversion to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) gauge.

In the 20th century, in Victoria, some broad 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) gauge locomotive classes were designed for easy conversion to the narrower 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) gauge.

Between 1922 and 1949, five South Australian Railways T class narrow 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge locomotives were converted to Tx-class broad 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) gauge, and later back again.

In 1941, there were plans to regauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) gauge steam locomotives to the 1,524 mm (5 ft) gauge.[3]

Post WWII, a number of captured German 03 class pacifics were regauged to the Russian gauge.

Diesel & Electric[edit]

Most diesel and electric which rest on bogies can be converted by replacing those bogies. Engines with fixed wheelbases are problematic.

In Australia, diesel locomotives are regularly regauged between broad, standard and narrow gauges.

Waggons and Carriages[edit]

Gauge conversion of coaches and wagons involves the replacement of the wheelsets or entire bogies, such as happened when the 7 ft 14 in (2,140 mm) gauge of the Great Western Railway was abandoned in May 1892.

See also[edit]