Minimum-gauge railway

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Track gauge
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Graphic list of track gauges

  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 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)

  1520 mm,
Five foot
1,520 mm
1,524 mm
(4 ft 11 2732 in)
(5 ft)
  Five foot three inch 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in)
  Iberian 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 2132 in)
  Five foot six inch 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in)
  Six foot 1,829 mm (6 ft)
  Brunel 2,140 mm (7 ft 14 in)
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Minimum-gauge railways have a gauge of most commonly 15 in (381 mm),[1] 400 mm (15 34 in), 16 in (406 mm), 18 in (457 mm), 500 mm (19 34 in) or 20 in (508 mm). The notion of minimum-gauge railways was originally developed by estate railways[1] and by the French company of Decauville for industrial railways, essentially for mining and farming applications.[2]


The term was originally conceived by Sir Arthur Percival Heywood who used it in 1874 to describe the principle behind his Duffield Bank Railway, specifically its 15 in (381 mm) gauge, distinguishing it from a "Narrow Gauge" railway. Having previously built a small railway of 9 in (229 mm) gauge, he settled on 15 in (381 mm) as the minimum that he felt was practical.[1] An important feature was that it was intended to be easy to lay on, for instance, a battlefield.

A general aspect about minimum-gauge railways is that the loading gauge is maximized, which is to say the dimension of the equipment is made as large as possible with respect to the track gauge, while still providing enough stability to keep it from tipping over. Also that it should be easy to lay and to move.

A number of 18 in (457 mm) gauge railways were built in Britain to serve ammunition depots and other military facilities, particularly during the First World War.

In France Decauville produced a range of portable track railways running on 400 mm (15 34 in) and 500 mm (19 34 in) tracks, most commonly in restricted environments such as underground mine railways, parks and farms.[2]

During World War II, it was proposed to expedite the Yunnan–Burma Railway using 400 mm (15 34 in) gauge, since such a small gauge can have the tightest of curves in difficult terrain.[3]

Distinction between a ridable miniature railway and a minimum-gauge railway[edit]

The major distinction between a miniature railway (USA: 'riding railroad' or 'grand scale railroad') and a minimum-gauge railway is that miniature lines use models of full-sized prototypes. There are miniature railways that run on gauges as wide as 2 ft (610 mm), for example the Wicksteed Park Railway. There are also ridable miniature railways running on extremely narrow track as small as 10 14 in (260 mm) gauge, for example the Rudyard Lake Steam Railway. Around the world there are also several ridable miniature railways open to public using even narrower gauges, such as 7 14 in (184 mm) and 7 12 in (190.5 mm).

Generally minimum-gauge railways have a working function as estate railways, or industrial railways, or providers of public transport links; although most also have a distinct function in relation to tourism as well, and depend upon tourism for the revenue to support their working function.


Railway Gauge
Fidalgo City and Anacortes Railway 18 in (457 mm)
Bicton Woodland Railway 18 in (457 mm)
See Fifteen-inch gauge railway 381 mm (15 in)
Geriatriezentrum am Wienerwald Feldbahn 500 mm (19 34 in)
Jardin d'Acclimatation railway 500 mm (19 34 in)
Meadows and Lake Kathleen Railroad 18 in (457 mm)
Petit train d'Artouste 500 mm (19 34 in)
Royal Arsenal Railway 18 in (457 mm)
Sand Hutton Light Railway 18 in (457 mm)
Southern Fuegian Railway 500 mm (19 34 in)
Steeple Grange Light Railway 18 in (457 mm)
Tarn Light Railway 500 mm (19 34 in)[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Heywood, A.P. (1974) [1881, Derby: Bemrose]. Minimum Gauge Railways. Turntable Enterprises. ISBN 0-902844-26-1. 
  2. ^ a b Douglas J. Puffert (2009). Tracks across continents, paths through history: the economic dynamics of standardization in railway gauge. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. p. 186. ISBN 978-0-226-68509-0. .
  3. ^ "TOY RAILWAY.". The Northern Standard. Darwin, NT: National Library of Australia. 8 December 1939. p. 15. Retrieved 5 December 2011. 
  4. ^ fr:Chemin de fer touristique du Tarn and Antique ferrier of Tannerre-en-Puisaye