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Minimum gauge railways have a gauge of most commonly 15 in (381 mm), 400 mm (15 3⁄4 in), 16 in (406 mm), 18 in (457 mm), 500 mm (19 3⁄4 in) or 20 in (508 mm). The notion of minimum gauge railways was originally developed by estate railways and by the French company of Decauville for industrial railways.
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-inch 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. 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 3⁄4 in) and 500 mm (19 3⁄4 in) tracks, most commonly in restricted environments such as underground mine railways, parks and farms.
Distinction between a ridable miniature railway and a minimum gauge railway
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 1⁄4 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 1⁄4 in (184 mm) and 7 1⁄2 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.
|Anacortes Railway||457 mm (18 in)|
|Bicton Woodland Railway||457 mm (18 in)|
|See Fifteen-inch gauge railway||381 mm (15 in)|
|Geriatriezentrum Am Wienerwald Feldbahn||500 mm (19 3⁄4 in)|
|Jardin d'Acclimatation railway||500 mm (19 3⁄4 in)|
|Meadows and Lake Kathleen Railroad||457 mm (18 in)|
|Petit train d'Artouste||500 mm (19 3⁄4 in)|
|Royal Arsenal Railway||457 mm (18 in)|
|Sand Hutton Light Railway||457 mm (18 in)|
|Southern Fuegian Railway||500 mm (19 3⁄4 in)|
|Steeple Grange Light Railway||457 mm (18 in)|
|Tarn Light Railway||500 mm (19 3⁄4 in)|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Minimum gauge railways.|
- Clayton, H. (1968). The Duffield Bank and Eaton Railways. Oakwood Press. ISBN 0-85361-034-7.
- Heywood, Arthur Percival (1974) . Minimum Gauge Railways (3rd ed.). Turntable Publications. ISBN 0-902844-26-1.
- Household, Humphrey (1989). Narrow Gauge Railways: England and the Fifteen Inch. Sutton Publishing. ISBN 0862995752.
- Mosley, David; van Zeller, Peter (1986). Fifteen Inch Gauge Railways. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-8694-8.
- Smithers, Mark (1995). Sir Arthur Heywood and the Fifteen Inch Gauge Railway. Plateway Press. ISBN 1-871980-22-4.
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