Track gauge in Canada

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Track gauge
By transport mode
Tram · Rapid transit
Miniature · Scale model
By size (list)
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,
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
World map, rail gauge by region

The first railway in British North America, the Champlain and St. Lawrence Railroad, was built in the mid-1830s to 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) track gauge. This was followed by the Albion Colliery tramway in 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) and the Montreal and Lachine Railroad in 4 ft 9 in (1,448 mm). However the promoters of St. Lawrence and Atlantic Railroad, (intended to connect Montreal to the ice-free port at Portland, Maine) decided to use 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm), setting a precedent for the colony for several decades. The first section from Longueuil to St. Hyacinthe opened in 1847 and at the end of that year there were 30 miles (48 km) of broad gauge and 22 miles (35 km) of standard gauge in Canada.

Following a Royal Commission, in 1851 the 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) broad gauge was adopted by the Province of Canada (present day Ontario and Quebec) as the standard gauge and government subsidies were unavailable for railways that chose other gauges.[1][2] Well-known colonial systems such as the Grand Trunk Railway and Great Western Railway, along with the Intercolonial Railway, European and North American Railway and Nova Scotia Railway later expanded the use of broad gauge. By 1860 there were 1,706 miles (2,746 km) of broad gauge and 176 miles (283 km) of standard gauge.

Conversion to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) gauge[edit]

In 1867 the Great Western Railway converted to dual gauge the 229 miles (369 km) line from Windsor to Suspension Bridge, where it connected to the US network, allowing an end to transshipment at the previous break-of-gauge. The railroad even ran mixed gauge trains on the line. In 1864 the Grand Trunk Railway had taken control of the standard gauge Montreal and Champlain Railroad which had two lines to the US border; while they installed some short sections of dual gauge track they did not convert the main lines. The GTR trialled 500 wagons with variable gauge wheel-sets but these proved unreliable and were considered potentially dangerous. In 1870 the new Dominion of Canada repealed the act mandating 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) after which time there was a change to standard gauge over several years. However, each railway had to change lines quickly, coordinating locomotive and track replacement with rolling stock replacements or upgrades.

The rise in standardization with the US came about because of increasing trade across the border after the American Civil War, a process that was also underway within the US which had a greater diversity of gauges. The notion that rolling stock could earn money while on other railroads had become attractive, adding to the spur for standardization. The Grand Trunk system started converting its border lines in 1872 and finished converting its lines east of Montreal in 1874. The Canadian government-owned Intercolonial Railway converted from broad to standard gauge in 1875 while still under construction. By the end of 1881 there were only 60 miles (97 km) of broad gauge left belonging to two lines that closed in 1898 and 1910 respectively.

After the 1870s, the Canadian Pacific Railway (1880) and most major new lines were built to the standard gauge, including all the railways built through the Canadian Rocky Mountains to the Pacific coast. In addition to the CPR these included the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, the Canadian Northern Railway and the Pacific Great Eastern Railway. The latter three were eventually acquired by Canadian National Railway, which is now the largest railway in Canada. All remaining Canadian freight railways use standard gauge.

Toronto gauge[edit]

In Toronto, the city's subway lines and streetcar system use 4 ft 10 78 in (1,495 mm) gauge, making their rolling stock incompatible with standard gauge rail systems, including Toronto's own light metro line, the Scarborough RT. Ten years before standard gauge was established in Canada, but after it had been established in England, this unusual gauge was chosen to accommodate horse-drawn wagons on the streetcar tracks. The Articles of Agreement signed in 1861 between the City of Toronto and the Toronto Street Railways required "That the gauge of the said railways shall be such that the ordinary vehicles now in use may travel on the said tracks". There was no mention of a specific track gauge, but because ordinary wagon wheels did not have a flange, they could not travel on the same rails as conventional streetcars. To meet the requirement, the streetcar tracks were placed wide enough apart so that ordinary wagon wheels could run on the inside step of the tracks. (In practice, the five miles of T rail had no such step.[3]) This resulted in Toronto streetcar tracks being slightly broader gauge than standard-gauge tracks. Later, when the Toronto subway was built, it was designed to use the same track gauge as the streetcars. This provided for sharing of rail equipment and maintenance facilities, and provided for future use of 'subway-surface' cars that could pass between systems. However, while a handful of streetcars have been converted for use as subway work cars,[4] passenger service on subway lines has been restricted to only subway trains.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) was called 'Provincial gauge' in Canada and today is generally known as "Indian gauge" after it was adopted as the first standard in India in 1851 and remains the dominant gauge there.
  2. ^ Lavallee, O.S.A. (February 1963). "The Rise and Fall of the Provincial Gauge" (PDF). Canadian Rail. Canadian Railroad Historical Association (143): 22. Retrieved 17 January 2015. 
  3. ^ Pursley, Louis H., "Street Railways of Toronto, 1861-1921", Page 14, Interurbans 25, 1958
  4. ^ "Transit Toronto Image: TTC RT-14/15 19740526". Retrieved 2017-03-15.