3 ft 6 in gauge railways

Railways with a track gauge of 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) were first constructed as horse-drawn wagonways. The first intercity passenger railway to use 3 ft 6 in was constructed in Norway by Carl Abraham Pihl. From the mid-nineteenth century, the 3 ft 6 in gauge became widespread in the British Empire. In Africa it became known as the Cape gauge as it was adopted as the standard gauge for the Cape Government Railways in 1873, although it had already been established in Australia and New Zealand before that. It was adopted as a standard in New Zealand, South Africa, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Queensland (which has the second largest narrow gauge network in the world) in Australia.

JA1271 with excursion consist climbing the Opapa incline in New Zealand
Tram descending the Great Orme Tramway
Dual gauge track in Perth Australia with both 3ft 6in and standard gauge
Dual gauge track in Sakhalin Oblast including both 3ft 6in and Russian gauge
A preserved Japanese JNR Class D51 in main line service in 2014
Preserved Japanese nostalgia train SL Hitoyoshi
The Taroko Express in Taiwan
Sheung Wan station on Hong Kong Tramway with bus interchange
San Francisco cable car traversing a hill

There are approximately 112,000 kilometres (70,000 mi) of 1,067 mm gauge track in the world, which are classified as narrow gauge railways.


One of the first railways to use 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge was the Little Eaton Gangway in England, constructed as a horse-drawn wagonway in 1795. Other 3 ft 6 in gauge wagonways in England and Wales were also built in the early nineteenth century.
The Silkstone Waggonway was opened, connecting the Barnsley Canal to collieries including the Huskar Pit.
The Severn and Wye Railway introduces a steam locomotive on its 3 ft 6 in gauge plateway.[1]
The Norwegian engineer Carl Abraham Pihl constructed the first 3 ft 6 in gauge railway in Norway, the Røros Line.
The Queensland Railways were constructed. Its 3 ft 6 in gauge was promoted by the Irish engineer Abraham Fitzgibbon and consulting engineer Charles Fox.
The construction of the railroad from the Castillo de Buitrón mine to the pier of San Juan del Puerto, Huelva, Spain, began. The width was 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm).
In 1868 Charles Fox asked civil engineer Edmund Wragge to survey a 3 ft 6 in railway in Costa Rica.
The 3 ft 6 in gauge was adopted by New Zealand to expedite the development of transport under Julius Vogel's Great Public Works Policy; see The Vogel Era.
Nicolaas Henket and J.C Schölmann recommended that the Dutch East Indies government use 3 ft 6 in gauge for railways in Java. The line between Batavia NIS and Koningsplein Station opened on 15 September 1871.[citation needed]
The Canadian Toronto, Grey and Bruce Railway and the Toronto and Nipissing Railway were opened, promoted by Pihl and Fitzgibbon and surveyed by Wragge as an engineer of Fox. The Canadian province of Prince Edward Island began building its 3-foot 6 network.
In January Robert Fairlie advocated the use of 3 ft 6 in gauge in his book Railways Or No Railways: Narrow Gauge, Economy with Efficiency v. Broad Gauge, Costliness with Extravagance.[2]
The first 3 ft 6 in gauge railway opened in Japan. It had been proposed by the British civil engineer Edmund Morel based on his experience building railways in New Zealand.[3]
On 1 January, the first 3 ft 6 in gauge railway was opened in New Zealand, constructed by the British firm John Brogden and Sons. Earlier built 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) and broad gauge railways were soon converted to the narrower gauge.
The Cape Colony adopted the 3 ft 6 in gauge.[4][5] After conducting several studies in southern Europe, the Molteno Government selected the gauge as being the most economically suited for traversing steep mountain ranges.[6] Beginning in 1873, under supervision of Railway engineer of the Colony William Brounger,[7] the Cape Government Railways rapidly expanded and the gauge became the standard for southern Africa.[8][9]
Natal also converted its short 10 kilometres (6.2 miles) long Durban network from 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge prior to commencing with construction of a network across the entire colony in 1876.[10] Other new railways in Southern Africa, notably Mozambique, Bechuanaland, the Rhodesias, Nyasaland and Angola, were also constructed in 3 ft 6 in gauge during that time.
After 1876
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century numerous 3 ft 6 in gauge tram systems were built in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. Newfoundland began its Cape gauge network in 1881.



This gauge is sometimes called Cape gauge, named after the Cape Colony in what is now South Africa, which adopted it in 1873.[4] "Cape gauge" was used in several English-speaking countries.[11] The equivalent of Cape gauge is used in other languages, such as the Dutch kaapspoor, German Kapspur, Norwegian kappspor and French voie cape. After metrication in the 1960s, the gauge was referred to in official South African Railways publications as 1,065 mm (3 ft 5+1516 in) instead of 1067 mm.[12]

In Sweden, the gauge was nicknamed Blekinge gauge, as most of the railways in the province of Blekinge had this gauge.[13]

Colonial Gauge was used in New Zealand.[14][15]

In Australia, this gauge is typically referred to as narrow gauge in comparison to 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge or 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) broad gauge. In some instances, simply 3 foot 6 inch — or in rarer cases medium gauge — is used to distinguish it from other narrow gauges.[16]

In Japan the 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge, along with other narrow gauges, is referred to as kyōki (狭軌), which directly translates as narrow gauge, to differentiate it from the Shinkansen lines. It is defined in metric units. It is commonly referred to as 三六軌間 (36 gauge), which derives from the 3 ft 6 in.

Similar gauges


Similar, but incompatible without wheelset adjustment, rail gauges in respect of aspects such as cost of construction, practical minimum radius curves and the maximum physical dimensions of rolling stock are:

Dual gauge between 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge and another similar gauge can make these bonus gauges.


Country/territory Notes
Angola Rail transport in Angola, some converted from 2 ft (610 mm) gauge and 1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in) metre gauge. Some isolated.
Australia 11,930 km (7,410 mi). New South Wales: the heritage Zig Zag Railway. Queensland: 8,146 km (5,062 mi). South Australia: the isolated Eyre Peninsula Railway, and the heritage Pichi Richi Railway. Victoria: the heritage Bellarine Railway line. Tasmania: 611 km (380 mi). Western Australia: 2,970 km (1,850 mi). Northern Territory (closed).

Barbados Railway (converted to 2 ft 6 in or 762 mm gauge) (defunct)

Botswana The Botswana Railways system consists of 888 kilometres (552 mi) of 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge track.
Canada Western New Brunswick until gauge conversion in the 1880s; the Newfoundland Railway until abandonment in September 1988; and the Prince Edward Island Railway until gauge conversion in 1930 following a car ferry connection with the main North America system.
China South Manchuria Railway — built to 1,524 mm (5 ft) as part of the Chinese Eastern Railway, converted by advancing Japanese troops during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–1905 to Japanese 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge, converted to standard gauge after the war by the new South Manchuria Railway Company.[17]
Congo, Democratic Republic of 3621 km 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge (858 km or 533 mi electrified). Some converted from 1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in) and 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) gauge.
Congo, Republic of The Congo–Ocean Railway, 502 kilometres (312 mi) long (operating).
Costa Rica Operation of the national railway network was suspended in 1995 after an earthquake. As of 2013, some suburban lines are operational.
Dominican Republic Samaná to Santiago Railway, (later Ferrocarriles Unidos Dominicanos) 139 km (86 mi), in operation from 1887 to 1976 (defunct)[18]
Ecuador Empresa de Ferrocarriles Ecuatorianos, 965 km (600 mi)[19]
Estonia Tallinn tram of 38 km (24 mi), on all lines from the beginning in 1888, only on some lines in 1915–1931, and again on all lines from 1931.
Eswatini 301 kilometres (187 mi), only for transportation of goods, not passengers
Ghana The national rail network of 935 km (581 mi) is undergoing major rehabilitation.
Haiti Saint-Marc line (defunct)
Hong Kong Hong Kong Tramways
Indonesia 8,159 km (5,070 mi) as of 2014, with only 4,816 km (2,993 mi) operational.[20] Most common gauge for main lines of Sumatra and Java. The first railway was actually built to standard gauge (the SemarangSoloYogyakarta corridor), but later lines were built to cape-gauge size owing to economic feasibility. The remainder of standard gauge lines were regauged by Japanese army during World War II to 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge, with parts using standard gauge sleepers. The gauge is also used by KRL Commuterline, Jakarta MRT and Palembang LRT.
Isle of Man Snaefell Mountain Railway
Japan 22,301 km (13,857 mi).[21] First track gauge introduced. All JR Group lines and some private railways use this gauge except for high-speed shinkansen lines which use standard gauge.
Jersey Jersey Railway (defunct). Partly converted from 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Malawi Malawi Railways has 797 km (495 mi) of 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge railways.
Mozambique Mozambique Ports and Railways operates 2,983 km (1,854 mi) of 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge.
Namibia TransNamib operates 2,883 km (1,791 mi) of 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge, partly converted from 600 mm (1 ft 11+58 in) gauge.
Netherlands Some tramway systems (all defunct)
New Zealand 3,900 km (2,400 mi), standardized by the Public Works Act 1870[22]
Nicaragua 373 km (232 mi) of track until closure of the national rail network in 1993. All lifted and scrapped.
Nigeria Nigerian Railway Corporation operates an isolated network of 3,505 kilometers (2,178 mi) 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge single track lines.
Norway The gauge was first used by C A Pihl on the Hamar-Grundset Line, opened 23 June 1862.[23] Most lines were 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge lines built in the 19th century were rebuilt to standard gauge between 1904 and 1949. The Setesdal Line, a heritage railway line of about eight km remains 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge.
Panama Panama Tramways Company (1913–1917) and the Panama Electric Company (1917–1941).[24]
Philippines The Philippine National Railways operates a 72 km (45 mi) Metro ManilaLaguna segment of its old 1,140 km (710 mi) network; Panay Railways had 154 km (96 mi) in Panay and Cebu. PNR will re-gauge its entire network to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge.
Sierra Leone There are 84 kilometres of 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge private railways in Sierra Leone.
South Africa About 20,500 route-km.[25][26] Gautrain (80 km) is 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge and there were several limited 2 ft (610 mm) narrow gauge systems.
South Sudan Isolated, 248 kilometers (154 mi)
Spain The line from Cartagena to Los Blancos was originally 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in), but was converted to 1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in) in 1976, at the same time as the line was extended to Los Nietos.[27]
Sudan Isolated, 4,725 kilometers (2,936 mi)
Sweden Several during the 19th century, all closed or regauged.
Taiwan 1,097 km (682 mi) (Taiwan Railway)
Tanzania Dar es Salaam to Zambia (TAZARA Railway only, rest of the network is 1,000 mm (3 ft 3+38 in) metre gauge.
Turkey Chemin de Fer Moudania Brousse
United Kingdom
United States
Venezuela Great Venezuela Railway
Zambia Zambia Railways, Mulobezi Railway
Zimbabwe National Railways of Zimbabwe

See also



  1. ^ MacDermot, E. T. (1931). History of the Great Western Railway. Volume II: 1963–1921. London: Great Western Railway.
  2. ^ "Railways Or No Railways: Narrow Gauge, Economy with Efficiency. V. Broad Gauge, Costliness with ..." archive.org.
  3. ^ Semmens, Peter (1997). High Speed in Japan: Shinkansen - The World's Busiest High-speed Railway. Sheffield, UK: Platform 5. p. 1. ISBN 1-872524-88-5.
  4. ^ a b Ransom, P.J.G. (1996). Narrow Gauge Steam. Oxford Publishing Co. p. 107. ISBN 0-86093-533-7.
  5. ^ Griffiths, Ieuan Ll; Rowland, Susan (1994). The Atlas of African Affairs. Routledge. p. 168. ISBN 0-415-05488-5.
  6. ^ Bond, John (1956). "Chapter 19, The Makers of Railways: John Molteno". They were South Africans. Oxford University Press. p. 170.
  7. ^ "Cultural, historical assessment of the Hex Pass Railway, Worcester to de Doorns" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 March 2014. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  8. ^ Burman, Jose (1984), Early Railways at the Cape, Cape Town: Human & Rousseau, ISBN 0-7981-1760-5
  9. ^ Davenport, D.E. A Railway Sketch of South Africa. 1882. Cape Town.
  10. ^ Bulpin, TV (1977) [1966]. Natal and the Zulu Country (3rd ed.). Cape Town: T.V. Bulpin Publications Ltd. pp. 224–227.
  11. ^ "In German South-West Africa". Westminster Gazette. 1 October 1912. p. 4.
  12. ^ South African Railways Index and Diagrams Electric and Diesel Locomotives, 610 mm and 1065 mm Gauges, Ref LXD 14/1/100/20, 28 January 1975, as amended
  13. ^ "Kalmar, 29-03-1897 (Blekinge-spårvidd)". Archived from the original on 27 April 2014. Retrieved 27 April 2014.
  14. ^ Zealand, National Library of New. "Papers Past - The Evening Post. TUESDAY, MAY 12,1874. (Evening Post, 1874-05-12)". paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
  15. ^ "CR4 - Blog Entry: Track Gauges and Railway Construction (Part 1)". cr4.globalspec.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2014. Retrieved 4 March 2014.
  16. ^ Knowles, J.W. (1983). "Adoption of the 3ft. 6ins. gauge for Queensland railways" (PDF). Australian Railway Historical Society. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2 April 2012. Retrieved 17 November 2020.
  17. ^ Railway and Locomotive Engineering, vol. 26 (1913), pp. 91–92
  18. ^ Dominican Republic public service railways, 1870–1990 (Los ferrocarriles de servicio público de República Dominicana, 1870–1990) by Antonio Santamaría García (1993), table 4 "Empresas ferroviarias de servicio público de República Dominicana", pp. 13
  19. ^ "CIA World Factbook, Ecuador".
  20. ^ "CIA World Factbook, Indonesia".
  21. ^ "CIA World Factbook, Japan".
  22. ^ Zealand, National Library of New. "Papers Past – The Press. Monday, September 26, 1870. (Press, 1870-09-26)". paperspast.natlib.govt.nz.
  23. ^ Bjerke, T. & Holom, F. (2004) Banedata 2004. Hamar/Oslo: Norsk Jernbanemuseum & Norsk Jernbaneklubb. p. 98
  24. ^ Morrison, Allen (1 February 2008). "The Tramways of Colombia / Panama". Retrieved 1 May 2011.
  25. ^ Spoornet (Transnet's predecessor), Manual for Track Maintenance, July 2000, http://www.spoornet.co.za/SpoornetWebContentSAP/documents/track_maintenance.pdf Archived 23 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  26. ^ Transnet Annual Report 2010, Operational Review, http://www.overendstudio.co.za/online_reports/transnet_ar2011/op_freight.php
  27. ^ Ferropedia - Ferrocarril Cartagena - Los Nietos, http://ferropedia.es/wiki/Ferrocarril_Cartagena_-_Los_Nietos Archived 9 February 2020 at the Wayback Machine