5 ft 3 in gauge railways

Railways with a track gauge of 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) fall within the category of broad gauge railways. As of 2022, they were extant in Australia, Brazil and Ireland.


600 BC

The Diolkos (Δίολκος) across the Isthmus of Corinth in Greece – a grooved paved trackway – was constructed with an average gauge of 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm).[1]


The Grand Duchy of Baden State Railway was constructed in 1840-1851 to 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) gauge before being converted to 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) in 1854–1855.


The Board of Trade of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, after investigating a dispute caused by diverse gauges, recommended the use of 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) in Ireland.


The Regulating the Gauge of Railways Act 1846 made 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) mandatory throughout all of Ireland.[2]


The Swiss Northern Railway was opened as a 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) line[when?] and converted to 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) in 1854.


The first Australian railway to operate steam-powered freight and passenger services, Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Company, was built as a 5 ft 3 in (1600 mm) line.[3]


The first Brazilian 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) railway was opened: the Companhia de Estrada de Ferro Dom Pedro II.


The Canterbury Railway in New Zealand was built in 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm). It was converted to 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) in 1876.


  • In the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom, the gauge is known as Irish gauge.[4][5] (Irish: leithead Éireannach)[6] In Ireland it is also common to hear it referred to as "standard gauge" when distinguishing it from the various 3 ft gauge railways of the island.
  • In Australia, where the states of Victoria and South Australia have this gauge (as did Tasmania in the 19th century), it is known as broad gauge.[7]: 168 
  • In Brazil, the gauge is mainly known as broad gauge (Portuguese: bitola larga), but occasionally as Irish gauge (Portuguese: bitola irlandesa).


Country/territory Railway

States of South Australia, Victoria (Victorian broad gauge), New South Wales (a few lines built by, and connected to, the Victorian rail system) and Tasmania, Australia (one line, Deloraine to Launceston, opened in 1871, partly converted to dual gauge, and then converted to 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) in 1888). The 828 km (514.5 mi) long Melbourne–Adelaide rail corridor linking South Australia and Victoria, was converted to standard gauge in 1995. The 125 km (77.7 mi) long Oaklands railway line, which runs into New South Wales from Victoria, was converted to standard gauge in 2009. 200 km (124.3 mi) of the North East line, Victoria was converted to standard gauge in 2008–2011, meaning a double track standard gauge line was created between Seymour and Albury. The current[when?] network is 4,017 km or 2,496 mi, 10% of the total Australian rail network. The Mildura railway line and Murrayville railway lines were converted to standard gauge in 2018.


Lines connecting the states of Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and Minas Gerais; E.F.Carajás in Pará and Maranhão states, and Ferronorte in Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul states. Used in older Metro systems. Although the metre gauge network is almost five times longer,[8] Irish gauge is considered the standard by ABNT.[9] The current[when?] network is 4,057 km or 2,521 mi, 15% of the total Brazilian network.

Germany Grand Duchy of Baden State Railway 1840–1855[10]
Switzerland Swiss Northern Railway between 1847 and 1854, converted to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge.

Fun'Ambule Funicular in Neuchâtel, 330 m long, opened 27 April 2001.


Irish broad gauge. The current[when?] network is 2,400 km or 1,491 mi.[11]

New Zealand Canterbury Railways from 1863; all were routes converted to 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) by 1876.
United Kingdom

Northern Ireland Railways – entire network, currently[when?] 330 km or 205 mi.

Similar gaugesEdit

The Pennsylvania trolley gauges of 5 ft 2+12 in (1,588 mm) and 5 ft 2+14 in (1,581 mm) are similar to this gauge, but incompatible. There is also a 5 ft 2 in (1,575 mm) gauge. See: Track gauge in Ireland.


RPSI Steam train leaving Great Victoria Street station - 1975

Before the advent of diesel and electric traction, one of the advantages of the broader 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) Irish gauge compared to 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) was that more space between steam locomotive frames allows for a bigger firebox, enabling generation of more steam.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Lewis, M. J. T. (2001), "Railways in the Greek and Roman world", in Guy, A.; Rees, J. (eds.), Early Railways. A Selection of Papers from the First International Early Railways Conference (PDF), pp. 8–19 (10–15), archived from the original (PDF) on 7 October 2009
  2. ^ "Odds and ends". Colonial Times. Hobart, Tasmania: National Library of Australia. 24 March 1846. p. 4. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  3. ^ Harrigan, Leo J. (1962). Victorian Railways to '62. Melbourne: Victorian Railways. p. 40.
  4. ^ Barry, Michael; Sammon, Patrick (15 July 2013). Dublin's Strangest Tales. google.nl. ISBN 9781909396449.
  5. ^ Mike W. Harry (2008). Cast Into the Unknown. google.nl. p. 30. ISBN 9781875329670.
  6. ^ "Pota Focal - leithead". Pota Focal. Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  7. ^ Fitch, Ron (2006). Australian Railwayman: from cadet engineer to railways commissioner. Dural, New South Wales: Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd. ISBN 1877058483.
  8. ^ Rail_transport_in_Brazil
  9. ^ Newer Metro systems use 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge.
  10. ^ Rieger, Bernhard (23 April 2006). "Breitspurbahn". Retrieved 29 November 2007.
  11. ^ "Infrastructure". Irish Rail. Archived from the original on 7 May 2013. Retrieved 3 May 2013.