5 ft 3 in gauge railways

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Railways with track gauge of 5 ft 3 in (1,600 mm) are broad-gauge railways, currently in use 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 to 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) gauge, converted to 4 ft 8+12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge in 1854–1855.[citation needed]


The Board of Trade of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland recommended the use of 5 ft 3 in in Ireland, after investigating a dispute caused by diverse gauges in Ireland.[citation needed]


The Regulating the Gauge of Railways Act 1846 made this gauge mandatory throughout all of Ireland.[2]


The Swiss Northern Railway was opened, converted to standard gauge in 1854.


The first Australian 5 ft 3 in line was opened, the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay Railway Company.[3]


The first Brazilian 5 ft 3 in railway was opened, the Companhia de Estrada de Ferro Dom Pedro II.


The Canterbury Provincial Railways in New Zealand was built in 5 ft 3 in until gauge conversion to 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) in 1876


  • In Ireland and the United Kingdom this 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, in contrast to 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 this gauge is mainly known as broad gauge (Portuguese: bitola larga), but it is also less known as Irish gauge (Portuguese: bitola irlandesa).[citation needed]


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.


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 5 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, 330m long, opened 27 April 2001.


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

New Zealand Canterbury Provincial Railways from 1863; all 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 Irish gauge, but incompatible. There is also 5 ft 2 in (1,575 mm) gauge, which is similar as well. See: Track gauge in Ireland.


One of the supposed advantages of the broader 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in) Irish gauge, compared to 1,435 mm (4 ft 8+12 in) standard gauge, is that the greater space between the wheels allows for bigger cylinders. In practice, Ireland does not have any heavily-loaded or steeply-graded lines that would require especially powerful locomotives. The most powerful steam locomotives on systems of this gauge were:

By comparison a non-articulated standard gauge locomotive in the same country was:

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 2010-03-12
  2. ^ "ODDS AND ENDS". Colonial Times. Hobart, Tas.: National Library of Australia. 24 March 1846. p. 4. Retrieved 21 August 2012.
  3. ^ Cole, Beverly (2011). Trains. Potsdam, Germany: H. F. Ullmann. p. 36. ISBN 978-3-8480-0516-1.
  4. ^ "Dublin's Strangest Tales". google.nl.
  5. ^ Mike W. Harry. "Cast Into the Unknown". google.nl. p. 30.
  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 (2006-04-23). "Breitspurbahn". Retrieved 2007-11-29.
  11. ^ "Infrastructure". Irish Rail. Archived from the original on 2013-05-07. Retrieved 2013-05-03.