Rail Infrastructure

Understanding the Rail Gauge

As a railfan, you may have noticed that not all railway tracks are the same width. This difference in width is known as the rail gauge and is an essential component of the railway system. In this blog post, we’ll explore what rail gauge is and how to differentiate common configurations.

Gauge is the Distance between Inner Edges

Rail gauge is the distance between the inner edges of the two rails that make up a railway track. The standard gauge, which is the most common type of rail gauge worldwide, measures 4 feet 8.5 inches (1,435 millimeters) in width. However, there are other common rail gauges used in different regions of the world.

Standard and Broad

In North America, standard gauge is used, while in Europe, standard gauge and broad gauge are used. Broad gauge, which is wider than standard gauge, measures 5 feet 3 inches (1,600 millimeters) in width. In some parts of the world, narrow gauge is used, which measures less than 4 feet 8.5 inches in width.

Differentiating between these common configurations is essential for railfans, as it can help them identify the type of track they are observing and gain a deeper understanding of the railway system. The easiest way to differentiate between rail gauges is by looking at the distance between the rails.

For standard gauge, the distance between the inner edges of the two rails is 4 feet 8.5 inches. Broad gauge, on the other hand, has a distance of 5 feet 3 inches between the inner edges of the rails. Narrow gauge, which is less common, can have a distance of less than 4 feet 8.5 inches.

Different Trains for Different Gauges

It’s also important to note that different types of trains are designed to run on specific rail gauges. For example, trains that are designed to run on standard gauge tracks cannot run on narrow gauge tracks, and vice versa.

Rail gauge is a critical component of the railway system, and understanding the different configurations is essential for railfans. By differentiating between common rail gauges and observing how they are used in real-world situations, railfans can gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity and engineering of the railway system.