Standard gauge

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The standard gauge (also named the Stephenson gauge after George Stephenson, or Normal gauge) is a widely-used rail gauge. Approximately 60% of the world's existing railway lines are built to this gauge (see the list of countries that use the standard gauge). The distance between the inside edges of the rails of standard gauge track is 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in).



As railways developed and expanded one of the key issues to be decided was that of the rail gauge (the distance, or width, between the inner sides of the rails) that should be used. The eventual result was the adoption throughout a large part of the world of a "standard gauge" of 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) allowing inter-connectivity and the inter-operability of trains.

In England some early lines in colliery (coal mining) areas in the northeast of the country were built to a gauge of 1,422 mm (4 ft 8 in); and in Scotland some early lines were 1,372 mm (4 ft 6 in) (Scotch gauge). By 1846, in both countries, these lines were widened to standard gauge. Parts of the United States rail system, mainly in the northeast, adopted the same gauge because some early trains were purchased from Britain. However, until well into the second half of the 19th century Britain and the USA had several different track gauges. The American gauges converged over time as the advantages of equipment interchange became more and more apparent; notably, the South's 1,524 mm (5 ft)  broad gauge system was converted to be compatible with standard gauge over two days, beginning May 31, 1886.[1] See Rail gauge in North America.


A popular legend traces the origin of the 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) gauge even further back than the coalfields of northern England, pointing to the evidence of rutted roads marked by chariot wheels dating from the Roman Empire. Snopes categorized this legend as false but commented that " is perhaps more fairly labeled as 'True, but for trivial and unremarkable reasons.'"[1] The historical tendency to place the wheels of horse-drawn vehicles approximately 1500mm (5 ft) apart probably derives from the width needed to fit a carthorse in between the shafts.[1] In addition, while road-traveling vehicles are typically measured from the outermost portions of the wheel rims (and there is some evidence that the first railroads were measured in this way as well),[citation needed] it became apparent that for vehicles travelling on rails, it was better to have the wheel flanges located inside the rails, and thus the distance measured on the inside of the wheels (and, by extension, the inside faces of the rail heads) was the important one.

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