Russian gauge

Russian gauge

In railway terminology, Russian gauge refers to railway track with a gauge between 1519 mm and 1525 mm [ Paravoz] , retrieved 2008-07-20.] . In a narrow sense as defined by Russian Railways it refers to RailGauge|1520 gauge Russian Railways, [ Broad Gauge Track-1520] , retrieved 2008-07-20.] .

The primary installed base of Russian gauge is across the states of the former Soviet Union (CIS states and Baltic states), Mongolia and Finland, representing ca. 225,000 km of track. The Russian gauge is the second most widely used gauge in the world—after standard gauge.


RailGauge|1524 was approved as the new standard on September 12 1842.

The selection process for the gauge was undertaken chiefly by Colonel Pavel Petrovich Melnikov (1804–1880). Probably, a combination of the following arguments was used:

* Easier construction of locomotivesFact|date=July 2008
* Better stability
* Wide gauge was seen as a new standard that was emerging in the United StatesFact|date=July 2008
* Since the gauge was wider than standard road track it was easier to use horse carriages for railroad construction and maintenance.Fact|date=July 2008
* Defensive concerns

In the 19th century, Imperial Russia chose a gauge broader than standard gauge. It is widely believed that the choice was made for military reasons, to prevent potential invaders from using the Russian rail system. Others point out that no clear standard had emerged by 1842.

Engineer Pavel Melnikov hired George Washington Whistler, a prominent American railroad engineer (and father of the artist James McNeill Whistler), to be a consultant on the building of Russia's first major railroad, the MoscowSaint Petersburg line. The selection of RailGauge|1500 gauge was recommended by German and Austrian engineers but not adopted: it was not the same as the RailGauge|1524 gauge in common use in the southern United States at the time. Now Russia and most of the former Russian Empire, including the Baltic states, Ukraine, Belarus, the Caucasian and Central Asian republics, and Mongolia, have the Russian gauge of RailGauge|1520, 4 mm (frac|5|32in) narrower than RailGauge|1524, though rolling stock of both gauges is interchangeable in practice. Exceptionally, the railroad system on Sakhalin Island remains to the Japanese standard 1067mm gauge, as originally built.

George Washington Whistler was invited as a foreign expert to assist in railroad construction. He was a proponent of a wider gauge and his efforts helped in lobbying the new standard. It is quite likely that an "invasion" argument (alleging that it is easier to adapt trains to narrow gauge than to broad gauge) was used in lobbying the project since military was closely supervising the construction; however, it is highly unlikely that such an argument was made by Melnikov during the actual selection process. Nazi Germany suffered such problems with their supply lines during World War II as a result of the break-of-gauge.

Although broad gauge was and is quite rare on lighter railways and street tramways, many tramways in ex-USSR were and are also built to broad gauge (according to terminology in use in these countries, gauges narrower than RailGauge|1520 are considered to be narrow). The former Soviet Union is today the largest operator of first generation tramways in the world, and has been for many years. The Saint Petersburg, Russia tramway network is entirely broad gauge, with some of the world's widest trams, and indeed the widest in Europe (European trams are generally narrower than European buses and trains and also tramcars elsewhere such as America and Australia).


In the late 1960s the gauge was redefined to 1520 mm in the Soviet Union. 1520 Strategic Partnership, [ About gauge 1520] , retrieved 2008-07-20.]

In Finland Finnish State Railways kept the original definition of 1524 mm.

Estonia after independence redefined to 1524 mm.


Compatibility is allowed for gauges of 1519–1525 mm between the running railsFact|date=July 2008, allowing through running with RailGauge|1524 systems used in Finland.

Outside the Russian Empire

The Panama Railway was originally RailGauge|60 broad gauge. When the railway was rebuilt in 2000, the gauge was changed to RailGauge|1435 so as to use standard gauge equipment. The original gauge was chosen under the influence of the pre-conversion southern United States railway companiesFact|date=July 2008.


External links

* Russian Railways, [ Broad Gauge Track-1520]
* 1 519 / 1 520 / 1 524 / 1 525
* [ Sakhalin to be converted to Russian gauge]

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