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A geographical distribution of gauges 
Module 3 Prototype Railways.PNG
Real Life Railways 
Narrow Gauge Railroads USA

At this juncture, it might be helpful to provide a little background information on real-life railways and railroads to assist you in making the right choice when it comes to selecting the type of model trains you want to run on your garden layout. I will elaborate further on this in the next module.

Prototype Railways / Railroads 


There are many different full-size prototype railway gauges in use across the world but they tend to fall into three main groupings:


·        Narrow Gauge    

·        Standard Gauge 

·        Broad Gauge      


Rack & Pinion and other Cog Railway variations, which allow trains to operate on steep grades above around 7% ,tend to follow the same gauge patterns but there are probably exceptions to the rule. 

If you are particularly interested in these types of railway consult Wikipedia for more detailed information by clicking the button link below:


Narrow Gauge Railways 

In this book I have focused on Narrow Gauge as the majority of commercial garden railway products in 1:22.5 (or smaller) scales are aimed at UK / European enthusiasts who wish to recreate model railways of this type whereas in other countries (such as the USA) there is probably more of a tendency towards running standard gauge mainline trains in 1:29 or 1:32 scales. This slight dichotomy is interesting as the USA also has a legacy of fascinating narrow gauge railroad lines and might be worthy of further analysis but if I were to digress too far so early in this manual I would never manage to fit everything in so I will exercise restraint.

A "narrow gauge" line is usually defined as any railroad with the rails of its tracks spaced closer together than 4 ft 8½ inches (standard gauge) in old "money" - sorry - imperial measurements. In practice the term tends to refer to those railways which have a distance of  3 ft. 6 inches or less between the rails (1067 mm). Narrow gauge "light railways" are generally a lot less expensive to build than Standard Gauge and can accommodate much smaller radius curves, which makes these railroads particularly useful in mountainous or other intractable terrains. This gauge was often used for local industry, logging, mining, or quarrying and there are numerous examples still in service today, many due to the enthusiasm of local volunteers.

In the early years of railroading in the United States, it was common to find narrow gauge railroads that used track spaced at 3 feet (1 yard) or even 2 feet in Maine.

Whilst most of the rail transit network in the USA was built using standard gauge track many states also developed narrow gauge lines of which there was a particularly high concentration in the mountains of Colorado. Numerous narrow gauge railroads still exist in America today – often as “Heritage Railways”. These include the famous Denver and Rio Grande Railroad which runs through the Colorado Rockies; the White Pass & Yukon Route and the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad although there are dozens more.

For more detailed information regarding narrow gauge railroads in the USA provided courtesy of Wikipedia Click on the link:   





In the United Kingdom, and many other parts of the world, a common narrow gauge was 30 inches (2 feet 6 inches) whilst the most popular gauge in  Europe is "metre gauge", where the rails are spaced 1 metre (39.37 inches) apart i.e. slightly wider than their North American counterpart.  

At one time there were more than a thousand British narrow gauge railways ranging from large, historically significant common carriers to small, short-lived industrial railways. Many of these are still preserved and operated by volunteer enthusiasts. Amongst the most well-known narrow gauge lines in the UK are the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway 2' 6” (762 mm); Corris and Tallylyn Railways 2' 3” (686 mm) and the Ffestiniog Railway, Vale of Rheidol and the Welsh Highland Railway 1' 11 1/2” (597mm).



More details regarding the Tallylyn Railway can be found by clicking this link :


or a more comprehensive listing of narrow-gauge lines in the British Isles please click this link to the excellent Wikipedia site:




France adopted a wide variety of gauges but interest in preserving old railway lines does not appear to be quite as dynamic as in the UK and many have regrettably closed for good.


The French National Railways used to run a considerable number of 1,000m (3'3 3/8") in metre gauge lines, a few of which still operate mostly in tourist areas, such as the St Gervais-Vallorcine (Alps) and the "Train Jaune" (Yellow Train)  in the Pyrenees.  Some examples of industrial narrow gauge also still survive, however, such as the Degussa Baupte 1000mm, Briqueterie  Chimot  500mm; Ciment Vicat  600mm (Marley Valenciennes), La Fabrique de  Charbon  600mm (Le Chatillonnais, La Bourgogne Profonde).


The following lines are also thought to be still operating: CF Cappy-Dompierre, CF de Baie de Somme, CF du Vivarais, Chemin de Fer Touristique du Tarn, Chemin fer de La Mure, Le Treajn Du Bas Berry, and Pithievers.


For more information on French Narrow Gauge lines just click this link to Wikipedia:












Steam on the Murthalbahn


By contrast, Austria is blessed with an extensive network of narrow gauge lines in numerous gauges which are still operational and many have proven to be popular tourist attractions such as the Mariazellerbahn, Steyrtalbahn, Murtalbahn, etc.or the more detailed article on French Narrow-Gauge scene courtesy of Wikipedia Click on this link.


For a more comprehensive listing of lines in Austria click on this link:   


As one might expect from its challenging terrain Switzerland is well provided with narrow gauge railway lines which serve the local communities as well as proving popular with visiting tourists.



















The Rhaetian Railway (RhB) is the longest 1000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) metre gauge railway in Switzerland, linking, well-known ski resorts in the high Alps with Chur traversing the Bernina Pass in the process.


If you would like to see more comprehensive information on the Swiss Narrow Gauge click through to this link once again courtesy of Wikipedia.




Lack of space prevents coverage of narrow-gauge railways in other parts of the world but some of these can be found by clicking the links to the relevant Wikipedia pages below.



EUROPE:   Croatia; Denmark; Germany; Hungary; IrelandItaly; Netherlands; Portugal; Spain; Sweden; Turkey.



REST OF WORLD:  Africa; Asia; Australia; Canada; South America



Standard Gauge Railways  

Standard Gauge railways are built with 4 ft 8½ (1435 mm) inches between the rails with many countries adopting the gauge originally established in Gt. Britain in the 1800's.  There is a theory that this gauge supposedly originated in Roman times as the width between chariot wheels and whilst this is probably a myth (or certainly hard to corroborate) there is some grain of truth in that it may have derived from the need to fit a cart-horse between the shafts of horse-drawn wagons and carts as many early railways used horsepower.


Their wider track geometry allows greater stability which achieves more haulage capacity at higher speeds. Standard gauge was created in an effort to allow easier movement of trains between countries and to allow for standardised equipment to be manufactured. Standard Gauge railway systems tend to be operated under the auspices of National Rail Companies in each country rather than the private or independently operated owned narrow-gauge lines (especially in the UK).

Today it is estimated that between 55% and 60% of the world’s trains use standard gauge and it would be a lengthy task to list all the lines still in current use so once again please click the adjacent link to visit Wikipedia's most useful article on the subject.



Broad Gauge Railways 


The third grouping is generally referred to as Broad Gauge which covers railways which use a rail gauge of anything wider than 4 ft 8½in or 1435mm (standard gauge). In Britain the Great Western Railway, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, pioneered broad gauge from 1838 with a gauge of 7 ft 01⁄4 in (2,140 mm) in an attempt to achieve increased speed and greater stability.  The GWR retained this gauge until 1892 when it finally converted to standard gauge for compatibility in line with the recommendation of the Gauge Commission established by Parliament to promote network interoperability. 

Gt. Britain was not the only country to experiment with broad gauge. Many other countries also have broad gauge railways including Ireland, some parts of Australia and Brazil (5 ft 3 in or 1600 mm), Russia and the former Soviet Republics (4 ft 117⁄8 or 1520 mm), Finland (5 ft or 1524 mm gauge inherited from Imperial Russia), Netherlands, Spain (5 ft 52⁄3 in or 1,668 mm), and India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where a gauge of 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) is widespread.




Common Railway Gauges Around the World 

Here is a comprehensive (but by no means exhaustive) table illustrating the wide variety of common railway gauges found in various parts of the world courtesy of Wikipedia.  There is clearly a prototype for almost everything!


The following is a partial list of gauges for railways in various parts of the world:

Track Gauges 3.PNG
Track gauges FULL SIZE.PNG
Another useful comparison of railway gauges around the world
Track Gauges Worldwide.PNG
A geographical distribution of railway gauges across the world
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