The 7mm Narrow Gauge Association aims to encourage the modelling of
narrow gauge railways at a scale of or around 7mm to 1 foot (1:43)



Narrow Gauge beyond the UK

In the UK, narrow gauge railways are those that use a track gauge less than 'standard', nominally 1435mm or 4ft 8½in. In providing an overview of narrow gauge systems outside the UK, and particularly outside continental Europe, it is often necessary to take a different view. In many parts of the world, 'standard' gauge may be smaller (or, indeed, larger) than usual in most of Europe. The choice of track gauge may have been influenced by a colonial power or by the origin of the advice when planning the building of a railway network. There are many major railway networks of less than standard gauge that are nevertheless the main line railways in their region and which do not share the characteristics loved by narrow gauge modellers. In addition, the loading gauge (the cross-sectional size of locomotive and rolling stock) may approach that of standard gauge railways elsewhere and allow larger vehicles than in the UK with its restricted loading gauge.

In providing an overview of narrow gauge systems outside the U.K., and particularly outside continental Europe, it is often necessary to take a different view. In many parts of the world, 'standard' gauge may be less than usual in Europe. The choice of track gauge will no doubt have been influenced by a colonial power or by the origin of the advice when planning the building of a railway network. There are many major railway networks of less than standard (1435mm) gauge that are nevertheless the main line railways in their region and do not share the characteristics loved by narrow gauge modellers. As a separate, potentially confusing factor, the loading gauge (the cross-sectional size of locomotive and rolling stock) may approach that of standard gauge railways elsewhere and certainly allow larger vehicles that in the U.K. with its restricted loading gauge, for example.

This summary is restricted to those systems that are localised and with a track gauge less than that of the main line railways in their respective countries or regions. In some parts pf the world there are few examples, especially where a narrow gauge was adopted for the main lines and a further narrower gauge was not necessary, also avoiding all the issues with trans-shipment. Nevertheless the basic reasons for building narrow gauge railways in the first place still applied: To reduce cost when building a railway, particularly where space was an issue or the terrain meant that building to standard gauge standards of curvature and gradient would be impractical or prohibitively costly. At the time, speed would have been a lesser consideration.

Continental Europe

In continental Europe, main lines are all to standard (or broad) gauge, so we are left with individual lines or local networks built to narrower gauges. Most countries had a wide variety of these at one time (and generally much more so than in the UK) but, inevitably, much has gone. Outside the UK, there was generally a better legislative environment with appropriate regulations for minor railways regardless of gauge and in some countries or regions, the adoption of common standards for narrow gauge lines was aimed at economy through standardisation of design and equipment. Some highlights:

Island of Ireland

A variety of common carrier lines all to the 3ft gauge, with the County Donegal Railways being perhaps the best known. County Donegal railcars 18 (Walkers of Wigan, 1940) and 12 are seen in preservation on the former running line of the Foyle Valley railway museum from Londonderry, October 1997. (Photo courtesy Alan Oliver)

 

 

 

 

 

Scandinavia

In Scandinavia, the narrow gauge was most prominent in Sweden, there being only isolated local lines elsewhere. The most common track gauges used were 600mm, 891mm (3 Swedish feet) and 1067mm. The larger gauges were mostly common carrier, with the smaller gauges mostly industrial. The illustrated example is in Finland, on the 750mm gauge preserved Jokioisten Museorautatie. the loco is no.5 'Orion', named during its spell on the Welshpool & Llanfair Light Railway in Wales. This was identical to the line's original no.4, built by Tubize in Belgium in 1948. (Photo by Roger Jones)

 

 

Benelux

In the Netherlands, most of the limited number of narrow gauge lines were styled as tramways (a legal distinction also applied to extensive parts of the standard gauge network), mostly laid alongside the road. Gauges were 750 or 1067mm. Belgium, on the other hand, constructed a vast national metre gauge network of tramways, again mostly roadside, known as the 'Vicinal', many of the busier lines being electrified for passenger traffic. On the right, diesel motor M67 in July 2007 at the RTM museum in Ouddorp, dedicated to the 1067mm gauge Rotterdamsche Tramweg Maatschappij, a particularly fascinating operator of tramways through the islands of South Holland. (Photo by Roger Jones)

 

France

France also had a large amount of metre gauge with some extensive networks, and 600mm gauge was used more locally. The extensive 600mm gauge networks set up to serve the trenches and supply lines during WWI, on both sides of the conflict, should not be forgotten and have recently been a popular subject for modelling.

Iberia

Spain and Portugal were users of the metre gauge, including some extensive networks. although some might be classified as main line in nature. The metre gauge network along the northern coast of Spain was the largest and much remains in use today. More minor lines in Spain used a variety of gauges.

Italy

Italy was never such an extensive user of narrow gauge railways. The majority were built to 950mm gauge but with some metre gauge lines in the north. One of the best known is the island network on Sardinia.

Germany

Germany had a great many narrow gauge lines, with some creating local networks, mostly common carrier in nature. The most common gauge was probably metre, but there were many others used individually and the extensive lines in the former state of Saxony were laid to 750mm gauge. The surviving Harz area metre gauge network is perhaps just not quite main line in nature. Services for the two branches are seen in normal service at Bertsdorf station on the 750mm gauge lines south of Zittau in October 1988. (Photo by Roger Jones)

 

 

 

Switzerland

Metre gauge is also king in Switzerland where there are many such famous scenic railways, some more 'main line' in character and virtually all electrified from an early stage. One can still argue that the Rhätische Bahn network, probably the best-known, while being main line in nature, retains the characteristics of a separate system with e.g. mixed train operation. The landscape of course results in much challenging route alignment. Metre gauge Brig-Furka Disentis 2-6-0RT, normally based at the Blonay-Chamby preserved line, is seen with an excursion at Château d'Oex on the connected MOB railway in August 1997. (Photo by Roger Jones)

 

 

 

Austria

Austria standardised on the 760mm ('Bosnian') gauge in the days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Railways to this standard can thus be found throughout that former territory, some quite long. This was another area where supply lines during WWI were served by narrow gauge railways to the prevailing local standard. Zillertalbahn no.2 'Zillertal' is seen at Jenbach with a service train in March 1971. (Photo by Roger Jones)

 

 

 

Eastern Europe

Much of the rest of Eastern Europe including the Baltic countries and Russia standardised on the 750mm gauge, although there were certainly many exceptions and not all countries had a great deal of narrow gauge.

In 7mm scale, modelling tends to follow the prototypes with a track gauge of 600-760mm due to the convenience of using 16.5mm track and running gear.

Africa and the Middle East

Overall, main lines in Africa are laid to the narrower gauges of 1000 or 1067mm, depending on the relevant former colonial powers. Subsidiary networks are very limited, with the 2ft gauge lines of South Africa probably the best-known. In North Africa and the Middle East, standard gauge predominates and, again, there is little in the way of subsidiary narrow gauge route.

Very little modelling of the region is seen in 7mm scale.

The Americas

North America

While the narrow gauge was not widespread, perhaps due to the scale of the country, 3ft gauge was the overwhelming choice where narrow gauge was chosen. The lines in Colorado are probably the best known. There was a stronghold of 2ft gauge in Maine. Many lines were built to serve the logging industry and some of those were to various narrow gauges.

North American modelling is done in ¼in or 1:48 scale and there is plenty to be seen due to the ready availability of ready-to-run equipment.

Central America and the Caribbean

A number of the main line rail networks in the smaller countries were built to 3ft or 3ft 6in gauge. Cuba had an extensive network of lines to serve the sugar cane industry and some of those were narrow gauge, mainly 3ft, following North American practice.

South America

Most narrow gauge was main line in nature, overwhelmingly of 3ft/3ft 6in/metre gage, depending on outside influence at the time of construction.

Australasia

In Australia, the states adopted different main line standards with Queensland and Western Australia (and Tasmania) adopting 1067mm gauge. With less need than most, use of the 'real' narrow gauge was limited. Two examples stand out however. The four complementary 2ft 6in gauge lines in Victoria, personified in the preserved Puffing Billy Railway, and the great networks of Sugar cane plantation lines in Queensland, most laid to 2ft (610mm) gauge. Puffing Billy Railway NA class no.12A taking water at Belgrave in July 1995. (Photo by Roger Jones)

In New Zealand, the main lines are 1067mm gauge and the use of narrower gauges was very limited, being used for a few logging and mineral lines.

Modelling in 7mm scale is probably mostly done to 1:48 scale as with North America.

East and South East Asia

In this wide area including Japan, China, Indonesia, Vietnam etc. most of the main lines are laid to metre or 1067mm gauge (with major exceptions such as China and the Shinkansen in Japan). China has seen much use of narrower gauges and there was limited 762mm gauge in Japan and 750mm gauge in Indonesia. One of the best known groups of railways to enthusiasts is that servicing the sugar cane industry in Java, using a variety of gauges including 600mm/2ft.

Very little modelling is seen based on this area.

South Asia

This region is dominated by India. While metre gauge formed a significant part of the main line network (albeit being steadily converted to broad gauge), there was a significant amount on narrow gauges, particularly 2ft/610mm and 2ft6in/762mm. The Darjeeling-Himalaya Railway (2ft gauge) is certainly the best known of these.

Again, however, there is only limited modelling seen based on this area.