Major Gauges of the Global Rail Systems

Major Gauges of the Global Rail Systems

Source: CIA World Fact Book.

Although numerous gauges are being used worldwide, six major gauges dominate the global rail systems, with the Standard Gauge (1435 mm) being the most common. Several countries have more than one gauge, but the above map depicts the most prevalent lengthwise. Since North American railways have the same gauge, its rail system is well integrated (transnational ownership and operations). In Europe, interoperability is an issue for the Iberian Peninsula and former Soviet Republics. For South America and most of Africa, rail systems are national and un-integrated, limiting their market potential as they are mainly penetration lines from a port to a resource-oriented hinterland.

The main advantages of integrated gauge systems are:

  • Lower equipment costs. Standard equipment tends to be cheaper since it benefits from manufacturing economies of scale.
  • Allocation of equipment. An equipment pool can be made available and allocated to different segments of the system based on fluctuations in demand. This leads to a better level of asset utilization.
  • Market penetration. An integrated rail system can be seen as one transport market that favors competition between different gateways. This eventually leads to the formation of mega-carriers, such as Class 1 carriers in North America.