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Title: Break-of-gauge  
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Subject: Rail transport in South Australia, Rail transport in Victoria, History of rail transport in Australia, Transport in Ukraine, Transport in Spain
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Track gauge
By transport mode
Tram · Rapid transit
Miniature · Scale model
By size (list)
Graphic list of track gauges

  Fifteen inch 381 mm (15 in)

  Two foot,
600 mm
597 mm
600 mm
603 mm
610 mm
(1 ft 11 12 in)
(1 ft 11 58 in)
(1 ft 11 34 in)
(2 ft)
  750 mm,
Two foot six inch,
800 mm
750 mm
760 mm
762 mm
800 mm
(2 ft 5 12 in)
(2 ft 5 1516 in)
(2 ft 6 in)
(2 ft 7 12 in)
  Swedish three foot,
900 mm,
Three foot
891 mm
900 mm
914 mm
(2 ft11 332 in)
(2 ft 11 716)
(3 ft)
  Metre 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in)
  Three foot six inch,
Cape, CAP, Kyōki
1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)
  Four foot six inch 1,372 mm (4 ft 6 in)

  Standard 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)

Five foot
1,520 mm
1,524 mm
(4 ft 11 2732 in)
(5 ft)
  Irish 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in)
  Iberian 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 2132 in)
  Indian 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in)
  Six foot 1,829 mm (6 ft)
  Brunel 2,140 mm (7 ft 14 in)
Change of gauge
Break-of-gauge · Dual gauge ·
Conversion (list· Bogie exchange · Variable gauge
By location
North America · South America · Europe
World map, rail gauge by region

With railways, a break-of-gauge occurs where a line of one gauge meets a line of a different gauge. Trains and rolling stock cannot run through without some form of conversion between gauges, and freight and passengers must otherwise be transhipped. A break-of-gauge adds delays, cost, and inconvenience.


  • Inconvenience 1
  • Advantages 2
    • Passengers 2.1
  • Overcoming a break of gauge 3
    • Bogie exchange and variable gauge 3.1
    • Dual gauge and track gauge conversion 3.2
    • Piggyback operation 3.3
    • Containerisation 3.4
  • Examples of breaks of gauge 4
    • Africa 4.1
    • Asia 4.2
      • People's Republic of China 4.2.1
      • India 4.2.2
      • Iran 4.2.3
      • Japan 4.2.4
      • North Korea 4.2.5
      • Taiwan 4.2.6
    • Europe 4.3
      • United Kingdom 4.3.1
      • Russian gauge meeting Standard gauge 4.3.2
      • Iberian gauge meeting Standard gauge 4.3.3
      • Local narrow gauge lines meeting mainlines 4.3.4
    • Oceania 4.4
      • Australia 4.4.1
        • Origins
        • Current
      • New Zealand 4.4.2
    • North America 4.5
    • South America 4.6
  • Minor breaks of gauge 5
  • Nominal breaks of gauge 6
  • Other kinds of breaks 7
  • Gauge orphan 8
  • Gauge outreach 9
  • Equipment 10
  • Other issues 11
  • See also 12
  • References 13
  • External links 14


Bogie changing in Ussuriisk (near Vladivostok) at the Chinese–Russian border
One solution to the break-of-gauge problem – the transporter car

Transhipping freight from cars of one gauge to cars of another is very labour- and time-intensive, and increases the risk of damage to goods. If the capacity of the freight cars on both systems does not match, additional inefficiencies can arise. If the frequency is low, trains might need to wait a long time for its counterpart to arrive before transshipping. This is avoided by storing the goods, but that is also an inconvenience.

Technical solutions to avoid transhipping include variable gauge axles, replacing the bogies of cars, and using transporter cars that can carry a car of a different gauge.

Talgo and CAF have developed dual-gauge axles (variable gauge axles) which permit through running between broad gauge and standard gauge. In Japan the Gauge Change Train, built on Talgo patents, runs on standard and narrow 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) gauge.

Breaks-of-gauge are avoided by installing dual gauge track, either permanently or as part of a project to replace one gauge with another.

At most breaks-of-gauge passengers have to change trains, but there are a few trains that run through, for example, the Talgo (variable-gauge axles, see above), and trains from Russia to China or Russia to Europe (bogie exchange), although on the latter two the passengers usually have to leave the train for some time whilst the accommodation work is done.


Narrow gauges tend to be associated with smaller loading gauges and sharper curves, which tend to reduce initial capital costs. This offsets the costs of any traffic affected by the break-of-gauge.

An advantage is that invading armies may be severely hampered (as when Germany invaded the USSR in World War II).

Another advantage might be that if the different gauges have different loading gauges, the break-of-gauge helps prevent the larger wagons straying onto lines with smaller tunnels.[1]

Similarly, if the larger and smaller gauges use different couplers, the break of gauge tends to keep the different couplers separate.


For passenger trains the inconvenience is less, especially at major stations where many passengers change trains or end their journeys anyway. Therefore, some passenger-only railways have been built with gauges otherwise not used in the concerned countries, like the high-speed railways in Japan and Spain.

For night trains, which are very common in places like Russia, train change is less desirable. For these, often the bogies are replaced, even if it takes much more time than having passengers change trains.

Overcoming a break of gauge

Where trains encounter a different gauge, such as at the Spanish–French border or the Russian–Chinese one, the traditional solution has always been transshipment — transferring passengers and freight to cars on the other system. When transhipping from one gauge to another, chances are that the quantity of rolling stock on each gauge is unbalanced, leading to more idle rolling stock on one gauge than the other. This is obviously far from optimal, and a number of more efficient schemes have been devised.

Bogie exchange and variable gauge

One common method to avoid transshipment is to build cars to the smaller of the two systems' loading gauges with bogies that are easily removed and replaced, with other bogies at an interchange location on the border. This takes a few minutes per car, but is quicker than transshipment of goods.

A more modern and sophisticated method is to have multigauge bogies whose wheels can be moved inward and outward. Normally they are locked in place, but special equipment at the border unlocks the wheels and pushes them inward or outward to the new gauge, relocking the wheels when done. This can be done as the train moves slowly over special equipment.

Dual gauge and track gauge conversion

In some cases, breaks of gauge are avoided by installing dual gauge track, either permanently or as part of a changeover process to a single gauge.

Piggyback operation

One method of achieving interoperability between rolling stock of different gauges is to piggyback stock of one gauge on special transporter wagons or even ordinary flat wagons fitted with rails. This enables rolling stock to reach workshops and other lines of the same gauge to which they are not otherwise connected. Piggyback operation by the trainload occurred as a temporary measure between Port Augusta and Marree during gauge conversion work in the 1950s to bypass steep gradients and washaways in the Flinders Ranges.[2][3]

Narrow gauge railways were favoured in the underground slate quarries of North Wales, as tunnels could be smaller. The Padarn Railway operated transporter wagons on their 4 ft (1,219 mm) gauge railway, each carrying four 1 ft 10 34 in (578 mm) slate trams. When the Great Western Railway acquired one of the narrow gauge lines in Blaenau Ffestiniog, they used a similar type of transporter wagon in order to use the quarries' existing slate wagons.[4]

Transporter wagons are most commonly used to transport narrow gauge stock over standard gauge lines.

More rarely, standard gauge vehicles are carried over narrow gauge tracks using adaptor vehicles; examples include the Rollbocke transporter wagon arrangements in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic and the milk transporter wagons of the Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway in England.

As of 2010, Japan is developing the Train on Train piggyback concept.


The widespread use of containers since the 1960s has made break of gauge less of a problem, since containers are efficiently transferred from one mode to another by suitable large cranes.

It helps if the lengths of the wagons on each gauge are the same so the containers can be transferred from one train to the other with no longitudinal movement along the trains. The different wagons should carry the same number of containers. Delays to each train depends on how many cranes can operate simultaneously.

Container cranes are relatively portable, so that if the break of gauge transshipment hub changes from time to time, the cranes can be moved around as required. Fork lift trucks can also be used.

Examples of breaks of gauge


  • Rail lines linked by ferries on convenient rivers or lakes. See train ferries.
  • Dar es Salaam is one of the few places in Africa where different gauges actually meet.
  • Kidatu in Tanzania has a container transshipment facility to move freight containers between TAZARA 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) and Tanzania Railways Corporation trains 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in)
  • D. R. Congo originally had both 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) and 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) lines, but when these lines met in the 1950s, the 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) line was converted to 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm).
  • In the rest of Africa, railways of different gauges in adjacent countries often do not actually meet, so there is no actual break of gauge.


People's Republic of China

The People's Republic of China has a standard gauge network; neighbouring countries Mongolia, Russia and Kazakhstan use 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) gauge, and Vietnam mostly uses 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) (metre gauge), so there are some breaks of gauge. See the Trans-Manchurian Railway (gauge changing at Zabaikalsk on the Russian side of the border), the Trans-Mongolian Railway and the Lanxin railway. The Yunnan–Vietnam Railway is dual gauge in Vietnam as far as Hanoi.[5] There is currently a break of gauge at Dostyk on the Kazakh border, but Kazakhstan was planning to build an additional line, in standard gauge, line between Dostyk and Aktogay, is construction recently abandoned.[6]


India currently has significant lengths of four different gauges: 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) Indian gauge, 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) metre gauge, 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) gauge and 2 ft (610 mm) gauge. Indian Railways has decided to convert most of its metre gauge and narrow gauge systems to broad gauge under an exercise called Project Unigauge. However, most new metro systems in India are built using standard gauge because this makes it more economical to acquire equipment from international markets.


Iran, with its standard gauge rail system, has break-of-gauge with 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) gauge at the borders with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, and now also with Pakistan's 5 ft 6 in (1,676 mm) Indian gauge at Zahedan. The break-of-gauge station at Zahedan was built outside the city, as the existing station was hemmed in by built up areas.[7]


All high-speed "Shinkansen" routes in Japan have been built as standard gauge lines. A few routes, known as "Super Tokkyū", have been planned as narrow-gauge, and the conventional (non-high-speed) is mostly narrow-gauge 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm), so there are some breaks of gauge and dual gauge is used in some places. Private railways often use other gauges.

In 2010, Hokkaido Railway Company (JR Hokkaido) started working on a transporter train by trainload concept called "Train on Train" to carry narrow-gauge freight trains at faster speeds on standard-gauge flatcars. The Seikan Tunnel is being converted by JR Hokkaido to dual gauge to accommodate the Hokkaido Shinkansen.

An experimental variable gauge "Gauge Change Train" has also been tested since 1998 as a means to allow through services from high-speed standard-gauge shinkansen lines to narrow-gauge regional lines.

North Korea

The North Korean rail system has some breaks of gauge. Several parts of the Paektusan Ch'ŏngnyŏn Line on the stretch between Wiyŏn and Hyesan Ch'ŏngnyŏn are dual gauged to allow connections to the Paektusan Rimch'ŏl Line and the Samjiyŏn Line.[8] Also, the line connecting to the Trans-Siberian Railway from Rajin to Khasan is dual gauged for standard gauge and Russian gauge.[9]


Route of THSR shown in orange, all others are operated by TRA

Like Japan, the rail transport in Taiwan use the 3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm) gauge for the majority of its railway network, but 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge for its high-speed rail; however, gauge differences are less of a problem as Taiwan High Speed Rail generally uses separate rolling stocks and its own discrete railway, and at most locations runs on routes kilometres away from the conventional Taiwan Railways Administration railway network.


United Kingdom

  • Gloucester was the earliest significant break of gauge between the 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) and 7 ft (2,134 mm) systems.
  • 1864 – Yeovil

Russian gauge meeting Standard gauge

vs. Former Soviet Union countries: Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova (1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in)). Night trains are common, and they are often bogie-exchanged.
  • Finland (1,524 mm (5 ft)) and Sweden (1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)), between Tornio and Haparanda via a short dual gauge bridge. Freight is generally transloaded. No passenger trains. There is also a SeaRail train ferry (with 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) onboard) linking Turku, Finland with Stockholm, Sweden;[10] the Turku terminal handles both gauges.[11]
  • )) 4 ft 11 2732 in (1,520 mm
  • Germany (1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)) railroad ferries (from Sassnitz with 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in) onboard) to Russia and Baltic States and to Finland (also from Travemünde with 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) onboard).
  • Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan
  • While breaks of gauge are generally located near borders, the Uzhhorod – Košice line carrying iron ore from Ukraine extends into Slovakian territory to a steelworks near Košice[12] and there are plans to extend the line further west, to Vienna.[13] See also Rail gauge in Slovakia.
  • The historically first break-of-gauge between Russian and Standard gauge was built in 1861 as dual gauge between the border stations of Eydtkuhnen, Germany (now Chernyshevskoye Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia), and Kybartai, then Russia, now Lithuania.
  • The 1520 Strategic Partnership seeks to harmonise the gauges of Europe-Asia.[14]

Iberian gauge meeting Standard gauge

The earliest working example of the axle changing system at the French-Spain border in 1948 had the axles being changed at the rate of 8 waggons or 32 axles per hour.[15]

Local narrow gauge lines meeting mainlines



The break-of-gauge platform for the Sydney–Melbourne railway at Albury station; SG on left; BG on right.
  • (1845) Evils of break of gauge and Gauge Commission of UK mentioned in a South Australian newspaper[16]

The then two mainland colonies originally agreed to adopt the 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) gauge.

However, in 1850 New South Wales decided to change to the 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in), or Irish gauge. The change was approved by the British government, and South Australia agreed to follow suit.[19] However, in 1853 New South Wales unilaterally reverted to the 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) gauge. South Australia and Victoria, the latter now separated from New South Wales, protested about the broken agreement, to no avail.

  • Queensland (1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)) and New South Wales (1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in))
  • New South Wales (1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)) and Victoria (1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in))
  • Southern South Australia uses broad gauge, like Victoria. Northern South Australia and southern South Australia had a number of narrow gauge 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) lines, leading to several break-of-gauge stations at various times including Hamley Bridge, Terowie, Peterborough, Gladstone, Port Pirie Junction, Port Pirie Mary Elie Street, Port Augusta, Marree, Wolseley and Mount Gambier. The Eyre Peninsula Railway lines have always been isolated.
  • In the latter part of the 20th century, all mainland capital cities were connected by a standard gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) network, leading to more breaks of gauge (or branch line closures) in states where this is not the norm
  • Perth' railway system is narrow gauge (1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in)), while the Indian Pacific is standard gauge. The line between East Perth and Midland, the eastern suburban terminus, and inland to the major rail junction at Northam is dual gauge. All rail east of this is standard gauge.
  • Since the 1990s, new concrete sleepers installed in the Adelaide suburban area have been gauge convertible
  • In May 2008, agreement reached to convert the declining trafficked broad gauge line of a BG/SG pair for 200 km between Seymour and Albury to double track standard gauge for growing interstate traffic.
  • Since the 1930s, most Victoria steam locomotives were designed for ease of conversion to standard gauge, but except for R766, this has never happened.[20]
  • Note that the lines of the same gauge do not all join up, being separated by other gauges, deserts or oceans. Rolling stock is often transferred on low-loaders or by ship.

New Zealand

New Zealand originally had small lengths of lines of 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in), 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) and 1,600 mm (5 ft 3 in), but quickly converted all to 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in) which better suited this sparsely populated and mountainous country.

North America

  • The United States of America had broad, narrow and standard gauge tracks in the 19th century, but is now almost entirely 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge. Narrow-gauge operations are generally isolated rail systems. The notable exception would be the break-of-gauge in Antonito, Colorado between the standard gauge Rio Grande Scenic Railroad and the narrow gauge Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, billed as the Toltec Gorge Limited.
  • BART in the San Francisco Bay Area is planning an extension to an existing line which will transfer passengers from their original Indian gauge to a new section of standard gauge, with the option to regauge this portion for traditional service at a later date.[21]
  • Similarly, Canada and Mexico are standard gauge.
  • A break-of-gauge, 3 ft (914 mm) to 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm), between Guatemala and Mexico is currently closed.

South America

  • Argentina and Chile both use 1,676 mm (5 ft 6 in) broad gauge tracks, but the link railway uses 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) narrow gauge with rack railway sections. So there are two break-of-gauge stations, one at Los Andes, Chile and the other at Mendoza, Argentina. It was planned to reopen this currently closed railway in summer 2007 and re-gauge from small to broad to be in future without break-of-gauge
  • A break-of-gauge between Argentina and Brazil, 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) to 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in)
  • A break-of-gauge between Uruguay and Brazil, 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) to 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) at Santana do Livramento.

Minor breaks of gauge

Wherever there are narrow gauge lines that connect with a standard gauge line, there is technically a break-of-gauge. If the amount of traffic transferred between lines is small, this might be a small inconvenience only. In Austria and Switzerland there are numerous breaks-of-gauge between standard-gauge main lines and narrow-gauge railways.

Many internal Swiss railways that operate in the more mountainous regions are 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 38 in) Metre gauge and most are equipped for rack assistance to deal with the relatively steep gradients encountered.[22] Through running of standard gauge trains on rack sections would not be possible, but dual gauge track exists in many places where the gradient is relatively flat to carry standard and metre gauge stock. There also exists 800 mm (2 ft 7 12 in) gauge railways which are entirely rack operated.

The effects of a minor break-of-gauge can be minimized by placing it at the point where a cargo must be removed from cars anyway. An example of this is the East Broad Top Railroad in the United States of America, which had a coal wash and preparation plant at its break-of-gauge in Mount Union, Pennsylvania. The coal was unloaded from narrow gauge cars of the EBT, and after processing was loaded into standard gauge cars of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Nominal breaks of gauge

The line between Finland and Russia has a nominal break-of-gauge; Finnish gauge is 1,524 mm (5 ft) whereas Russian gauge is 1,520 mm (4 ft 11 2732 in). This does not usually prevent through-running, as the nominal 4 mm (0.16 in) difference is generally within tolerance, and the present Russian gauge is actually a redefinition of the older 1,524 mm (5 ft).

The Iberian gauge is actually three slightly different gauges. Traditionally in Spain 1,672 mm (5 ft 5 1316 in), traditionally in Portugal 1,664 mm (5 ft 5 12 in), and the newer redefined 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 2132 in). Through-running is done with vehicles having a gauge within certain tolerances.

A variant of Standard Gauge exists as well, 1,432 mm (4 ft 8 38 in) instead of 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) is used in London Underground and some MTR lines.

Other kinds of breaks

A large railway may have main lines with heavy tracks, and branch lines with light track. Light locomotives and rolling stock can operate on all lines, but heavy locomotives and rolling stock can only operate on heavy track. Heavy rolling stock might be able to operate on lighter track at reduced speed. Light track can be upgraded to heavy track by installing heavy rails, etc., and this can be done without changing the track gauge.

Gauge orphan

When a main line is converted to a different gauge, such as with Unigauge in India, branch lines can be cut off and made relatively useless, at least for freight trains, until they too are converted to the new gauge. These severed branches can be called gauge orphans.

Gauge outreach

The opposite of a gauge orphan is a line of one gauge which reaches into the territory composed mainly of another gauge. Examples include five broad gauge lines of Victoria which crossed the border into otherwise standard gauge New South Wales. Similarly, the standard gauge line from Albury to Melbourne in 1962 which eliminated most transshipment at Albury, especially the need for passengers to change trains in the middle of the night.

Two Russian broad gauge lines reach out from Ukraine, one (the Uzhhorod – Košice line) into Slovakia to carry minerals; another (the Metallurgy Line) into Poland to carry heavy iron ore and steel products without the need for transshipment as would be the case if there were a break of gauge at the border. There are plans to extend the Slovak line to Vienna.[13]

From 1994, the Rail Baltica proposal emerged to build a 728 km North–South line to link European standard gauge railways from Poland to Kaunas, Lithuania, via Riga, Latvia to Tallinn, Estonia.[23] In shorter term (decade of 2010) it will only be built to Kaunas.

The gauge outreach from Kalgoorlie to Perth partly replaced the original narrow gauge line, and partly rebuilt that line with better curves and gradients as double track dual gauge. Because of lack of space at the main Perth station, standard gauge passenger trains terminate one station short at East Perth.


Breaks of gauge are facilitated by flood lighting for night time operation, electric flood lighting not being available in the early days. Similarly heavy duty cranes only become practical once electricity supplies become available.

Other issues

While track gauge is the most important factor preventing through running between adjacent systems, other issues can also be a hindrance, including structure gauge, loading gauge, axleloads, couplings, brakes, electrification systems, signalling systems, multiple unit controls, rules and regulations, driver certification, righthand or lefthand running, repairs (how to make and pay for repairs while rolling stock is on other railway's territory) and language. The structure gauge, loading gauge and axleload problems are solved by simply using the smaller options for through running. The general solution is often to custom-build vehicles to fit all the standards to be encountered. Trains can be built to accept four voltages, to have dual signaling systems equipment, etc.

See also


  1. ^ "TRAMWAY LEAGUE.".  
  2. ^ "Piggyback picture". 
  4. ^ Gray, Adrian (Winter 1994). "G. W. R. Slate Tram Transporter Wagons". British Railway Journal (50): 17–24. 
  5. ^ The length of Vietnam railway network
  6. ^ "Trans-Kazakhstan link will complete standard-gauge transcontinental artery". Railway Gazette. 1 August 2004. Retrieved 28 April 2011. 
  7. ^ Stubbs, John (1 January 2007). "Closing the gap from Bam to Zahedan".  
  8. ^
  9. ^ "라진-하산(러시아) 철도, 10월 중순 첫 시험운행". 
  10. ^ SeaRail ferry accessed 2010-03-18
  11. ^ SeaRail Turku dual-gauge terminal
  12. ^ Railways in Slovakia
  13. ^ a b "Railway Gazette: Broad gauge to Wien is feasible, says study". Retrieved 2010-12-21. 
  14. ^ Railway Gazette International Oct 2011 p48
  18. ^ a b "LOCAL INTELLIGENCE.".  
  19. ^ "RAILWAY PAPERS.".  
  20. ^ "IT'S OFFICAL R766 to be gauge converted & head for N.S.W – Victoria – Forums – Railpage Australia". Retrieved 2012-06-15. 
  21. ^ Gary Richards, Gary Richards (4 April 2014). "Roadshow: eBART trains along Highway 4 could be running in 2017". MNG Corporate. Contra Costa Times. Retrieved 24 February 2015. 
  22. ^ "enlarged map". Retrieved 2011-02-19. 
  23. ^ Railway Gazette International July 2011, p25.
  24. ^ "Flinders Ranges Research Fees". 
  25. ^ "Flinders Ranges Research Email". 

External links

  • Jane's World Railways (hard copy)
  • Transport and Telecommunication:The operation of the gauge changing facility of the new railway line Rail Baltica, Jonas Jonaitis, Vol.7, No 1, 2006
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