The UK Department for Transport is proposing that a break in railway gauge should be introduced at the UK-French border. Britain’s main line railways will adopt the Irish track gauge of 1600 mm (5’– 3”).
Following controversy earlier this year relating to the eventual adoption by British railways of a computerised signalling system originally developed on the Continent, it has been decided that standardisation and adoption of European practice on our national railways has gone too far.
An official report seen by Metric Views proposes that the UK should change from the standard railway gauge of 1435 mm (4’-8 ½”). Consideration has been given to adopting Brunel’s broad gauge of 2140 mm (7’-0 ¼”), but because this had been eliminated from the national rail network in the nineteenth century in favour of standard gauge, it was thought it might look foolish to reinstate it. Also, as all broad gauge locomotives were scrapped in the 1890’s, motive power might initially be a problem. And finally, Brunel’s father was French! Instead, ministers opted for the Irish gauge so that all UK national railways will eventually have the same track gauge. Ministers were concerned that, as this involved an element of standardisation, they might be accused of following the orders of EU bureaucrats, but after careful consideration believed the risk of this happening was low.
This gauge is also used in the State of Victoria, Australia, and a number of MPs have suggested it should be called ‘Victorian’, which also describes the Palace where they meet and might be popular with the public.
The Chief Executive of Eurotunnel has pointed out that, as the break of gauge will occur at the UK-French border in the middle of the English Channel, it will be necessary to enlarge the tunnels at that point to enable railway carriages and wagons to be switched from standard to Irish gauge bogies and to change motive power. It is estimated this operation will take less than one hour.
A spokesman for a train drivers’ union said he welcomed the proposal. He said “The break in journey will enable our members to get used to the idea that they are leaving one country and entering another with different standards.”
The UK Department of Transport said “To meet EU regulations, the new gauge will be described as 1600 mm, not 5’-3” and certainly not ‘Irish’.”
For a related article see: ERTMS, Mail on Sunday, 25 January 2015