British and Continental
Railway Loading Gauges

The varying heights of different loading gauges

Part of
Joyce's World of Transport Eclectica


Let's start with a useful link to a very useful explanation of Gauges And Why We Need Them. One of the better things that the short lived Strategic Rail Authority managed to achieve was technical papers like their Gauging Policy. The SRA website may not last for ever, so I have taken the precaution of sticking a copy of the Gauge Policy on another part of my site: download it here. It's a pdf file, about 332KB in size.

This site attempts to explain the numerous different loading gauges which apply on Britain's railway network and on the networks of Continental Europe.

These gauges are (mainly) for freight wagons. They represent the maximum height and width to which vehicles can be constructed or loaded. They can only be used for vehicles of a certain length - vehicles which are longer must be built and loaded to slightly narrower dimensions.

In 1999, Railtrack devised a new nomenclature for the freight vehicle loading gauges used on Britain's national railways. The following summary is taken from the 1999 Network Management Statement:

British Rail codeRailtrack codeUIC height equivalentHeight
above rail
W6W6   33202700
W6A (Freightliner 8')W7   34482500
W6A (Freightliner 8' 6")W8   36002500
SB1cW9   37152600
n/aW10 > UIC "A"38962500
n/aW10w > UIC "A"38962600
n/aW11 > UIC "B"41302500
n/aW11w > UIC "B"41302600

Heights and widths are in millimetres. More details can be found in Railway Group Guidance Note GE/GN8573, Guidance on Gauging, and in Network Rail's Business Plan documents. The latter include maps of the British railway network showing which routes are cleared to the different gauges. They also explains the varying combinations of loading gauge and low platform wagon which can be used to move tall containers safely. Click on the following links to see a scan of the different gauges.

Good honest British gauges:

W7 Freightliner Exception Gauge (8 foot boxes)
W8 Freightliner Exception Gauge (8 foot 6 inch boxes) scan not yet available
W9 - "Swop Body" Gauge (previously known as SB1c)
C1 gauge for standard British coaching stock (Mark 1 passenger carriages, also parcels vans etc)
C3 gauge for the longer Mark 3 coaches

Perfidious Continental gauges:

UIC standard gauge, sometimes known as Berne Gauge
UIC "A" Gauge
UIC "B" Gauge
UIC "C" Gauge
Iberian Gauge (Spanish and Portuguese railways)
And a useful diagram summarising the different corner heights of UIC gauges, including UIC "B+", an improved gauge for container traffic

And, determined to outdo everyone else, an overweaning North American gauge:

"Double stack" container gauge

I am indebted to Bengt Dahlberg on the "5feet" mailing list for a picture of some Scandinavian and Russian loading gauges. Bengt explains that "the blue lines are for the Finnish loading gauge and probably near or the same as the Russian loading gauge. The black, yellow and green lines are the loading gauges in Sweden. At the bottom is the Chinese loading gauge".

As indeed I am to D7666 on for a handy summary of the Rhätische Bahn's various loading and structure gauges (with text in German).

Apologies in advance - some of the scans are better than others. If you need absolutely accurate information, you should really go direct to Network Rail's general site, or to the Network Rail Freight site. For non British gauges try the UIC - Union Internationale des Chemins de Fer site. If you can read Cyrillic script, go to this site for Russian gauges.


This information is posted for discussion purposes only and should not be relied upon for building or operating railway rolling stock. There is no guarantee that this site can be updated to reflect any changes made by Network Rail or the UIC.

It follows a number of threads in the Usenet newsgroup, uk.railway. It was last updated in July 2007 by the entity known as Joyce Whitchurch. Comments on the text, or any broken links, are always welcome: mail me.

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