Minimum-gauge railways have a gauge of most commonly , , , , or . The notion of minimum-gauge railways was originally developed by estate railways and the French company of Decauville for industrial railways, mining, and farming applications.
The term was originally conceived by Sir Arthur Percival Heywood who used it in 1874 to describe the principle behind his Duffield Bank Railway, specifically its gauge, distinguishing it from a "Narrow Gauge" railway. Having previously built a small railway of gauge, he settled on as the minimum that he felt was practical.
In general, minimum-gauge railways maximize their loading gauge, where the dimension of the equipment is made as large as possible with respect to the track gauge while still providing enough stability to keep it from tipping over. Minimum-gauge railways allowed for ease of mobility on battlefields, mines, and other restricted environments.
A number of gauge railways were built in Britain to serve ammunition depots and other military facilities, particularly during the First World War.
The major distinction between a miniature railway (USA: 'riding railroad' or 'grand scale railroad') and a minimum-gauge railway is that miniature lines use models of full-sized prototypes. There are miniature railways that run on gauges as wide as , for example the Wicksteed Park Railway. There are also rideable miniature railways running on extremely narrow tracks as small as gauge, for example the Rudyard Lake Steam Railway. Around the world there are also several rideable miniature railways open to the public using even narrower gauges, such as and .
Generally minimum-gauge railways have a working function as estate railways, or industrial railways, or providers of public transport links; although most have a distinct function in relation to tourism, and depend upon tourism for the revenue to support their working function.
|Railway||Country||Gauge (metric)||Gauge (imperial)|
|See Fifteen-inch gauge railway|
|Bicton Woodland Railway||United Kingdom|
|Fidalgo City and Anacortes Railway||United States|
|Geriatriezentrum am Wienerwald Feldbahn||Austria|
|Jardin d'Acclimatation railway||France|
|Kirklees Light Railway||United Kingdom|
|Meadows and Lake Kathleen Railroad||United States|
|Petit train d'Artouste||France|
|Royal Arsenal Railway||United Kingdom|
|Sand Hutton Light Railway||United Kingdom|
|Southern Fuegian Railway||Argentina|
|Steeple Grange Light Railway||United Kingdom|
|Tarn Light Railway||France|||
|Wells and Walsingham Light Railway||United Kingdom|
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