Iberian-gauge railways (Spanish: ancho ibérico, trocha ibérica, Portuguese: bitola ibérica) is the name given to the railways using track gauge of 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 21⁄32 in), most extensively used by the railways of Spain and Portugal. This is the second-widest gauge in regular use anywhere in the world.
As finally established in 1955, the Iberian gauge is a compromise between the similar, but slightly different, gauges adopted as respective national standards in Spain and Portugal in the mid-19th century. The main railway networks of Spain were initially constructed to a 1,672 mm (5 ft 5 13⁄16 in) gauge of six Castilian feet. Those of Portugal were instead built to a 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) and later railways to a 1,664 mm (5 ft 5 1⁄2 in) gauge of five Portuguese feet – close enough to allow interoperability with Spanish railways.
Since the beginning of the 1990s new high-speed passenger lines in Spain have been built to the international standard gauge of 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in), to allow these lines to link to the European high-speed network. Although the 22 km from Tardienta to Huesca (part of a branch from the Madrid to Barcelona high-speed line) has been reconstructed as mixed Iberic and standard gauge, in general the interface between the two gauges in Spain is dealt with by means of gauge-changing installations, which can adjust the gauge of appropriately designed wheelsets on the move.
Plans exist to convert more of the Iberian-gauge network in Spain and Portugal to standard gauge, an indication of which is the use, on several stretches of recently relaid broad-gauge track, of concrete sleepers pre-drilled with additional bolt holes allowing for repositioning of one rail to adjust the track to standard gauge (or to dual gauge) or the narrowing of the gauge by moving both rails closer together maintaining the perfect alignment of the loading gauge.
A commonly cited reason for the adoption of this gauge, broader than that which became the international standard, is that it was intended to hinder any use of the railroad in any of the French invasion attempts. This is possible, but the 19 January 1845 governmental decree does not state any reason, simply the gauge itself. It is known that the government entrusted such decisions to a committee, whose main work was done by civil engineers Juan Subercase and Calixto de Santa Cruz: both good civil engineers but with little experience in railroads. Their judgement, made because of their profession and lack of experience in railroads, was that since the Spanish landscape was more mountainous than that of England and France, a wider gauge would make more powerful locomotives possible, with larger boilers and, more importantly, larger fireboxes. This was obviously a miscalculation; in other areas of Spain, narrower gauges were used in the most mountainous areas, since Iberian gauge civil engineering works would have been more expensive. One example of this is the 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in) gauge FEVE.
The Indian gauge (1,676 mm or 5 ft 6 in) is closely similar, with only 8 mm (5⁄16 in) difference, and allows compatibility with the rolling stock. For example, in recent years Chile and Argentina have bought second hand Spanish/Portuguese Iberian-gauge rolling stock. 1668mm trains can run on 1676mm gauge without adaptation, but for better stability in high-speed running a little wheelset adjustment may be required (for example - Russian-Finnish train Allegro has gauge 1522 mm, intermediate between Russian 1520 mm and Finnish 1524 mm). Backward compatibility - 1676 mm trains on 1668 mm gauge is possible, but no examples and data exist. Due to the narrower gauge, a strong wear of wheelsets may occur without adjustment.
|Portugal||REFER network. Adjusted from the original 1,664 mm (5 ft 5 1⁄2 in) in the 19th century. Other gauges used in Portugal: 7 ft 1⁄4 in (2,140 mm) or 7 ft (2,134 mm) (Azores), 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in), 1,000 mm (3 ft 3 3⁄8 in), 900 mm (2 ft 11 7⁄16 in), and 600 mm (1 ft 11 5⁄8 in)|
|Spain||Adjusted from the original 1,672 mm (5 ft 5 13⁄16 in) in the 19th century. Adif-managed national railway network (except new high-speed railway lines).
Although Lleida–La Pobla de Segur Line is both managed and operated by Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC), it was formerly part of the national railway network and was constructed to the 1,668 mm (5 ft 5 21⁄32 in) gauge.
Barcelona Metro line 1 still uses the former 1,672 mm (5 ft 5 13⁄16 in) gauge.
... the broad gauge of 7 feet 0¼ inches ... was that chosen by Isambard kingdom Brunel for the Great Western Railway.
... Stöckl did measure the gauge himself: 7 foot / 2134 mm! The gauge which was favoured by Brunel in the 19th century in England ...