In the first half of the 19th century, when most of the European countries set their national railroad gauge standards to George Stephenson’s 4ft 8½ in (or 1435 mm), Russia chose differently. Their tracks, with an 89 mm wider clearance between the rails, have become not only the base principle of a technological regime, but also an imminent part of their cultural identity. The incompatibility of the tracks at Russia’s outer limits immediately began hindering the exchange of goods, people and ideas, creating a symbolic rift between it and the rest of Europe. The difference in gauges also played a role during the war, although this was not quite as significant as might be assumed, since military engineers at the time were capable of re-gauging the tracks quite easily. But, under normal conditions, various different technological solutions have been developed to maintain a more-or-less swift exchange at the junction between the two systems, including transhipping, changing undercarriage bogies and employing automatic gauge changeover mechanisms. The operation of these junctions is not only a technical matter, but also depends heavily on social factors. The question of how mobility on the railroads on western Russia’s fringes has been mediated in the historical perspective convincingly suggests the existence of two core approaches, and a periphery that consciously chooses which to gravitate toward.
Keywords: Eastern Europe, Russia, Poland, track gauge, broad gauge, standard gauge, railways
Additional material: map referred to on page 101
How to cite: Łotysz, S. (2016). 89mm From Europe: Mediating Railway Mobility on Russia’s Western Peripheries. In S. Fari & M. Moraglio (Eds.), Peripheral Flows. A Historical Perspective on Mobilities between Cores and Fringes (pp. 100-126). Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Publisher’s page: https://www.cambridgescholars.com/product/978-1-4438-9048-9