An industrial railway generally refers to a private railway line that is exclusively used to service industrial sites or transport goods. Industrial railways may be found in such places as mines, ammunition dumps, or factories. Railway carts on these industrial railways usually transport goods to the industrial site or transport materials away from it. Temporary industrial railway lines also can be built, such as in the case of a construction site.
Most industrial railways are short in length, usually covering only a few miles. They were a common feature in the earlier days of industrial transport. With the growth of transportation methods such as aviation and trucking, the industrial railway became a less-used form of transport.
The iron ore industrial railway in Western Australia is one exception to the rule that industrial railways are short in length. These railways are hundreds of kilometers in length. Large-scale industrial railways can also be found in Cuba, where they are an important part of the sugarcane production process. They also were an important part of the industrialization of the Soviet Union. Massive industrial railway lines existed in Siberia and the Ural mountains, transporting materials such as iron ore all over the country.
Industrial railways may also have a narrow gauge length that differentiates them from normal railways. A narrow gauge length is usually defined by a track gauge length that is less than 4 ft 8 1⁄2 inches (about 1.44 meters) of the standard gauge length. These types of industrial railways normally are used for industries such as mining, logging, quarrying, or the transportation of agricultural goods.
Special locomotives also were designed to fit these narrow gauge length industrial railways. For example, in the Soviet Union, the Kukushka – Cuckoo in Russian – was a small locomotive used to transport fuel and fertilizer for collective farms. The Kukushka was known for its distinctive whistle sound, from which it received its name.
Another example of an industrial railway is the NASA railroad located in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It has a length of 38 miles (about 61 kilometers). This industrial railway is used to transport equipment such as solid rocket boosters and is an effective way of transporting large items. The track runs from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to the Florida East Coast Railway line.
As industrial railways are dying out, there are many organizations dedicated to their preservation. For example, the Ayrshire Railway Preservation Group in Scotland, and the Hermes Gregariou's Association of Friends of the Railway in Greece seek to preserve industrial railway heritage. These groups generally purchase industrial railway sites that no longer are in use. These industrial railways are then usually converted into a type of interactive museum space that is open to the public.