Different track gauges

Discussion in 'Getting Started' started by gromit, May 7, 2002.

  1. gromit

    gromit New Member

    What kind of bonehead idea is different track gauges anyway? You limit where your trains can go on the existing network of rail lines, you limit yourself to a specific manufacture of railroad equipment, forget about buying locomotives and train cars from other railroads, they would need major modifications to run on your lines. You have to change trains at the end of every other county, unload and reloads packages and passangers to continue your trip. It seems to me only a fool would buck an existing system. Why did they do it?
    It seems to me anyone would see all the benifits of a standarized train system over a odd ball one.

    -Confused :rolleyes:
  2. Gary Pfeil

    Gary Pfeil Active Member

    Keep in mind that there was no existing system to buck at the time. And state governments often were the reason behind a railroads gauge. The Erie, in order to get its charter, had to agree to 6 foot gauge, specifically to prevent interchange, they also had to build exclusively in New York state. This was relaxed somewhat above Port Jervis where the terrain dictated the line cross into Pennsylvania. The lines Erie had into New Jersey had to be seperate companies, controlled by the Erie in fact but not directly. Now why did the state of New York insist on the line being entirely within its borders and make interchange difficult? Frankly, I do not remember if I've ever read the reason. But personal gain thru the efforts of others must have played some part, I'm not much of a fan of politicians.

  3. billk

    billk Active Member

    There is a lot of interesting history behind track gauges, if you're into that sort of thing. For example, some nations deliberately chose a gauge different from their neighbors so their railroads could not be easily used to transport invading armies into their country! Also, I've seen somewhere (true or not?) a write-up tracing the 4'-8-1/2" gauge back to the wheel spacing of Roman chariots.
  4. rockislandmike

    rockislandmike Active Member

    It's like almost any innovation - a whackage of choices at the front, which eventually settles into a standard somewhere down the road (or maybe a couple of standards).

    Many examples in today's technology - beta v. vhs; milieu of operating systems which has dwindled down into Windows (and to a lesser extent MacOS) just to name a couple.
  5. 60103

    60103 Pooh Bah

    There are technical arguments about track gauges. A narrower gauge was cheaper to build and could be twisted around sharper curves than standard gauge. This would be a powerful argument, especially when manpower to move cargo between cars was cheap.

    There were also the egos of the engineers building the lines.

    I saw an article which traced 4' 8.5" back to the width of the back of a horse.
  6. YakkoWarner

    YakkoWarner Member

  7. sumpter250

    sumpter250 multiscale modelbuilder

    One of the explainations I've heard relates to the "all-mighty dollar",in that, the load, to car weight ratio made the narrow gauge the "size" of preference. In the early days of freight car production, wood was the primary material. A narrow gauge car had a higher load to car weight ratio than standard gauge cars. When steel became the material of choice, standard gauge cars ended up with the higher load to weight ratio, and this, combined with the cost of transshipment, lead to the decline and eventual death of commercial narrow gauge railroading.
    The proliferation of different gauges was, mostly, the result of the proliferation of short line, unconnected, competitive railroads,
    and no immediate need for connecting everything together.
  8. roryglasgow

    roryglasgow Active Member

    Well, I read somewhere that the 4' 8.5" track width goes way back to ancient Persia...Babylon or someplace. And that Alexander the Great adopted the standard so that his wagons could navigate the ruts. And then the Romans adapted it as a standard much later.

    The Great Western Railway in the UK originally used a 7 foot gauge! Passenger cars could seat 9 people across! The wide gauge made the trains safer at high speeds. There was a considerable amount of debate in the British Parliament about creating national standards for track gauges. And even though GWR's 7 foot gauge won out in a race against another railroad that used 4' 8.5", it was decided that all railroads had to go to either the 4' 8.5" "standard" gauge or 3' narrow gauge.

    And supposedly the U.S. picked up on that standard from the British. It's one of the few things of that sort that were unaltered from the British that Americans adopted. For example, races are run counter-clockwise (and model railroads) and we drive on the right-hand side of the road...all so we don't appear to be British rip-offs!
  9. Topo

    Topo Member

    Well, as others have said, there are usually a lot of reasons -some simple, other complex-, about the railroad gauge choice.

    In Spain, when the first peninsular RR was built (Barcelona-Mataró, in the XIX century), the rolling equipment used at first was second-hand british, and it happened to be 5'6". The following RR's wanted to link to each others, so they continue to use this gauge, wider than the used in the other european countries. Besides, being Spain crossed by mountain chains that the RR's must to pass, the engineers sold the idea that a wider gauge was most desirable.

    When the entire system was nationalized and consolidated after the spanish civil war (and just in the beginning of WWII), the government don't had neither the money nor the resources to convert the thousands of kilometers laid to standard gauge (besides, the political european situation advise against doing that by the reasons pointed by billk).

    Now, all the new lines are built to standard gauge, and the old ones are being slowly converted.
  10. N Gauger

    N Gauger 1:20.3 Train Addict


    Gromit, gary's answer is the most logical, but all of the answers are right, (yes even the Horses butt) :) I've heard them all. :D

    Money, Trade , Armies, are all correct. The reason all work as answers is that commerce started hundreds of years ago. The Golden rule stands tall, to this day.

    Cheaper, Faster, Better (choose any TWO!!!!!)

    If you still don't follow, Ask, Ford, Chevrolet, and Oldsmobile, Why their parts don't fit other Manufacturers. They were all designed within 20 years of each other, and only "after market" stuff works on different Manufacturers engines.

    This is so you HAVE to go back to the company you bought the car from. Guaranteed future sales. :D :D :D Until 3rd party sellers came along.

    Railroads used to be the same way, Sell the rolling stock now, sell it when it wears out. :) Then came other builders, that built for any railroad... -- Hoped this helped!! -- N gauger

    BTW, some railroads (I'm sure you know) are Dual gauge, 3 rail, so 2 gauges can run on them..

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