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The US standard railroad gauge is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. Thatís an exceedingly odd number.
aviation humor ^ | 11 10 12

Posted on 11/10/2012 7:13:35 AM PST by InvisibleChurch

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used?

Because that’s the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US Railroads.

Why did the English build them like that?

Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did “they” use that gauge then?

Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing?

Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads?

(Excerpt) Read more at aviationhumor.net ...


TOPICS: Chit/Chat
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... And bureaucracies live forever
1 posted on 11/10/2012 7:13:38 AM PST by InvisibleChurch
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To: InvisibleChurch

I’ve heard this before.

If I remember correctly, this traces all the way back to the width of a Roman chariot.


2 posted on 11/10/2012 7:19:06 AM PST by Safrguns
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To: InvisibleChurch

Given enough time the EPA will come out with new regs to cut the gauge by 1/2 inch to combat climate change....

I wish that was sarcastic... But with these clowns it’ possible ....


3 posted on 11/10/2012 7:20:11 AM PST by Popman (November 7th...will be a good day for America..)
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To: Safrguns

And, it has something to do with the space required for 2 horses standing side by side with harnesses.


4 posted on 11/10/2012 7:21:24 AM PST by Safrguns
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To: Safrguns

well, sure if you read the rest of the article you’ll find that you may be right


5 posted on 11/10/2012 7:25:51 AM PST by InvisibleChurch (the mature Christian is almost impossible to offend)
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To: InvisibleChurch

If true, the why were early railroads built as narrow as 3 feet and as wide as 5?


6 posted on 11/10/2012 7:34:05 AM PST by wny
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To: wny

Because they were built in Eastern Europe and western Asia. Vtheir horses and roads were descendent from the Mongols.

In modern times they retained the gauge so that invaders from the west could not use their equipment to supply their forces.


7 posted on 11/10/2012 7:41:38 AM PST by Vermont Lt (The dude abides.)
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To: Vermont Lt

I am reminded of the story I used to tell in my consulting days.

A woman was cooking Sunday dinner. She took the Roast Beef and cut off an inch on each end before putting it in the oven.

Her daughter asked her why. The mom responded that it was how she was taught by her mother. The next Sunday, the daughter asked her grandmother why she cut the ends off from the roast. She said that her mother taught he that way.

So, they got on the phone to call the girls great grandmother to ask her why she cut the ends off the roast.

She laughed about it for a minute. Then she told them that when she was first married, they were poor. So they only had one pan, and the Sunday roast was too big for the pan, so she cut off a little bit so it would fit.

The moral of the story is that in a lot of processes it is important to understand why they are done that way—because you will find the reasons don’t exist any more.

As an aside, we also found that if our employees just followed the rules as they were originally written, things would work fine.

Kind of like the Constitution.


8 posted on 11/10/2012 7:48:54 AM PST by Vermont Lt (The dude abides.)
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To: wny

Maybe because some Roman legions used Shetland ponies to pull their chariots?


9 posted on 11/10/2012 7:56:48 AM PST by InvisibleChurch (the mature Christian is almost impossible to offend)
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To: wny
If true, the why were early railroads built as narrow as 3 feet and as wide as 5?

Simple money vs capacity. The narrow gauge railroads are much less expensive to build. Especially in mountains where the ability to make tighter curves can reduce the cost of building 3' gauge can be less than half of standard gauge. Going in the opposite direction the wider the gauge the greater the capacity and better 5the ride. If you had the cash building wider would make for a faster railroad. I K Burnel built the Great Western to 7' gauge and was running 60 mph average speed trains in the 1840s.

Why the standard. Because when Stevenson built his railroads he changed as little as possible. He didn't give the gauge a second thought. The jigs existed for building 4' 8.5" freight cars and he saw no reason to change what already worked. But he built a lot of track mileage. So when interchange of cars became a major issue people who could interchange with Stevenson's lines had a big competitive advantage. Eventually even the Great Western converted to 4-8.5 in order to be able to interchange with the other railroads.

In the US the norther states started off buying British locomotives so adopted their gauge because buying an off the shelf locomotive design was cheaper. In the South the use 5' gauge. But due to a guy named Sherman most of those lines and especially their locomotives got trashed and it was Northern engineers that rebuilt them. The changed the gauge so they could use the locomotives and cars they had brought with them from up north.

Interestingly in Japan and India the "Standard" gauge is 3' 6" and in Russia the standard gauge is 5". In the case of Japan and India it was because their railroads were laid out using the economical British narrow gauge. Russia's first railroads were laid out by engineers from the Southern US so they used the gauge they were used to.

The lesson to be learned here is people usually use what is to hand and don't give it a second though. If you are building a house are you going to design a custom screw for holding up the drywall or just use what you can pick up at Home Depot? The only time gauge on railroads in the US was given serious consideration was when the D&RGW was laid out. They needed to build it fast and the were desperately short on cash. So they built 3' gauge and scaled the equipment down to match the smaller gauge. They started over from scratch because it was the only way to get the railroad built.
10 posted on 11/10/2012 8:01:18 AM PST by GonzoGOP (There are millions of paranoid people in the world and they are all out to get me.)
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To: InvisibleChurch; Safrguns

This reason is nonsense. The Romans didn’t have war chariots - theirs was an infantry army (Republic and Principate). About the time of the Dominate (or perhaps the Third Century crisis), cavalry began to become more important.

War chariots are not particularly effective weapons, which is perhaps why they fell out of disfavor with the fall of the Persians to Alexander the Great (fourth century BC).

Let us note that chariots would be a particularly uncomfortable mode of passenger transportation. Imagine standing in a jolting chariot for more than a few minutes.


11 posted on 11/10/2012 8:10:15 AM PST by bagman
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To: SunkenCiv

ping


12 posted on 11/10/2012 8:14:17 AM PST by Hegemony Cricket (The emperor has no pedigree.)
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To: GonzoGOP

I recall that among the advantages which the North had in the American Civil War were that (a) railroads connected at central terminals in cities and (b) they all used the same gauge.

In the South, on the other hand, each railroad would have its own terminal in a city. Railroad A might have its terminal on the east side of (Stonewall) Jacksonvania while Railroad B would have its terminal on the south side of the place. Goods would have to be hauled by wagon or barge from one to the other when transferring between one railroads. It is my understanding (and I’m not an expert) that southern railroads did not have a standard gauge, so that even if the railroads were connected, the locomotives and rolling stock could not run on the other line.


13 posted on 11/10/2012 8:17:23 AM PST by bagman
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To: wny; Vermont Lt
While this article is humorous and illustrates a good point, it's hardly accurate. Horse drawn carts varied in size, though they all tracked about 5 ft wide, and there was no “standard gauge” in horse drawn railways.

The 4’ -8 1/2” “Standard Gauge” of railroad track is “standard” only in some countries, such as the U.S. Only about 2/3 of all rail line uses that spacing between rails. Gauge typically varies between 18” and 5’ -6”. Industrial lines where space was an issue, like mining and even trench systems constructed during WWI, had 12” or 18” track. Many railroads in New England and places like Colorado were 24”, 30” or 36” gauge, called “narrow gauge.” BART lines today are wider, at 5’ -6” between rails.

When George Stephenson started building rail systems in England he favored 4’ -8”, but 1/2” was added to allow play on curves. At that time 5’ -3” was “standard” in Ireland, and 7’ -1/4” was used by Stephenson's rival the Great Western railway. Stephenson won out.

14 posted on 11/10/2012 8:21:01 AM PST by SoCal Pubbie
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To: InvisibleChurch

While the article may play fast and loose with the historical facts, the author does have a point.

QWERTY keyboards are laid out using the alphabetical arrangement of typewriters which was originally selected to slow typists as much as possible to prevent the mechanical devices from jamming.


15 posted on 11/10/2012 8:52:41 AM PST by unlearner (You will never come to know that which you do not know until you first know that you do not know it.)
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To: Popman
Given enough time the EPA will come out with new regs to cut the gauge by 1/2 inch to combat climate change....

No, no matter what RAILROADS are still the most efficient way to move goods. IIRC, A gallon of Diesel can move 5 tons over 200 miles.

16 posted on 11/10/2012 9:13:37 AM PST by ExCTCitizen (More Republicans stayed home then the margin of victory of O's Win...)
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To: Safrguns

If you google “Pompeii roads stepping stones”, you will find pictures of the grooves made by chariots. Also, stepping stones were made in the road so that people wearing sandles could cross the street without having to step into sewage. I don’t remember the guage that our guide said it was.


17 posted on 11/10/2012 9:47:35 AM PST by AUsome Joy
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To: ExCTCitizen

Yep, pound for pound, rail is the most efficient. On average, it takes about 2.7 to 3.5lbs. of drawbar pull to move 1 ton of train. The average road locomotive is rated at 4400HP, and has about 120,000lb. of drawbar pull. The railroad I work for has an average 9000 ton train, at 10,800ft. length. Aside from the arcane info, does this mean that you can move a locomotive down an old Roman wagon trail?


18 posted on 11/10/2012 10:07:42 AM PST by factoryrat (We are the producers, the creators. Grow it, mine it, build it.)
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To: Safrguns

How soon we forget the width of an oxen team and the bow length compared to a wagon width when we build our oxen yokes, which was later converted to rail and steam engine pulling the same wagons.

If we recall the last time we hitched up our oxen team to plow an acre of land to grow the food we consume, it becomes intuitively obvious that the bow length shouldn’t exceed 72 inches, and is more controllable at about 50”-70”.

Assuming most of us aren’t wealthy enough after Obamacare to own 2 large oxen to justify a 70” wide yoke, and measuring a common ox neck at his withers, say about 7.5-12” wide, say 9” and separating the oxen by 4x their bow each is about 36” plus 18” (2x bow) and remembering to keep about 1-1/2” thickness separation between the bow and the oxen’s neck for his gait, we have a natural pull width of about 36” + 18” + 3” = 57” minus width of a steel wheel and bolt linkages about 56.5” or 4’-8.5” for the width of our wheeled cart so as not to impede the gait of the oxen team.

Using this width as our gauge, we conveniently are able to use our carts and wagons either using our newly acquired ObamaOxen or Obama’s penchant for train transportation.

See how much better off we will be in 4 years than we are now! /s


19 posted on 11/10/2012 10:10:13 AM PST by Cvengr (Adversity in life and death is inevitable. Thru faith in Christ, stress is optional.)
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To: InvisibleChurch
Interesting. Sounds reasonable to me. There may be pros and cons to having the horses feet and the wheels in the same rut. In dry conditions, the wheel may repack the soil after the horses or people pulling a cart side by side. Then again in wet conditions, it can form a pretty deep, thick mud soup in the ruts. It does look to make sense to me that ancients would use a center-line average of man and horse side by side to determine a width. I figured it would be the width of two soldiers walking side by side with full armour and sword.
20 posted on 11/10/2012 10:17:06 AM PST by Freeper Fanatic
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To: ExCTCitizen
No, no matter what RAILROADS are still the most efficient way to move goods.

If water is available cargo ships beat trains. Maybe robotic blimps would beat them all. Fuel efficiency comparisons never seem to factor in speed differences. If a 747 slowed down to 150 mph and a freight train sped up to that speed, the 747's fuel efficiency would blow the train away. In theory fuel efficiency for all modes of transport approaches infinity as speed approaches zero.

21 posted on 11/10/2012 10:24:43 AM PST by Reeses
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To: GonzoGOP
in Russia the standard gauge is 5".

Wow, that's really narrow! ≤}B^)

I find the 2-foot Ffestionog & Welsh Highlands roads especially charming. Seems right out of Dickens--or Harry Potter.

22 posted on 11/10/2012 10:47:49 AM PST by Erasmus (Zwischen des Teufels und des tiefen, blauen Meers)
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To: bagman
I recall that among the advantages which the North had in the American Civil War were that (a) railroads connected at central terminals in cities and (b) they all used the same gauge.

Standard gauge, sure. And I guess railroads may have shared terminals in smaller cities or towns. But in larger cities different railroads did have different passenger terminals.

I don't know about freight terminals or links between the terminals of different lines. Maybe somebody else has more information.

23 posted on 11/10/2012 10:48:18 AM PST by x
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To: x

http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/r/railwidth.htm


24 posted on 11/10/2012 10:50:35 AM PST by morphing libertarian
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To: bagman
This is true; Southern roads had a jumble of gauges. After the War, however, all the nonstandard gauge roads came to realize that they would have to re-gauge to the standard.

The cross-loading of freight and passengers between different gauge roads was turning out to be an intolerable inefficiency. All the standard-gauge roads had adopted free roaming of freight cars, meaning that contractual arrangements existed that allowed any road's car to travel anywhere in the rail network. Of course, standards were created and had to be met, and accounting practices put into place to track the cars and allocate per diem charges.

So the nonstandard gaugers knew that they had to re-gauge. They got together and prepared for an effort that had to be as rapid as possible. New rolling stock was ordered and some was converted. Tens of thousands of extra men were hired and at the ready.

In the case of the Atlantic and Western (the line of the Great Locomotive Chase), they converted their 138 miles in a 24-hour period beginning on 31 May, 1886. I believe this was the date that other southern roads did likewise.

I think that qualifies as the Unix Hacker's proverbial long weekend.

25 posted on 11/10/2012 11:18:03 AM PST by Erasmus (Zwischen des Teufels und des tiefen, blauen Meers)
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To: x
At least passengers can move themselves from train to train or even terminal to terminal.

Certain large cities were blessed with a multitude of passenger terminals (Chicago once had seven). Of course with most of the stations scattered, this was simply a curse for the passenger connecting through the city on lines with different terminals.

Chicago retains four terminals scattered around the periphery of the Loop, plus Els and subways, and you have to walk (or cab or bus) among them if the Loop is not your destination. There has been (mostly idle) talk in recent decades about a rapid-transit ring connecting the stations, but it's simply going to be too expensive, at least in this cycle of the Universe.

26 posted on 11/10/2012 11:27:22 AM PST by Erasmus (Zwischen des Teufels und des tiefen, blauen Meers)
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To: Hegemony Cricket; KevinDavis

Heh, and uh-boy. :’) Thanks Hegemony Cricket.

Horse’s Pass
Claim: The United States standard railroad gauge derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot.
Status: False.
http://www.snopes.com/history/american/gauge.asp

Was standard railroad gauge (4’81⁄2”) determined by Roman chariot ruts?
February 18, 2000
http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2538/was-standard-railroad-gauge-48-determined-by-roman-chariot-ruts


27 posted on 11/10/2012 11:43:55 AM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: Erasmus
Boston is similar with North Station and South Station, so if you want to go from New York to Maine by rail you have arrange your own transportation between the two Boston stations.

There have long been campaigns for a "North-South Rail Link" but nothing ever comes of it -- or is likely to after the major highway project "The Big Dig" wasted all that money.

New York uses Grand Central for commuter rail and (what once was) Penn Station for Amtrak. Years ago, though, some lines stopped at Hoboken across the river in New Jersey.

Back in Civil War times, though, cities were smaller and more of them may have had only one station than they had in the postbellum golden age of railroading. Now a lot of cities may be lucky if one working station survives.

28 posted on 11/10/2012 11:47:33 AM PST by x
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To try to put this into perspective, here's a bunch of examples of the same spots in Pompeii -- a street would be full of refuse, manure, litter, etc, washed down the long slope, and stepping stones were put in to make it possible to get across without wading through it. The spaces between the stones are fairly wide, in order to allow chariots to pass through. There *was* no standard measurement for a Roman chariot wheelspan, just a sort of ballpark. Chariots had somewhat high centers of gravity, and no suspension, so they had to have something of a wide stance to keep them from going over during fast turns (typically, during battle).
stepping stones in pompeii
Google

29 posted on 11/10/2012 11:49:57 AM PST by SunkenCiv (https://secure.freerepublic.com/donate/)
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To: Vermont Lt
"I am reminded of the story I used to tell in my consulting days...The moral of the story is that in a lot of processes it is important to understand why they are done that way—because you will find the reasons don’t exist any more."

When I was stationed in Korea, I ended up extending my tour twice to serve a total of three years there. In the ROK, where the single soldier tour is only one year, and command sponsored, accompanied tours are two years, that made me a vertiable institution. My tour overlapped three brigade commanders and three batallion commanders. What was funny is that I saw a whole lot of stuff changed, only to be returned to the way it was when I arrived.

Some people implemented changes simply to "leave their mark." In other areas, it became highly evident why some things, "had always been done that way," and needed to remain so.

30 posted on 11/10/2012 12:01:15 PM PST by Joe 6-pack (Que me amat, amet et canem meum)
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To: SunkenCiv

There was no danger of chariots overturning in battle because the Romans did not use chariots in battle. Chariots were not used for transportation (except in the movie adaptation of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum).


31 posted on 11/10/2012 12:38:07 PM PST by bagman
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To: InvisibleChurch

The German tanks in World War II were larger and heavier than US tanks. Eisenhower wanted bigger tanks but couldn’t get them. They would not have been able to get to the east coast docks from the converted auto factories in Detroit. Like the SRBs, the train tunnels were too narrow.


32 posted on 11/10/2012 12:48:31 PM PST by Straight Vermonter (Posting from deep behind the Maple Curtain)
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To: GonzoGOP
in Russia the standard gauge is 5

Also, in the US the ends of each rail is alternated (left, right, left, etc) and produce the familiar "clickity clack" sound. The ends of Russian rails are simultaneous and produce an endless series of thuds.

33 posted on 11/10/2012 1:02:37 PM PST by Straight Vermonter (Posting from deep behind the Maple Curtain)
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To: Vermont Lt
Stories like that are why Toyoda-san invented the 5 Whys. It's amazing how powerful that simple concept can be.
34 posted on 11/10/2012 1:07:56 PM PST by Straight Vermonter (Posting from deep behind the Maple Curtain)
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To: Straight Vermonter

My kids got so sick of the 5 whys that even now when I try to walk them through a thought process, they just ask to speak to my wife.

But, I made a ton of money using those simple ideas. It just seems that too many people cannot see past the end of their noses.


35 posted on 11/10/2012 2:59:47 PM PST by Vermont Lt (The dude abides.)
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To: wny
If true, the why were early railroads built as narrow as 3 feet and as wide as 5?

5? try 7'0¼"

I'm not sure why the ¼", but if Isambard Kingdom Brunel thought it was necessary, there was probably areason for it.

36 posted on 11/10/2012 4:42:01 PM PST by Oztrich Boy (A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend)
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To: InvisibleChurch
From the article -

"And you thought being a horse’s ass wasn’t important."

...especially when built to a liberal specification.


37 posted on 11/11/2012 2:30:14 AM PST by clearcarbon
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To: factoryrat
does this mean that you can move a locomotive down an old Roman wagon trail?

No, you got to put rail on them if you did!! However, as a RAILFAN (since the day of the New Haven going through my town with 100+ cars), I would love to see Railroad Mileage increase in the US (but without support of the Government).

My friend took over an Abandoned branch of the New Haven and he is successful with it. We shouldn't write off rail, yet!!

38 posted on 11/11/2012 9:19:57 AM PST by ExCTCitizen (More Republicans stayed home then the margin of victory of O's Win...)
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