Have you actually ridden a narrow Gauge train?

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When the first railroads were built in Britain, they simply took carts that had been made to the usual dimensions, and made them run on rails. And I've read that somewhere in Greece or Italy there are ancient roads paved with stone blocks, and the stone has wear patterns from wheels spaced the same as those carts that first ran on rails. So it seems to be the best size to make a cart. Would a different gauge be better for railroads? Maybe, but 4' 8.5" works well enough.


Active Member
Many of the southern US railroads prior to the Civil War were built to 5' 0" gauge. The northern railroads were 4' 8.5" and when the US military roads took over they regauged the track so it could be used by their equipment. Sherman's destruction of the railroads in Georgia with rails heated and wrapped around trees was one way to get regauging started.

Railroads in Spain and Russia were also built to 5 foot gauge. Ireland was built to 5' 3" and India and San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (oxymoron) were built to 5' 6". China was rebuilt by the Communists to 4' 8.5 making a change of gauge at the Russian border necessary by changing the trucks. The new Chinese sponsored Silk Road through the "stans", Iran and Turkey is being built to 4' 8.5 to provide direct connections into the European railroads. Spain is rebuilding to standard gauge.

Gauge is not an absolute thing. George Stephenson and the Stockton and Darlington Railway of the 1820's started what is now called Standard Gauge. It caught on and as his company was the leading locomotive manufacturer in the very early days of railroading became the predominant gauge hence "Standard Gauge" in the UK. As prior to 1850 the UK was considered the leading location of technology, it was adopted throughout Europe and the northern part of the US. The competing Great Western 7' .25 " broad gauge sponsored by Isambard Kingdom Brunel lasted until 1892.

Ken Adams
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Having a standard gauge is economically more important than what the gauge is. For long distance freight anyway. That's why a few countries are still running 3' gauge, meter gauge, Indian gauge, etc. For passengers they can simply detrain and walk across the platform onto a different gauge train. Sometimes the cost to upgrade to standard gauge is much greater than the traffic need.

In ancient times if you're cart was a different width than the ruts you would have a insanely rough ride. If you didn't break an wheel, risking life and cargo. Historically it's easier to not reinvent the wheel.

Standard gauge is also near the median size of the common gauges. I think the English settled on the size because it was big enough to fit an early boiler inside the dimensions and small enough that tunnels wouldn't cost a large fortune.

The early locomotive builders did try several other gauges.

Most broad gauge railroads came about because of the simplest way to increase steam power was to increase the size of the locomotive. This also exponentially increased the cost of bridges, tunnels and other situational infrastructure.
Hypothetically this also eventually increases profits because each car holds 1-1/2 times the cargo and is ran with the same number of crew members as a standard gauge train.

The lack of efficiency constricted the builders from going much narrower than standard gauge at the time.

Forty years past before the technology produced efficient boilers and narrow gauge became viable.

Then the 1870's narrow gauge boom happened.

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Gandy Dancer
Back on track, er, the original topic: I've ridden the D&S and the Cumbres, preferring the latter. We took our trip during a shower, and the train stalled quite a few times. Wonderful sounds as the rapid chuffs echoed through the valleys.
I thought only model railroaders hooked up too many cars behind the locomotive. Guess that's prototypical too.

Captain of Industry
President of the Lancaster Central RR
My wife bought me a ride and vacation on the Durango Silverton steam train for our 25th. That was our first time ever on a steam train and only our second time on a train for both of us. The first time was riding the Am-Track from Selby Montana to Whitefish through glacier park. Both were great fun. The Durango ride got me started thinking about model trains. Looking forward learning another hobby.


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