Lengths of Rail?

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Gandy Dancer
The premise of narrow gauge was to lay light rail at reduced cost. Where standard gauge rail used to be delivered from the mill in 39 foot long lengths, what was the typical length of narrow gauge rail?

While trying to find the answer to this question, I stumbled on this site: Springfield Agricultural Railway


Active Member
One of the reasons they stopped building narrow gauge railroads by WW1 is they figured out early on, that narrow gauge railroads were not really that much cheaper to build and operate.

For example if you want to build 10 miles of railroad, it takes the same amount of rail (20 miles) regardless of whether its 39 or 33 ft pieces (another common rail length) or 30 ft lengths. And it takes the same number of spikes (with a given tie spacing). The cost of the smaller rail is offset by the reduced capacity of the trains. Not a big deal when cars had a 5-10 ton capacity, but a huge deal when capacities rose up to 25-40 tons by 1900.


Gandy Dancer
I had read that the ROW (acquisition cost and preparation) was less for narrow gauge, but I wonder if it was that much. Labour was cheap years ago, so cutting a tunnel 8 feet wide vs 10 feet wide must have been negligible.

Then again, lumber for crossties and bridge materials would be more for standard gauge.

And on the third hand, there was the expense of transloading from narrow to standard.


Gandy Dancer
Thanks for the PM, Sherrel. Karl said there were some 33' lengths used by the Frisco.

This will help with a diorama I am going to build.


Plucked Tailfeathers
Staff member
Welcome, my friend! One note that I was going to comment on about the construction of narrow gauge railroads. Even though labor was cheap - rock was hard. The hand drilling, blasting, and removal of rock means a 25% or more going from 8 to 10 feet plus curves could be tighter, cars and locos lighter and shorter, and grades steeper. In the case of logging railroads - ROW's had to be cleared of stumps. My father's first job was "digging stumps" for blasting on a logging RR.
Gandy Dancer, Dave & Sherrel: Interesting perspectives on the cost and the challenges of building a narrow gauge railroad verses a standard gauge railroad.

What about the cost different in the basically non-standard motive power vs. standard gauge? The narrow gauge locomotives, pound for pound, must have similar costs to standard locomotives to build and labor to maintain. Lots of moving parts on a shay loco.



Gandy Dancer
Good thought. I don't believe there were locomotive assembly lines back in the day, so each hand-crafted loco was sold for what it cost to manufacture, plus some profit (hopefully).

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