Re: Narrow gauge - in 1905

Dave Eggleston


Yes, there were lines that provided some, if not ongoing, profits but I doubt weren't talking about a large number of lines. I don't follow the EBT but other lines I do follow were completely dependent on extractive industries and mostly built inexpensively to keep costs at bay. Both of these were quickly found to be Achilles' Heels. Most lines tied to extractive businesses weren't as lucky as the EBT

Yes, there were narrow gauge lines across the country in 1905 but the number had been rapidly decreasing in the prior decade. The lines remaining increasingly were in areas that offered no profit interest to larger companies for acquisition or standard gauging and many (not all) were local shoe-string operations that within a decade would succumb to transport and economic realities--not able to cheaply transfer goods, local economies too small to justify upgrades, the inroads of truck transport, etc. 

Even though many remaining narrow gauge lines would see good years for another 15 years or so, I think that the editor's criticism comes with solid evidence around the realities of traffic breaking gauge and the increasing costs (especially labor) around that, even in 1905. The narrow gauge had been around for 35 years by that time and the original arguments weren't holding as they had in 1870. While it got tracks to places that couldn't afford standard gauge, narrow gauge was already in the late 1870s seen as a bottleneck unless traffic was fairly captive or the physical realities offered no other choice. Cheaply built lines succumbed to their light engineering in many cases; lines built into low-income areas didn't generate enough to overcome their financing, operational and tax burdens. Lines like the Santa Cruz & Felton were wildly successful in their early years but when bought out by the 3' South Pacific Coast in 1879, the curvature and grades were immediately quite expensively reworked to near standard gauge standards to allow for operation at a profitable mainline level. The D&RG began standard gauging its narrow gauges around 1880 to be more profitable and competitive, the UP began to standard gauge several of its narrow gauge subsidiaries by the late 1880s, the SP did the same as early as 1879. The Tonopah boom of 1905 did finally drive up lots of traffic for the narrow gauge Carson & Colorado and SP and for about a year the connecting narrow gauge Tonopah Railroad tried to keep up with the traffic--it and the Carson & Colorado were quickly standard gauged in light of reality. Big narrow gauge systems in Oregon, Kansas, Utah and Ohio were all converted or abandoned in the 1890s in light of the realities of traffic handling and profitability. The SPng outlived the EBT, thanks to the SP's ownership and efficiency focus. But it was a part of a much larger line that was dramatically cut back to only the sections that paid and that the SP deemed not worth cutting into the slim profits by standard gauging.

I am a fan of narrow gauge, pretty much have no interest in standard gauge lines, researching western lines for 40 years, just for the record. 

Dave Eggleston

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