Re: Narrow gauge - in 1905

John Stutz


All of your examples are also somewhat special cases. 

The Great Falls and Canada was primarily the southern half of a coal carrier, connecting the then best best known regional coal district, at Lethbridge, with a large scale coal user at Great Falls, and indirectly with the booming western Montana mining districts.  Yet they only lasted 13 years before gauge conversion.

The Newfoundland Railway was a government line, and for most of its lifetime a millstone around the government's neck, regardless of which party was in power and being attacked for mismanagement.  Perusing the fairly extensive local histories, its construction was initially as much a public jobs program as essential transportation.  Completed,  it became an essential element of interior transportation, up until the completion of Hy 1 across the island.  One that had to be kept running regardless of the costs.  Those costs were a significant factor in several government crisis, one of which came close to ending Newfoundland's status as a self-governing colony.  Which is why the Newfoundland government made the CN takeover an absolute requirement for joining the Canadian Confederation in 1949.  And why CN was allowed to pull the plug, once there was a viable alternative in place.

The White Pass was not, for long, your average lightly built NG railroad.  It was built to SG clearances, 16'x22', and laid out with 16 degree curves (24 degree "temporaries"), so the design was generally up to contemporary SG mountain road standards in all but gauge.  While not generally known, the WP&Y was also heavily rebuilt during the first 5 years or so after it was opened.  See president Graves' "On the White Pass Payroll", published circa 1907 and since reprinted.  The early new built White Pass engines were large for their time, all but one of them outside framed, and WP&Y 68 & 69 rated C-30 in the D&RGW's 1923 classification scheme. The steel arch over Switchback Gulch was a major bridge by any railroad's standards.  Most of the initially numerous timber trestles were solidly filled in, many behind dry rubble stone retaining walls, medium heights behind concrete walls, and 6 tall ones replaced by steel trestles.  An RfP for a steel viaduct at Glacier had been prepared, but was not acted upon.  This heavy investment ceased shortly after president Graves' early death, but the White Pass was able to coast on it, to a considerable degree, for the next thirty years, avoiding much of the high ongoing expenses inherent in the usual light NG construction.  But between the railroad and river divisions, they also had an effective monopoly on transportation into the Yukon, which by the late 1930s was financing additional improvements.  It is no accident that the railroad folded shortly after the Klondike highway opened, although the actual trigger was the closing of their major ore customer.


On June 17, 2021 2:30 PM Nigel Phillips <nigelp18000@...> wrote:


Not so special for a one commodity carrier. The Great Falls and Canada Railway was built to transport coal from small mines in Lethbridge AB, to the Great Falls smelters in MT, in  1890. 3 foot gauge, converted to standard gauge by the Great Northern in 1903. The Canadian section around Lethbridge  continued as mixed narrow gauge/standard gauge  for a few years until completely taken over by CP.

Again, not so special for longevity. The Newfoundland Railway was narrow gauge from its inception in 1897 until it's closure in 1988 under CN ownership. 3.5 feet gauge. Freight and passenger for most of its life, 906 miles in total. The rot really set in when Newfoundland joined Canada in 1949.

The White Pass and Yukon was formed from 3 narrow gauge railways in 1898, 3 foot gauge. Started as a one commodity railway (gold), later freight and passenger. Still running as a scenic railway although much shorter.

The article referred to was spot on, most narrow gauge lines were quickly converted to standard gauge if successful. If not they were abandoned. 


On Thursday, June 17, 2021, John Stutz < john.stutz@...> wrote:

EBT was clearly a special case, being from circa 1905 on ,the transportation arm of a coal company operating in a district where the rolling coal seam topography precluded any large mines.  That company survived by using the EBT to combine the output of multiple small mines, and move the raw coal to a single large coal cleaning plant, located alongside the standard gauge that could take it on to actual markets.

John Stutz 
On June 16, 2021 12:43 PM Russ Norris < rbnorrisjr@...> wrote:

Really interesting, John, that the author has absolutely nothing good to say about "the narrow gage myth".  I model the East Broad Top, which ran successfully from 1875 until 1956, and for much of its lifetime showed a profit for the shareholders.  I'm sure you could think of other narrow gauge railroads for which the same could be said.  And this was written at a time when the country was covered with narrow gauge railroads.  Amazing.

Russ Norris

On Wed, Jun 16, 2021 at 3:29 PM John Stutz < john.stutz@...> wrote:
I have recently been combing the technical press for articles on tunnel construction, and ran across a 1905 evaluation of the cost savings to be expected, in constructing and operating light railways on a narrow gauge.

This is by the editor of Engineering News, probably the leading engineering publication in North America at that time.  It begins on the lower left of the following page:

John Stutz

Russ Norris, MMR
Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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