Re: The narrow gauge question? Best gauge?

John Browning

In taking up the cudgels on behalf of the 2ft gauge, I agree with Michael's
assertions regarding the extent of 2ft 6ins gauge railways in the orbit of the
British Empire in the late 19th century.

This is not to detract from the fact that the 2ft gauge and its continental
close equivalent, 600mm gauge, represents the world's first significant
locomotive-hauled narrow gauge railway (the Festiniog) as well as becoming the
original extensively-used and extremely significant developmental narrow gauge
originating from the portable track concept. The CSR cane tramways in
Queensland at Victoria, Homebush and Goondi mills were among the first of

Interestngly, can Michael explain the choice of 2ft 6ins gauge by Metropolitan
Gas in melbourne in 1886? Can anyone say if any locomotives of this gauge were
built before this date? (I can't check readily because my library is 1000km

2ft 6ins was a gauge that did make up for some of the perceived defects of 2ft
while not straying too far from its costs and versatility. Calthrop was
certainly a major influence and advocate. But given that 3ft gauge was already
well established, tried and tested, one wonders why 2ft 6ins was preferred to

The paucity of 2ft 6ins gauge railways in the UK and the relatively low number
of preserved lines of this gauge worldwide reflects the fact that 2ft 6ins was
an "afterthought" in the then more developed countries and that the ubiquitous
2ft gauge never lost its popularity for industrial and temporary applications.

The British had to change their position and revert to 2ft gauge for the
narrow gauge military railways on the western front in the Great War. Their
insistence on 2ft 6ins in other theatres such as Salonika and Egypt caused
significant problems and wastage of resources.

It is hardly correct to imagine that the "rule" of three times the track
gauge was not broken often. The CSR Hudswell Clarke tender engines, introduced
in 1912, were 7ft wide and from that date I don't believe that you would find
many new locomotives as narrow as 6ft or 6ft 2ins in the Queensland sugar
industry. Of course, I realise that this was subsequent to the introduction of
the 2ft 6ins in Victoria.

In relation to the specifications of the NA class, without doubt they are
powerful locomotives, but there have been many very powerful 2ft gauge
locomotives built. I have no doubt that in 1898 Baldwin would quite happily
have built a 2ft gauge version of the NA practically identical to it in all
other respects.

The current use of 44 tonne ex standard gauge diesel locomotives with 11-tonne
capacity 4-wheel cane wagons in Queensland leaves no doubt that the 2ft gauge
can handle just about anything that has been put on 2ft 6ins gauge, even if a
wider gauge is more optimal. The real issue nowadays is not the gauge but the
weight of rail being used. Mind you, no one would suggest that 2ft gauge would
be chosen for sugar cane haulage in Queensland today if starting from scratch!
(Wouldn't that make the world a poorer place?)


John Browning

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