Re: The narrow gauge question? Best gauge?

Michael J

--- In, ceo8@... wrote:

In taking up the cudgels on behalf of the 2ft gauge, I agree with
assertions regarding the extent of 2ft 6ins gauge railways in the
orbit of the
British Empire in the late 19th century.
Well taken up. By the way ca we assume for the sake of discussion we
are talking about 2ft/600mm and 2ft6in/750/760mm.

This is not to detract from the fact that the 2ft gauge and its
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
Granted. Of course the Ffestiniog was constructed well before the
introduction of steam. And there is no denying that 2ft gauge is the
queen of industrial railway gauges, and of course the most practical
for portable track. But there were plenty of 2ft6in gauge industrial
railways, including cane trams in the Caribeen, southern USA, Taiwan,
off the top of my head.

Interestngly, can Michael explain the choice of 2ft 6ins gauge by
Gas in melbourne in 1886?
No, except to say that 2ft6in was a common gauge in British gasworks.
Remember there was also the Long Tunnel mine line at Walhalla, which
dates from 1866, although I'm not sure what date locos were introduced.

Can anyone say if any locomotives of this gauge were
built before this date? (I can't check readily because my library is
Yes, plenty.

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
In the early days of narrow gauge I think it was pretty well the
choice of the promoter and engineer as to choice the gauge. Later
engineers such as Calthrop tried to introduce science, looking at
things like capacity against construction costs. Calthrop was quite
dismissive of 3ft gauge, especially as it was practiced in Ireland.

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
2ft gauge never lost its popularity for industrial and temporary
I'd think the Germans and Austrians prior to WW1 would have objected
to being regarded as less developed. The term might be applied to the
Russians, but all three combined built thousands of miles of 750/760mm
gauge railways, quite a number of which are preserved. As far as
Britian goes, the following is a summary of mainland public NG
railways by gauge, then number, then number preserved:

2' 8 4
2'3" 4 1
2'4.5" 1 0
2'6" 3 1
2'8.5" 1 1
3' 5 0
3'6" 5 0

There may be some errors, and of course does not include industrial
lines, or recent tourist constructions. But it does show a fair
variety of gauges used, not only 2' (and of course some of the 2'
lines are actually 1'11.5")

The British had to change their position and revert to 2ft gauge for
narrow gauge military railways on the western front in the Great War.
Actually no. The British as junior partners in the land war were
obliged to adopt the French 600mm (not 2ft) gauge for the trench
railways. Interestingly there was only one 750mm gauge railway in
France, there was a law against gauges other than initially metre, and
later 600mm.

insistence on 2ft 6ins in other theatres such as Salonika and Egypt
significant problems and wastage of resources.
I know nothing about Salonika. In Egypt there was already an extensive
(over 1000 km) 750mm gauge system, the Delta Light Railways,as well as
at least three inderpendant lines of that gauge. In Iraq things worked
just as they were meant to - the British simply picked up an entire
2ft6in gauge railway from India and laid it in the Basra region to
support their invasion.

It is hardly correct to imagine that the "rule" of three times the
gauge was not broken often. The CSR Hudswell Clarke tender engines,
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
industry. Of course, I realise that this was subsequent to the
introduction of
the 2ft 6ins in Victoria.
Sorry my mistake, the rule applies not to locos but rolling stock. I
think that locos being symetrical and with the weight centred, there
was less of a problem with stability. I think it also fair to say that
we are talking about public railways - what is done past the factory
gate might be a different matter.

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
have built a 2ft gauge version of the NA practically identical to it
in all
other respects.
My point related to the width, and in the steam era there definately
seemed to be a maximum width - for 2ft6in gauge that was 8'3" or there
abouts. I did measure the largest 2ft gauge loco I have plans for, a
South African NG15 class, and it's width is 7'3".

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?)
True enough. However my point was and remains that to a railway
engineer in 1900 the choice of 2ft6in as a track gauge would have
seemed entirely reasonable and logical. It just seems to me that often
we wipe it off as something odd today.



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