Re: Best gauge



I agree that railway over capitalisation resulted from many sources,
with gauge being one of several contributors. Railways so
revolutionised land transport in overcomming the tyranny of distance
that cost implications were swamped by the slashed travel times.
Months on the road with a bullock team were literally cut to hours on
a train. There was little competition in performing the land
transport task. We now see the railway from a vastly different
perspective. With our different view comes comparing the railway with
concerns indiscernable during the great railway years.

Light American engineering would have been cheaper to build and be
more readily abandoned when the traffic failed to develope as
proponents claimed it would. If traffic did build up, then the light
line could have been upgraded, saving further small but worth having
funds. I argue that now in our post-railway era, 3ft 6in gauge would
have left us with more kilometres of open railway.

The railway was not seriously expected to make a proffit. Some
critiques said lines should pay their way, but in NSW Government
built lines for many reasons other than making the railway business
proffitable. Lines were highly political, often to secure votes from
areas. Many were described as developmental, in the hope they might
stimulate business. Some did some didn't. As with much British
engineering, NSW railways were built to last for a long time.
Builders could not concieve of the railway being superceeded by a
better transport technology. Gaining a line was seen as a great boost
in town prestige. Freight rates were cross-subsidised to assist
primary industry. Primary industry came to depend on cheap rates.
Passenger fares were cross-subsidised to share metropolitan benefits
with country communities, who thought they were travelling the longer
distances. The railway was seen as a mass employer. Government,
railway administrators, and communities all expected the railway to
be run as a so-called 'public service'. That was not just lip
service, but a significant ideology to be found in many spheres of
traditional Australian culture.

Seriously expecting the railway to pay seems to be a modern idea,
probably based on neo-liberal economic theory. Public shareholder
value is quite different to private shareholder value, yet the latter
seems to be being applied to the former.


--- In, Frank Stamford <frank.stamford@...>


Looking at Australia as a continent isolated from every other
system, I agree that 3 ft 6 in gauge would have been completely
as a national railway gauge, and certainly infinitely better than
the mess
that we have been inflicted with.

However Hilton and others claim that the alleged difference in cost
narrow gauges and standard gauge is greatly overstated. There is
evidence for that - I think - in the way that vast mileages of very
standard-gauge-ish railways were built in the USA at very low cost,
then upgraded as traffic warranted. (They still didn't get the
gauge right,
as they were using gauges of 4 ft 6 in, 4 ft 8-1/2 in, 5 ft, 5 ft 6
in, and
6ft and others, but the point is they were building very cheap
which were not narrow-gauge).

You correctly say that NSW railways were plunged into an enormous
debt. But I do not think that was much related to the choice of
gauge, for
it was true of every state of Australia.

I agree that John Whitton grossly over-engineered the railways. The
was true of the early railways in Victoria and South Australia. But
money wasted was not in the gauge, it was in the civil engineering.
would have been better for the Colonial governments at the time to
brought in American railway engineers. That way much greater
mileages of
track could have been built quicker, and upgraded as the traffic
built up.
(The downside of that is that we would not have been left with all
magnificent buildings, bridges, and tunnel mouths from that era,
they would
have all either fallen down or been replaced, and all the early
locos would
have been 4-4-0s!).

By the way, I think I was just a little over-the-top in
saying "EVERY
deviation from it was an
economic DISASTER" .



At 11:47 PM 11/02/2007, you wrote:

Frank et. al.

Given the size of the 3ft 6in gauge network in Queensland;
South Australia; Northern Teritory; Western Australia, i wonder
whether the selection of 4ft 8 1/2in was the 'Best Gauge' for
Australian railways?

I suspect that adopting standard gauge in Australia was more a
of a powerful engineering technician in John Whitton, and later
state politicing than technical suitability for the Australian
railway task!

Adopting standard gauge, rather than a narrower gauge, contributed
plunging NSW railways into enormous capital debt. A narrower gauge
would have been cheaper to build,so be easier to pay-off. A
gauge would have been cheaper to operate, so make running the
easier make pay. Standard gauge contributed towards crippling the
railway accounts. Until recently many NSW trains were characterised
as 'little trains running on a little railway'(S. Sharp, pers dis).
Few trains paid a return on standard gauge track. Reducing the
by 1ft 2 1/2in may well have produced a railway more in natural
to the transport task that was to be performed here. In NSW
gauge was an economic disaster!

John Kerr reckoned that the narrow gauge triumphed in Queensland!

The question would make an interesting counterfactual PhD thesis.

Jim Longworth

--- Frank Stamford <frank.stamford@> wrote:

Well if you are seeking the "best" gauge for a public railway
passengers and freight, I thought that question was settled in
about 1835 -
it is 1435 mm.

No doubt about that in my mind, every deviation from it was an

But all those economic disasters produced some wonderful
material for organisations like the LRRSA to write about, and
societies around the world to preserve.

George W. Hilton's book "American Narrow Gauge Railways"
University Press, 1990) covers this subject very well In the
sections of that book he covers the world-wide development of
gauges, and goes into the economics of it very thoroughly.


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