What if our standard gauge had been 5' 6"?

 
  SAR526 Chief Train Controller

Location: Adelaide, South Australia.
We got off topic for the grain handling Tookayerta/Pinnaroo thread, and I'd suggest that the relevant gauge related postings should be transferred to this one.

I have often wondered what would have happened if Victoria and South Australia had built to 5'6" instead of the narrower Irish gauge. It would have met Parramatta line Engineer Sheild's aims but, more importantly by far, have avoided the excuse that the Commonwealth, with typical cavalier disregard of South Australia's interests, used to avoid putting a third rail over the hills to connect with all of the branch lines off it.

With an extra three inches of difference between the third rail and the outer, making a 9½ inch gap it would have been possible to keep all of the southern lines open, particularly to Mount Gambier and Millicent, and into Victoria by three routes instead of only one as is the case now.

Flexibility of working would have been greatly enhanced. SteamRanger would have kept its Dry Creek depot and the sadly missed trips through the hills. Wheat from the Mallee would have had the option of export via Geelong or Portland as well as Adelaide and the timber plantations of the South East convenient rail transport to those ports as well.

The icing on the cake would have been that the 520s and other big SAR and VR power would have been even more stable at high speeds.

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  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
We got off topic for the grain handling Tookayerta/Pinnaroo thread, and I'd suggest that the relevant gauge related postings should be transferred to this one.

I have often wondered what would have happened if Victoria and South Australia had built to 5'6" instead of the narrower Irish gauge. It would have met Parramatta line Engineer Sheild's aims but, more importantly by far, have avoided the excuse that the Commonwealth, with typical cavalier disregard of South Australia's interests, used to avoid putting a third rail over the hills to connect with all of the branch lines off it.

With an extra three inches of difference between the third rail and the outer, making a 9½ inch gap it would have been possible to keep all of the southern lines open, particularly to Mount Gambier and Millicent, and into Victoria by three routes instead of only one as is the case now.

Flexibility of working would have been greatly enhanced. SteamRanger would have kept its Dry Creek depot and the sadly missed trips through the hills. Wheat from the Mallee would have had the option of export via Geelong or Portland as well as Adelaide and the timber plantations of the South East convenient rail transport to those ports as well.

The icing on the cake would have been that the 520s and other big SAR and VR power would have been even more stable at high speeds.
SAR526

True,
But what if the rest of the states had just gone with 3'6". At one stage this was the leading gauge in route km. Until the mid 90's before Qld starting cutting its branch lines there was nearly 10,000km of track there alone.
  SAR526 Chief Train Controller

Location: Adelaide, South Australia.
True,
But what if the rest of the states had just gone with 3'6". At one stage this was the leading gauge in route km. Until the mid 90's before Qld starting cutting its branch lines there was nearly 10,000km of track there alone.
RTT_Rules

It would have achieved the same end – a national uniform gauge. With high standards of track work, 3'6'' can give a creditable standard of performance, as the South African Railways and upgraded Queensland railways have shown. It is exactly ⅔ of broad gauge and there was plenty of three rail track in S.A. gauge break stations.

That having been said, the broader the gauge the more stable the trains that run upon it, and the lower the weight to bear per unit area of road bed.
  justapassenger Minister for Railways

It would have achieved the same end – a national uniform gauge. With high standards of track work, 3'6'' can give a creditable standard of performance, as the South African Railways and upgraded Queensland railways have shown.
"SAR526"
This is undoubtedly true when you have the benefits of both today's technology and 160 years of hindsight, but it wasn't true at the time when Cape Gauge (1067mm or 3'6" in old money) did not yet have that capability and was generally thought of as a cost-cutting measure suitable for low-speed tramways carrying light loads.
  nm39 Chief Commissioner

Location: By a road taking pictures
What if it had been 7'1/4" (Brunel Guage)?
  LancedDendrite Chief Commissioner

Location: Gheringhap Loop Autonomous Zone
What if we'd used Brunel's 7 ft 1⁄4 in gauge? Or Iberian Broad Gauge? The question is a bit moot - the problem was not the actual gauges themselves, it was pre-Federation politics. WA was not going to join unless it had a Trans-Australian Railway constructed. The state railways were extremely parochial. The Commonwealth's powers regarding railways were ill-defined and action was not taken when it was needed - the Great Depression could've been an opportunity to effect a national gauge unification, as post-WW2 and even the post Great War periods could've been. But it didn't happen.

We settled on Britain's gauge, the gauge of the largest colony but not the largest gauge by actual mileage. At the risk of sounding intensely Mexican, if NSW had actually swallowed its pride and converted to 5'3", we'd be fine - we'd have a large dual gauge network sure, but at least not the 3 gauge nightmare we have to this day. Dual gauge lines are a kludge - we needed (and still need) a national gauge-unified network to get the most productivity out of the rail networks in Australia.
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

Let the tonnes talk...Australian 3'6 moved 240-million tonnes last year, 40-million tonnes more than all of the ex-government standard gauge, while broad gauge barely moved 2-million tonnes. Including the Pilbara, Australian standard gauge moved 664-million tonnes last year. Meanwhile the fastest trains in Australia operate on 3'6...increasing the space between rails has not been a particularly successful experiment in in this country - extra stability is clearly not worth the cost of longer sleepers and wider roadbeds. At the moment double stack containers are the only thing being done with standard gauge that isn't being done with narrow gauge.
  justapassenger Minister for Railways

Let the tonnes talk...
"Sulla1"
Red herring. It's the tonne.kilometre that matters.
Meanwhile the fastest trains in Australia operate on 3'6...increasing the space between rails has not been a particularly successful experiment in in this country - extra stability is clearly not worth the cost of longer sleepers and wider roadbeds.
"Sulla1"
That's all well and good for deciding on what we should do if we rip up all the railway lines of all gauges and rebuild the network from scratch, but of no use for assessing the merit of decisions made in the past.
  Bogong Chief Commissioner

Location: Essendon Aerodrome circa 1980
... We settled on Britain's gauge, the gauge of the largest colony but not the largest gauge by actual mileage. ...
LancedDendrite

Not quite true. From circa 1853 to the depression of the 1890's Victoria was the biggest colony by population (and South Australia also had a bigger proportion of the continents population than it does today).

So right from the time railways began to be built until today's rail networks were almost complete, the Vic/SA broad gauge served more of the population than the NSW gauge did. Of course this didn't matter at the time as parochial rivalries between the colonies were far more intense than today's more relaxed competition between the states.

Anyway... *Pedant mode off.*
  M636C Minister for Railways

Suppose we had 5'6" and standard gauge as well as 3"6"...

The situation would be like Argentina, which had the first two plus metre gauge...

All three gauges run into Buenos Aires and there are three stations side by side at Retiro, broad, metre and broad respectively. Sadly the SG station is further west so you don't get the full effect.

But one thing struck me. In Argentina, only the metre gauge uses knuckle couplers. Both broad and standard gauges use buffers and screw couplers.

Freight wagons are pretty much the same on all three gauges (not very big, basically). But broad gauge passenger cars are bigger than metre gauge cars, but standard gauge passenger cars are metre gauge size.

While some locomotive classes are restricted to broad gauge, many types are used on all three.

Broad gauge is most active, because many metre gauge lines have closed. Standard gauge is limited to an area north-east of Buenos Aires.

After privatisation, somebody realised there were a lot of SG wagons not being used and fitted them with broad gauge bogies.

This is where the problems started. The buffers are usually arranged to sit above the rails. So the buffer centres on SG are 9-1/2" closer together than BG....

Even with the wide rectangular buffers used in Argentina, they don't line up well on straight track, let alone on curves. And the buffer shank castings really don't like assymetric loading. Both broad and standard gauge buffers were failing where they were attached to the wagon.

So don't complain too much, it could always be worse... like Argentina....

M636C
  SAR526 Chief Train Controller

Location: Adelaide, South Australia.
....... extra stability is clearly not worth the cost of longer sleepers and wider roadbeds. At the moment double stack containers are the only thing being done with standard gauge that isn't being done with narrow gauge.
Sulla1

You have destroyed your own argument in your second sentence.

Of course stability is important. Your high speed train to Rockhampton had a spectacular spill and if I'm not much mistaken the recent Swiss derailment was on metre gauge track.

Both metre gauge and 3'6'' can do a creditable job with smaller and narrower rolling stack on well laid track, and the QR has very greatly improved on the abysmal standards (e.g. square instead of the tapered self-centering wheel profiles used everywhere else in Australia) that obtained post war, but I'd be very chary of raising the centre of gravity too far on them.

The wider the gauge the greater the degree to which the rolling stock can tilt before the CofG begins to fall outside the rail, with an inevitable tip over. Double stacking is O.K. on 4'8½ gauge, but would have been even more stable on a broader gauge. I wouldn't like to stand on the outside of a narrow gauge curve as a double stacked freight passed by.

Narrow gauge only began because of cash strapped governments having to build very many mileages of railways at approximately 20 mile intervals in the era of horse drawn traffic. In South Australia, the coastline lent itself to many regional ports which the initial narrow gauge lines (some of them horse-drawn) served, as sea transport was and is the cheapest means of moving bulk cargoes like wheat. None of them was ever meant to connect to Adelaide.

It's simple. A good big one can always beat a good little one.
  SAR526 Chief Train Controller

Location: Adelaide, South Australia.
Not quite true. From circa 1853 to the depression of the 1890's Victoria was the biggest colony by population (and South Australia also had a bigger proportion of the continents population than it does today).
Bogong

Off topic, but I cannot resist pointing out that Adelaide was for long Australia's third city.

Until well after the 1939-45 war it was a 'head office' (Elders, Adelaide Steamship etc.) and heavy manufacturing city. This still shows in its superior built form, both government and private. It was fully sewered by 1900. Brisbane still had night carts in the central city until at least 1950. Perth was not much more than half the size of Adelaide and its de facto institution of higher learning was the University of Adelaide.

Both cities have now passed Adelaide in population, with many more filing cabinets in the sky and their progress has been very pleasing. They are both now fine cities, but their progress has been underpinned by mining, while Adelaide had its large manufacturing base taken over and closed down by interstate and overseas consortia. One car factory for a city of Adelaide's size was an impressive achievement, but we had two...and the British Tube Mills...and Phillips electronics...and most of the whitegoods manufacturing...and.........!

To keep this rail related – most of our large factories had rail to the door.
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

You have destroyed your own argument in your second sentence.

Of course stability is important. Your high speed train to Rockhampton had a spectacular spill and if I'm not much mistaken the recent Swiss derailment was on metre gauge track.

Both metre gauge and 3'6'' can do a creditable job with smaller and narrower rolling stack on well laid track, and the QR has very greatly improved on the abysmal standards (e.g. square instead of the tapered self-centering wheel profiles used everywhere else in Australia) that obtained post war, but I'd be very chary of raising the centre of gravity too far on them.

The wider the gauge the greater the degree to which the rolling stock can tilt before the CofG begins to fall outside the rail, with an inevitable tip over. Double stacking is O.K. on 4'8½ gauge, but would have been even more stable on a broader gauge. I wouldn't like to stand on the outside of a narrow gauge curve as a double stacked freight passed by.

Narrow gauge only began because of cash strapped governments having to build very many mileages of railways at approximately 20 mile intervals in the era of horse drawn traffic. In South Australia, the coastline lent itself to many regional ports which the initial narrow gauge lines (some of them horse-drawn) served, as sea transport was and is the cheapest means of moving bulk cargoes like wheat. None of them was ever meant to connect to Adelaide.

It's simple. A good big one can always beat a good little one.
"SAR526"


Do you really think a 5'6 gauge train could negotiate a 60km/ h curve at 100km/h? Cherry picking one spectacular accident against decades of proven operations hardly shoots down my argument. The facts on the ground are that narrow gauge continues to grow and flourish in Australia while broad gauge shrinks into oblivion...it's simple, the advantages of broad gauge have not been realised in the current environment.
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

Red herring. It's the tonne.kilometre that matters.
That's all well and good for deciding on what we should do if we rip up all the railway lines of all gauges and rebuild the network from scratch, but of no use for assessing the merit of decisions made in the past.
"justapassenger"


Geez, sorry, let the tonne kilometres talk...narrow gauge accounted for 122.5 billion tonne kilometres last year, that's 51% of all rail freight tonne kilometres moved in Australia...better?
  SAR526 Chief Train Controller

Location: Adelaide, South Australia.
Do you really think a 5'6 gauge train could negotiate a 60km/ h curve at 100km/h? Cherry picking one spectacular accident against decades of proven operations hardly shoots down my argument. The facts on the ground are that narrow gauge continues to grow and flourish in Australia while broad gauge shrinks into oblivion...the advantages of broad gauge have not been realised in the current environment.
Sulla1

Have you ridden a Talgo in Spain?

What were the fastest 100mph trains in England back in the late 1800s?

Great Western trains were on 7'01/4". By the way Isambard Kingdom Brunel was the consultant engineer for the British Empire's first government built railway – from Adelaide to Port Adelaide.

Even the impressively big South African trains on heavy 3'6" track are not noteworthy for their speed.

I still remember an interminable trip from Roma Street to Rockhampton on a very hot day, but I did like your dinky little Garratts. They were nearly as good as our 400 class on the narrow gauge Broken Hill line.

On the other hand, back in the forties, our 5'3" 520 class (which were far larger than anything in Queensland) and the smaller 620s over some of the Port Pirie route were scheduled at 70mph (112km per hour) pulling the cafeteria car equipped expresses, and our even larger 600s with 6'6" drivers which pulled 500 ton Melbourne expresses were well capable of those speeds, though restricted to 60mph by the then light tracks. I have unofficially timed my logo engine, SAR526 'Duchess of Gloucester', at over 80 mph on a fan run with a long train of heavy Victorian cars. And talking of Victorian broad gauge, ask them what their S class did every day pulling the Sydney expresses.

The decline of broad gauge has nothing to do with its width, but everything to do with the wrong decision not to convert 21 miles of deceitfully laid private track work near Sydney and the more recent cynical narrowing of part of our uniform broad gauge VR and SAR systems to facilitate New South Wales and Queensland traffic over our territory to Western Australia with very little benefit to either of us.

I'll say it again: A good big one will always b...a....g....l...one!
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

Have you ridden a Talgo in Spain?

What were the fastest 100mph trains in England back in the late 1800s?

Great Western trains were on 7'01/4". By the way Isambard Kingdom Brunel was the consultant engineer for the British Empire's first government built railway – from Adelaide to Port Adelaide.

Even the impressively big South African trains on heavy 3'6" track are not noteworthy for their speed.

I still remember an interminable trip from Roma Street to Rockhampton on a very hot day, but I did like your dinky little Garratts. They were nearly as good as our 400 class on the narrow gauge Broken Hill line.

On the other hand, back in the forties, our 5'3" 520 class (which were far larger than anything in Queensland) and the smaller 620s over some of the Port Pirie route were scheduled at 70mph (112km per hour) pulling the cafeteria car equipped expresses, and our even larger 600s with 6'6" drivers which pulled 500 ton Melbourne expresses were well capable of those speeds, though restricted to 60mph by the then light tracks. I have unofficially timed my logo engine, SAR526 'Duchess of Gloucester', at over 80 mph on a fan run with a long train of heavy Victorian cars. And talking of Victorian broad gauge, ask them what their S class did every day pulling the Sydney expresses.

The decline of broad gauge has nothing to do with its width, but everything to do with the wrong decision not to convert 21 miles of deceitfully laid private track work near Sydney and the more recent cynical narrowing of part of our uniform broad gauge VR and SAR systems to facilitate New South Wales and Queensland traffic over our territory to Western Australia with very little benefit to either of us.

I'll say it again: A good big one will always b...a....g....l...one!
"SAR526"


And the Talgo suffered a catastrophic derailment last year entering an 80km/h curve at 160km/h...they're also restricted to 220km/h on 5ft 6, but allowed 250km/h on standard gauge. I completely understand what you're saying about broad gauge advantages, but the rail industry had established by the 1860s that standard gauge could achieve everything the industry needed a rail gauge to do. The fastest, the heaviest and most powerful steam locomotives ever built have all been on standard gauge. The fastest conventional trains in the world?  Still standard gauge. In the last thirty years the records for the longest and heaviest trains in the world have been held by standard gauge and narrow gauge (South Africa).

In the US, thousands of miles of 6ft, 5ft 3, 5ft 1, 5ft and 4ft 9 gauge were standardised in the two decades after the American Civil War, the same happened to Brunnel's gauge. Much of the track in the former Confederate states was 5ft gauge, while the Erie Railroad was built to 6ft gauge from New Jersey to Chicago. And while I'm happy to recognise the dinky nature of Queensland's 3ft 6 prior to 1970, the narrow gauge South African 25 and 25NC, GL classes and East African 59 class were as heavy or more powerful than any broad gauge or standard gauge locomotive operated in the Southern Hemisphere. The South African 16E pacifics with 6ft driving wheels were larger than most 4-6-2s used in Britian and Europe, with regular 70mph operations.

Broad gauge may be more stable, but the industry, particularly in Britain and North America - where gauge conversions were funded privately - saw wider rails as a problem, not a solution. Yes, US 3ft gauge went the same way too. The advantages of standardisation aside, the rail industry has clearly decided the cost of longer sleepers and the wider roadbed needed for broad gauge are just not necessary to achieve freight efficiency or higher passenger train speeds.
  SAR526 Chief Train Controller

Location: Adelaide, South Australia.
And the Talgo suffered a catastrophic derailment last year entering an 80km/h curve at 160km/h...they're also restricted to 220km/h on 5ft 6, but allowed 250km/h on standard gauge.

Speed restrictions are there for a reason, and the rail gauge isn't relevant. Believe it or not I have closely followed rail developments for the last 70 years. I have video of that Talgo derailment. I suggest that your fast trains in Queensland (and I envy your fortune in having them) would derail at a lot less than twice the mandated velocity.

I completely understand what you're saying about broad gauge advantages, but the rail industry had established by the 1860s that standard gauge could achieve everything the industry needed a rail gauge to do. The fastest, the heaviest and most powerful steam locomotives ever built have all been on standard gauge. The fastest conventional trains in the world? Still standard gauge.

That's not much wonder since track in the USA was almost all 4'8½" long before they were built. However you have forgotten the Russian 5' gauge monsters. That's a little wider.

In the last thirty years the records for the longest and heaviest trains in the world have been held by standard gauge and narrow
gauge (South Africa).

I note that you didn't mention speed here. Years ago the BHP narrow gauge tramway from Iron Knob to Whyalla carried Australia's heaviest trains but, having lived there, I can assure you that they were not very fast. The present heaviest trains on the strongly constructed W.A. iron ore lines run at moderate speeds.

In the US, thousands of miles of 6ft, 5ft 3, 5ft 1, 5ft and 4ft 9 gauge were standardised in the two decades after the American Civil War, the same happened to Brunnel's gauge. Much of the track in the former Confederate states was 5ft gauge, while the Erie Railroad was built to 6ft gauge from New Jersey to Chicago. And while I'm happy to recognise the dinky nature of Queensland's 3ft 6 prior to 1970, the narrow gauge South African 25 and 25NC, GL classes and East African 59 class were as heavy or more powerful than any broad gauge or standard gauge locomotive operated in the Southern Hemisphere.

I have an extensive library (including a copy of 'Triumph of the Narrow Gauge' bought at the South Brisbane Railway Station) and tertiary qualifications in History. Brunel's gauge was acknowledged to be superior, but the economics in conversion and length of trackage too strongly favoured Stephenson's arbitrary choice of gauge for the minuscule engines and rolling stock that he built. The South Australian Railways 500B class were bigger and had 6,000 lbs more tractive effort than the African 25s.

The South African 16E pacifics with 6ft driving wheels were larger than most 4-6-2s used in Britian and Europe, with regular 70mph operations.

Six very impressive engines indeed, with a remarkable similarity in appearance to our SAR's ten 600 class Pacifics which were larger and had 4,020 lbs more tractive effort.

Broad gauge may be more stable, but the industry, particularly in Britain and North America - where gauge conversions were funded privately - saw wider rails as a problem, not a solution. Yes, US 3ft gauge went the same way too. The advantages of standardisation aside, the rail industry has clearly decided the cost of longer sleepers and the wider roadbed needed for broad gauge are just not necessary to achieve freight efficiency or higher passenger train speeds.

I don't disagree. It is obviously much cheaper to narrow broad gauge track. What I am asserting is that it shouldn't have been done at the cost of destroying a more than century old extensive two state single gauge region, and that those states which built to narrow gauge did so for economic reasons at the time which in the long run proved to be a costly mistake. The greatest mistake of all was NSW's failure to heed the wise advice of their very competent John Whitton and broaden just 21 miles of line between Sydney and Parramatta. Victoria and South Australia, despite sticking to the agreement and having already laid broad gauge track, have paid the bitter price.
Sulla1

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