Thesis: The myth of the Standard Gauge

 
  Johnmc Moderator

Location: Cloncurry, Queensland
While doing a quick google for information about another thread, I came upon the following thesis:

"The myth of the Standard Gauge: Rail gauge choice in Australia, 1850-1901".

Link

Naturally - as a born-and-bred Cane Toad - the use of "Standard Gauge" and "Myth" *immediately* got my attention. Smile

I will admit that I have barely read the abstract and the introduction - it is rather chewy, the pdf clocks in at 268 pages - but I've downloaded it for further study.  I thought that this may be of interest to some here, so I've given you the link.

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  Valvegear Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Richmond Vic
One wonders what's mythical about standard gauge.
  MarkWaller2 Junior Train Controller

Location: Cambridge, England
I thought that this may be of interest to some here, so I've given you the link.
"Johnmc"

Many thanks for posting this: I think it should be essential reading for anyone with a serious interest in the history of Australia's railways and how they came to have their multiplicity of gauges. I also think it could easily justify publication as a conventional work of serious history.

It took me 5-6 hours to read through. It's an academic thesis, so it's necessarily detailed. However, it seems quite accessible to the layman - there's no academic jargon, or technical knowledge required. There's a lot of very interesting background material, including an assessment of how 4' 8.5" arose in the first place, and an international context in the shape of an overview of gauge developments in Brazil, India and the US contemporary with those in Australia. It also lays to rest several, apparently very durable, myths about the responsibility for gauge selection in New South Wales and Victoria. If you don't want to wade through the detail, skip to chapters 6 and 7. Also, the last 65 pages are a very full listing of sources and bibliography, which can also be skipped without loss.

One wonders what's mythical about standard gauge.
"Valvegear"

Nothing - the myth addressed is that of the existence of the standard gauge. As Australia has amply demonstrated, there's no such thing!
  tjejojyj Station Master

Location: Sydney
I know it's bumping an old post but just wanted to add my two-cents recommending this work.
It points out that there was never what could be regarded as rational investigation and evaluation of the appropriate gauge and the much of the technical discussion at the time focussed on "train/locomotive" operational efficiency in a narrow sense rather than railway operations and economics in a broad sense. I wasn't aware how conscious some were that a mistake was being made by not standardising.
  br30453 Chief Train Controller

I know it's bumping an old post but just wanted to add my two-cents recommending this work.
It points out that there was never what could be regarded as rational investigation and evaluation of the appropriate gauge and the much of the technical discussion at the time focussed on "train/locomotive" operational efficiency in a narrow sense rather than railway operations and economics in a broad sense. I wasn't aware how conscious some were that a mistake was being made by not standardising.
tjejojyj
What most people do not realise is that Standard Gauge railways make up 58% of the world railway route km.
And vastly more track mileage.

Others:
1525mm (5 foot) : 14%
1675mm (5ft 6in) : 10%
1067mm (3ft 6in) : 9%
1000mm (metre) : 7%
1600mm (5ft 3") : 1.2%
  tjejojyj Station Master

Location: Sydney
A shorter article summarising the key points is available at

"Australia's mixed gauge railway system: a reassessment of its origins.." The Free Library. 2010 Royal Australian Historical Society 06 Jan. 2015 [font=Arial][color=#666666]http://www.thefreelibrary.com/Australia's+mixed+gauge+railway+system%3a+a+reassessment+of+its+origins.-a0228508618[/color][/font]
  tjejojyj Station Master

Location: Sydney
What most people do not realise is that Standard Gauge railways make up 58% of the world railway route km.
And vastly more track mileage.

Others:
1525mm (5 foot) : 14%
1675mm (5ft 6in) : 10%
1067mm (3ft 6in) : 9%
1000mm (metre) : 7%
1600mm (5ft 3") : 1.2%
br30453


I think the main thing here is not so much the preponderance at present of this or that gauge since this is what needs to be explained.  Why was the logic of standardisation based on the example of Britain not followed?

Mills argues that in the gauge wars in Australia the "track gauge" became an oversimplification (or to be more precise a false proxy) for the real capital and operational costs of railways as a whole.  There was no proper understand of railway economics nor the inclination to make reasonable inquiries.

He quotes from an 1872 minority report of the Queensland Royal Commission as follows:
QUOTE
"The chief causes of difference of cost in railways are really as follows:
 1st Heavy works to obtain superior gradients to enable the same power to take greater loads.
 2nd Heavy works to obtain curves of large radius for high speeds.
 3rd  Heavy rails, fastenings and sleepers.
 4th Greater dimensions of formation, ballast, drainage etc.
 5th Greater strenths of bridges for greater weight and speed.
 6th Works for accommodating large traffic at stations.
These and similar works, and not gauge, cause the vast differences of cost .... "
END QUOTE  [emphasis added] (p.180 "The myth of Standard Gauge")

He also sums up two key experiences (not doubt these have been well covered elsewhere in this forum):
 1. The British parliament in August 1846 voted for "standardise" the gauges as 1435mm in England, Scotland and Wales AND 1600mm in Ireland primarily because of the predominance of the built railways in the respective regions.
QUOTE:  "The mandating of those gauges followed recommendations delivered by the Gauge Royal Commission.  This commission probed the relative technical and economic advantages/disadvantages of the 4ft. 81/2in. and 7ft. 0in. gauges.  However, its findings on these matters played no part in its recommendation.  Its recommendation to adopt 4ft. 81/2in. as the British standard was justified purely in terms of minimisation of changeover costs - it argued that a change from 7ft. 0in. to 4ft. 81/2in. would inconvenenience fewer people than the reverse change.  This recommendation, and its subsequent adoption by Parliament, was thus motivated by political rather than considerations of railway system economies."    
END QUOTE   [emphasis added] (pp.48-49)
(I would dispute that this is purely a political decision since to minimise adding to the "sunk costs" of the extant railways is surely an economic consideration.  The same imperative prevents conversions today.)

 2. the economic integration of the North and South in the United States following the civil war compelled the conversion of 13,000 miles of track in the South from 5' to 4'9" over two days in 1886 (with gradual conversion by about 1900 to 4' 8.1/2"). (p.83) The likewise integration of the Australian "colonies" has been compelling the same conversion for the past 150 years but the initial decisions were made on shortsighted decisions by each about what was best for "their colony".  

Despite the lead from Britain and warnings about the problems of break-of-gauge, railways around the world "experimented" with different gauges in overlapping systems.  Note that the British act was six and a half years before Victorian Lieutenant Governor Latrobe decided on 5'3" against the "recommendation" to follow NSW's change back to 4' 8.1/2".  Also worth noting that whereas the British held a Royal Commission BEFORE passing their Act of Parliament the Victorian colony held one AFTER Latrobe's decision had been made.  (It is clear from Mills thesis that the "blame the engineers"/Shields vs. Wallace hypothesis is untenable.)

IMHO the world could have easily been dominated by 5' or 5'3" and Australia could have been dominated by 3'6" (a la South Africa).  The key advantage in either is having the same gauge.
  awsgc24 Minister for Railways

Location: Sydney


[Mills] quotes from an 1872 minority report of the Queensland Royal Commission as follows:
QUOTE
"The chief causes of difference of cost in railways are really as follows:
 1st Heavy works to obtain superior gradients to enable the same power to take greater loads.
 2nd Heavy works to obtain curves of large radius for high speeds.
 3rd  Heavy rails, fastenings and sleepers.
 4th Greater dimensions of formation, ballast, drainage etc.
 5th Greater strengths of bridges for greater weight and speed.
 6th Works for accommodating large traffic at stations.
These and similar works, and not gauge, cause the vast differences of cost .... "
END QUOTE  [emphasis added] (p.180 "The myth of Standard Gauge")

"tjejojyj"


One might add that
* really sharp curves need a centre buffer-coupler rather that two side buffers and a coupler, like the Norwegan "chopper" coupling.
** curves even sharper than 5 chains (100m)
* really sharp curves need some kind of articulated locomotives, such as Fairlie or yet to be invented Garratts.
** the three Fairlies brought to Qld kept on derailing for some reason, and were returned to the manufacturer.
* some hills could be surmounted with zig-zags, such as the two yet to be built zigzags in NSW.
* why does a railway with 20mph speeds need to be fenced or have guarded level crossings?
* only the Main Range (Helidon-Toowoomba) needed to have heavy rails and track for heavy locomotives.
* some heavy track needed  between Ipswich workshops and start of Main Range, or
** separate workshops at start of Main Range.
** one delivery trip of Heavy Locos at slow speed from Ipswich to workshops at start of Main Range.
* The Liverpool & Manchester Railway of 1829 had 1 in 100 gradients on either side of  Rainhill for possible rope haulage, should locomotives prove too weak. Did QR think of that? The LMR branch to the docks had 1 in 50 gradients and rope haulable to begin with.
* Curves and Gradients away from Main Range mostly gentle.
* the earlier than QR "Moreton Bay Tramway" which was SG failed to get off the ground. Pity.
  awsgc24 Minister for Railways

Location: Sydney

"The myth of the Standard Gauge: Rail gauge choice in Australia, 1850-1901".

Link

Johnmc

South Australia legislated for SG (1435mm) in 1848, so why is the Thesis titled ".... 1850-1901" and rather than "1848-1901"?
  Johnmc Moderator

Location: Cloncurry, Queensland
South Australia legislated for SG (1435mm) in 1848, so why is the Thesis titled ".... 1850-1901" and rather than "1848-1901"?
awsgc24
Why are you asking me, 6 and a bit years after i posted it?
  nswtrains Chief Commissioner

I think the main thing here is not so much the preponderance at present of this or that gauge since this is what needs to be explained.  Why was the logic of standardisation based on the example of Britain not followed?

Mills argues that in the gauge wars in Australia the "track gauge" became an oversimplification (or to be more precise a false proxy) for the real capital and operational costs of railways as a whole.  There was no proper understand of railway economics nor the inclination to make reasonable inquiries.

He quotes from an 1872 minority report of the Queensland Royal Commission as follows:
QUOTE
"The chief causes of difference of cost in railways are really as follows:
 1st Heavy works to obtain superior gradients to enable the same power to take greater loads.
 2nd Heavy works to obtain curves of large radius for high speeds.
 3rd  Heavy rails, fastenings and sleepers.
 4th Greater dimensions of formation, ballast, drainage etc.
 5th Greater strenths of bridges for greater weight and speed.
 6th Works for accommodating large traffic at stations.
These and similar works, and not gauge, cause the vast differences of cost .... "
END QUOTE  [emphasis added] (p.180 "The myth of Standard Gauge")

He also sums up two key experiences (not doubt these have been well covered elsewhere in this forum):
 1. The British parliament in August 1846 voted for "standardise" the gauges as 1435mm in England, Scotland and Wales AND 1600mm in Ireland primarily because of the predominance of the built railways in the respective regions.
QUOTE:  "The mandating of those gauges followed recommendations delivered by the Gauge Royal Commission.  This commission probed the relative technical and economic advantages/disadvantages of the 4ft. 81/2in. and 7ft. 0in. gauges.  However, its findings on these matters played no part in its recommendation.  Its recommendation to adopt 4ft. 81/2in. as the British standard was justified purely in terms of minimisation of changeover costs - it argued that a change from 7ft. 0in. to 4ft. 81/2in. would inconvenenience fewer people than the reverse change.  This recommendation, and its subsequent adoption by Parliament, was thus motivated by political rather than considerations of railway system economies."    
END QUOTE   [emphasis added] (pp.48-49)
(I would dispute that this is purely a political decision since to minimise adding to the "sunk costs" of the extant railways is surely an economic consideration.  The same imperative prevents conversions today.)

 2. the economic integration of the North and South in the United States following the civil war compelled the conversion of 13,000 miles of track in the South from 5' to 4'9" over two days in 1886 (with gradual conversion by about 1900 to 4' 8.1/2"). (p.83) The likewise integration of the Australian "colonies" has been compelling the same conversion for the past 150 years but the initial decisions were made on shortsighted decisions by each about what was best for "their colony".  

Despite the lead from Britain and warnings about the problems of break-of-gauge, railways around the world "experimented" with different gauges in overlapping systems.  Note that the British act was six and a half years before Victorian Lieutenant Governor Latrobe decided on 5'3" against the "recommendation" to follow NSW's change back to 4' 8.1/2".  Also worth noting that whereas the British held a Royal Commission BEFORE passing their Act of Parliament the Victorian colony held one AFTER Latrobe's decision had been made.  (It is clear from Mills thesis that the "blame the engineers"/Shields vs. Wallace hypothesis is untenable.)

IMHO the world could have easily been dominated by 5' or 5'3" and Australia could have been dominated by 3'6" (a la South Africa).  The key advantage in either is having the same gauge.
tjejojyj

And I guess Victoria and Sth Australia would make up a fair proportion of the 1600mm extent the world.
  br30453 Chief Train Controller

And I guess Victoria and Sth Australia would make up a fair proportion of the 1600mm extent the world.
nswtrains
Only three places where 1600mm gauge is in use and the approximate percentages are:

Victoria and South Australia about 42%
Brazil 42%
Ireland (including Northern Ireland) 16%

The use of this gauge in Brazil was most likely due to the influence of British engineers.

These figures were obtained some time back and may vary a bit from the present day.
Remembering that 1600mm gauge is only about 1.2% of the world railway route km.

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