Broad vs standard gauge

 
  M636C Minister for Railways

The Gauge Commission of 1845, started the deathnell for 7', as it recommended Standard Gauge

GWR Main lines such as those into Paddington, started to be converted to dual gauge. By 1892, all that had to be done was to stop running BG trains, and rip up the third rail.
awsgc24
Checking, it appears that the section converted in 1892 was Newton Abbot to Penzance (the tabulation shows 171 miles in 1891).

Presumably Paddington to Newton Abbott was by then dual gauge since broad gauge trains ran through from London to Penzance.

The GWR Broad Gauge used longitudinal sleepers with tie rods holding the gauge, so cutting the tie rods to standard gauge length and moving one rail with the longitudinal sleepers was the technique used for the final conversion to Penzance.

The maximum extent of broad gauge only was in 1866 with 596 miles, dual gauge 237 miles and standard gauge 428 miles making up the total GWR extent. By 1871, broad gauge had contracted to 524 miles, dual gauge had fallen to 141 miles but standard gauge had extended to 655 miles.

M636C

Sponsored advertisement

  historian Deputy Commissioner

You hear this every time the subject comes up for discussion, but everyone conveniently forgets the fiasco that was WA, SA, Queensland and Tasmania with 3' 6" gauge. Fact is no one state got it right except maybe New South Wales.
TheBlacksmith

Hmmm. 'Right' if you consider standard gauge as the optimal.

There is no effective difference between broad and standard gauge in first cost, maintenance, or carrying capacity.

Consequently, there was no engineering reason why NSW shouldn't have originally chosen broad gauge over standard. Equally, there is no valid engineering reason why NSW should have subsequently changed to standard gauge. I don't consider the second as making the 'right' decision.

As to narrow gauge, it is arguable that 3'6" was (and is) perfectly adequate for the transport needs of Australia (outside the heavy haul iron ore lines in the NW). It's a pity it wasn't a viable option when NSW and Vic started.

Indeed, when the history of gauge standardisation is considered, the interesting question is why the TAR was built standard gauge. It would have seemed more logical to build it 3'6" as both connecting networks were 3'6". This would have given a common gauge from Broken Hill to Fremantle, and trans Australian movement between the East and West coasts with one gauge change. Standardisation efforts could then have been focused on converting the broad and standard gauges to narrow - much easier than the other way. We might now have had a 3'6" interstate network stretching from Sydney to Perth and Melbourne to Cairns.
  historian Deputy Commissioner

You hear this every time the subject comes up for discussion, but everyone conveniently forgets the fiasco that was WA, SA, Queensland and Tasmania with 3' 6" gauge. Fact is no one state got it right except maybe New South Wales.
TheBlacksmith

Hmmm. 'Right' if you consider standard gauge as the optimal.

There is no effective difference between broad and standard gauge in first cost, maintenance, or carrying capacity.

Consequently, there was no engineering reason why NSW shouldn't have originally chosen broad gauge over standard. Equally, there is no valid engineering reason why NSW should have subsequently changed to standard gauge. I don't consider the second as making the 'right' decision.

As to narrow gauge, it is arguable that 3'6" was (and is) perfectly adequate for the transport needs of Australia (outside the heavy haul iron ore lines in the NW). It's a pity it wasn't a viable option when NSW and Vic started.

Indeed, when the history of gauge standardisation is considered, the interesting question is why the TAR was built standard gauge. It would have seemed more logical to build it 3'6" as both connecting networks were 3'6". This would have given a common gauge from Broken Hill to Fremantle, and trans Australian movement between the East and West coasts with one gauge change. Standardisation efforts could then have been focused on converting the broad and standard gauges to narrow - much easier than the other way. We might now have had a 3'6" interstate network stretching from Sydney to Perth and Melbourne to Cairns.
  Graham4405 The Ghost of George Stephenson

Location: Dalby Qld
Maybe, although I don't see 3'6" being referred to as 'standard' gauge.
TheBlacksmith
Queensland railfans often refer to it as such and to 4'8½" as "broad gauge". Smile
  woodford Chief Commissioner

A minor historical note on Australia's gauge none sense is that in 1846 the British Parliment passed the Gauge act, stating that all new railways should be 4ft 8.5 inches. Now at the time everything in Aus were british colonies and were not self governed. In spite of all this the British parliament approved all the different gauges to be built here.

They simply "should have known  better".........It appears governments have never seen passed the next election.

woodford
  br30453 Chief Train Controller

Queensland railfans often refer to it as such and to 4'8½" as "broad gauge". Smile
Graham4405
Not me.
Standard gauge is standard gauge. 5' 3" or wider is broad gauge.
3' 6" is medium gauge.
  Myrtone Chief Commissioner

Location: North Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria
As Pressman has stated the physical operational benefits of broad verses standard are zero.
The big thing is interchangeability of equipment so let us put broad gauge to History in the context of Victoria and standardise the Country lines so that a goods wagon if traffic dictates can be run anywhere.
If this was 1860 it maybe worth exploring if any advantages in the broader gauge exist but the decision to build Nationally with standard gauge was decided when the Trans Australian Railway was opened in 1917.
Z VAN


There are also practically no engineering benefits of standard gauge over broad. Aside from interoperability with existing standard gauge lines, there is only one benefit mentioned below.

American Railroads may not be perfect but they realised pretty early that break of gauge was not a commercial winner.
Z VAN


American railroads did not need to be interoperable with any railways in England, where standard gauge originated. Most early American railways had gauges wider than standard.

The wider the gauge, the wider the wheelset. Wider wheelsets are more stable at higher speeds and can have a wider chassis/body on top.
LancedDendrite


And both straight electric and diesel electric rolling stock can also have larger motor within wider gauge bogies, with more low end torque and thus higher gearing.

This is only a theoretical advantage and in practice, modified standard gauge High Speed Rail trains have done 574kph on test runs so it doesn't appear to be a show-stopping issue for standard gauge trains.
LancedDendrite


How tall and wide are these trains? Maybe it would become and issue if we made them taller and wider.

The other theoretical advantage is with axle loadings. With a larger gauge you have a wider gap between the load-bearing points on a sleeper/tie, so you can distribute the weight across a wider surface area and hence reduce the ground pressure - leading to more room for higher axle loads. Again - a very theoretical advantage. Pilbara iron ore trains seem to do quite fine running ~40 tonne axle load trains on standard gauge track, although I understand that they are getting close to the theoretical limits of their permanent way design.
LancedDendrite


In case of low floor trams, another advantage is a wider aisle and/or more room for boey movement. Low floor trams, while quite a recent development, are unique among rail vehicles in this respect.

In summary: a broader gauge has some theoretical advantages that are vastly outweighed by the advantages of using a common, system-wide gauge.
LancedDendrite


That wasn't the case when our first railways were built, because ours have never needed to be interoperable with those of any other country.

Nevertheless, the advantages of having a landmass wide gauge outweighing any advantage of a broader gauge has shown to be the case even among tramways, despite tramways in each metropolitan area not needing to interconnect with those of others.

There are broad gauges other than 1600 mm, just not in Australia...

The English Great Western Railway was built to a gauge of 7 feet 0 1/4 inches, substantially more than standard.

It did provide significant technical advantages in 1835.
M636C


In case of GWR passenger trains, it meant a lower floor. Now, while high platforms are almost invariably possible in all locations, and all trains in existence at the time were single decked, it would have been an advantage had the GWR used double decker trains, a lower floor makes it easier to fit an upper deck.

The widest gauge of any track in use today is 5ft6, used a lot in India, parts of South America, and the BART. By the way the BART doesn't need to be interoperable with any standard gauge railways, but their fleet renewal is more expensive that the international average.

Graham4405 you are correct in asking how "much" standard gauge has been constructed in Queensland and Tasmania.Well Tasmania is an isolated system so to convert any lines for uniformity with the mainland would be silly in the extreme.
Z VAN


Let's say that all mainland colonies had agreed to the same gauge, say the Irish one, and Tasmania started constructing its railways later. Would the gauge of the mainland be relevant to Tasmania, at least indirectly?
  gordon_s1942 Chief Commissioner

Location: Central Tablelands of NSW
Tasmania was no more 'Isolated' back in the 1850's as Rail construction was considered by all the 'Colonies' than any other as it was clearly stated when NSW and Victoria at first decided that the 'Standard Gauge' of 4 foot 8 was to be used, the Authorities of the day believed because of the the 500 mile distance between Sydney and Melbourne, the lines would never meet !!!
Their original idea was most likely by buying 'in bulk' was to get a lower price.
Each Colony decided on the gauge to be used based on need and cost as they would have had to borrow the money to pay for it.
  Graham4405 The Ghost of George Stephenson

Location: Dalby Qld
Would the gauge of the mainland be relevant to Tasmania, at least indirectly?
Myrtone
I can think of three possible reasons why it might be.
  1. If trains were to cross the Bass Strait by means of a roll-on - roll-off ferry.
  2. If there was a common operator on both Tasmania and the mainland they could move locomotives and rollingstock between the two. Perhaps this may have been useful while PN were operating in Tasmania.
  3. Tasmania has previously sourced locomotives and rollingstock from mainland operators. If all were common gauge it would provide more options.
  Pressman Spirit of the Vine

Location: Wherever the Tin Chook or Qantas takes me
I can think of three possible reasons why it might be.
  1. If trains were to cross the Bass Strait by means of a roll-on - roll-off ferry.
  2. If there was a common operator on both Tasmania and the mainland they could move locomotives and rollingstock between the two. Perhaps this may have been useful while PN were operating in Tasmania.
  3. Tasmania has previously sourced locomotives and rollingstock from mainland operators. If all were common gauge it would provide more options.
"Graham4405"


As is the case between the North and South Islands of New Zealand
  historian Deputy Commissioner

A minor historical note on Australia's gauge none sense is that in 1846 the British Parliment passed the Gauge act, stating that all new railways should be 4ft 8.5 inches. Now at the time everything in Aus were british colonies and were not self governed. In spite of all this the British parliament approved all the different gauges to be built here.

They simply "should have known  better".........It appears governments have never seen passed the next election.

woodford
woodford
The 1846 'Act for regulating the Gauge of Railways' explicitly only applied to Great Britain (4' 8.5") and Ireland (5'3"). The colonies were not part of Great Britain, and so the Act did not apply here. (Nor did it apply to India.)

The importance of the Act was that it defined the 'default' gauge in Great Britain, but this did not definitively prevent the construction of new lines to non standard gauges. As the construction of any railway in the UK at that time required a private Act of Parliament, there was nothing to stop Parliament from authorising any gauge that it saw fit in the private Act. (It is standard Parliamentary theory that one Parliament can't bind its successors, and this power was explicitly reserved in the Gauge Act.) A more practical power in the Act was Clause 4 which prohibited altering the gauge of any passenger carrying railway. This prevented the companies from playing silly b*ggers with leased lines.

Each colony was governed by an executive council, headed by the Governor. The Governor had wide powers, but was generally responsible to the Colonial Office in London. The colonies were consequently essentially self-governing, but at the time didn't have 'responsible government' (i.e. executive government responsible to parliament). It is known that Earl Grey, the Colonial Secretary at the time the broad/standard debacle occurred, strongly encouraged the colonies to chose a single uniform gauge. It is also clear that the Colonial Office didn't have the power (or didn't wish to exercise the power) to force the colonies to chose a particular gauge or to co-operate.
  L1150 Assistant Commissioner

Location: Pakenham Vic.
In this thread, it was suggested that a wider gauge allowed for a better distribution of the load across the sleeper. I don't think that this is so. I seem to recall reading an article about track engineering where it was stated that nearly all of the weight of the rail axle transmitted from the rail through the sleeper to the ballast, was concentrated in a relatively small area directly under the rail, so that in the centre of the sleeper there is not much load at all. This seems to be borne out if you look at pictures of TGV tracks in France. The sleeper is not continuous concrete across but has two blocks, one under each rail and in the middle there is only what looks like a steel tie rod.

Regarding Tasmania. I think I read somewhere that the first rail line planned for Tas was actually to be broad gauge, but was changed to narrow gauge. Can any historians confirm this?Very Happy
  awsgc24 Minister for Railways

Location: Sydney
Regarding Tasmania. I think I read somewhere that the first rail line planned for Tas was actually to be broad gauge, but was changed to narrow gauge. Can any historians confirm this?Very Happy
L1150
Correct. Tasmania started with 5' 3", so that they might use designs like VIC and SA.

However, given the light traffic on this small island, with its mountainous terrain, they really should have chosen 3' 6" like QLD to save money and share designs.

Indeed TAS eventually built some 2' gauge lines to save even more money in even more remote terrain; perhaps they should have chosen 2' gauge in the first place, like the Festiniog Railway, which started using steam engines instead of horses in about 1860, well before TAS started building railways.

It was often said, "better narrow gauge railways than no railways."
  Hendo Deputy Commissioner

Noting the limited axle load and speed differences between standard and broad gauge, wouldn't it be more relevant to posit the question and discussion around the loading and structure gauges? I would have thought the benefit of a single national loading and structure gauges standard would allow all networks to work progressively towards a more efficient future.



Cheers,
Hendo
  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE


Each colony was governed by an executive council, headed by the Governor. The Governor had wide powers, but was generally responsible to the Colonial Office in London. The colonies were consequently essentially self-governing, but at the time didn't have 'responsible government' (i.e. executive government responsible to parliament). It is known that Earl Grey, the Colonial Secretary at the time the broad/standard debacle occurred, strongly encouraged the colonies to chose a single uniform gauge. It is also clear that the Colonial Office didn't have the power (or didn't wish to exercise the power) to force the colonies to chose a particular gauge or to co-operate.
historian

and no one back then ever really expected the various state railways to ever meet, thats what boats are for.
  RTT_Rules Oliver Bullied, CME

Location: Dubai UAE
Correct. Tasmania started with 5' 3", so that they might use designs like VIC and SA.

However, given the light traffic on this small island, with its mountainous terrain, they really should have chosen 3' 6" like QLD to save money and share designs.

Indeed TAS eventually built some 2' gauge lines to save even more money in even more remote terrain; perhaps they should have chosen 2' gauge in the first place, like the Festiniog Railway, which started using steam engines instead of horses in about 1860, well before TAS started building railways.

It was often said, "better narrow gauge railways than no railways."
awsgc24

Tassie BG was from Deloraine to Launceston built privately over 50km on what is basically a valley and open plains and not dissimilar to many parts of Victoria. The govt railway 3'6" ran from Hobart to L'ton which is far more challenging in the southern half. While there are certainly alot of bends on the branches and a few locations on main, what is left could easily be converted to SG/BG or even been built that way from the start.

Overall in this day and age I doubt it makes much difference and there would be very little if any benefit in converting Tasrail even if it was free. Probably the biggest advantage is probably more choice of equipment supplier with more SG suppliers than NG.

Had Tas rolled out 2' gauge across the state I'd say the whole thing would have been closed long ago. 2' gauge has a very limited place in the modern world.
  Hendo Deputy Commissioner

Of course with the choice of Gauge we also get parochialism such as with the fiasco of the Gauges between NSW and Victoria otherwise costs and needs may force the choice even though another may be preferred.

You hear this every time the subject comes up for discussion, but everyone conveniently forgets the fiasco that was WA, SA, Queensland and Tasmania with 3' 6" gauge. Fact is no one state got it right except maybe New South Wales.
TheBlacksmith


Not forgetting Victoria's own 18th (oops I meant 19th) Century narrow gauge network, puff puff.
  LancedDendrite Chief Commissioner

Location: Gheringhap Loop Autonomous Zone
Not forgetting Victoria's own 18th Century narrow gauge network, puff puff.
Hendo
I think you'll find that you're referring to lines built in the dying days of the 19th century, with all but one of them opened for traffic in the 20th century!
  qredge Deputy Commissioner

Location: Marsden Qld
The gauge issue seems irrelevant compared to track and foundations standards and loading gauge
Look at South Africa with its 3'6" track
Faster and heavier trains than our broad gauge in the old days
I think some of their logos weighed as much as our average whole  QGR trains of the day
South Africa had loco  heavier than the AD60 I believe on their medium gauge
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

South Africa had 140 4-8-4s weighing between 226-tonnes (25NC) and 240-tonnes (25 class) and their largest 4-8-2s included 255 15Fs weighing 183.8-tonnes (with small tenders) and the 136 Class 23 weighing 218-tonnes. The 23s had 5'3 drivers, 63sqft grate and 24x28 cylinders. South African narrow gauge matched just about anything in Australian steam. The South African GL garratt didn't weigh as much as an AD60 (218-tonnes vs 260-tonnes) but was considerably more powerful (by some 15%).

Meanwhile narrow gauge in Australia dominates heavy haul tonnages and tonne/kilometres outside of the Pilbara and operates 5300hp locomotives in DP hauling 13,000-tonne trains. Broad gauge on the other hand runs fourth to 2ft gauge in this country for freight tonnage and track kilometres. And it should be mentioned the current Australian rail speed record is held by Queensland's narrow gauge Rockhampton tilt train. For all the extra costs needed to build broad gauge, in the Australian context it has not offered any advantages over standard gauge or narrow gauge.

(1067mm gauge moved 122.5 billion tonne kilometres in 2013/2014 - 30% of all rail freight tonne kilometres moved in Australia. The Pilbara railways make up another 41%, non-Pilbara standard gauge 24.45%, 2ft gauge 4.41%, broad gauge 0.14%).
  TheBlacksmith Chief Commissioner

Location: Ankh Morpork
I think by now everyone gets the point, 3' 6" outdoes all the rest. Broad gauge was a decision made back in 1850 something that was more to do with what everyone knew at the time. Statements like "Broad gauge on the other hand runs fourth to 2ft gauge in this country for freight tonnage and track kilometres" means nothing, as it relates to a lot of other factors, many political, but none of them relating to the actual suitability or otherwise of the gauge itself.
  james.au Minister for Railways

Location: Sydney, NSW
@TheBlacksmith Agreed.  If QLD had used broad gauge it would outdo the rest as it has had a different story.  I suspect that because of the longer distances, rail has been able to outcompete road more effectively than in Vic.
  M636C Minister for Railways

South Africa had 140 4-8-4s weighing between 226-tonnes (25NC) and 240-tonnes (25 class) and their largest 4-8-2s included 255 15Fs weighing 183.8-tonnes (with small tenders) and the 136 Class 23 weighing 218-tonnes. The 23s had 5'3 drivers, 63sqft grate and 24x28 cylinders. South African narrow gauge matched just about anything in Australian steam. The South African GL garratt didn't weigh as much as an AD60 (218-tonnes vs 260-tonnes) but was considerably more powerful (by some 15%).

Meanwhile narrow gauge in Australia dominates heavy haul tonnages and tonne/kilometres outside of the Pilbara and operates 5300hp locomotives in DP hauling 13,000-tonne trains. Broad gauge on the other hand runs fourth to 2ft gauge in this country for freight tonnage and track kilometres. And it should be mentioned the current Australian rail speed record is held by Queensland's narrow gauge Rockhampton tilt train. For all the extra costs needed to build broad gauge, in the Australian context it has not offered any advantages over standard gauge or narrow gauge.

(1067mm gauge moved 122.5 billion tonne kilometres in 2013/2014 - 30% of all rail freight tonne kilometres moved in Australia. The Pilbara railways make up another 41%, non-Pilbara standard gauge 24.45%, 2ft gauge 4.41%, broad gauge 0.14%).
Sulla1
While there is little doubt that the South African Railways had good track and powerful locomotives in the steam era, where ironically the narrow gauge allowed larger outside cylinders within a given loading gauge, the narrow gauge has been a disadvantage since by limiting the size of traction motors.

The present operation is in some respects a shadow of pre WWII days, with export trains on the Sishen Saldanha line being forced to run with a mixture of diesel and electric power since the power supply won't support full electric operation of a single train.

The heavy haul figures reflect more a contrast between purpose built export lines (the Pilbara and Central Queensland) and the capacity of the legacy system.

As far as upgrading of existing lines, the two contenders are the NSW Hunter Valley and the Blackwater to Gladstone lines. I would suggest that the upgrade was more extensive in Queensland and that the narrow gauge could have been converted to standard at negligible extra cost had the line not also formed part of the Brisbane Cairns link.

The thing that should be remembered about the Hunter Valley is that the two "coal lines" from Maitland to Islington Junction were to keep the slow, short, unbraked coal trains separate from the faster freight and passenger trains.

If you separate the Goonyella and Blackwater systems from the narrow gauge, you are left with the Western coal trains with two 2300s on 63t wagons, which are as much as the legacy system can take, and you can compare that with the triple 82s on 100t wagons over the Blue Mountains, again the limit for that system.

To return to steam locomotives, the NSWGR had the largest number of large locomotives, 38 57 and 58 class (of 50 ordered) weighing about 245 tons all up (the official 229 tons was wishful thinking). The AD60 was designed to provide similar power to the 57 and 58 on branch lines with a 15 ton axle load (pretty much what QR had in the early diesel era) but ended up on main lines after the coupled axle load was increased, as had always been intended in the design.

This design resulted in a relatively low tractive effort for the AD60 compared to NG locomotives designed for maximum power on lines of the same or higher axle load (in the case of the SAR GL). However, the large boiler gave the AD60 good hauling capacity possibly comparable to the NG examples, even on steep grades although the short tubes gave poor fuel economy.

M636C

Sponsored advertisement

Display from:   

Quick Reply

We've disabled Quick Reply for this thread as it was last updated more than six months ago.