Australia's Rail Gauge Disgrace

 
  awsgc24 Minister for Railways

Location: Sydney
Why on earth did Sheilds (an Irishman) change the gauge in NSW from 4' 8.5" to 5' 3"?

Why on earth did the British Board of Trade choose 4' 8.5" in England but 5' 3" in Ireland?

Could we turn back the clock and choose 4' 8.5" for all major lines, and 2' 0" for minor lines?

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  steven_h Train Controller

Location: Melbourne, Australia
They now have electric multiple units with variable gauge axles in order to reach cities on the 1067 network but able to use the standard gauge to get to Tokyo. In other areas they run standard gauge trains built to 1067 gauge clearances for the same reason.
M636C

No variable-gauge trains are running commercially yet.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variable_gauge#Japan

They've tried... but they use their 'mini-shinkansens' instead.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mini-shinkansen
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
Thanks for splitting this out of the GV thread.
  kitchgp Deputy Commissioner

Seconded.
  YM-Mundrabilla Minister for Railways

Location: Mundrabilla but I'd rather be in Narvik
'Of course, in the Pilbara individual wagons are loaded to 140 tonnes gross, around a 30% advantage.'
FMG run 160 tonnes gross ie 40 tonne axleload (if not more).
  BDA Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney
As I said elsewhere Standard Gauge or Stranded Gauge .
  LancedDendrite Chief Commissioner

Location: Trapped in a meeting with Rhonda and Karsten
Why? Because Japan did exactly the same thing. Japan opened their first railway in 1872; it was built to 3'6" Cape Gauge due to the mountainous terrain.

And it worked for Japan right up until 1964, when they had to adopt standard gauge to carry their increasing passenger traffic.

They now have electric multiple units with variable gauge axles in order to reach cities on the 1067 network but able to use the standard gauge to get to Tokyo. In other areas they run standard gauge trains built to 1067 gauge clearances for the same reason.
M636C
The point of the standard gauge Shinkansen lines was that they were dedicated new lines with only one kind of (high speed passenger train) traffic. They made a deliberate break with the 3'6" gauge as part of that - they also used a very generous loading gauge on the new lines (gauge converted Mini Shinkansen lines aside).
3'6" still makes sense for most traffic - the cheaper costs of construction over SG lines still makes it good for branch lines and so long as you aren't using it for very heavy haulage or 250kph+ high speed rail it's quite serviceable.

(aside: yes, I am a Mexican defending the wretched Cane Toads' railway gauge over my own)

I didn't think of that. I don't think I'd like to have seen that happen though if the alignments chosen in Queensland are any indication of what could be done elsewhere, tight turns, and much added distance to get places. That might have been a costlier mistake than non standard gauge...
james.au
NSW made lots of circuitous grade-reducing mainline deviations anyway, despite the wider gauge. Mind you, using 3'6" might have made for a very *ahem* scenic crossing of the Blue Mountains by the Main West line - and maybe even no Zig-Zag!

Sorry, maybe I'm missing something here – but if BG was agreed, and MHBRC ordered equipment based on that agreement, how is LaTrobe to blame for passing on the information he had?
potatoinmymouth
BG had been agreed on, then NSW changed their mind and informed Lt. Gov. LaTrobe of this change. The companies knew of NSW's change, because LaTrobe knew and informed them of it through his office! The MHBRC (and the Melbourne & Geelong and the Melbourne, Mount Alexander and Murray River Railway Companies) all asked LaTrobe to make a decision on choice of rail gauge before they ordered rollingstock from Britain.
LaTrobe clearly had the authority to make such a decision, as the Governor General had fairly weak powers despite it being on paper a superordinate office. He decided on 5'3" Irish Broad Gauge and the Mexicans are still living with the consequences today.
  neillfarmer Chief Train Controller

The Melbournians just got fed up with NSW changing its mind and stuffing them up. In the end they decided to go their own way. An equal stuff-up was the loading gauge particularly at station platform level, largely caused by the thinking that all locomotives would have inside cylinders. This narrowness was the main reason for the use of 3 cylinder locomotives, particularly the 57 and 58 classes. Much less an issue after diesels came along.
Neill Farmer
  bingley hall Minister for Railways

Location: Last train to Skaville
It's not a disgrace, it's an outrage.
  Myrtone Chief Commissioner

Location: North Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria
The way things are is that converting, for example, Victoria's railways to standard gauge is way more complicated than it's worth. That's why Victoria and New South Wales still have different gauges to this day.

Has anyone here realised that the standard railway gauge is actually narrower than the wheel track of modern road vehicles, and even the wagons of the 19th century. Why would so many rail operators chose a gauge narrower than the typical wagon wheel track?
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
It's not a disgrace, it's an outrage.
bingley hall
Cluster$%....
  james.au Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney, NSW
(aside: yes, I am a Mexican defending the wretched Cane Toads' railway gauge over my own)
LancedDendrite
  awsgc24 Minister for Railways

Location: Sydney
Why on earth did Sheilds (an Irishman) change the gauge in NSW from 4' 8.5" to 5' 3"?

Why on earth did the British Board of Trade choose 4' 8.5" in England but 5' 3" in Ireland?

Could we turn back the clock and choose 4' 8.5" for all major lines, and 2' 0" for minor lines?
awsgc24
The British Board of Trade said nothing about gauges narrower than 4' 8.5", so there was a muddle for really narrow gauges:
* 1' 3"
* 1' 11.5" (Festiniog, Welsh Highland)
* 2' 0"
* 2' 3" (Tallylin)
* 2' 6"
* 3' 0" (Irish NG)
* 3' 3.375" (1000mm) (British Colonies in India and Africa)
* 3' 6" (British Colonies in Africa, etc)
* 4' 0" (Glasgow Underground)
* etc.

Italy sensibly permitted 3 gauges only, with some funny values because they measured the gauge from the centre of the rail-head, and not the the inside edges of the rail. Thus Eritrea's 950mm was their version of 1000mm.
  Sulla1 Chief Commissioner

The United States had an absolute plethora of rail gauges built between the 1830s and 1860s. The northern states typically settled on standard gauge and Erie's 6ft gauge. In the south, 5ft gauge was the most common, plus gauges like 4'10". The 1861-1865 Civil War firmly put the shortcomings of multiple rail gauges in the spotlight, and the construction of the first transcontinental railroad beginning in 1862 (while the Northern Union looked very much like losing the war with the Confederates) was mandated to be built to the same standards and gauge as the Baltimore & Ohio, the first standard gauge railroad in the country. Through the impact of the Civil War and the legal requirement to use standard gauge for western expansion, most the of the US railroads had been converted to standard gauge by the end of the 1880s, although not before the 3ft narrow gauge craze of the 1870s - for a short period during the 1880s it was possible to travel on 3ft gauge from Toledo (Ohio) to Mexico City. Basically, it was only War and Law that brought gauge standardisation to the United States and market forces to move freight beyond individual networks through interchanging rollingstock did the rest. The Australian experience shows what happens with nearly 170-years of inter-colonial peace despite the intense self interest of the governments that made themselves responsible for rail construction.
  BDA Chief Commissioner

Location: Sydney
I don't think it matters now why different gauges exist , the point should be do broad and narrow gauges need to be converted and if so what's the cost to our economy if they are not .

Standard gauge connects all mainland states and territories so it obviously needs to be "the standard" .
In todays terms keeping broad and narrow gauge systems in some states merely guarantees their isolation .

Sad situation in Qld because virtually everything is narrow .
Will be interesting to see if/when Adani builds their isolated coal rail system , US style railway alongside narrow gauge small loading gauge system .
  neillfarmer Chief Train Controller

I think the reason why there has been so little standardisation is the meagre levels of traffic on Australian State railways. Gauge conversion just doesn't make a suitable return.
  apw5910 Deputy Commissioner

Location: Location: Location.
I think the reason why there has been so little standardisation is the meagre levels of traffic on Australian State railways. Gauge conversion just doesn't make a suitable return.
neillfarmer
Chicken and egg. The different gauges suited the six colonies at each other's throat as far as commerce was concerned, but were ripe pickings when road transport got its act together and made railways irrelevant for most of Australia the Nation's freight task.
  tazzer96 Deputy Commissioner

The rail gauge problem is all SA, Victoria and NSW fault.  No reason to have both standard gauge and broad gauge.  However having narrow gauge made sense at the time for the places that implemented it.  

Its pretty easy to convert broad gauge to standard gauge.   But rather difficult to convert narrow gauge to standard gauge.  Dual gauge with NG and SG is also much eaier than dual gauge with BG and SG.
  gordon_s1942 Chief Commissioner

Location: Central Tablelands of NSW
It was reported that during the discussions of building a rail system in Australia, the general opinion was that because of the distances involved, the various systems ever meeting was remote.
Remember there people had NEVER traveled faster than  Galloping Horse or at best a Stage Coach on a rough as guts track pulled by a team.
Look at the history of the development of Rail in the UK, it was all freight first with passengers never being considered until after a few 'Joy Rides' to get investors interested, the penny dropped like a lead balloon when those Business men realised they could now travel to another location and back in the day instead of taking all day or longer just to get there by a Horse Drawn Coach?

Cost is another factor as was the bias over one system compared to another as happened in NSW with one engineer favouring Standard Gauge and his replacement Broad Gauge purely because one was Scottish and the other Irish??

We cannot compare Railway Building in Australia with what was done in the USA.
Those who built the US Railways did so privately and were not called 'Robber Barons' without good reason.
Here we didnt have those capable of funding such enterprises so the 'Government' funded by the UK took on the task.

Therein begins the problem because instead of having a Rockefeller, Carnegie or a Vanderbilt dictating the program, with a 'Government' you now had a dozen or more 'heads' all with their own agendas trying to be seen as running the show.

The trick is now to continue say with Standard Gauge and convert what is needed so that its ONE system throughout.
We cannot forecast the future as to what exactly will be needed for the next 100 years but at least what we do now will form the backbone to meet those needs as they occur.
  LancedDendrite Chief Commissioner

Location: Trapped in a meeting with Rhonda and Karsten
Railway line development in Australia was closer to the American model than you'd think... In the American model a railroad company would be given land grants alongside a designated route by the US Government in exchange for building the line. In Western Australia the private railway companies (the Midland Railway of Western Australia and the Great Southern Railway) followed the American land grants model, using capital from UK investors.

However elsewhere in Australia the development of Government-run railways led to a much more traditionally English model whereby land speculators would lobby to get new railway lines constructed through or nearby their holdings. The most notorious example of this was the Victorian Parliament's 1884 'Octopus Act'. In a way, the Octopus Act does resemble a twisted version of the land grants model where land speculators lobby someone else (the Government) to pay for the construction of a railway line that they subsequently received the land value uplift benefits from.
  YM-Mundrabilla Minister for Railways

Location: Mundrabilla but I'd rather be in Narvik
Bit like Lindsay Fox and Avalon and AirAsia(?)
He gets airline to commit to Avalon with $$$$ advantage to him, no doubt, and then gets the Feds to pay for a new international terminal.
Privatisation is wonderful if you can get the taxpayer to fund your capital expenditure eg Avalon and Adani etc.
  M636C Minister for Railways

In Western Australia the private railway companies (the [i]Midland Railway of Western Australia[/i] and the [i]Great Southern Railway[/i]) followed the American land grants model, using capital from UK investors.

The Great Southern didn't last long and the Midland only survived due to support from the WA Government and WAGR. The Midland had been lobbying for a WA Government takeover for about twenty years when WA finally bought them out.

At least both of these were the same gauge as the adjacent government system.

While thinking of British investor owned railways, the subject of Argentina obviously comes up. They had three gauges 5'6", standard and metre, without state or provincial government intervention.

My lasting memory of Argentina is a former SG wagon on BG using screw couplers but with the buffers at different spacing across the width of the wagon. A derailment looking for a curve to happen on.

That and the 100 lb rail laid in 1905 without which the system would have collapsed years earlier (on the BA & Pacific).

Peter
  historian Deputy Commissioner

Railway line development in Australia was closer to the American model than you'd think... In the American model a railroad company would be given land grants alongside a designated route by the US Government in exchange for building the line. In Western Australia the private railway companies (the Midland Railway of Western Australia and the Great Southern Railway) followed the American land grants model, using capital from UK investors.

However elsewhere in Australia the development of Government-run railways led to a much more traditionally English model whereby land speculators would lobby to get new railway lines constructed through or nearby their holdings. The most notorious example of this was the Victorian Parliament's 1884 'Octopus Act'. In a way, the Octopus Act does resemble a twisted version of the land grants model where land speculators lobby someone else (the Government) to pay for the construction of a railway line that they subsequently received the land value uplift benefits from.
LancedDendrite

I'm sorry, I can't see this at all. Railway development in Australia was nothing like either the US or UK.

Yes, there were two land grant lines in WA. In the other states (and, generally, in WA) this model was explicitly and repeatedly rejected. The reason is not hard to find. Land sales were the *only* reliable source of income for the colonial governments, and the income had to fund all sorts of infrastructure and government activity. The governments weren't going to give up this income just to get a free railway. Behind this, as well, the private companies realised full well that land in Australia just wasn't that valuable and the various land grant proposals had a variety of implicit government subsidies behind them. The governments looked at them and said 'Yeah, Nah'.

The political battles for railways in the UK and Australia were completely different. In the UK the battles were between speculators, railway companies and land owners. The railway companies were attempting to build networks that maximised the ton miles over their lines, while blocking other companies from doing the same thing. The speculators were trying to get an Act that they could sell to another company. The land owners, generally, were trying to prevent railways from spoiling the view from their estates. Irrespective of the government, the policy view of the State during the 19th century was that there should be two or three competing railway lines serving every major city to keep costs low.

In Australia, the political debates ran at several levels.

There was certainly a strong element of corruption, particularly with suburban railways. There was a recent, excellent, book published on the Sydney suburban railways which showed that the routes of the Illawarra and Short North lines were entirely chosen on the basis that the land around the lines were owned by supporters of the government. (Have you ever wondered why the Illawarra line climbs from sea level up to Hurstville, before descending back to nearly sea level at Como, then climbing to Sutherland, instead of staying near sea level to the crossing of the Georges River and then climbing to Sutherland?)

There was also a keen realisation by everyone that profitable farming was critically dependent on transport costs - which meant a railway in the 19th century. The debates in parliament were all about what areas should get priority, and about the quality (cost) of the railways to be constructed.

I've long been of the view that the real issue behind the Victorian Octopus Act, for the country lines at least, was that the major lines had mostly been constructed. The focus in 1884 was consequently on branch lines - but there was no settled policy on what branch lines could be profitably constructed. So they built a lot of them in the existing settled areas. Unfortunately, experience quickly showed that short branch lines through rolling country serving ordinary farms were not profitable. The Victorian narrow gauge experiment in the late 1890s were the last desperate attempt to reduce the cost of branch line construction low enough to make them profitable enough to be worth while. It also failed.
  Myrtone Chief Commissioner

Location: North Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria
There is also dual gauge track both in Queensland and Western Australia, some of it on both the Brisbane and Perth Suburban networks, and most certainly with standard T-section rails. Can the speed limits be higher than on Victorian dual gauge track?

As Cape gauge differs from standard by more than the width of the rails, is it true that converting from Cape gauge to standard would be less complicated than converting from Victorian gauge to standard?
  tazzer96 Deputy Commissioner

There is also dual gauge track both in Queensland and Western Australia, some of it on both the Brisbane and Perth Suburban networks, and most certainly with standard T-section rails. Can the speed limits be higher than on Victorian dual gauge track?

As Cape gauge differs from standard by more than the width of the rails, is it true that converting from Cape gauge to standard would be less complicated than converting from Victorian gauge to standard?
Myrtone
Normal track speed applies for Standard and narrow gauge dual track.  
Converting cape gauge to standard gauge is generally very hard because everything is designed for the smaller gauge. Then ther are loading gauge issues which also make it harder.

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