Sunday, August 19, 2018

We have always done it that way

The United States Standard railroad gauge; the distance between rails is 4 feet, 8.5 inches, an exceedingly odd number. What caused engineers to use this gauge? Where did it come from?

  1. Why was that gauge used to build U.S. rail lines? That is the way they built them in England. English expatriates built the first U.S. railroads.

  1. Why did the English people build them like that? Because the first rail lines in Europe were designed and built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that is the gauge they used.

  1. Why did they use that gauge for trams? Because the people who designed and built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that same wheel spacing.

  1. Why did the wagons use that odd wheel spacing? Well, when they tried to use any other spacing, the wagons were prone to breaking down on the old long distance roads, because that is the spacing of the old wheel ruts.

  1. So who built these old rutted roads? The first long distance roads in Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions. The roads have been used ever since.

  1. And why did the ruts come about? Roman war chariots first made the initial ruts. Since the chariots were all made to certain specifications for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

    Thus, we have the answer to the original question. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification (Military, as it were) for an Imperial Roman Army war chariot. But one nagging question still remains.

  1. Why did the design of the Roman chariots incorporate that specific wheelbase? The chariots were designed for the back ends of two Roman war-horses.

So, the modern transportation system got its original dimensions by following the rear ends of two warhorses!

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