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# What determined the width of railroad tracks in the United States?

Question #51044. Asked by xx4ktau. (Sep 16 04 4:17 PM)

gtho4

The gauge of 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches came here mainly because American engineers expected — erroneously — to use a great many British locomotives. Because early American railroads were expected only to connect bodies of water that were impractical to connect with canals, there is no reason to have expected much gauge uniformity. Early railroads did not anticipate interchange of equipment.

But because the Baltimore & Ohio and Boston & Albany used 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches, the gauge was off to a flying start. The Pennsylvania used 4 feet, 9 inches, which was compatible. The 6 feet, 0 inches of the Erie and the Lackawanna was the most important northern broad gauge. The Canadian railways used 5 feet, 6 inches, at least in part, for military considerations. ..

The Civil War demonstrated the undesirability of gauge differences. Both the Union and Confederate governments encouraged interchange of equipment. After the war, the rapid growth in grain movements from the Midwest to the East was the greatest single force for homogeneity.

The Lincoln administration, after planning the transcontinental railroad at 5 feet, 0 inches to conform with the existing railroad in California, decided on 4 feet 8-1/2 for consistency with the most important Eastern railroads. This assured that 4 feet, 8-1/2 inches would be the North American standard gauge.

The Canadian lines converted to it in 1872-1873, and the Southern railroads began a process of conversion that ended with a massive conversion blitz on Memorial Day weekend 1886.

http://www.trains.com/Content/Dynamic/Articles/000/000/003/011gsqfq.asp

 Sep 16 04, 4:51 PM

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