Have you actually ridden a narrow Gauge train?

When the first railroads were built in Britain, they simply took carts that had been made to the usual dimensions, and made them run on rails. And I've read that somewhere in Greece or Italy there are ancient roads paved with stone blocks, and the stone has wear patterns from wheels spaced the same as those carts that first ran on rails. So it seems to be the best size to make a cart. Would a different gauge be better for railroads? Maybe, but 4' 8.5" works well enough.
Many of the southern US railroads prior to the Civil War were built to 5' 0" gauge. The northern railroads were 4' 8.5" and when the US military roads took over they regauged the track so it could be used by their equipment. Sherman's destruction of the railroads in Georgia with rails heated and wrapped around trees was one way to get regauging started.

Railroads in Spain and Russia were also built to 5 foot gauge. Ireland was built to 5' 3" and India and San Francisco's Bay Area Rapid Transit (oxymoron) were built to 5' 6". China was rebuilt by the Communists to 4' 8.5 making a change of gauge at the Russian border necessary by changing the trucks. The new Chinese sponsored Silk Road through the "stans", Iran and Turkey is being built to 4' 8.5 to provide direct connections into the European railroads. Spain is rebuilding to standard gauge.

Gauge is not an absolute thing. George Stephenson and the Stockton and Darlington Railway of the 1820's started what is now called Standard Gauge. It caught on and as his company was the leading locomotive manufacturer in the very early days of railroading became the predominant gauge hence "Standard Gauge" in the UK. As prior to 1850 the UK was considered the leading location of technology, it was adopted throughout Europe and the northern part of the US. The competing Great Western 7' .25 " broad gauge sponsored by Isambard Kingdom Brunel lasted until 1892.

Ken Adams
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Having a standard gauge is economically more important than what the gauge is. For long distance freight anyway. That's why a few countries are still running 3' gauge, meter gauge, Indian gauge, etc. For passengers they can simply detrain and walk across the platform onto a different gauge train. Sometimes the cost to upgrade to standard gauge is much greater than the traffic need.

In ancient times if you're cart was a different width than the ruts you would have a insanely rough ride. If you didn't break an wheel, risking life and cargo. Historically it's easier to not reinvent the wheel.

Standard gauge is also near the median size of the common gauges. I think the English settled on the size because it was big enough to fit an early boiler inside the dimensions and small enough that tunnels wouldn't cost a large fortune.

The early locomotive builders did try several other gauges.

Most broad gauge railroads came about because of the simplest way to increase steam power was to increase the size of the locomotive. This also exponentially increased the cost of bridges, tunnels and other situational infrastructure.
Hypothetically this also eventually increases profits because each car holds 1-1/2 times the cargo and is ran with the same number of crew members as a standard gauge train.

The lack of efficiency constricted the builders from going much narrower than standard gauge at the time.

Forty years past before the technology produced efficient boilers and narrow gauge became viable.

Then the 1870's narrow gauge boom happened.

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Back on track, er, the original topic: I've ridden the D&S and the Cumbres, preferring the latter. We took our trip during a shower, and the train stalled quite a few times. Wonderful sounds as the rapid chuffs echoed through the valleys.
I thought only model railroaders hooked up too many cars behind the locomotive. Guess that's prototypical too.

Captain of Industry
President of the Lancaster Central RR
Yes. Rode the Glennbrook at the Nevada State Railroad Museum during the Southern Pacific Narrow Gauge Historical Society and Virginia and Truckee Railway Symposium. It was great!!!


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My wife bought me a ride and vacation on the Durango Silverton steam train for our 25th. That was our first time ever on a steam train and only our second time on a train for both of us. The first time was riding the Am-Track from Selby Montana to Whitefish through glacier park. Both were great fun. The Durango ride got me started thinking about model trains. Looking forward learning another hobby.

well, I haven't ridden [or driven] a narrow gauge train, but I have operated a traction steamer for short periods of time back in the early 60's ... I still remember running up two steamers to get them to crawl up on a scrap trailers for delivery to Winnipeg, just to get cut apart when they got there ....
I've ridden the Georgetown Loop and the Royal Gorge train (although not NG ;) ). Had a great time on the Royal Gorge as we did the dinner train. Food was fantastic, scenery amazing, and the experience wholly wonderful.
I know you won't see this but I'm going to reply for everyone else. My opinion I've developed through the years is that it comes down to physics and economics on several points.
1. For fixed axle wheels as the gauge gets broader the axle get heavier. They have to be heavier and heavier just to support themselves. Too broad and the train is spending much energy just moving axles. Not to mention the cost of the extra materials to make therm
2. For fixed axle wheels as the gauge gets broader the greater the difference on curves of inside and outside rail. That means the wheels must "slip" more to make a solid axle go around the curve.
3. So as the gauge gets wider, to be efficient, eventually one would have to make independent wheels on each side of the car. Independent suspension creates a whole new set of technological challenges and means the railcar itself has to be designed to withstand horizontal stresses of curves, turnouts, crossings etc.
4. As the gauge gets broader the loads can be bigger and heavier as they will fit on the larger cars, but this demands heavier rails, wider tunnels, wider bridges, more grading, etc. This demands heavier sleepers as they must be longer for the broader gauge. Once again more cost to carry the larger loads.

The physical and economic trade off of all these things dictates a most efficient and economic gauge to be somewhere between six and three feet.

Exactly why 4' 8 1/2 inches instead of something nice and even like 5' I cannot answer. I do not feel like doing all the calculations to find where the theoretical ideal would be. I'm guessing it is close. Plus with today's materials (steel vs iron etc.) it would be a different answer than it was back when the standard was set.

Uncertain why you feel that I would not see this post, I do not have you on ignore and consider what you have to say about things to generally be spot on!
Rode the Durango & Silverton a few years back. Beautiful scenery. A shame the burning embers started the entire forest on fire last year and then landslides washed out the tracks. Understand they got some diesels now and the steam days may be numbered. They were even looking at relaying the track in standard gauge. All things must pass.
I'm not sure how to answer, but technically yes I have. The steam trains in Branson, Mo at the big theme park are narrow gauge mining engines that were re-purposed to run their train passenger cars. They run on LP gas instead of oil or coal.
I rode the D&S and Cumbres lines, both back in 1991 on the same vacation. Liked both in their own ways. Was on the Turtle Back Zoo railroad, here in NJ, many years ago, as a kid, in addition to some sort of rides at the Hershey PA amusement park, also, as a youngster in the 1960's. I've gone past the Georgetown Loop Railroad several times, years ago, when my brother lived in Colorado, but haven't done any touristy type things there since 2004.
The two I remember riding were the former sugar-plantation line that runs around St Kitts, in the northern Caribbean; and the Toonerville Trolly, that shuttles you to a stern-wheeled riverboat in northern Michigan. The former, on St Kitts, doesn't make any stops, but it's quite possible for you to disembark more drunk than you were when you got on (included in excursion price).

A couple of pics from Saint Kitts:

Beady; While I never took the trolley, I had seen both the upper and lower falls as a kid. We used to vacation in the UP close to Newberry.