The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 7, Issue 3 (July 1, 1932)
Our London Letter
Our London Letter
Just forty years ago, the last stretch of broad gauge (7 feet) tracks on the Great Western Railway of England was pulled up and replaced by 4ft. 8 ½in. track, similar to that employed by the other English lines. This event marked the turning point in what was known as the “Battle of the Gauges.” In his current Letter, our Special London Correspondent makes reference to this phase of early railway development, and relates an interesting story of the method adopted by a German railway guard, off duty, to secure increased traffic for his railway.
The World's Railway Gauges.
The gauge of 4ft. 8 ½in. was selected for the pioneer railways by George Stephenson and his associates. This measurement was the distance between the centres of the ancient Roman stoneways, traces of which still exist, and also the distance between the wheels of the old coal wagons that carried the produce of the North of England mines. One English railway, however—the Great Western—departed from the conventional gauge of 4ft. 8 ½in. Isambard Brunel was the engineer of this system, and he was a firm believer in a wide gauge that would permit of the employment of roomier carriages and locomotives with boilers pitched well down between the wheels. In its own way, the 7ft. gauge of the Great Western possessed many advantages. Unfortunately, the position of the Great Western in time became untenable, as it was an impossibility to operate through trains or vehicles between its system and neighbouring lines. To get over the difficulty, Brunel laid a third running rail between the two broad gauge rails, so that trains of either 7ft. or 4ft. 8 ½in. could be handled. This, however, was only a temporary measure. Lengthy sections of track were by degrees converted to the Home railway standard gauge of 4ft. 8 ½in., the last stretch to be altered being that between Exeter and Penzance.
Railways in many parts of the globe today are built to the 4ft. 8 ½in. gauge, 67 per cent. of the world's railways being so constructed. The metre gauge is the second most favoured dimension, representing 10 per cent. of the world's railway trackage. The 3ft. 6in. gauge, as employed in New Zealand, South Africa, Japan, Queensland, Western and South Australia, comes third on the list of most popular gauges. Below 3ft. 6in. there are railways in different parts of the globe built to all gauges, down to as low as 1ft. 3in. Among toy public railways of tiny gauge are the famous Ravenglass and Eskdale; and Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch systems, that come as a constant joy to every overseas railway visitor to the Homeland.
Use of Pictorial Signs.
It is the intention to reproduce the designs in the public time-tables and other railway publications, and travel agents in all foreign countries are being invited to insert an explanatory list of the signs in their publicity matter. The idea appears a particularly happy one, and is typical of the go-ahead fashion in which the Home railways are out to capture business.
The Port of Southampton.
One of the principal points of entry into Britain is the Port of Southampton, and improvements put in hand there by the Southern Railway will greatly facilitate the handling of passenger business. The works include the abolition of level crossings, and the provision of four tracks through Southampton West passenger station. The existing up and down tracks through the station will in future both be utilised for up traffic, while the existing down platform is to be extended and converted into an island platform, 35ft. wide and 910ft. long. New waiting and refreshment rooms will also be provided. To the south of the new island platform there will be installed two new tracks for down traffic; and southward of these new tracks there is to be built a new down platform, with commodious ticket offices, waiting rooms, refreshment rooms, luggage offices, etc.
The whole of the railways and docks at Southampton are owned and operated by the Southern Railway, the third largest Home line, with headquarters at Waterloo terminal, London. Features of the port equipment are the huge wet docks capable of accommodating the largest liners, and the enormous dry dock—the largest in the world—which proves page 27 so useful in the overhaul of modern ocean giants. All the employees on the Southampton docks, both railway and marine, are on the payroll of the Southern Railway.
For the Benefit of the Tourist.
Two eight-wheeled electric locomotives haul the “Golden Mountain Pullman Express,” and the train normally is composed of two or three Pullman cars, a restaurant car and a luggage van. The car windows are carried right up to the roof, with the object of affording passengers an unrestricted view of the scenery passed through. The whole train is really a wonderful palace on wheels.
Interesting Experiments in Germany.
In recent years increasing attention has been paid to the many problems associated with the growing demands made upon track and roadbed by heavy locomotives and rolling-stock, and high train speeds. At Home the four group railways have accomplished much in this direction; now the German lines have gone a step further and established, at Cassel, a special laboratory for making exhaustive tests with railway ballast of various kinds.
In the course of a normal year, the German railways spend forty million page 28 marks on ballast renewals. Thanks to modern methods and machinery installed in the new laboratory, it will be possible to ascertain, speedily, the wearing and other qualities of various types of ballast, and determine to just which particular situation each sample is best adapted. One department will be exclusively employed on basalt research, it having been found that basalt, more than other ballasting materials, tends to disintegrate on exposure to air, heat and moisture. To ascertain the resisting qualities of different stones to weather conditions, many ingenious processes will be followed in the Cassel laboratory. Clever machinery will grind the material into sheets of infinitesimal thickness. The sheets will then be examined under ordinary and polarised light, and the results recorded in microphotographic form. Freezing and thawing processes will be practised, and accurate data secured of the capacity of the various materials for absorbing moisture.
As an example of this, while the writer was standing recently in a Cologne street, admiring an attractive German railway poster, a well-dressed civilian approached, and after taking off his hat and apologising for the intrusion, began, in excellent English, to dilate upon the excellence of the particular railway service referred to in the advertisement. It turned out the man was a railway guard off duty, and the incident came as a striking object-lesson in the art of voluntary traffic solicitation.