Fun_People Archive
9 Feb
UBPIOTD (Useless But Possibly Interesting Information Of The Day, natch)

Date: Wed,  9 Feb 94 16:37:01 PST
To: Fun_People
Subject: UBPIOTD (Useless But Possibly Interesting Information Of The Day, natch)

 From: Nat Howard <>
 From: Bill Innanen <wgi@APLCOMM.JHUAPL.EDU>

US Standard Railroad Gauge
How MilSpecs Live Forever

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 ft 8 1/2
in (1.44 m).  That's an exceedingly odd number.

Why is that gauge used?  Because that's the way they built them in England,
and the US railroads were built by English ex patriots.

Why did the English build 'em like that?  Because the first rail lines were
built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that's
the gauge they used.

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

OK!  Why did the wagons use that wheel spacing?  Well, if they tried to use
any other spacing the wagons would break on some of the old, long distance
roads, because that's the spacing of the ruts.

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.

And the ruts?  The initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear
of breaking their wagons, were first made by Roman war chariots.  Since the
chariots were made by or for Imperial Rome they were all alike in the
matter of wheel spacing (ruts again).

Thus we have the answer to the original question.

The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 ft 8 1/2 in derives from the
original military specification (MilSpec) for an Imperial Roman army war
chariot.  MisSpecs (and bureaucracies) live forever!

[=] © 1994 Peter Langston []