SERC Home Page
15 September 2014
AND FINALLY, SOME
THOUGHTS FROM ROB WINMILL –
The US standard railway
gauge is 4 ft 8.5 ins , a very odd number : why was that used ? -- Because they
built them that way in England and English expats built US railways.
So why did the English build them that way ? - Because the same people built
them who built the tramways which preceded them, and that was tramway gauge.
But why did they use that gauge? - Because the people who built the tramways
used the same jigs and tools that they used for wagons, and wagons used that
OK, but why did wagons have a 4 ft 8.5 in wheel spacing? - Well, if they used
any other spacing the wagon wheels would have broken on some of the old
long-distance English roads because that's the width of the wheel ruts.
Yes, but who built those old rutted roads ? - The first long-distance roads both
in England and Europe were built by Imperial Rome for the legions and they have
been used ever since.
And the ruts? - Made by Roman chariots , and everyone else had to match them for
fear of destroying their own wheels and wagons. All chariots were made for Rome
and were therefore all alike in wheel spacing. Thus, to return to your original
question; the US railway gauge comes from the spec. for a Roman chariot. So the
next time the engineers among you are given a spec. and start to wonder....."
which horse's rump came up with this..?" you could be dead right, because a
Roman chariot was made just wide enough to enclose the backsides of two war
So far, so logical. However, when you next see a Space Shuttle on the launch
pad, observe the two big booster rockets on the side of the fuel tanks - Solid
Rocket Boosters or SRBs - made at a factory in Utah. The SRB designers wanted
to make them a bit bigger but they had to be taken by train; the line ran
through a tunnel in the mountains and the SRBs had to fit through that tunnel.
The tunnel is slightly wider than the railway track of course and the track is
exactly 4 ft 8.5 ins wide.
So the major design feature of the world's most advanced and sophisticated
WAS DETERMINED BY THE WIDTH OF A HORSE'S ARSE !!