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The US Standard railroad gauge (distance between
Published: 7 months ago     submited by
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The US Standard railroad gauge (distance between the
rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number. Why
was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them in
England, and the US railroads were built by English expatriates. Why
did the English people build them 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 that they used for building wagons, which used that
wheel spacing. Why did the wagons use that odd wheel spacing? Well, if
they tried to use any other spacing the wagons would break on the old
long distance roads, because that’s the spacing of the old wheel 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 destroying their wagons,
were first made by Roman war chariots. Since the chariots were made
for or by Imperial Rome they were all alike in the matter of wheel
spacing. Thus, we have the answer to the original questions. The
United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives
from the original specification for an Imperial Roman army war
chariot. Specs and Bureaucracies live forever. So, the next time you
are handed a specification and wonder what horse’s behind came up with
it, you may be exactly right. Because the Imperial Roman chariots were
made to be just wide enough to accommodate the back-ends of two

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