RAILROAD CONSTRUCTION IN OLD AND MODERN
Scientific AmericanDecember 9, 1893
An exceedingly interesting exhibit at the World's Columbian
Exhibition was contributed by the George-Mary Mining Co., of Osnabruck,
Germany. This interesting collection represents different specimens
of road and railroad construction, from the most primitive form
of early times to the highest perfection of the modern steel rail.
The articles, most of which were real samples, and some of which
were in part or wholly reproductions, were taken from the Museum
of Permanent Way, which is one of the institutions of Osnabruck.
This museum owes its foundation to the fact that the company named
above has for many years been identified with the railroad interests
of the world, and had the requisite enterprise and enlightenment
to organize this most interesting collection.
In point of time the earliest age of transit is represented
by the plankroad (Fig.
1), the "Pontes Longi," or "long bridges,"
described by the Roman historian Tacitus. This exhibit is an actual
piece of a road laid about the fifth year of the Christian era,
by Domitius. It was 10½ miles long, over a marsh called
Dievenmoor, near Osnabruck. It is now covered with six feet of
peat and moss. It was excavated in 1892. It is to some extent
the predecessor of our modern plank roads. It will be noticed
bow the planks are split out radially from the trunk. It is said
that after exhumation it had to be dried in the dark to prevent
it from falling to fragments.
This structure, laid on longitudinal sleepers, and not intended
so much for wheeled vehicles as for horse and infantry, is followed
(Fig. 2) by
a primitive wooden railroad or tramway. Here we have wooden rails
simply spiked down on wooden sleepers. Later improvements consisted
in "gaining" the rails into the sleepers, so as to prevent
spreading, and in facing the tops of the rails with a strip of
hard wood easily replaceable or with a plate of iron. To a coal
mine proprietor named Beaumont, of Northumberland, the construction
with sleepers is attributed, in the year 1630. The example shown
is from the Apostle mine, Transylvania. Simple plank laid without
sleepers antedate this construction.
In England the spiking down of the plate of iron upon the wooden
rails was termed "plating" the rail. Here we find the
origin of the word "platelayer," still used in England
to denote men who lay rails on the sleepers.
The next cut (Fig.
3) is an early example of iron railroad work, constructed
by B. J. Curr, in Wales, in 1800. The rail is of angle iron section,
with fish-bellied flange, and is supported at its joints on rough
stones about two square feet in area and about eight inches thick.
The rails were a yard long. The spikes were driven into wooden
dowels set into holes drilled in the stone. This primitive road
ran from Merthyr-Tydvil to Aberdare Junction. In 1804 Richard
Trevithick experimented with an unsuccessful locomotive engine
on this road.
The form of cast iron rail shown in Fig. 4 is of more modern section. It dates
back to 1789, its constructor bearing the name of Jessop. The
ends of the bottom flange were enlarged to give a better support.
Each rail was between three and four feet long. This exhibit was
a model, no original being obtainable.
Still keeping to stone sleepers, we see in Fig. 5 a very curious rail laid by George
Stephenson for the Stockton-Darlington line in 1825. This is a
forged and rolled rail, attributed, as regards its construction,
to a metallurgist named Berkinshaw. It was laid on cut stone sleepers
with cast iron chairs. The rail was fish-bellied between the sleepers,
and had a slight foot-flange of fish-belly type. This railroad
employed other kinds of rails also. It was the first line worked
by locomotives. Stephenson here fastened the chairs directly by
wooden treenails driven into holes drilled in the stone. The rails
were fifteen feet long. A species of spike passing transversely
through the web secured the rail to the chairs. This construction
furnishes one of the earliest examples of the chair in railroad
Next we are introduced (Fig.
6) to the transverse tie or sleeper of wood, which not only
supported the rails, but also held them laterally so as to prevent
spreading. We also see an early example of the fish plate. Between
the wooden ties stone sleepers are seen, their use being abandoned
with reluctance. The rail was spiked down by dog-headed spikes,
dowels being employed for the stone sleepers. A line of this construction
was laid on the Bavarian state railroad as late as 1866.
The United States supplies the example shown in the cut (Fig. 7) from
the Georgia Central Railroad, referred to 1851. A series of transverse
sleepers carry longitudinal sleepers which are sometimes gained
into the transverse ones and sometimes rest on their upper surface.
The rail of wrought iron was of rebated section, so that the head
of the spike was below the tread. The sleepers of the upper and
lower sets were fastened to each other by treenails. The peculiar
hooked or bent plate used at the joints is indicated in the cut.
Sometimes the end of the rail sprung up and pierced the floor
of the car. This accident was termed a "snakehead."
This system at onetime was in extensive use in America.
shows a rail construction used on the Great Western Railway of
England under K. J. Brunel, about 1850. Here the longitudinal
sleepers carry the rail. As late as 1889 there were about 1,000
miles of longitudinal sleeper construction still in use. The cross
sleepers merely held the rails from spreading, a strap being used
to bold the two sets of sleepers together. The peculiar section
of rail with the chair securing alignment of the joints is to
In Fig. 9
we see an example of the double-headed rail from the Bombay, Baroda,
and Central India Railroad, referred to the year 1852. The constructing
engineer was W. Bridges Adams. The distinguishing peculiarity
of this system was the use of double longitudinal sleepers, running
along with the rail, and between which the rail was held by bolts
passing through the web of the rail and the wood on each side.
The bolts had no heads, were slotted at each end, and wedge-shaped
keys were driven into the slots. Transverse sleepers were used
to prevent spreading.
In Fig. 10
we have an example of German practice of the year 1838, from the
Leipsic-Dresden line, in Saxony. Here we have the familiar flat
base or single-head rail section held in a chair at the joints,
and elsewhere resting directly on the transverse sleepers. The
section differs from the modern rail in being less deep. Its foot
also is wider in proportion to its other dimensions than is that
of the modem rail. This is the earliest example we show of what
may be termed distinctively modern practice. In the exhibit the
rails and chairs were original, the other parts were supplied.
is another German example, dating back to 1842, from the Breslau-Oppeln
line, in Prussia. It was laid on cross ties, a very unusual arrangement
with this type of rail. In the exhibit the wooden ties were not
original, but had to be supplied.
In Fig. 12
we meet with a new feature, the, use of cast iron sleepers. It
is from the Alexandria-Cairo line in Egypt, laid by H. Greaves
in 1854. The sleepers are segments of spheres or pot-shaped, made
of cast iron, cast about the chair so as to make one piece with
it. Double-headed rails held at the joints by fish plates, and
transverse-keyed spacing bars axe used. The spacing bars were
distributed one on each side of the rail joint and two intermediate
between the joints, giving a total of four for each rail. Seven
sleepers were provided for each rail.
The iron works of the exhibiting company, the Georgmarienhutte,
Hasbergen, near Osnabruck, Prussia, give us an example of modern
practice (1890), shown in Fig.
13. It is an arrangement for avoiding butt joints. The rails
are rolled of peculiar section, the web being at one side of the
center, a distance equal to its own thickness. From the ends of
the rails the foot and head are cut off as shown in the cut, leaving
the thickness of the web unchanged. By laying the rails with webs
to right and left alternately the scarf joint shown is secured
with double thickness of web under it. The rail is of steel and
it is laid on soft steel sleepers, and is held by hooked chairs
and clips. Deep, angular fish plates are used at the joints.
In Fig. 14
is a sample of rail construction used on the Berlin-Stettin road
in 1882. Here we have a soft steel longitudinal sleeper, with
rail clamped to its top. At the joints a fish plate was used which
clamped both rail and sleeper.
In Fig. 15
we have a saddle or self-supporting rail, laid on the Great Western
road in England in 1855. The joints were secured by riveted fish
plates. This is interesting as being the first road laid without
exhibits one of the last examples of Continental design (Germany)
for countries where wood is abundant. The rail shown in Fig. 13
is used for this, but is canted inward to resist overturning strains.
In Fig. 17
we see the principle of Fig. 13 applied to a broad-footed rail,
to be laid without sleepers. This is one of the heaviest rails
in the world, weighing 127 pounds to the yard.
shows a similar construction which has already had ten years'
use on German lines. Twenty dollars per year is allowed as the
maintenance expense. Here a compound rail is employed instead
of the single one of ordinary construction.
and 20 show,
finally, rail systems for use in city streets. Here we see the
usual single rail system departed from. Although they present
examples of practice foreign to American ideas, they have been
extensively used in Germany and elsewhere. The sections are self-explanatory.
This exhibit, but a few of whose salient features we have had
room to present, was one of the most interesting at Chicago. Most
of these exhibits were described at length in Haarman's great
monograph on railroad construction. To Haarman's invention are
due in whole or part the constructions shown in Figs. 13, 14,
17, 18 and 19.
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