W.W.&F. Discussion Forum

The Maine Narrow Gauges (Historic & Preserved) => The Original W&Q and WW&F: 1894-1933 => Topic started by: Jock Ellis on November 06, 2010, 01:32:52 AM

Title: Had the 2-footers had their druthers
Post by: Jock Ellis on November 06, 2010, 01:32:52 AM
Had the 2-foot railroads been able to hook up and the scrappers not have gotten them, how long might they have lasted as one railroad?
Title: Re: Had the 2-footers had their druthers
Post by: John L Dobson on November 06, 2010, 08:05:28 AM
Had the 2-foot railroads been able to hook up and the scrappers not have gotten them, how long might they have lasted as one railroad?

Taking examples from elsewhere where this actually happened to some degree and a lengthy system resulted ( e.g.the County Donegal Joint Committee in Ireland, the Reseau Breton in France and the Harz system in Germany) I'd say possibly until the late 1950s or early '60s. In the USA the Rio Grande's San Juan narrow-gauge division lasted well into the 1950s, running year-round trains, and the seasonal oilfield equipment traffic to Farmington even longer.
Title: Re: Had the 2-footers had their druthers
Post by: Jock Ellis on November 07, 2010, 12:49:38 AM
The Rio Grande might still be in operation today but freight-focused management didn't pick up on the fact that the thousands of passengers they were carrying even as they were preparing to abandon the road were the tip of the tourist iceberg of what was to come. Do you think those tight-fisted Maine men might have found the same situation, people wanting to ride through the countryside, and changed the road(s) to passenger as did the White Pass and Yukon?
Title: Re: Had the 2-footers had their druthers
Post by: Pete "Cosmo" Barrington on November 07, 2010, 02:37:55 AM
Well, that was tried briefly with the B&H, but that wound up getting moved to South Carver, MA instead of operating in place.
It could maybe have happened with a combined WW&F/SR&RL if they'd joined, survived both wars, and struggled on to '55 or '60. By that time there was more of a focus on such things as preservation and railfan trips and such. However, I think it more likely that if the two had joined that only a portion of the entire operation would have survived as a tourist line. Probably one or two parts like the D&S and C&T RR's.
Title: Re: Had the 2-footers had their druthers
Post by: Wayne Laepple on November 07, 2010, 10:03:14 AM
I hate to bust the bubble, folks, but the two-footers died when they did because of two factors. By the late 1920's, trucks had become big enough and reliable enough that their door-to-door flexibility was a strong factor in their favor. At the same time, freight cars on the narrow gauge had not gotten any larger, and the capacity of a narrow gauge boxcar was about the same as that of a truck. The cost of transferring freight to or from the narrow gauge came into play, and most customers decided it made more sense to handle goods only once, rather than twice or even three times. As for the passenger business, as people began to retire their horses and buggies in favor of cars, they realized their car was a lot more convenient and flexible than the train. (In fact, that's one of the reasons passenger train advocates today have trouble convincing the public to use trains.)

As for the Colorado-New Mexico narrow gauges, they continued to exist as long as they did because the roads in that area were pretty basic, and transporting lumber, ore, pipe and drilling mud by truck wasn't feasible. Having ridden the Cumbres & Toltec, I can attest that it's a long way from Antonito to Chama, and there are very few roads and even fewer people in between. The Denver & Rio Grande Western tried and tried to get rid of the narrow gauge due to the cost of operating it with steam power and the expense incurred in transferring freight, but the old Interstate Commerce Commission would not grant the railroad permission to abandon the service. By the time the route was finally abandoned in 1968, the D&RGW had managed to get most freight moved over to "Rio Grande Motorways," their trucking subsidiary, and only a handful of freights operated that year. By then, the road system had penetrated the San Juan region, and trucking became a viable alternative to narrow gauge shipping. 
Title: Re: Had the 2-footers had their druthers
Post by: Mike Fox on November 07, 2010, 07:23:49 PM
And as much as I hate to say it, I'd have to side with Wayne. When the WW&F succombed to the inevitable in '33, roads were just coming into shape. Within the next 10 years, Route 1 was paved with cement, and year round travel became much easier.

Even if the line was connected to Farmington, much past the 40's would have been fortunate.

Title: Re: Had the 2-footers had their druthers
Post by: Jeff Acock on November 10, 2010, 03:44:12 PM
The economics of narrow gauge railroads makes for a fascinating study, especially the
question of "what if".  Speaking as one who has successfully "imagineered" a couple of
narrow gauge railroads that lasted into the 21st century.....(does that make me an
expert, or what?) there are some intriguing questions.

What if the SR&RL and WW&F had been able to survive the depression?  What if the B&H and
the Monson had not been subject to deferred maintenance and had been able to capitalize
on the boom in wartime traffic?  What if the KC had been extended to Augusta, to serve a
larger population base and compete on a level field with the rural trolley lines?  Or had
built to a connection with the WW&F so that coal could be transported directly from ships
at Wiscasset eliminating the expensive and time-consuming barge transfer at Randolph?

If the WW&F could have been built through to a connection to the SR&RL and the harbor at
Wiscasset developed to a large-scale shipping port could the resulting system have become
a seamless intermodal shipping facility moving farm and forest products for export,
bypassing both highways and standard-gauge railroads, with the only transfer the move
from rail to ship?  Can we imagine modern shipping containers riding on specially-built
2-foot gauge railcars?

Frank Winter appears to have had a similar idea when he purchased the "Hesperus" and
"Luther Little" along with the WW&F...inbound coal to the interior of the state, wood
products and produce outbound, a good effecient multi-modal system.  But the financial
stringency of the depression years stalled his ambitions and he died before he was able
to realize them.

George W. Hilton, in his economic history of narrow gauges points out that three major
factors mitigated against the survival of the narrow gauges.  1) The stagnation of
developement in narrow technology after about 1900.  2) The fact that many narrow gauges
were built to serve extractive industries which themselves had a finite lifespan. 
3) The necessity of transfer at points of interchange with standard-gauge roads. This was
exascerbated by the fact that little or no effort was ever made to reduce the labor-
intensiveness of freight transfer by mechanization or ergonomic studies.

Hilton also points out that the narrow gauges did have some apparent advantages; a
relatively low-capital initial investment with less sunken costs than a standard-gauge
railroad, the ability to survive on lower traffic volumes, lighter equipment and
lower speeds, enabling some flexibility in operating practices and crew
requirements that may not have been available to larger general-purpose railroads. 
Moreover, Hilton suggested that there appear to have been certain economies of scale that
favored 2-foot gauge railroads over 3-foot gauge, although he did not develope this
thesis.  There have been a handful of studies comparing 3-foot or 42-inch railroads to
standard-gauge lines, but to my knowledge no one has ever done an academic comparison of
2-foot gauge roads to the larger narrow gauges or to standard gauge or, for that matter
to truck transport.

So, while narrow-gauge railroads were usually not competetive as part of the general
railroad system, they could and did operate efficiently as specialized carriers or within
closed systems.  One of the best examples is the White Pass & Yukon which operated for
years as part of an intermodal system.  It did not connect with any other railroad, but
the company owned container ships, the railroad, trucks and airplanes, using each mode to
its best advantage.  It was both efficint and profitable until the on-line mines stopped
producing, then reopened as an intermodal passenger carrier (ship to railroad to bus) and
proved a great success at that also.

It would seem then, that if the Maine 2-footers could have connected to form an integral
system, farm/forest-to-seaport, and if they could have somehow survived the rail
stagnation of the 50's and 60's until, say, 1980 when the inherent inefficiencies and
limitations of highway transport  became obvious, and if they could have
developed narrow-gauge technology to current standards, there might be a large and
interesting 2-foot gauge system that survived and thrived into the 21st century.