The US Standard railroad gauge (the distance between the rails) is 4
feet, 8 ½ inches.
This is an exceedingly odd number. Why is that gauge used?
What reason would any decent engineer in his or her right mind choose such
an impractical distance?
The answer is due to the fact that this is the way they built the
train tracks originally in England and the USA railroads were built by English
expatriates. Ah. But...Why did the English build them like that in the first place?
It seems the reason can be traced even further back. The first
railway lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and
thats the gauge they used. Okay, fine, but why did they use that impractical
gauge in England back at the start of things?
Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and
tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing. Okay, but...Why did their wagons use that odd
Because if they tried to use any other spacing the wagon wheels would
break on some of the old, long distance roads. All the old roads had deep wheel ruts that
the wagon wheel spacing had to conform to or be ruined. So who built these stupid old
rutted roads? It turns out it was Caesar's fault. Probably that is who you suspected
in the first place.
It seems the first long distance roads in Europe were built by
Imperial Rome for the benefit of their legions. The Roman roads have been used ever since.
And the ruts?
The original ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of
destroying their wagons, were first made by the wheels of Roman war chariots. Since the chariots were made for or by Imperial
Rome they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.