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by  R.L.Kennedy

"The Narrow Gauge" is a phrase that carries with it much history, evoking images of storied little railways of a bygone era long ago - gone but not forgotten.

Narrow Gauge can also be used in a derisive manner. Railway lines built to narrow gauge ran in many parts of the world and still do since in some countries what we think of as narrow gauge is normal or standard to them.

Colonial gauge, 3' 6"  (42")  was widely used throughout the British Empire and remains in use in some former British countries. There are many gauges around the world, including what  is referred to as broad gauge including India (5'6") and Russia (5'), but there is only one gauge that  is really "standard" it is 4' 8 1/2", which originated in England where railways themselves originated. It is the gauge used by almost every railway in North America, but this wasn't always the case.

Common narrow gauges on this continent are 36" and 42", the former being more prevalent, being
used by such roads as the White Pass & Yukon and most of the fabled Colorado slim gauge lines.
The latter was much less common although it did serve the needs of Newfoundland as well as several
other Canadian roads.

Early Toronto hosted a variety of railway widths. The Northern Railway of Canada, the Grand
Trunk and the Great Western were all built to the old Provincial gauge of 5' 6" mostly for military reasons. To prevent their use by enemy forces invading Canada from the U.S.A!

Running northwest from Toronto was the 3'6"  Toronto, Grey & Bruce and northeast was the
Toronto & Nippising,  also 3'6" for economy, but having no connection to each other!  The arrival of C.P.R. predecessors Credit Valley and Ontario & Quebec, brought standard gauge to the area.

As Canada's railway network expanded and easy interchange with US roads (most being Standard
gauge) was desired, railways were regauged to 4'8 1/2".

Old CNR railroaders, ex Grand Trunk to the core,  used to refer to the CPR  as the "narrow gauge". 
As a young  railroader in the Parkdale Yards in downtown Toronto I would hear us called just that. I used to think it was because the TG&B which ran through Parkdale to the Queens Wharf cross-
ing the CNR (GWR) was narrow gauge. In fact there were two reasons because both the TG&B and the Credit Valley (also in Parkdale) were narrow when compared to the Great Western broad gauge which was then actually considered normal. (When a third rail was added to handle standard gauge trains the engines carried a big "NG" sign ( SEE PICTURE) on the front to alert switchtenders.

It was here that the derisive or derogatory remarks came in to play, although usually in a kidding way. Their remarks were double-edged as they implied that both our width and our company was inferior to theirs. But we got back at them with an even more derisive term. They were known as the "wooden axle" road, an old term meaning a very dilapidated outfit since nothing would run very well using wooden axles.  TAKE THAT!


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