1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Railways/Light Railways

Light Railways

The term light railways is somewhat vague and indefinite, and therefore to give a precise definition of its significance isGreat Britain not an easy matter. No adequate definition is to be found even in the British statute-book; for although parliament has on different occasions passed acts dealing with such railways both in Great Britain and Ireland, it has not inserted in any of them a clear and sufficient statement of what it intends shall be understood by the term, as distinguished from an ordinary railway. Since the passing of the Light Railways Act of 1896, which did not apply to Ireland, it is possible to give a formal definition by saying that a light railway is one constructed under the provisions of that act; but it must be noted that the commissioners appointed under that act have authorized many lines which in their physical characteristics are indistinguishable from street tramways constructed under the Tramways Act, and to these the term light railways would certainly not be applied in ordinary parlance. Still, they do differ from ordinary tramways in the important fact that the procedure by which they have been authorized is simpler and cheaper than the methods by which special private acts of parliament have to be obtained for tramway projects. Economy in capital outlay and cheapness in construction is indeed the characteristic generally associated with light railways by the public, and implicitly attached to them by parliament in the act of 1896, and any simplifications of the engineering or mechanical features they may exhibit compared with the standard railways of the country are mainly, if not entirely, due to the desire to keep down their expenses.

The saving of cost is effected in two ways: (1) Instead of having to incur the expenses of a protracted inquiry before parliament, the promoters of a light railway under the act of 1896 make an application to the light railway commissioners, who then hold a local inquiry, to obtain evidence of the usefulness of the proposed railway, and to hear objections to it, and, if they are satisfied, settle the draft order and hand it over to the Board of Trade for confirmation. The Board may reject the order if it thinks the scheme to be of such magnitude or importance that it ought to come under the direct consideration of parliament, or it may modify it in certain respects, or it may remit it to the commissioners for further inquiry. But once the order is confirmed by the Board, with or without modifications, it has effect as if it had been enacted by parliament, and it cannot afterwards be upset on the ground of any alleged irregularity in the proceedings. (2) The second source of economy is to be sought in the reduced cost of actually making the line and of working it when made. Thus the gauge may be narrow, the line single, the rails lighter than those used in standard practice, while deep cuttings and high embankments may be avoided by permitting the curves to be sharper and the gradients steeper: such points conduce to cheapness of construction. Again, low speeds, light stock, less stringent requirements as to continuous brakes, signals, block-working and interlocking, road-crossings, stations, &c., tend to cheapness in working. On the lines actually authorized by the Board of Trade under the 1896 act the normal minimum radius of the curves has been fixed at about 600 ft.; when a still smaller radius has been necessary, the speed has been reduced to 10 m. an hour and a guard-rail insisted on inside the curve. Again, the speed has been restricted to 20 m. an hour on long inclines with gradients steeper than 1 in 50, and also on a line which had scarcely any straight portions and in which there were many curves of 600 ft. radius and gradients of 1 in 50. In the case of a line of 2½ ft. gauge, with a ruling gradient of 1 in 40, a maximum speed of 15 m. an hour and a minimum radius of curve of 300 ft. have been prescribed. Curves of still smaller radius have entailed a maximum speed of 10 m. an hour. It must be understood that a railway described as “light” is not necessarily built of narrower gauge than the standard. Many lines, indeed, have been designed on the normal 4 ft. 8½ in. gauge, and laid with rails weighing from 50 to 70 ℔ per yard; a flat—footed 60 ℔ rail, with the axle load limited to 14 tons, has the advantage for such lines that it permits the employment of a proportion of the locomotives used on main lines. The orders actually granted have allowed 50 ℔, 56 ℔, 60 ℔ and 70 ℔ rails, with corresponding axle loads of 10, 12, 14 and 16 tons. On a line of 2 ft. gauge, rails of 40 ℔ have been sanctioned. In regard to fencing and precautions at level-crossings, less rigid requirements may be enforced than with standard railways; and in some cases where trains are likely to be few, it has been provided that the normal position of the gates at crossings shall be across the line. Again, if the speed is low and the trains infrequent, the signalling arrangements may be of a very simple and inexpensive kind, or even dispensed with altogether. It should be mentioned that the act provided that the Treasury might advance a portion of the money required for a line in cases where the council of any county, borough or district had agreed to do the same, and might also make a special advance in aid of a light railway which was certified by the Board of Agriculture to be beneficial to agriculture in any cultivated district, or by the Board of Trade to furnish a means of communication between a fishing-harbour and a market in a district where it would not be constructed without special assistance from the state.

As a general classification the commissioners have divided the schemes that have come before them into three classes: (A) those which like ordinary railways take their own line across country; (B) those in connexion with which it is proposed to use the public roads conjointly with the ordinary road traffic; and (Neutral) which includes inclined railways worked with a rope, and lines which possess the conditions of A and B in about equal porportions.

The Light Railways Act 1896 was to remain in force only until the end of 1901 unless continued by parliament, but it was continued year by year under the Expiring Laws Continuance Act. In 1901 the president of the Board of Trade introduced a bill to continue the act until 1906, and to amend it so as to make it authorize the construction of a light railway on any highway, the object being to abolish the restriction that a light railway should run into the area of at least two local authorities; but it was not proceeded with. Towards the end of 1901 a departmental committee of the Board of Trade was formed to consider the Light Railways Act, and in 1902 the president of the Board of Trade (Mr Gerald Balfour) stated that as a result of the deliberations of this committee, a new bill had been drafted which he thought would go very far to meet all the reasonable objections that had been urged against the present powers of the local authorities. This bill, however, was not brought forward. In July 1903, Lord Wolverton, on behalf of the Board of Trade, introduced a bill to continue and amend the Light Railways Act. It provided that the powers of the light railway commissioners should continue until determined by parliament, and also provided, inter alia, that in cases Where the Board of Trade thought, under section (9) subsection (3) of the original act, that a proposal should be submitted to parliament, the Board of Trade itself might submit the proposals to parliament by bringing in a bill for the confirmation of the light railway order, with a special report upon it. Opposition on petition could be heard before a select committee or a joint committee as in the case of private bills. The bill was withdrawn on the 11th of August 1903, Lord Morley appealing to the Board of Trade to bring in a more comprehensive measure to amend the unsatisfactory state of legislation in relation to tramways and light railways. In 1904 the president of the Board of Trade brought in a bill on practically the same lines as the amending bill of 1903. It reached second reading but was not proceeded with. Similar amending bills were introduced in the 1905 and 1906 sessions, but were withdrawn. During the first ten years after the act came into force 545 applications for orders were received, 313 orders were made, and 282 orders were confirmed. The orders confirmed were for 1731 m., involving an estimated capital expenditure of £12,770,384. At the end of 1906 only 500 m. had been opened for traffic, and the mileage of lines opened was much less in proportion to the mileage sanctioned in the cases of lines constructed on their own land than in the case of lines more of the nature of tramways. (In other countries where the mileage of main lines of railways in proportion to area and population is roughly the same as in the United Kingdom, the mileage of light railways already constructed is considerable, while many additional lines are under construction. At the end of 1903 there were 6150 m. working in France, costing on an average £4500 per mile, earning £275 per mile per annum; 3730 miles in Prussia costing £4180 per mile, earning £310 per mile per annum; 1430 m. in Belgium at £3400 per mile, earning £320 per mile per annum.) The average cost per mile in Great Britain on the basis of the prescribed estimates is £5860, but this figure does not include the cost of equipment and does not cover the whole cost of construction. According to the light railway commissioners, experience satisfied them (a) that light railways were much needed in many parts of the country and that many of the lines proposed, but not constructed, were in fact necessary to admit of the progress, and even the maintenance, of existing trade interests; and (b) that improved means of access were requisite to assist in retaining the population on the land, to counteract the remoteness of rural districts, and also, in the neighbourhood of industrial centres, to cope with the difficulties as to housing and the supply of labour. They pointed out that while during the first five years the act was in force there were 315 applications for orders, during the second five years there were only 142 applications, and that proposals for new lines had become less numerous owing to the various difficulties in carrying them to a successful completion and to the difficulty of raising the necessary capital even when part of it was provided with the aid of the state and of the local authorities. They expressed the opinion that an improvement could be effected enabling the construction of many much-needed lines by an amendment of some of the provisions of the Light Railways Act, and by a reconsideration of the conditions under which financial or other assistance should be granted to such lines by the state and by local authorities.

The so-called light railways in the United States and the British colonies have been made under the conditions peculiar to new countries. Their primary object being the development and peopling of the land, they have naturally been made as cheaply as possible; and as in such cases the cost of the land is inconsiderable, economy has been sought by the use of lighter and rougher permanent way, plant, rolling stock, &c. Such railways are not “light” in the technical sense of having been made under enactments intended to secure permanent lowness of cost as compared with standard lines. On the continent of Europe many countries have encouraged railways which are light in that sense. France began to move in' this direction in 1865, and has formulated elaborate provisions for their construction and regulation. Italy did the same in its laws in 1873, 1879, 1881, 1887 and 1889; and Germany fostered enterprise of this kind by the imperial edicts of 1875, 1878 and 1892. Holland, Hungary and Switzerland were all early in the field; and Belgium has succeeded, through the instrumentality of the semi-official Société Nationale de Chemins de For Vicinaux, started in 1885, in developing one of the most complete systems of rural railway transport in the world.

In France the lines which best correspond to British light railways are called Chemins de fer d’intérêt local. These are regulated byFrance. a decree No. 11,264 of 6th August 1881, which the Ministry of Public Works is charged to carry out. The model “form of regulation” lay’s down the scales of the drawings and the information to be shown thereon. For the first installation a single line is prescribed, but the concessionaire must provide space and be prepared to double when required. The gauge may be either 1.44 metres (4 ft. 8·7 in.), or 1 metre (3 ft. 3·37 in.), or ·75 metre (2 ft. 5·5 in.). The radius of curves for the 1·44 m. gauge must not be less than 250 metres, 100 metres for the 1 m. gauge and 50 metres for the ·75 m. gauge. A straight length of not less than 60 metres for the largest gauge and 40 metres for the smallest must be made between two curves having opposite directions. Except in special cases, gradients must not exceed 3 in 100; and between gradients in the opposite sense there must be not less than 60 metres of level for 1·44 m. and 40 metres for 1 m. and ·75 m. gauges. The position of stations and stopping-places is regulated by the council of the department. The undertaking, once approved, is regarded as a work of public utility, and the undertakers are invested with all the rights that a public department would have in the case of the carrying out of public works. At the end of the period of the concession the départment comes into possession of the road and all its fixed appurtenances, and in the last five years of the period the départment has the right to enter into possession of the line, and apply the revenue to putting it into a thorough state of repair. It has also the right to purchase the undertaking at the end of the first fifteen years, the net profits of the preceding seven years to govern the calculation of the purchase price. The maximum 1st, 2nd and 3rd class passenger fares are, per kilometre, ·067 f. (·6d.), ·050 f. (·455d.) and ·037 f. (·34d.) respectively, when the trains are run at grande vitesse, the fares including 30 kilogrammes weight of personal baggage.

In Belgium a public company under government control (“Société Nationale de Chemins de Fer Vicinaux”) does all that in FranceBelgium. forms the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior and of the prefect of the department. Over an average of years it ap ears that 27% of the capital cost was found by the state, 28% by the province, 40·9% by the communes and 4·1% by private individuals. At the end of 1908 there were 2085 m. in operation, and the total mileage authorized was 2603, while the construction of a considerable further mileage was under consideration. As far as possible, these railways are laid beside roads, in preference to independent formation; the permanent way costs £977 per mile in the former as against £793 in the latter. If laid in paving, the price varies between £1108 and £2266 per mile. Through villages, and where roads have to be crossed, the line is of the usual tramway type. The line is of 1 metre gauge, with steel rails weighing 21½ kilos (42 ℔) per yard. In the towns a deeper rail is used, weighing about 60 ℔ per yard. In three lines of the Vicinaux system, in the aggregate 45 m. in length, the sharpest curves are 30 metres, 35 metres and 40 metres respectively. There are gradients of 1 in 20 and 1 in 25. The speed is limited to 30 kilometres (about 18 m.) in the country and 6 m. per hour in towns and through villages.

In Italy many railways which otherwise fulfil the conditions of a light railway are constructed with a gauge of 4 ft. 8½ in. TheItaly. weights are governed by what the railway has to carry, and the speed. Light locomotives, light rails and light rolling stock are employed. There are no bridges, except where watercourses occur. Cuttings are reduced to a minimum; and where the roads are sufficiently wide, the rails are laid on the margins. The advantage of uniformity of gauge is in the use of trucks for goods which belong to the rolling stock of the main lines. In Italy these railways are called “economic railways,” and are divided into five types. Types I., II. and III. are of 4 ft. 8½ in. gauge, type IV. of 0·95 m. and type V. of 0·70 m.; but as there is no example of type V., the classification is practically one of 1·445 m. (4 ft. 8½ in.) and one of 0—95 (3 ft. 0·5 in.). The chief difference between the first three types lies in the weight of rails and rolling stock and in the radius of the curves. The real light railway of Italy is that of type IV.: gauge, 0·95 m. (3 ft. 0·5 in.); weight of rails, 12 (26·45 ℔) to 20 (44 ℔) kilos; mean load per axle, 6 tons; minimum curve, 70 m. (229 ft. 2·6 in.) radius; width of formation, 3·50 m. (11 ft. 5·5 in.); top width of ballast, 2·10 m. (6 ft. 10·7 in.); depth of ballast under sleepers, 0·10 m. (3 ft. 9·5 in.); maximum gradient, 1 in 50; length of sleepers, 1·70 m. (5 ft. 6·92 in.); width between parapets and width of tunnels, 1 m. over width of carriage; height of tunnels, 5 m. (16 ft. 4·85 in.); locomotives, maximum weight per axle 6 tons, rigid wheel base 1·80 m. (5 ft. 10·86 in.), diameter of driving-wheels 1 m. (3 ft. 3·37 in.).

In Germany the use of light railways (Klein-bahnen) has made great strides. The gauges in use vary considerably between 4 ft.Germany. 8½ in., the standard national gauge, and 1 ft. 11¾ in., which appears to be the smallest in use. They are under the control of the Post and Telegraph department, the state issuing loans to encourage the undertakings; the authorities in the provinces and communes also give support in various ways, and under various conditions, to public bodies or private persons who desire to promote or embark in the industry. These conditions, as well as the degree of control over the construction and working of the lines, are left to the regulation of the provincial governments. Similarly, the same authorities decide for themselves the conditions under which the public roads may be used, and the precautions for public safety, all subject to the confirmation of the imperial government.

What are known as “portable railways” should be included in the same category as light railways. With a 24 in. gauge,Portable railways. lines of a portable kind can be made very handily and the cost is very much less than that of a permanently constructed light railway. The simplicity is great; they can be quickly mounted and dismounted; the correct gauge can be perfectly maintained; the sections of rails and sleepers (which are of iron) are very portable, and skilled labour is not required to lay or to take them up; the making of a “turn-out” is easy, by taking out a 15 ft. section of the way and substituting a section with points and crossings. The safe load per wheel varies between 12 cwt. on a 10 in. 16 ℔ wheel and 40 cwt. on an 18 in. 56 ℔ wheel. The rolling stock is constructed either for farm produce or heavy minerals, the latter holding 10 to 27 cub. ft. For timber, 4 or 5 ft. bogies can be used. A useful wagon for agricultural transport on a 24 in. gauge line is 16 ft. long by 5 ft. wide; it weighs 72 cwt. and costs £30. A portable line of this kind will have 20 ℔ steel rails and 2112 steel sleepers—4 ft. 6 in. long—to a mile, laid 2 ft. 6 in. apart centre to centre. The total cost per mile of such a line, including all bolts, nuts, fish-plates and fastenings, ready for laying, delivered in the United Kingdom, is under, £500 a mile.

See Evans Austin, The Light Railways Act 1896, which contains the rules of the Board of Trade; W. H. Cole, Light Railways at Home and Abroad; Lieut.-Col. Addison, Report to the Board of Trade (1894) on Light Railways in Belgium.  (C. E. W.; E. Ga.)