The U.S. standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet, 8.5 inches. This is not only an odd number, but it has meant massive re-tooling for the rail manufacturers and substantial wasted raw materials.
So why is that figure used? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and the U.S. railroads were laid out by English expatriates.
Why did the English people build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.
Why did the tramway builders use that gauge then? Because those builders used the same jigs and tools they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.
Why did the wagons use that odd wheel spacing? If they tried to use any other spacing, the wagons would break on some of the old, long-distance roads. Why? That is the spacing of the old wheel ruts.
So why are those ruts at that spacing? Because the first long-distance roads in Europe were build by the Roman army for their legions, and the ruts were first made by the war chariots.
Thus, we have the answer to the original question. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman army war chariot. This is the distance just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war horses.
“And that’s the way we’ve always done it.” – when is now a good time to challenge or review your career or life system?