The world of railways and trains has undergone so many intriguing and significant changes that no one could argue that railroads have not played a major part in the evolution of human cultures and societies all around the world. For some, the tracks that link so many points on our planet as well as the trains above them that move between those points, are an object of fascination and wonder.
Today, some incredibly old railway networks are still maintained and used regularly; carrying out the duties they carried out centuries ago but with much faster trains now, while others lay abandoned and forgotten as mother nature slowly reclaims her land and grows over the tracks, hiding their existence from view. And then there are some railways that are preserved rather than maintained, so even though they might not be capable of full-scale operation, they can at least be toured around on foot or in limited amounts via smaller live locomotives.
What are Narrow-Gauge Railways?
Narrow-Gauge railways came about when there was a need for installing train lines across tight and cramped spaces that couldn’t accommodate a normal-sized railroad. While the standard railway track had a gauge (the measurement of the distance between the outermost rails of the track) measurement of around 1,435 mm, the narrow-gauge railways had a gauge measurement ranging from anywhere between 1,067 mm to a very narrow 600 mm.
Narrow-Gauge railways were usually installed in places that needed sharper than normal turns and were also cheaper to build and maintain, especially on rocky and mountainous terrain that presented a lot of perils during the construction and maintenance of railways tracks. Narrow-Gauge railroads were also popular in mines, where the ground twisted and turned continuously, as well as on busy city streets congested with traffic and people alongside the accompanying buildings.
What do Preserved Narrow-Gauge Railway Sites Hold?
Narrow-Gauge railroads that have been preserved as tourist attractions nowadays also fit in to the category of heritage railways. Heritage railways entail such railroads that were used for proper work in the olden days, and are now preserved in either an unused form, or are used to provide short train rides to visitors. Many heritage railways are preserved and maintained in a way that the railways tracks, the trains, and oftentimes their surroundings as well, all mimic the time period during which these railways had been in operation.
Planning a visit to a preserved heritage railway is always worth it. You will either get to step back in time and get to experience a bygone era of industrialization and progress, or you will get to admire the railroads and trains that once ran ceaselessly to support the needs of a rapidly developing species that continued to colonize newer and newer places across the world.
The Talyllyn Railway in Wales, U.K
The Talyllyn Railway in Wales was first opened in the year 1865. It is also known to be the first narrow-gauge railway line that had been authorized by the Act of Parliament in Britain to carry passengers via steam haulage. The railway was used to transport slate from the quarries at Bryn Eglwys to the town of Tywyn. The Talyllyn Railway is worth mentioning first on this list because not only was it the first ever example of a heritage railways after it was rescued and maintained to continue running by volunteers in 1950, but also because it became the spark that ignited the passion of preserving railway lines across the entire world.
Today, the Talyllyn Railway line is famed for running through the serene countryside of Wales, passing beautiful forests that you can take a walk in as well as the small but charming Dolgoch Falls. The railway line runs from the afore-mentioned town of Tywyn to Abergynolwyn and NantGwernol. The ride makes for a very calming way to spend the day and the railroad is definitely one to consider visiting for an afternoon.
The Čierny Hron Railway in Slovakia
TheČiernyHron Railway line was established in the 1910’s as a freight train that carried logs between a multitude of locations. Beginning from the 19th of July, 1927 and lasting up till the year 1962, the ČiernyHron Railway also carried passengers alongside the usual cargo. The ČiernyHron Railways was shut down in 1982, but was then granted the status of a heritage railway and reopened in 1992 after railroad enthusiasts and volunteers repaired it back to working condition. It is also thought to be unique in the way that it is the only railway in the world that passes through a soccer stadium.
The Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad in the United States
In the year of 1880, the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad began to lay down railway tracks of what would be known as the San Juan Extension. The people in charge decided to use narrow-gauge railway tracks instead of the standard-gauge ones to save on construction costs and allow them to make tighter turns that would have been impossible to achieve with a standard-gauge railway line.
When the whole extension had finished being constructed, the 64-mile long track had been lain through some really beautiful vistas. It went over the Cumbres Pass, a mountain range that reached extreme heights and presented some spectacular views, as well as through the edges of the Toltec Gorge. These two locations being perhaps the most beautiful sights along the whole railway, the railroad line was soon named after them.
The Cumbres& Toltec Scenic Railroad remained in operation for a very long time, and even saw further extensions that joined it with the states of New Mexico and Colorado. It wasn’t until as recent as 2012 that the railroad was designated as a National Historic Landmark. This title was bestowed upon the railway line in recognition of its crucial role in helping the region around it develop and prosper, as well as in recognition for just how well the railway line had been maintained across so many decades.
The Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway in the United States
A narrow-gauge railway with one of the narrowest gauges on this list – measuring at only 610 mm – the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway was run as a for-profit operation between the towns of Wiscasset, Albion, and Winslow in the state of Maine. The railway company for this railway kept it running from 1895 to 1933. The railway was abandoned three years later in 1936. The Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway Museum stepped up in recent times to restore two miles of the abandoned track and make it operational again as an official heritage railway. The Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railways now carries passengers around for a joyride, though it is also occasionally used to ferry some cargo as well.
The White Pass and Yukon Route in Canada
As Canada never really bothered constructing many narrow-gauge railways, it doesn’t have many to show nowadays either. In fact, the White Pass and Yukon Route is the only Canadian narrow-gauge railroad line that is still in operation today. It is known for being a completely isolated railway line that features zero direct connections to any other railway lines, and needs to have its passengers and cargo delivered via ferry and then road.
The White Pass and Yukon Route railway line was started construction on in the year 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush. Two years later in 1900, work on the railroad reached conclusion and the railway line became the primary route to the interior of the Yukon. The railway line saw a healthy life that lasted until as late as 1982, when it was finally shut down. Only four years later though, the railway was partially revived as a heritage railway and was begun to be used solely for tourism purposes. It was bought by Carnival Corporation & plc in the month of July in the year 2018. Canada can be a great place to visit and see the history and also check out places like Vancouver, ski and enjoy the beauty.
The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway Kent, England
The narrowest railway on the list, the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway’s tracks measure a very slim 381 mm apart. The railway had been a project undertaken by two racing drivers with millions of Pounds to back them up. Count Louis Zborowski, one of the racers that had given birth to this railway, was killed in an accident on the 19th of October, 1924. The other racer, Captain John Edwards PresgraveHowey continued work on the railroad alone.
The railway, due to the many public crossings and owned land that it was proposed to pass through, had to undergo a ton of bureaucracy until it finally finished construction on the 16th of July in 1927. Those weren’t the end of troubles to follow the railway line, but in 1967 a supporters’ association was formed under the name of the Romney, Hythe&Dymchurch Railway Association and has since been the biggest contributing factor in the railway line’s maintenance and frequent refurbishments.
This is but a partial list of some of the more interesting preserved narrow-gauge railway lines out there today. There are quite a few more to be found in just the United States and the United Kingdom alone. There are lots of other countries that have narrow-gauge heritage railways to visit as well, but any of the above choices would be a solid way to spend a day or two.