Towards the close of this inquiry Mr. Brunei requested, on the part of the broad gauge companies, to institute a set of experiments to test the power of their engines; and Mr. Bidder, on the part of the narrow gauge companies, undertook, in consequence of such application, to make corresponding experiments on the narrow gauge. After sanctioning these trials, and being present at the performance of them, we may observe, without entering into a minute detail of the results, that they proved the broad gauge engines to possess greater capabilities for speed, with equal loads, and generally speaking, of propelling greater loads with equal speed: and moreover that the working of such engines is economical where very high speeds are required; or where the loads to be conveyed are such as to require the full power of the engine. * * *
"After a full consideration of all the circumstances that have come before us, and of the deductions we have made from the evidence, we are led to conclude -
"1st. That as regards the safety, accommodation, and convenience of the passengers, no decided preference is due to either gauge, but that on the broad gauge the motion is generally more easy at high velocities.
" 2d. That in respect of speed, we consider the advantages are with the broad gauge, but we think the public safety would be endangered in employing the greater capabilities of the broad gauge much beyond their present use, except on roads more consolidated and more substantially and perfectly formed than those of the existing lines.
"3d. That in the commercial case of the transport of goods, we believe the narrow gauge to possess the greater convenience, and to be more suited to the general traffic of the country.
" 4th. That the broad gauge involves the greater outlay, and that we have not been able to discover either in the maintenance of way, in the cost of locomotive power, or in the other annual expenses, any adequate reduction to compensate for the additional first cost."
The commissioners, esteeming the importance of the highest speed for express trains as being of far less moment than affording increased convenience to the general traffic of the country, consider that the narrow gauge should be preferred for general convenience; and if uniformity should be required they recommend that uniformity to be produced by an alteration of the broad to the narrow gauge; especially as the extent of the former is at present only 274 miles, while that of the latter is 1901 miles; and as the alteration of the former to the latter, even if of equal length, would be the less costly as well as the less difficult operation.
They wish, however, not to be understood to express an opinion that the gauge of 4ft. 8 1/2in. is in all respects the best suited for the general purposes of the country. Some engineers have recommended 5 feet as the best dimension; others have suggested 5ft. 3in.. 5ft. 6in., and even 6ft., but none so much as 7 feet, except those who are interested in the broad gauge lines. Again, some eminent engineers contend that a 4ft. 8 1/2 gauge gives ample space for all the railway requirements, and recommend no change to be made in the gauge. The Eastern Counties railway was originally constructed on a gauge of 5 feet, and bassince been converted into a gauge of 4ft. 8 1/2in. to avoid a break of gauge; and it ha3 been stated that some lines in Scotland, originally on the gauge of 5ft. 3in. are about to be altered to 4ft. 8 1/2in. for the same reason. * **
Under the present state of things, we see no sufficient reason to recommend the adoption of any gauge intermediate between the narrow gauge of 4ft. 8 1/2 and the broad gauge of 7 feet; and we are particularly struck by the circumstance, that almost all the continental railways have been formed upon the 4ft. 8 1/2 gauge, the greater number having been undertaken after a long experience of both the broad and the narrow in this country; nor must the fact be lost sight of, that some of these railways have been planned and constructed by English engineers, and amongst that number we find Mr. Brunei, the original projector of the broad gauge. Mr. Brunei was also the engineer of the Merthyr fydoil and Cardiff line, which is on the 4ft. 8 1/2 gauge; and we think that the motives which led to his adoption of the narrow gauge in that instance would equally apply to many English lines.
We are sensible of the importance, in ordinary circumstances, of leaving commercial enterprise, as well as the genius of scientific men, unfettered; we therefore feel that the restriction of the gauge is a measure that should not he lightly entertained; and we are willing to admit, were it not for the great evil that must inevitably be experienced when lines of unequal gauges come into contact, that varying gradients, curves, and traffic, might justify some difference in the breadth of gauge. This appears to be the view which Mr. Brunei originally took of the subject; for the Great Western proper is a line of unusually good gradients, on which a larger passenger traffic was anticipated; and as it touched but slightly on any mineral district, it embraced all the conveniences and advantages of the broad gauge system, and was comparatively free from the influence of those defects on which we have commented; but such a breadth of gauge, however applicable it may have been considered to its particular district, appears ill suited to the requirements of many of our northern and midland lines.
In reference to the branches already in connexion with the Great Western railway, we may observe, that the greatest average train on the Oxford branch for two weeks in July and October was only 48 tons; on the Cheltenham branch it did not exceed 46; between Bristol and Exeter 53; and between Swindon and Bristol it was under 60 tons. With such a limited traffic the power of the broad gauge engine seems beyond the requirements of those districts.
From an estimate furnished to us, and the general grounds of which we see no reason to dispute, we find that the expense of altering the existing broad gauge to narrow gauge lines, including the alteration or substitution of locomotives, and carrying stock, would not much exceed £1,000,000; yet we neither feel that we can recommend the legislature to sanction such an expense from the public monies, nor do we think that the companies to which the broad gauge railways belong can be called upon to incur such an expense themselves (having made all their works with the authority of Parliament), nor even the more limited expense of laying down intermediate rails for narrow gauge traffic. Still less can we propose, for any advantage that has been suggested, the alteration of the whole of the railways of Great Britain, with their carrying stock and engines, to some intermediate gauge. The outlay in this case would be vastly more considerable than the sum above mentioned; and the evil, inconvenience, and danger to the traveller, and the interruption to the whole traffic of the country for a considerable period, and almost at one and the same time, would be such, that this change cannot be seriously entertained.
Guided by the foregoing considerations, the commissioners submit the following recommendations to the legislature:-
1st. That the gauge of 4ft. 8 1/2 in. be declared by the Legislature to be the gauge to be used in all public railways now under construction, or hereafter to be constructed, in Great Britain.
2d. That unless by the consent of the Legislature, it should not be permitted to the directors of any railway company to alter the gauge of such railway.
3d. That in order to complete the general chain of narrow gauge communication from the north of England to the southern coast, any suitable measure should be promoted to form a narrow gauge link from Oxford to Reading and thence to Basingstoke, or by any shorter route connecting the proposed Rugby and Oxford line with the South Western railway.
4th. That as any junction to be formed with a broad gauge line would involve a break of gauge, provided our first recommendation be adopted, great commercial convenience would be obtained by reducing the gauge of the present broad gauge lines, to the narrow gauge of 4ft. 8 1/2 in. and we therefore think it desirable that some equitable means should be found of producing such entire uniformity of gauge, or of adopting such other course as would admit of the narrow gauge carriages passing, without interruption or danger, along the broad gauge lines.