The campaign of the Russians against the Turcomans presented two great difficulties; these were the questions of crossing districts in which water was extremely scarce or failed entirely, and of victualing the expeditionary forces. This latter object was completely effected by means of 67 miles of railway, 20 in. gauge, 14 lb. steel rails, with 500 carriages for food, water, and passengers. The rails were laid simply on the sand, so that small locomotives could not be used, and were obliged to be replaced by Kirghiz horses, which drew with ease from 1,800 lb. to 2,200 lb. weight for 25 miles per day.
In the Tunisian war this railroad of 20 in. gauge, 14 lb. rail, was replaced by that of two ft. gauge, with 14 lb. and 19 lb. rails. There were quite as great difficulties as in the Turcoman campaign, and the country to be crossed was entirely unknown. The observations made before the war spoke of a flat and sandy country. In reality a more uneven country could not be imagined; alternating slopes of about 1 in 10 continually succeeded each other; and before reaching Kairouan 7½ miles of swamp had to be crossed. Nevertheless the horses harnessed to the railway carriages did on an average twelve to seventeen times the work of those working ordinary carriages. In that campaign also, on account of the steep ascents, the use of locomotives had to be given up. The track served not only for the conveying of victuals, war material, and cannon, but also of the wounded; and a large number of the survivors of this campaign owe their lives to this railway, which supplied the means of their speedy removal without great suffering from the temporary hospitals, and of carrying the wounded to places where more care could be bestowed upon them.
The carriages which did duty in this campaign are wagons with a platform entirely of metal, resting upon eight wheels. The platform is 13 ft. 1 in. in length, and 3 ft. 11 in. in width. The total length with buffers is 14 ft. 9 in. This carriage may be at will turned into a goods wagon or a passenger carriage for sixteen persons, with seats back to back, or an ambulance wagon for eight wounded persons.
For the transport of cannon the French military engineers have adopted small trucks. A complete equipage, capable of carrying guns weighing from 3 to 9 tons, is composed of trucks with two or three axles, each being fitted with a pivot support, by means of which it is made possible to turn the trucks, with the heaviest pieces of ordnance, on turntables, and to push them forward without going off the rails at the curves.
The trucks which have been adopted for the service of the new forts in Paris are drawn by six men, three of whom are stationed at each end of the gun, and these are capable of moving with the greatest ease guns weighing 9 tons.
The narrow-gauge railway was tested during the war in Tunis more than in any preceding campaign, and the military authorities decided, after peace had been restored in that country, to continue maintaining the narrow-gauge railways permanently; this is a satisfactory proof of their having rendered good service. The line from Sousse to Kairouan is still open to regular traffic. In January, 1883, an express was established, which leaves Sousse every morning and arrives at Kairouan--a distance of forty miles--in five hours, by means of regularly organized relays. The number of carriages and trucks for the transport of passengers and goods is 118.
The success thus attained by the narrow-gauge line goes far to prove how unfounded is the judgment pronounced by those who hold that light railways will never suffice for continuous traffic. These opinions are based on certain cases in the colonies, where it was thought fit to adopt a light rail weighing about 18 lb. to 27 lb. per yard, and keeping the old normal gauge. It is nevertheless evident that it is impossible to construct cheap railways on the normal gauge system, as the maintenance of such would-be light railways is in proportion far more costly than that of standard railways.
The narrow gauge is entirely in its right place in countries where, as notably in the case of the colonies, the traffic is not sufficiently extensive to warrant the capitalization of the expenses of construction of a normal gauge railway.
Quite recently the Eastern Railway Company of the province of Buenos Ayres have adopted the narrow gauge for connecting two of their stations, the gauge being 24 in. and the weight of the rails 19 lb. per yard. This company have constructed altogether six miles of narrow-gauge road, with a rolling stock of thirty passenger carriages and goods trucks and two engines, at a net cost price of 7,500l., the engines included. This line works as regularly as the main line with which it is connected. The composite carriages in use leave nothing to be desired with regard to their appearance and the comforts they offer. Third-class carriages, covered and open, and covered goods wagons, are also employed.
All these carriages are constructed according to the model of those of the Festiniog Railway. The engines weigh 4 tons, and run at 12½ miles per hour for express trains with a live load of 16 tons; while for goods trains carrying 35 tons the rate is 7½ miles an hour.
Another purpose for which the narrow-gauge road is of the highest importance in colonial commerce is the transport of sugar cane. There are two systems in use for the service of sugar plantations:
1. Traction by horses, mules, or oxen.
2. Traction by steam-engine.
In the former case, the narrow gauge, 20 in. with 14 lb. rails, is used, with platform trucks and iron baskets 3 ft. 3 in. long.
The use of these wagons is particularly advantageous for clearing away the sugar cane from the fields, because, as the crop to be carried off is followed by another harvest, it is important to prevent the destructive action of the wheels of heavily laden wagons. The baskets may be made to contain as much as 1,300 lb. of cane for animal traction, and 2,000 lb. for steam traction. In those colonies where the cane is not cut up into pieces, long platform wagons are used entirely made of metal, and on eight wheels. When the traction is effected by horses or mules, a chain 14½ ft. long is used, and the animals are driven alongside the road. Oxen are harnessed to a yoke, longer by 20 in. to 24 in. than the ordinary yoke, and they are driven along on each side of the road.