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Thread: Asking for prototype advice with speed limits for a narrow gauge 1880s/90s railway

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    Default Asking for prototype advice with speed limits for a narrow gauge 1880s/90s railway

    So, my current project is the construction of a small narrow gauge railway set in the mountains of Colorado during the 1880s or 90s. Currently, I have set the line's overall speed limit at 10mph, with a reduced limit of 7mph in yards. The line is mostly a kind of model railroad, I've just chosen to model it (at least at the present moment) without a table/room.

    My question is, based on prototypical practice, what kind of speed limits should I be using as inspiration for the ones I'm setting up on my route? In particular, there are a few areas of this topic I want to know more about.

    #1: Speed limits for bridges: I have a number of bridges, including two tall wooden trestles, a tall steel trestle, a medium-height wooden trestle, and a couple of short wooden trestles. What kind of speed limits would a real 3-foot railroad of my time period set for such bridges?

    #2: Speed limits for a canyon wall line: I have one section of track that is very similar to the highline of the Durango and Silverton RR, what kind of speed limit does the D&S place on trains while they're running through that section of track?

    #3 Speed limits within stations/yards: What kind of speed limits did prototype 3-foot railroads set for trains while they were operating within a yard or near a station?

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    I would look at track charts for similar areas you are modeling. You may be able to find this stuff by contacting historical societies or even by searching the web. Google Books comes to mind for this kind of thing or even the web archive (www.archive.org).
    John
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    Well, I have a small library of books on narrow gauge railroads in the Rockies and I don't recall ever seeing a mention of overall speed limits or seeing a photograph that included a sign. I'm sure the larger D&RGW had formal rules but the smaller lines were more of the engineer knowing what was safe and what wasn't as well as localized limits in the timetable. The RGS was 162 miles long divided into 2 divisions of roughly equal length. Durango to Rico was the southern division and Ridgeway to Rico was the northern division. There were also daily trains that ran between Ridgeway and Telluride. The RGS in the time period you are asking about had 161 wooden trestles but many were over small streams running beneath the track which over time were filled in with a large pipe carrying the stream through the fill. Scheduled trains were expected to travel over the division in 5 hours. The morning passenger train would leave Durango at 7 a.m. and arrive at Rico by Noon. This included stops at every station and stops at water tanks as needed. So more like 4 hours to travel 80 miles. The train would be serviced and turned at Rico in roughly an hour and leave for the return trip by 1 p.m. So it was possible to travel the whole line in 11 hours by changing trains at Rico.

    Here is a link to a collection of D&RGW employee timetables that give you an idea of how long between stations on their different divisions.

    https://www.drgw.net/info/EmployeeTimetables

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    i doubt you will find much exact info , the Uintah railway had a maximum speed of 14 mph downhill on 5% grades over Baxter pass , most of which is climbing along canyon walls. Braking was primitive in the 1890s and again, speeds downhill were very slow. most of this info is lost in the mists of time , timetables will give an indication it was mandatory to take 50 minutes to do six miles downhill on 7.5% grade, 40 mins to do 8 miles on 5%, from what I can see there was no maximum or minimum speeds posted in the general rules , just an instruction to maintain safe speeds depending on the conditions. all NG railroads of that era seemed to have a large number of crashes, probably due to poor quality brakes, misjudging speed and bad track. if i find any info on the DSPP speeds ,I'll post it here.
    Last edited by dangavel; October 1st, 2022 at 06:56 AM.
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    Thanks for the info, guys, I was actually unaware of the supposed lack of speed limits on many prototypes. I suppose I'll just have to fudge my own numbers based on personal taste and whatever seems most sensible in different situations.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rogueranger1993 View Post
    So, my current project is the construction of a small narrow gauge railway set in the mountains of Colorado during the 1880s or 90s. Currently, I have set the line's overall speed limit at 10mph, with a reduced limit of 7mph in yards. The line is mostly a kind of model railroad, I've just chosen to model it (at least at the present moment) without a table/room.

    My question is, based on prototypical practice, what kind of speed limits should I be using as inspiration for the ones I'm setting up on my route? In particular, there are a few areas of this topic I want to know more about.

    #1: Speed limits for bridges: I have a number of bridges, including two tall wooden trestles, a tall steel trestle, a medium-height wooden trestle, and a couple of short wooden trestles. What kind of speed limits would a real 3-foot railroad of my time period set for such bridges?

    #2: Speed limits for a canyon wall line: I have one section of track that is very similar to the highline of the Durango and Silverton RR, what kind of speed limit does the D&S place on trains while they're running through that section of track?

    #3 Speed limits within stations/yards: What kind of speed limits did prototype 3-foot railroads set for trains while they were operating within a yard or near a station?
    If I was doing speed limits, I'd recommend a top speed no more than 20 miles per hour for most the line, except the canyon area, which I'd reduce the speed to 10 miles per hour thru the canyon, and maybe 5 miles per hour for the highline section. For the bridges, I wouldn't put a speed limit on the steel trestle, but the wood bridges I'd drop the speed limit for crossing the bridges at 10 miles per hour if the speed limit is 20 miles per hour, and 5 miles per hour if the speed limit is 10 miles per hour, basically half the track speed. For station/yards, I would do 10 miles per hour in the yards/station, and 5 miles per hour around the turntables, if you have one. I always put a 5 MPH limit on turntables. These speed limits are not based on any prototype, just what I think would be appropriate speed limits.
    Owner of Freeman Locomotive Works.

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    Thanks for the tips jordon, very helpful!

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    just found out some general speeds for the Denver south park and pacific, average speeds for passenger service 1880 /1890 was 15mph, average speed for freight 8 mph. The " Leadville express" averaged 15 mph overnight , 17mph during day, so that should allow for speeds up to 30-mph on straight flattish sections.
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    Thank you for the links odessey, I'll definitely have to check out the wooden trestle study.

    Dan, thanks for the info, it is very helpful! Prototype info can be very hard to find, especially in my chosen time period and even more so for certain pieces of data like speed limits, so your data is very much appreciated..

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    Just to add to the discussion for possible future readers, my google-fu efforts finally turned up some information about speed limits for the Durango & Silverton and the Cumbres & Toltec. For the D&S, I have a maximum allowed speed of 18mph, with trains being restricted to just 5mph along the famous Highline due to sharp curves and tight clearances. The information I have on the C&T is only a snippet from an article which stated that trains negotiating Tanglefoot Curve (a tight-radius horseshoe curve that is used to gain elevation) are restricted to no more than 8mph when going through it, due to the tight radius. The info for the D&S comes from a handful of official sources, while the info about the C&T I have not been able to confirm as being official, but it sounds about right.

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    Quote Originally Posted by rogueranger1993 View Post
    Just to add to the discussion for possible future readers, my google-fu efforts finally turned up some information about speed limits for the Durango & Silverton and the Cumbres & Toltec. For the D&S, I have a maximum allowed speed of 18mph, with trains being restricted to just 5mph along the famous Highline due to sharp curves and tight clearances. The information I have on the C&T is only a snippet from an article which stated that trains negotiating Tanglefoot Curve (a tight-radius horseshoe curve that is used to gain elevation) are restricted to no more than 8mph when going through it, due to the tight radius. The info for the D&S comes from a handful of official sources, while the info about the C&T I have not been able to confirm as being official, but it sounds about right.

    I'd imagine that these modern speed limits might be more prohibitive than the older ones, safety is of far greater concern now than it was then , you regularly see entire trainloads of passengers all lined up on the top of incredibly high spindly trestles posing for photographers , many sitting on the roofs of cars, with a hundred foot drop off if anyone made a blunder
    . We'd have a fit if that took place nowadays.
    on the DSPP i just read of a crash where the engine running light was doing 22mph downhill on a curve when it derailed , but another engineer said it could be taken safely at 30 mph .
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