Recently, I have received a number of railway-oriented questions from student members regarding a wide variety of topics. Most of these questions, together with their answers, are reproduced below. Many of them are quite interesting!!

Why is the railway track called the "permanent way"?

This is so because railway contractors wished to distinguish between the finished railway and the "temporary way", which was laid for the movement of their wagons when making cuttings, embankments and tunnels.


What is the "gauge" of a railway?

The gauge is the distance between the insides of the rails measured between points 16mm below the running surface.

What is "standard gauge"?

In Australia, a gauge of 1435mm (4'8.5") has been adopted as the standard. The other main gauges used in Australia are the narrow gauge of 1066mm (3'6") and the broad gauge of 1600mm (5'3").

What is the railway gauge used in each state?

New South Wales - 1435mm standard gauge;

Victoria - 1600mm broad gauge, dual standard/broad gauge

from the N.S.W. border to Melbourne;

Queensland - 1066mm narrow gauge, dual standard/narrow

gauge from the N.S.W. border to Brisbane;

Western Australia - 1066mm narrow gauge, dual standard/narrow gauge from Kalgoorlie

to Fremantle;

South Australia - a combination of 1600mm broad gauge and

1066mm narrow gauge, and dual

standard/narrow gauge in certain sections

between the N.S.W. border and Port Pirie

(until recently, this was a combination of

all three gauges!);

Tasmania - 1066mm narrow gauge;

Northern Territory - 1435mm standard gauge.

What is a "traverser"?

A traverser is a length of track mounted on a structure which can be moved laterally from one track to another enabling locomotives or carriages to be moved within a confined area that may not necessarily have tracks connected with points. A traverser is located in the former Carriage Workshops, Eveleigh and at the former Cardiff locomotive workshops (soon to be leased by Clyde Engineering for constructing the new 4th generation Millennium suburban electric trains).

What are "Up" and "Down" trains?

Up trains are those running towards Sydney. Down trains are those running away from Sydney.


What are the white rail posts with black numbers painted on small plates?

These are kilometre and half kilometres posts indicating the distance from the end of Platform one, Sydney Terminal. They are located on the "Down" side of the running lines - i.e., on the left side of the track of trains running away from Sydney.

What are the yellow metal boards with black numbers written on them?

They are speed boards and indicate the maximum permissible speed of a train over the section immediately ahead. A cross ("X") beside the numeral indicates that the speed applies to a junction or set of points ahead. Speed indicators in the City Underground take the form of a small box with the direction of the curve and speed shown as illuminated strips and numbers. Speed boards and indicators are located on the driver's (left) side of the track.

What are the white metal boards with black numbers written on them?

They are exactly the same as the yellow speed boards, but only apply to the XPT and Xplorer rail cars.

What is a "guard's indicator"?

A small lunar white light provided at stations in the electrified area, indicating that the signal which controls the entrance of the train into the section ahead will allow the train to proceed. The guard must not give the signal for the train stopped at the station to depart until the indicator shows a lunar white light.

What is the "four-foot" and the "six-foot"?

The imperial distance between the rails is 4'8.5" and, although now metrically measured as 1435mm, it is still referred as the "four-foot". Originally, double tracks were laid with the inside rails of each track six feet (1828mm) apart, and the space between the two sets of tracks became known as the "six-foot".

 What is a "derail"?

A fitting used on one rail only which may be swung over and placed on a rail to prevent vehicles moving by accident onto the main line.

What are "catch points"?

Catch points are points on one rail only (like with "derails", they are on the rail furthest away from the main line). They are used in goods sidings and near the junction of branch lines to main lines to prevent vehicles or trains moving by accident onto the main line. Both a "derail" and a "catchpoint" will, if set to do so by the train controller, prevent a runaway vehicle from running onto the main line by derailing the vehicle so that it runs off the siding or branch line on the opposite side to the main line.