PEIR ties, rail, and observations

Recently I posted an idea for start a wiki, or like repository, to collect information on railway track. I wanted a place to collect details like:

  • Rail. Size in terms of weight (e.g. “25 pound rail”) and also dimensions (e.g. 4″ from base to running surface)
  • Ties. Were they rough-sawn logs? What size and how were they spaced?
  • Roadbed. Was it graded with ditches or was the track just laid on graded ground?
  • Ballast. Dirt, local shale, imported gravel?
  • Track hardware. Did they use tie plates?

I thought I’d start at home with a copy of Allan Graham’s book on railroading in Prince Edward Island. I’ll expand this preliminary set of observations deeper by exploring further into my paper and photo collection on the PEIR but thought even this much might help frame out an example of how I see this repository could look.

I leafed through Allan’s book concentrating only on images depicting the Prince Edward Island Railway during the narrow gauge period. From those photographs that showed track details and from this group I’ll note:

  • Page reference from the book to help remind me where the observation came from
  • Location we might be able to corelate these into greater assumptions covering an entire subdivision or branch, during a particular period.
  • List particular observations or dimensions that I can make out from what I can see in the photo
  • On dimensions, knowing that the track gauge is forty-two inches, I will assume dimensions based on a ratio comparing what I can measure in the photo to the gauge (constant)

So, here’s what I found:

Page Location Year Tie Design Tie Length Tie Spacing Rail Height Tie Plates(Yes or No?) Notes
67 Alberton 1905 Rough sawn logs 8′-0” 20” 5” No
67 Georgetown 1907 Rough sawn logs 70” Can’t discern 5” No
68 Georgetown “Turn of the century” Clean sawn logs 9′-0” Can’t discern 4” No
75 Charlottetown 1907 Square 6′-6” Can’t discern 4” No
96 Coleman 1903 Rough sawn logs 7′-0” Appears closer than 20” 5” No 4x bridal rods on stub turnout
107 Cape Traverse Before 1918 Rough sawn logs Between 5 and 6 feet Appears closer than 20” 4” No Graded land no ditches
123 Lake Verde 1905 Rough sawn logs 7′-4” Appears closer than 20” 4” No Graded land no ditches
127 Murray Harbour 1905 Square 7′-0” 20” 4” No Graded land no ditches
128 Montague 1910 Square 7′-0” 20” 4-1/2” No
139 Hunter River After 1907 Square Can’t discern Can’t discern 5” No
151 Charlottetown After 1907 Square 90” 20” 5” No On dual gauge track
150 Colville Undated Rough sawn logs 7′-4” 20” 5” No On dual gauge track

In the notes in the first chapters of the book, the author quotes on the design of the first track built on the PEIR:

  • 40lbs rail, 24′-0″ lengths
  • 2,200 sleepers per mile
  • 8′-0″ ballasted roadbed

If my calculations are correct, that tie spacing is wider than what I’m seeing in the photos though each case (above) several decades after construction started and it equates to a tie spacing of about 28″ which is wider than what I see in the photos. This spacing certainly speaks to a colonial design for the railway and an influence we’d see in those charming, in appearance but not in suitability, tank engines the railway would open operations with.

So what do I like about this approach?

I like that the photos were all taken around a similar period of time, within a few years of each other. This tight frame of reference feels like assumptions from one photo can be related to others in the set.

I like the variety in terms of location on the railway. Even on a railway as small as the PEIR each branch was different in terms of traffic, both in frequency and train weights, and also age. Given the tight time band it’s interesting to note that in locations along the heavily trafficked western road (see Alberton, Coleman) we see the same rough-sawn logs for ties as we see on the short-lived Cape Traverse line and on the relatively new Murray Harbour branch (see Lake Verde and Murray Harbour).

Tie spacing seems consistent but tie lengths varied wildly. My estimated lengths are only that but comparing relative lengths within the same photo shows inconsistency in the tie lengths. In terms of translating this look onto a model railway, I’d worry that it would just look sloppy. Stephen Hatch has posted a really neat article on modelling this style of track on his website and his work looks terrific, compared to mine concerns so I’m really just worrying for nothing here. Here’s a link out to Stephen’s article:

I tried estimating the height of rails compared to a measurement of the track gauge. Each time I estimate a rail height between four and five inches. I’m pleased with the consistency in my outcomes compared to the shaky assumptions built into my methodology.

Though not noted in the above table, I wanted to touch on the roadbed and ballast in broader terms and based on what I saw when I concentrated on this detail and not the trains that were the actual subject of the photo. Ditching was not as consistent as I would have assumed. That said, I’m basing this first assumption on photos taken within stations and not on mainline track. Ballast on the PEIR was locally quaried. Though referred to as stone, there is very little actual rock on the Island and most of this would have been sandstone. It must have been lousy in terms of drainage. The ballast in most of these photos is not graded level with the top of the ties and typically reaches up only about half the depth of the tie leaving a pronounced air gap between the base of the rail and the top of the ballast profile.

So with what was little more than clay and dirt ballast, I expected grass but the more I looked into these photos the more I realised this bed of grass was everywhere. I equate a grassy right of way with the neglect that precedes abandonment but in these photos from what was a very busy railroad, there is grass growing everywhere. In that Cape Traverse photo referenced above the grass is nicely cut. I wonder how the railway kept the grass and weeds in check? Teams of section crews with scythes diligently clearing the line?

Finally on track hardware. Plain track was spiked with four spikes, two per rail, directly to the ties. In none of the photos did I see tie plates. Turnouts were granted more hardware. I realise I don’t have as many clear photos showing detail at the turnouts as I’d like. Lots of photos showing the area around the frog but few at the points. I have a few photos of stub turnouts on the Island. I don’t know the correct technical name for the switch stands but they are of a framed, rectangular design and not the “harp” style we typically see associated with nineteen and early twentieth century railroading. Some time ago I posted a drawing and some notes on these stands (see Switch Stand Design)

So this is my start. What do you think?

As for the backdrop I’m writing this against;

My pantry is filled with various glass jars filled with herbs, spices, teas, and coffees. I’m proud of the vista it provides when I look into it. I don’t tend to label anything in there and rely on a pretty strong palate to guide my time in the kitchen. With this introduction, I am assuming that the particular jar of coffee I grabbed this morning contained beans from The Black Duck in Sackville. Regardless, I brewed some really nice espresso from that and am enjoying the last of it now.

I’m streaming music through Youtube in the background while typing this post. I’m picking a pretty self-indulgent list that includes some excerpts from things I like but haven’t remembered in at least a year. So far, there’s been a lot of Radiohead, Pet Shop Boys, Duran Duran, and right now, Duran Duran. I’m really enjoying the list but must confess that I’m a bit shocked since I had Danko Jones on my mind when I started. [In the hour it took to write this post, I grew exhausted of Youtube’s constant need to interupt videos with advert’s so I went to real albums and finished this post playing Radiohead’s The Bends and remembered why this album is so very much so a part of a collection of five I’d happily live in seclusion with] Why? Several weeks ago, my brother quietly assembled a fantastic evening with all of us Mears boys. It’s been far too long since we last got together. I love those guys. We really never get together often enough. Over a wild variety of favourite beers we excitedly worked through an eclectic stack of favourite albums and I left the evening, very late the next morning, feeling compelled by a sense of needing to get back into full albums more often and actually listening to music again. Thanks Adrian.I thought I had a longer footer for this post but I don’t. Those last words in the previous sentence are where this ended.Thanks Adrian, I love you.


  1. This looks like a great database and a great idea in general, Chris! Listening to Duran Duran…must be just a Reflex!

    Today as I was reading Great Model Railroads 2015, the idea of the pink insulation, instead of my traditional plywood hit me as great, because: a hot loop can be used to ‘dig’ drainage ditches beside each side of the track prior to scenicking, removing the need for a raised layer of ballast/roadbed. Not that it will change anything for my current layout, however…

    Just turning over a few now stones of thought…

    1. Hi Eric. Sorry that I didn’t see your comment earlier. Thank you for your kind words.

      I love the idea of using a hot wire loop for terraforming along the track. I think it could be brilliant. A fine example of this in practice can be seen in this N scale layout:

      If you have time, I strongly recommend the entire build thread (above) for the Franksville project.



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