Academic journal article Social Education

Train Schedules, Standardization, and "The Day of Two Noons"

Academic journal article Social Education

Train Schedules, Standardization, and "The Day of Two Noons"

Article excerpt

THE ADVENT OF THE RAILROADS brought with it the need for standardization in many ways. For example, in Civil War days there were eight different rail gauges (the measured distance between one rail and other), with the result that the engines or train cars of one line could not use another--the wheels would not fit a different track. Freight had to be offloaded from one train and reloaded onto the next; passengers debarked and embarked. A few years after the Civil War, however, the present standard gauge--four feet, eight and one-half inches--had become uniform across the United States. Another example of standardization was in signaling: it was important that a red flag not mean "speed up" in one region of the country and "stop" in another! A third example of standardization was in safety procedures: many accidents occurred among railroad workers until rules of safety became widely known, practiced, and enforced (see The Back Page). A fourth example was standardization in steel manufacturing, which was important for the reliability of wheels and rails.

In the early years of the 20th century, thousands of train derailments were caused by broken rails, broken wheels, flanges, and axles. The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) performed materials research to study the possible causes of these failures. By 1930, as better steel went into rails and trains--with NIST's help in standardizing materials and processing--the rate of accidents from these causes fell by two-thirds (www.100.nist.gov/industrial.htm).

By the 1870s, the speedy steam engine had created a strange problem, which called again for a new type of standardization. As a train traveled from east to west, the passengers could observe that every town along the route set its clock to a slightly different time. …

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