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Columbus' Streetcar Track Gauge

5'2" vs 4'8 1/2"

        Notice anything strange about this 1940's picture?


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        You are looking at dual gauge track.  There are actually two rails on one side of each of these double tracks.  Why this is, goes back to 1863 when the first horse car line was built in Columbus, Ohio.  At that time the steam roads used a variety of track widths or gauge.  It wasn't until later that 4' 8 1/2" became the standard gauge for any railroad that wanted to interchange freight cars in North America.  When that original 1863 horsecar line was constructed on High Street the owners chose 5' 2" for their gauge.  It could be as simple a reason as they had some 5' 2" gauge horsecars lined up for their new streetcar line.

        As other lines were built in Columbus and became part of that original streetcar company most were built to 5' 2".  At least one was built at 4' 8 1/2" and another at three foot gauge. Both were changed to 5' 2" when they became part of the dominant Columbus streetcar system.  When the horsecars were converted to an electric streetcar system they stayed with 5' 2".  Streetcar systems didn't always have a need to interchange railroad freight cars with the steam roads so this wasn't much of an inconvenience, until the interurbans came along around 1900.

        Like the streetcars the interurbans also used city streets to get downtown and they were interested in exchanging freight cars with the steam roads, at least the four interurbans that traveled the four points of the compass out of Columbus.  In each case, standard gauge track was constructed on streets that didn't already have streetcar tracks.  Except, there were a few points where sharing the street was unavoidable and dual gauge track was installed.  The CRP&L did eventually operate one of those standard gauge interurban lines.  It was the standard gauge Steelton-Summit streetcar line giving Columbus a two gauge system.       

Chestnut Street

The photo above was taken on Chestnut Street looking east toward North Fourth Street.  Here the standard gauge Columbus, Delaware and Marion Railway Company's interurbans came north on Third Street, turned east onto Chestnut and as you can see in the picture turned north on Fourth Street.  The wide gauge streetcars also used Chestnut turning both north and south on that same Fourth Street. When this picture was taken, around 1948, the track north on  Fourth Street had already been removed only the turnout was still visible.  Fire House #16 is in the background. 

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The camera is still on Chestnut Street now looking west.  The standard gauge track for the CD&M is turning south onto Third Street headed for the Interurban Station at Third and Rich Streets.  The wide gauge streetcar track continues west toward High Street.

Parsons Avenue


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In this scene the camera is looking north on Parsons Avenue toward Barthman Avenue on the south side of Columbus. Parsons Avenue carried a wide gauge streetcar line, the Parsons-Pennsylvania line.  The standard gauge Scioto Valley Traction came out of Columbus heading toward Lancaster, Circleville and Chillicothe.  The Route turned onto several streets winding through German Village before hitting South Fourth Street.  When it got to Barthman Avenue it turned east for two blocks before turning south again on Parsons Avenue.  It then crossed over the C&O RR before turning onto private right-of-way.   The SVT had long cars that necessitated this special track work, you see in the picture, to get the car off narrow Barthman onto Parsons Avenue.  Northbound cars heading toward Columbus went one block north of here and turned on Innis Street to get to South Fourth Street.

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Here the  camera is looking south on Parsons Avenue at Innis Avenue.  The northbound standard gauge track once used by the SVT is turning onto Innis Avenue.  Northbound Parsons-Pennsylvania line, Car 809 will stay on Parson as it heads for Pennsylvania and Fifth Avenues near Ohio State University.

North High Street


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This photo was taken on North High Street in Clintonville, at Kenworth Avenue, the single track, dual gauge North High line had an extra long passing siding that extended south from Kenworth Avenue to Tulane Road.  The camera is pointed south.  The Clinton Theatre is in the background on the right.  The wide gauge track stopped at Blenheim Road and the standard gauge track, at one time, extended to North Street in Worthington.  Before 1923 this part of High Street also carried the CD&M interurban.  All of this, by the time the picture was taken around 1948, had been replaced with trolley coaches.  The double trolley wires for the trolley coaches can be seen in the picture.

          This portion of North High Street, in Clintonville, had seen many streetcar-interurban variations over the years.  In 1892 the one mile standard gauge Columbus & Clintonville Electric Street Railway was build on High Street to connect to the Columbus Consolidated Street Railway at Arcadia Avenue.   At about the same time, interests in Worthington built the four mile standard gauge Worthington & Columbus Street Railway from Worthington to the north terminal of the new Clintonville line.  The two companies feuded over the next few years about division of revenues to the disadvantage of the customer.

        In 1902 the Columbus Delaware and Marion Railway, an interurban line, was started,  It took over the two feuding lines giving the CD&M an entrance into Columbus.  At High Street and Arcadia Avenue the CD&M turned east on Arcadia, climbing a steep hill, and turned south again at Summit Street on its way to central Columbus.  In addition to its interurban trains it also operated a Worthington streetcar from Worthington to Arcadia Avenue where the customers could transfer to a High Street car going downtown.  The CD&M always had trouble with that steep hill on Arcadia Avenue especially with its 3-4 car freight trains.  In 1922 a bypass was built around Worthington that took the interurbans off North High Street.  The Worthington streetcar was replaced by an extension of the standard gauge Summit-Steelton line.

        In 1927 the Columbus Railway, Power & Light Company extended its High Street Line from Arcadia Avenue north to Oakland Park Avenue by installing the dual gauge track you see in the above picture.  In 1933 the CD&M went out of business and the Worthington street car was discontinued.  The CRP&L extended the High Street track north of Oakland Park Avenue as far as Blenheim Road with wide gauge track.  A motor bus line was inaugurated from Blenheim Road to Worthington.

        In 1947 the streetcars on  High Street were replaced by trolley coaches.  The trolley coach line was extended 1.3 miles from Blenheim Road to Jeffery Place which became the new southern terminal of the Worthington motor bus line.


Wide Gauge Street Scenes


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The wide gauge streetcar tracks at Livingston and Parsons Avenues are getting a little maintenance.  Parsons Avenue is the street with the trucks.


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The photo to the right is the end of the Long Street line from the motorman's seat.  In Columbus there were very few loops at the end of the various lines, If the line was double track there was a spring switch that  brought the double track down to a short single stub track located in the middle of the street.  All cars in Columbus were doubled ended meaning they had controls at each end of the car.  The motorman would remove the control handles and cash box and carry them to the other end of the car.  Than he would put up the trolley pole at the rear of the trolley and pull down the pole now at the front.  With that completed he was ready to start the next trip.





        To get a better feel for where these photos were taken and the lines of the Columbus streetcar system see the 1927 Columbus Street Railway Map prepared by B.J. Kern and E.H. Miller.  All photos shown were taken in 1948 and are from the DAK collection.


Summary of Columbus Track Gauges as of December 1925

   Dual Gauge Track

Street From To
S. High Street Hosack Street End of Line
N. Fourth Street Chestnut Street Warren Street
N. Third Street Long Street Chestnut Street
Chestnut Street Third Street Fourth Street
Parsons Avenue Innis Avenue* Hosack Street

* From Innis to  Barthman Northbound track only was dual gauge.


     Standard Gauge Track

The Interurban Terminal loop

Third, Rich, Scioto, and Town Streets

The Sullivant Avenue line


From Town and Scioto Streets via Town St., Central Ave., Sullivant Ave., Hague Ave. and Broad Street

Steelton Line

From Rich and Third Streets via Rich, Fifth, Donaldson, Mohawk, Reinhard, Jaeger, Hanford, S. Fourth Streets, Innis & Barthman Avenues (Parsons Avenue -south of Hosack St.)

Worthington Line

From N. Fourth & Warren Streets via Warren St., Summit St., Hudson, Indianola, Arcadia Avenues, & N. High Street

Third Street Mound to  Long Streets
E. Mound Street High Street to Beyond Seymour Avenue
W. Mound street Bridge over New York Central and Hocking Valley Railroads, Gay, Water, and Scioto Streets


     Wide Gauge - 5' 2"

     All other tracks were Wide gauge.  There was a Pennsylvania Railroad siding at the

     Grandview Material Yard.