Note: This essay describes the result of one individual's research into the possible routes and expansion of railroad in Germany after the Ring of Fire. This plan should be regarded as a proposal, and not as an edict. Canon in the 1632 series is established by stories. As you write your stories, you may choose to use this plan, or not. It is up to the author.

-- The Editorial Board

"The railroads are about to make a big comeback in the world."

Eric Flint, 1632.


The railroads will be the steel backbone of the inter-modal rail/water transportation system of the United States of Europe (USE). The first rail line will provide a link for Grantville into the existing road-and-river transportation network and to the capitol in Magdeburg. The tracks will then spread across the State of Thuringia-Franconia (SoTF), more tightly connecting its important towns and providing them with easier access to the rivers of Elbe, Weser and Main.


Railroads, together with improvements of other infrastructure, will create a system capable of real mass transportation. They will reduce transportation times from weeks or months to days, and will vastly improve the reliability of the transportation system. At the same time, they will drive the cost of transport down, thus allowing vendors to produce for a greater market. Finally, railroads act as a classical military "force multiplier," by improving the speed at which armies and their supplies can move.


We don't have enough oil to fuel lots of cars with internal combustion engines. Granted, there are oil wells near Wietze, but it will take much time and effort to develop them. In the first few years, only some 150–200 barrels a day are expected, and that's definitely not going to impress a Texas oil tycoon. Moreover, even if we had the fuel, we would still need to upgrade the highways. In most parts of the USE, the roads, outside the immediate vicinity of towns and cities, are unfit for horse-drawn carts, let alone motor traffic.

Rivers might be an alternative for transport in many parts of Europe, but not for Grantville. The nearest river is the Saale, which runs north, past Saalfeld, Rudolstadt, Jena, Naumburg, and Halle, and empties into the Elbe (the junction is 18 miles upstream of Magdeburg, the USE capitol). Unfortunately, the Saale cannot meet our rising demands for transport. Upriver from Naumburg, transport with barges is almost impossible because the Saale is small and shallow. It is a nice trout stream, not a navigable river. Even rafting has to wait for snow melt for enough water. The Saale river can be improved to a certain degree, but the process would be laborious, costly and time-consuming. Going in any direction other than straight north with waterways from Grantville is absolutely impossible anyway.

Thus, railroad is not the best, but rather the only, solution to Grantville's high volume transportation needs. The first rail line will provide a link for Grantville into the existing road-and-river transportation network, and in particular to Magdeburg. The tracks will then be spread across the SoTF, more tightly connecting its important towns and providing them with easier access to the rivers of Elbe, Weser and Main. Ultimately, the railroads will be the steel backbone of the entire USE.


Starting the railroad infrastructure will be the first really big infrastructure project outside the immediate scope of Grantville. As most up-timers with appropriate knowledge are committed elsewhere, the project will rely heavily on, and be run mostly by, down-timers.

It will not be in the top priority list but will be ranked perhaps just after the military, very high in the secondary list. That's because we already have lots of most important projects to do. Projects like winning a war while retrofitting an army and simultaneously building our own army, navy and even our air force, just to name a few. But this project has great importance both in military and economic terms, so in the end it will get what's needed.

The General Plan

We should initially establish a railroad system comparable in capabilities to an 1870-vintage secondary railroad.

Our focus will be on transporting freight. Initially, we will make only a bit of additional money by transporting passengers. Average people from this time rarely leave their village or town if not forced to do so by war or other urgent circumstances. And the ticket for a train ride will be very expensive at first. So, at first the principal passengers will be up-timers, novelty-seeking nobility, very bold and rich businessmen and couriers.

There are two exceptions to this rule. First is transporting military units. But in most wars in which trains were used to transport soldiers, they were given only a modest increase in comfort in comparison to their horses. So, we too will consider them as freight, if a valuable and demanding one.

The second is public transport in urban areas. Industrialization tends to draw workers into the city; public transport becomes a tool to reduce the concentration of people. Commuting helps to keep prices in urban housing lower and allows for greater flexibility in working while maintaining a more stable private life.

So, when a railroad is already present, it should also be used to run cheap commuter trains, if possible. In major centers such as Grantville, Nürnberg and Magdeburg, tramlines which share the railroad track, either with the same gauge or in a double gauge track, might be established. If the big employers and the railroad company coordinate shift times and timetables properly, a few trains can transport a lot of people.

Grantville Starting Materials

Railroad didn't start from zero in Grantville. A rail line went into Grantville for servicing the power station. Also, some rolling stock and even a kind of a small car workshop came with us through the Ring of Fire. Regrettably, there was not a single engine in Grantville.

Later, some forty miles of two feet rail track and other equipment were salvaged out of old abandoned "dog hole" mines around Grantville. But it was put into good use by the establishment of the 141th Railway Battalion (See Ernest Lutz and John Zeek, "Elisabeth," Grantville Gazette, Volume 4).

Most of our precious heavy rails from normal gauge track is going to become armor for the ironclads of Adm. Simpson's navy which is being built in Magdeburg, but we might be able to preserve at least some track for our railroading needs. We have to give up all double track, all unnecessary sidings and a lot of rails in the stations. Perhaps we can convince the Powers That Be to let us keep the switches intact, as switches are difficult to make and not so readily converted into armor. But we have to strip the whole system to a bare skeleton.

The overwhelming majority of all the stuff for the railroad will have to come from down-time. The use of up-time tools for building the high-tech items of the engines and perhaps the track is more effective in the end, anyway. Even with critical items we will rely on down-time manufacture as much as is technically and economically possible. These solutions might be less effective than up-timers are used to, but it's more sustainable in a long term perspective.


We expect that the railroads will be built and operated by corporations, that is, companies which raise at least some of their money by selling stock (ownership shares) to the public, and which offer the shareholders the legal protection of limited liability (that is, their potential losses are limited to their investment). The stocks will probably be sold primarily to governments (including those of towns and cities along the proposed route), wealthy merchants, and other companies (including the mutual fund, "Other People's Money," Grantville Gazette, Volume 3). The railroad corporations can also borrow money, either by obtaining loans from bankers or by selling bond issues (these pay interest until they mature). Bonds, like stocks, will tend to be purchased by governments and the like.

Governments can also provide indirect financial assistance by granting tax immunities and other benefits.

The traditional animosities between rival cities could work to our advantage, as they will bid against each other to sway the railroad company to run the line to one and not the other. We have to bundle our resources with others. For example, every major railroad needs a telegraph system for managing the line. We will have to team up with a company like AT&L (See Dave Freer, "Lineman for the Country," Ring of Fire) for telegraphs. To cater to the needs of our passengers we will license some peddlers to offer refreshments in trains and at the stations, as is done in India today.

We can improve the financial footing of our railroad by contracting, in advance, to carry mail for the USE, the SoTF, and so forth. Of course, we cannot safely enter into these contracts until we are sure that the facilities and personnel will be ready to meet these commitments, on schedule.

Route Planning

We have to build the whole railroad on a very tight budget. So, structures which are costly and time-consuming to construct, such as bridges, tunnels and dams, have to be avoided whenever possible. But lines should be designed with potential for growth in speed and better track in the future.

All turns on the main track should have a radius of 650 feet (200 meters) or more.

Branch lines to mines and factories should be considered only for later extensions. A company paying for its own branch is always welcome and will a get higher priority.

The stations will always be outside the walls of a town and be aligned in a way to skirt around the town if the existing track will be extended later.


We need one or more survey teams to find the best route for the railroad. The necessary methods and personnel have been already defined in Laura Runkle”˜s article "Mente et Malleo" (Grantville Gazette, Volume 2). It may be advantageous to add local Markscheider to the survey teams. Markscheider's job is to plan and survey the construction of shafts and tunnels in mining. They should be up to the challenge. Planning track lines for a mine is also common. In neighboring Saxony, the mining is actually in decline in 1632, so Markscheider should be available.

Acquiring Rights-of-Way

For building a rail we need land in a very long small line and also unlimited access to it. The tracks will go straight through land belonging to hundreds of different owners and landlords. It will belong to nobles, commoners, towns, abbeys and other entities. Why should an owner sell you this particular piece of land or a right of way? What would be the price? We will need some really good land agents, who can acquire the land quickly before the locals realize that you are making major purchases and raise their prices.

The Legal Position of the Railroad

Germany is a confusing patchwork of many different administrative entities and special legal situations as well as local taxes and customs. If we start negotiating separate deals with every single landowner we are doomed from the start. For a clean approach, we need an imperial law providing the railroad with a general exemption from ALL old prerogatives, customs and taxes. A immunity from impoundment of railroad track and rolling stock will also be necessary. Issues of right of way, policing in trains and blockading of these tracks should be solved here, too. Eminent domain, allowing the government to take private property for public purposes, with compensation, but without the landowner having the right to refuse is unknown in the period.

This law is a "Conditio sine qua non." Without this there will be no railroad. To get this law the USE will most certainly have to swap a lot of horses with all those very nice and very petty nobles.

Railroad Standards

So far we have discussed the "freedoms of the railroad." But the railroads will also have responsibilities. They will need to adhere to "Eisenbahn Normalien" (Railroad standards) both to ensure public safety, and also to avoid expenses (e.g., "gauge wars") that we can ill-afford. The standards will need to address gauge, track laying, masses & dimensions of vehicles, coupling devices, signals, brakes, engines and a lot of subsystems. The standards might be developed through open system with public proposals from participating engineers like the "Request for Comment" for defining the standards of the internet. We will certainly avoid several costly detours made in development in OTL. We will need to set standards early and avoid the blind alleys of the past.

Different rail companies will have to connect their tracks and be interchangeable in rolling stock from the beginning. As Jere Haygood says in "In the Navy," Ring of Fire: "we're going to make damned sure that when we get around to building our railroads, 'standard gauge' means just that--standard gauge . . . . None of that business of every outfit building its own private set of rails to whatever gauge suited it."

Track Design

The USE should introduce only three gauges. Standard gauge (Standardspur) 4 ft 8.5 in (1435mm) will be standard in this world, too. Narrow gauge (Schmalspur) 3ft 3in (990mm) will be for cheaper track on secondary branch lines. And then there will be Tactical gauge (Grubenspur) 2 ft (610 mm) for military tacrail, mining and temporary industrial purposes. Together, these should satisfy almost all needs for the foreseeable future.

The best compromise, balancing functionality against scarcity of resources, is to use steel rails weighing forty pounds per yard. The length of an individual rail will be sixty feet. But rail is only the most obvious part of a track. We must start by creating a foundation; grading the land to create a level track bed. This bed is typically elevated, and slopes down on both sides to allow drainage. On top of the bed we have six to nine inches of ballast (gravel). Then we need sleepers, which are the wood ties which are perpendicular to the actual rails. Sleepers will be 25 to 30 inches apart, and thus there are about 2,100–2,500 sleepers in a mile of track. The rail is spiked onto the sleepers; we need at least six spikes per sleeper.

So, for each mile of track we need about 140,800 pounds of rail, 2,100 sleepers (weighing over 100 lbs each), 12,600 spikes and 18,900 cubic feet of ballast.

For the sleeper, a treatment with either creosote or mercury compounds is necessary. Otherwise the sleeper will not last for long. Both substances are expensive, poisonous and difficult to acquire. The additional cost will be more than the price of the sleeper but will actually pay off because a treated sleeper will last about 25 years while an untreated sleeper will last only five years. Creosote is essentially coal tar or wood tar. Because we still don't have enough industrial capacity in the chemical industry, we have to import wood tar from Sweden. Mercury is more difficult to obtain as it comes mainly from Spain or Tuscany.

Track Construction

Building the track will be an incredibly laborious, costly and time-consuming task. While the bar-topped track from Grantville to Halle has acted as our test bed, the real railroad will have much higher demands in durability and reliability. Despite the track having been planned with regard to the work involved, there will be a lot of logging, gravel moving, grading and building little bridges. Most work will be done by hand.

Initially there will be only one construction site advancing through the countryside. In later years it will be possible to advance with much faster pace, due to building bridges or dams well in advance.

Considering the situation in Germany in 1634, our workforce will be comprised of three parts. The core force will be permanently employed workers, probably those refugees who do not mind a hard but honest job. Job training for a trade should be offered as incentive. This may cause conflicts with the guilds, but is important for a high quality of work. In the longer run, many educated personnel from our crew will be lured out by better opportunities and settle down elsewhere. This will provide an additional bonus for the development of the country. But another part of the permanent workers will remain and form the backbone of the whole organization. The guys who get bitten hard by the railroad bug will oversee the whole moving construction site. They have to find a good solution to every challenge, really quickly. They will be true engineers by trade, if not by education.

There are lots of lessons about railroad construction, logistics and organization for them to master. Consider the monumental logistical challenge to have all the many parts and huge amounts of material needed for only one mile of track ready at the right place at the right time, and within budget, too.

The second component of our workforce will be seasonal workers, mostly farmers who seek employment between seeding and harvest. This will funnel a bit of money into war torn rural regions. If given a free ride in the employment contract, it will expedite their transfer and make them available much earlier.

The last part of the labor force will be local farmers ordered by their nobles to do work in the construction site. There is no use in complaining about this system right now. For the nobles it might be the only way to earn some money, for the farmers it's the way to pay their rent for their land and for the railroad company it might be the only way to get enough transportation capacity and draft animals. If the farmers get fair and decent treatment on the site and the work is organized well enough, they might be fairly effective while picking up some new ideas.

The main season for large scale ground work will be in summer and after harvest. In winter the frozen ground will prevent such activities but might enable us to work in some previous inaccessible swamps. In spring, the mud after snow melt and labor shortages due to the planting season will hamper our progress. But even in the midst of winter there will be much work to do.


What sort of locomotives can we build? Replicas of huge American "Big Boys"? The fast British "Flying Scotsman"? Sturdy workhorses like the German "01" or "50" Series? No, not for another fifteen years or more. A reasonable decision would be to settle initially for a moderate top speed of 25 miles/h (40 km/h) and average speed 10 miles/h, a modest weight of ten metric tons per axle, and a respectable endurance of about 50 miles for coal and 25 miles for water while running a train of 300 tons on even ground for the first engine type. A engine class with three powered axles like the German Baureihe 89 should do nicely. This robust simple and flexible engine will weight about 32 metric tons when in operation. When used in short hauls a tender is optional. With modifications, this type was in use in OTL for over 80 years. It had about 290 horse power (215 kW).

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- The Grantville Gazette Staff