The Story of the Centre-
AN EARLY TYPE OF THE FELL CENTRE-
THE locomotive scarcely had become established upon the Continent of Europe when enterprising French engineers proposed that France and Italy should be connected by railway, so as to provide through direct communication between the North and the Mediterranean Seas. There was only one obstacle to interfere with the realisation of this dream, and that was one of extreme significance -
At last, in 1857, the French and Italian authorities took their courage in their hands and commenced to pierce the Alps with a tunnel 8 miles in length. The point selected for the driving of the final link was the Col de Fréjus. It was a desperate undertaking, and its successful completion, after years of hard work and the subjugation of difficulties such as had never been encountered in railway construction up to this time, stands as an imperishable monument to the courage and skill of the French and Italian engineers.
But while the tunnel was in progress an English engineer had been working diligently upon an idea which had occurred to him, and which he maintained would eliminate the necessity to bore big tunnels. This was the late Mr. Fell. His conception was a decided innovation in railway practice. He described it as a “centre-
The third rail is carried on steel chairs bolted to ordinary sleepers, the bolts passing through the web. In this manner the rail is fixed irremovably to the sleepers, and the whole of the permanent way is bound together in a most substantial and rigid manner. The number of the horizontal wheels may be varied according to the dimensions, weight, and power of the locomotive, but four have been found adequate as a rule. Each set of wheels has its own driving unit, one set of cylinders and pistons actuating the usual carrying and driving wheels, while the second set serves the horizontal wheels. The latter can be thrown in and out of action as required, so that the horizontal wheels are worked only when the centre-
The system possesses advantages such as are not found in any other method of railway operation. Owing to the perfect grip, or adhesion, secured by the horizontal wheels, the revenue-
It has also been found, from actual experience, that with the centre-
When Mr. Fell had perfected his idea he submitted it to some searching tests upon a length of line which was laid down upon his principle on the High Peak of Derbyshire with banks running up to as much as 1 in 10. These trials convinced the inventor of the complete feasibility of the system. The difficulty was to persuade railway engineers of its advantages -
An opportunity arose in 1863. The Cenis Tunnel was in progress, but there was a heavy and increasing traffic which had to be maintained as efficiently as possible by means of diligences over the Cenis Pass. This slow method affected commercial interests very adversely, since the mails suffered considerable delay. Accordingly, Mr. Fell suggested that he should build a railway upon his system over the mountains to handle the traffic while the tunnel was being bored.
It was a daring proposal, inasmuch as it involved the construction of a line 50 miles in length, extending from St. Michel, the terminus of the the Paris, Lyons and Mediterranean Railway, a climb to an altitude of 7,000 feet and then a descent to gain the Alta-
A RECENT TYPE OF THE FELL CENTRE-
A gauge of 3 feet 7½ inches was selected for the railway, this being cheaper to construct than the standard gauge, although it involved changing cars at Susa and St. Michel. The surveys showed that the steepest banks would be 1 in 10 and the sharpest curves of 132 feet radius. The promoters of the enterprise were permitted to follow the high road, and, in fact, were allowed to take a part of the latter for their right of way, so long as sufficient width was left for the diligences and other traffic.
As might be expected, railway building in such an exposed, wild mountainous country was not free from excitement and disaster. The builders clung as tightly as possible to the famous road built by Napoleon over Mont Cenis, some 12½ miles north-
Further troubles now developed. The locomotives had to be built in France, and were found so defective that they had to be rebuilt practically, so that the line could not be brought into service until June, 1868, on the fifteenth of which month the official inauguration took place amidst great rejoicings. The blind forces of Nature, as if infuriated at this human conquest, once more swept down, the floods washing away lengths of the line, breaking up the bridges, and wreaking devastation on every hand. Rock-
Although the railway from end to end was a wonder of engineering, the most imposing feature was the negotiation of the great Echelle. Here the high road saws the mountain in a wonderful zigzag cut out of the face of the cliff. The railway followed the high road, but was forced to take the outer edge, so that passengers in the carriages looked sheer down for
1,000 feet into the yawning gulch. As the track could not be zigzagged in the manner of the high road, a kind of elaborate spiral was laid out, the tunnels being driven through the spurs at the end of each incline, so that the ascent was made in the manner of a big corkscrew, one level being immediately above the other. The passage of the Echelle provided the greatest thrill in the whole journey, as at places the sides of the cars overhung the cliff.
For three years this unique railway handled the whole of the international traffic -
Although the journey over the 50 miles occupied from 4½ to 5½ hours -
UNDERNEATH VIEW OF THE FELL ENGINE
Showing the horizontal wheels which grip the centre-
Although the Fell railway had to be abandoned when the Cenis Tunnel was opened, the advantages of the system have received their due though tardy recognition. The growth of traffic between Italy and France has over-
When the Wellington and Masterton Railway of New Zealand decided to extend its metals through the Rimutaka Pass, similar conditions to those prevailing in connection with Mont Cenis were presented. The railway engineers conceded that the only economical solution of the difficulty was to introduce the Fell Centre Rail through the Pass, where the banks run up to a maximum of 1 in 15 with curves of 330 feet radius. The traffic over this line is heavy, and it has been worked for over thirty years by Fell engines, weighing 41½ tons in running order, having a tractive force of 19,400 pounds, and capable of hauling a load behind them of 70 tons up the maximum bank, at 10 miles an hour.
The system of working the traffic through this pass is interesting. As a rule the train is divided into sections, each having its own engine and all coupled together. In this manner each engine is caused to haul its own full load, and the couplings do
not have to withstand undue strains, such as would arise were a triple header and pusher system adopted. Thus it is by no means uncommon to see a train of twenty-
Some idea of the work which these engines accomplish may be gathered from the fact that some 60,000 tons are put through this pass every year, and the average expense per locomotive is 5s. 10d. per train-
THE FELL CENTRE-
The train consists of 28 livestock cars, weighing 260 tons, and is being drawn through the Rimutaka Pass. Each engine hauls 7 cars. The rise is 1 in 15 with several curves of 330 feet radius.
One accident happened upon this railway which emphasised the safety of the system very strikingly. During 1880 a violent storm raged, and in a very exposed part of the track the wind literally blew the train off the metals. A Fell engine was hauling, and another banking up the incline, but the hurricane failed to move them from the track. This fact saved the whole train from disaster, as otherwise it would have been hurled down the mountain side; and although several passengers lost their lives, the calamity would have been far more terrible had the whole train gone overboard, as would have been the case had there been no centre rail, which the engines, owing to the horizontal wheels and braking system, gripped as if in a vice.
There is one interesting example of the Fell system in Great Britain. This is in the Isle of Man, where a double tram-
THE SNAEFELL MOUNTAIN TRAMWAY, ISLE OF MAN
This is the only example of the Fell Centre-
The advantages and possibilities of the Fell Centre-
That a method of railway transportation which had established its possibilities, and then had been permitted to lie dormant practically for thirty years, should undergo revival is somewhat unique in railway engineering annals. But it serves to emphasise how hard-
A COACH ON THE SNAEFELL MOUNTAIN TRAMWAY
[From Part 14 of Railway Wonders of the World by Frederick A. Talbot, 1913]