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May the Best Wins!

Either by foot, by horse or by train, the fastest generally wins, and if two railway companies perform the same communication service between two cities, the shorter the travel is the greater the afflux of customers is. These rivalities between trains belonging to different companies were not uncommon, and they could lead to somewhat funny situations.

We could take as example the two lines between London and Aberdeen, in the north of Scotland. One of them crossed the industrial zones of the inner country and the Glasgow region; the other ran along the coast passing by York, Newcastle and Edinburgh. The rivality reached its peak point after the inauguration of the gigantic bridge above the Forth, 160 kilometers in a straight line from Aberdeen. From that moment, the rivalling trains devoted themselves to an overwhelming race. Each of them attempted to reach, before than the other, the junction located some kilometers to the south of Aberdeen, point where the loser would be forced to stop until receiving the freeway signal, while the winner could triumphantly enter the Aberdeen station covered by a glorious smoke plume.

Flying Scotsman steam locomotive
To compete with the Royal Scot, Gresley designed a tender with intercommunication; this way the teams could take turns and make the Flying Scotsman to cover in one go the 650 kilometers between London and Edinburgh. Once Stanier had made the Royal Princess series, Gresley reduced to six hours, with the aerodynamic Pacific A 4, the duration of the journey, achieving so the worldwide speed record of 186 kilometers/hour.

In another route, this time an international one, which linked the Alps with the North Sea, a rivality of the same kind spurred the Rheingold (Gold of the Rhine) and the Edelweiss, both put into service in 1928 with one month of interval. This latter, created with the evident purpose of stealing a part of the clientele from its older brother. The Rheingold departed on the morning from the maritime station at Hock van Holland, from the very dock where the ferry boats coming from England berthed. Following its route through Rotterdam, the convoy went up the right bank of the Rhine and then resolutely headed to the east. In Arnhem, not far from the German border, the train stopped to replace the Dutch team (locomotive, machinist and stoker) by a German one.

From that moment, the brilliant Pacific S 3/6 of pointy nose, whose excellent mechanisms were often compared with a Mozart symphony, towed that convoy of Wagnerian name, always following the right bank of the Rhine which diverted toward the south. Four hundred kilometers afar, in Mannheim, the smoky locomotive was relieved by a new machine, which departed with renewed strength on a travel of 280 kilometers across castles and vineyards, always following the Rhine. At 18:30 o'clock, the convoy, with a thundering sound, rushed toward one of the ends of the immense platform number one of the international station of Basel, where she met face to face the panting Edelweiss, which had just effectuated a notorious entry from the opposite end of the same platform.

In route since 7:25 o'clock from Amsterdam, the "White Star of the Alps" went down toward the south stopping in The Hague and in Rotterdam, before picking up in Amberes some passengers coming from Great Britain; then it continued its route through Brussels, Luxembourg, Metz and Strasbourg, where it took again the left bank of the Rhine until arriving to Basel. This way, the international station of Basel could see each day these two monsters, tired by the rampant race, showing their teeth while the double wave of passengers marched past.

Steam locomotives
Left picture: In the Cologne station, the passengers of the Rheingold could admire the magnificent gothic cathedral, which had been left miraculously unscathed by the bombings.

Right picture: The Broadway Limited and the 20th Century Limited compete in speed while crossing the garages of the LaSalle Station of Chicago.

During this time, in United States, the 20th Century Limited which linked New York and Chicago had found a more original method to overtake its competitor, the Broadway Limited, which had the same destination points. Each of the convoys of the 20th Century Limited comprised two restaurant cars and ten sleeping cars, a club car with smoking room, a barbershop and several bathrooms. Besides, the company had made available to businessmen a small office where they could obtain constant information about the stock exchange quotes, as well as services from expert stenographers, apart from telephonic communications in each stop. For their part, the female travelers were attended with great attention, for the train carried in their honor a true battalion of steticists and waitresses.

Through Mountains and Gorges

If all the railroads were so uniform and straight as that crossing the plains of Nullarbor in Australia (478 kilometers without gradients nor curves), the machinists would be set in state of boredom by them, for each curve forces to reduce the speed and a 4.5 percent gradient would allow the locomotive to tow only two and a half times its weight, while in flat terrain it would have capacity for towing two hundred times its weight. Usually, when the terrain is very rugged, the layout of the railroad can be effectuated by means of turns and terraces, but if what is in front are huge mountains, as in the Alps, the Andes or the Rockies, it will be necessary to resort to the engineering of tunnels and viaducts.

Vintage railway
The curious shape of this Italian locomotive is due to the Franco-Crosti boiler installed on it. Such boiler allows the saving of fuel in a proportion of 18 or 20 percent, thanks to the disposition of the smoke exhausts at each side of it.

One of the first masterpieces that still today can be mentioned as an example - as with a length of 19823 meters it flaunted during several decades the record of being the longest tunnel in the world - is the twin tunnel of Simplon Pass between Brigne, in Switzerland, and Domodossola, in Italy. The first track was finished in 1906, after eleven years of hard work. The hard granite and the brittle slate had to be alternatively excavated, often falling on underground torrents of boiling waters, a fact that put obstacles on the continuation of the works. In 1928 a second track was opened, which considerably improved the Trans-Alpine railway traffic, suppressing at the same time the possibility of accidents.

In the Rockies, in the Kicking Horse Pass, the Canadian Pacific began by setting its railroad with a unrealistic gradient of 4.5 percent, but in 1920, after 25 years of hard work, this gradient had been reduced to two percent, by constructing a series of spiral tunnels of extremely high cost and which added a total of four kilometers to the line; it was still required, however, to couple two powerful 2-10-4 locomotives to help the 900-ton convoys to cross the steep crests. But with a pair of huge locomotives puffing together in the same tunnel, machinists and stokers had to adjust well their thick goggles and balaclavas to not end up asphyxiated. As to clandestine passengers, they preferred to momentarily abandon their precarious seats and, to avoid all the clatter, smoke and soot, to go afoot to the exit of the tunnel, where they would occupy again their uncomfortable places.

Spiral railway tunnel
To solve the problem of altitude in short distances, spiral tunnels can be built. This procedure was used in the beginning of the works of the Saint Gotthard tunnel.

The Andes are even higher than the Rockies, and their slopes steeper, so when the Peruvian railway network was built it was necessary to perforate numerous tunnels and construct viaducts above the rugged gorges of the terrain to cross - at the vertiginous altitude of 5000 meters - the gorge of La Cima, between Lima and La Oroya. Even with a 4.5 percent gradient, 21 track stretches had to be completed in an interlocking station where the train, zigzagging like a skier, moved either forward or backward, clinging to the border of the gorges, along which it climbed at a maximum speed of 30 kilometers/hour, transporting travelers and crew members with their faces hidden behind oxygen masks.

Steam locomotives
Upper picture: They were necessary two locomotives to tow the heavy convoys on the steep slopes not far from Carlysle, while other machines were kept in reserve for cases of need.

Lower picture: The viaduct crossing the Zambezi River in Victoria Falls.

One of the most impressive engineering works is perhaps the viaduct that crosses the Zambezi River in Victoria Falls, in Zimbabwe. The location of this construction work - which has a length of 220 meters, with a central arch of more than 160 meters in span - was chosen following Cecil Rhodes' wish that "on its path the trains were splashed by water drops from the falls"; even nowadays a vivid emotion can be felt before what the natives call Mosioatunya, "the smoke of the thunder roar".

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