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Hi all,

The Glen Ellyn, IL train wreck on the C&NW (now UP) occurred 45 years ago today and it happened on a Sunday morning.  I was 11 and our family lived in Glen Ellyn at the time.  My dad took me and my brother to see the wreck.  We didn't get too close and I do remember seeing one of the crane cars.  Attached is the NTSB report.


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I recall this accident - one of my neighbors was a volunteer fireman for the City of Glen Ellyn, and was called out to the accident site very early in the morning.  A substantial evacuation of near-by residents was conducted.  Looking at the photos and findings, the ties and track was in pretty beat-up condition.  Noted that the Vice-Chairman of the NTSB  at the time, which investigated the incident, was Kay Bailey, later Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas. 

Presume the track is in much better shape these days, as Big Boy 4014 traversed the same trackage.

Gage vs. Gauge (

What's wrong with it is that it is wrong.

Well, going back to the 1950s, I was always taught by the professional railroaders I knew, that "gage" was the spacing between the two rails, while "gauge" was the thing you read pressures on, i.e. the steam "gauge" in the cab of steam locomotives, for example.

However, apparently the "new politicly correct" grammar of over 75 years later, seems what I was taught on the railroad was wrong. Just like "mothers" are now referred to as "birthing people". Give me a break!

Last edited by Hot Water

For what it's worth , the FRA Code of Federal Regulations uses the spelling of "gage" in all regulations pertaining to track geometry and track safety standards. Example below:

§213.53   Gage.

(a) Gage is measured between the heads of the rails at right-angles to the rails in a plane five-eighths of an inch below the top of the rail head.

(b) Gage shall be within the limits prescribed in the following table—

Class of trackThe gage must be at least—But not more than—
Excepted trackN/A4′101⁄4 ″.
Class 1 track4′8″4′10″.
Class 2 and 3 track4′8″4′93⁄4 ″.
Class 4 and 5 track4′8″

4′91⁄2 ″.

The use of the word “Gage” in the context of this report is wrong, pure and simple. I don’t care what FRA 213.53 says, this is the wrong word to use to describe the space between the rails.

The word "gage" stands for pledge. It is defined as a guarantee given against an obligation. It is regarded as a security, whether it is for a bet, for an organization or for a bank. At the same time, though, "gage" can also be used to express a challenge, in the sense of a fight.

Example 1: "Her father's apartment is her gage for the bank." - a gage practically serves as a guarantee for a loan.

Example 2: "Throw up your gage" - this is an expression meaning to forfeit a fight or to avoid a challenge.

The word "gauge", on the other hand, is used both as a noun and as a verb. As a verb, "gauge" refers to measuring, estimating, analyzing or evaluating dimensions. Whereas used as a noun, "gauge" stands for the actual dimension, usually a conventional, standard capacity of quantity. In addition, "gauge" can also be sometimes used as a noun referring to a measurement tool used for the measurement of fuel, oil, pressure and so on.

Example 3: "The NASA staff is trained to gauge the proximity of stars, planets and other elements of the galaxy." - used as a verb, it stands for estimating/evaluating/measuring a distance.

Example 4: "They estimated the thickness of the material to get slightly over 30 gauge." - as a noun, it often stands for the thickness or size of an element.

Example 5: "The fuel gauge was indicating some low values." - "gauge" can also refer to a measuring tool, as a noun.

When do we use "gage"?

Almost never. This word is considered obsolete in modern times and can easily be replaced by other words. So avoiding it would be the safest decision for both linguistic elegance and respect of formal vocabulary nowadays. Using "gage", anyway, is mostly appropriate in the examples discussed above, as a noun.

I dont believe everything I read, especially things published in government publications.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, published since 1828, defines  "gauge as a measurement (as of linear dimension) according to some standard or system, such as the distance between the rails of a railroad."  Merriam further notes "variants: or less commonly gage"     Same meaning, but gage is less commonly used; not archaic, just less commonly used.

Might the NTSB analysis and report be a legal document that might find it's way into court?  Could the word "gage" be appropriate or even required in a legal application? Might  it be an engineering term? It does seem to be gramatically correct.

And how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?

Last edited by mark s
@mark s posted:

Could the word "gage" be appropriate or even required in a legal application? Might  it be an engineering term? It does seem to be gramatically correct.

Wikipedia notes that in rail transport, track gauge or track gage is the spacing of the rails on a railway track and is measured between the inner faces of the load-bearing rails. The Oxford English Dictionary, the gold standard of dictionaries, says;




variant spelling of gauge (noun)

Apparently, as GP40 has pointed out, the FRA has historically used the term "gage," so if you're going to talk about distance between rails in proper FRA lingo, you use the term as mandated by their regulations, which is "gage," no matter how objectionable you find it.   No doubt there's a story behind why that spelling came to be used.
It is not uncommon, in a wide variety of technical descriptions, for people to ask (and in some cases whine) "Why do they spell it that way?" Whether it's in engineering, or the legal or medical fields, and others, it is often the case that archaic and arcane words are utilized in definitions. If the particular word is the spelling utilized according to whatever regulations or rules that apply, then that's what it is.
Last edited by breezinup

Don, hijacking the thread is allowed - we are having fun !

It is interesting that we modelers/railfans use non-industry terms for things (also see running board ("roof walks") and single-sheathed ("outside braced") boxcar); and we say the very industry we are trying to replicate in miniature is wrong !!!

Last edited by bob3

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