Railroad Tracks

Nov 15, 1996

RAY: Now we had a little problem with this because we had to do a little research and you may have noticed that Bugsy hasn't been here for awhile. I asked him to do a little research and I asked him very simply to measure the distance between railroad tracks. That is, from the middle of the track to the middle of the other track and find out what that distance is, because we wanted to find out if that distance had any relevance to anything. Well, Bugsy is always looking for a short cut and he couldn't find any railroad tracks when he was leaving here a few weeks ago on his mission, but he did enter the subway and unfortunately he measured from the third rail and we haven't seen him since.

But what he did discover as he was gasping for breath was that the distance between tracks, from the middle of the track to the middle of the parallel track, is on average 4 feet 11 3/4 inches.

TOM: Wow! It sounds like he did some actual measuring.

RAY: Now what kind of stupid number is that?

TOM: It is a very unusual number.

RAY: But so the question is from whenst did we get this 4 feet, 11 3/4 inches and feel free to go back in history as far as is necessary.

TOM: Because we don't want some stupid answer like "that's how far apart the tracks in England were."

RAY: That's exactly how far apart they are. But why?

RAY: Here's the answer: Because they were built following the ruts left by Roman chariots.

Get the Car Talk Newsletter