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Why Build a Herringbone Railroad?

Aug. 20, 2022 Share:

Zhan Tianyou of China built railroads in the late Qing and early Ming dynasties and created brilliant achievements. In particular, he spent 6.93 million taels of silver to build the Herringbone Railway, which impressed the world. So what was the use of the herringbone railroad and why did Zhan Tianyou go to great lengths and waste many miles to build such a railroad?


Chief Engineer Zhan Tianyou


Zhan Tianyou, a native of Guangdong, was born in 1861 into a family of merchants and businessmen. In 1873, at the age of 12, Zhan Tianyou entered an American elementary school and received a Western education, eventually enrolling in the prestigious Yale University to study civil engineering.


At that time, the rulers of the Qing government knew about the advanced railroads abroad and were very envious of them, and wanted to build railroads in China. So Zhan Tianyou became China's first railroad chief engineer, responsible for the construction of Jinzhou Railway, and then the construction of Beijing-Zhang Railway. But the Beijing-Zhang railroad was very difficult, especially the problem of tunnels in the Juyongguan and Badaling mountain ranges, and the problem of large slopes brought by the rugged mountain roads, which made it difficult to complete the laying of the railroad with the technology of the time. So when the experts from Britain, Japan and France built it, they all chose to give up in the end because it was too difficult.


Why did they insist on building the Beijing-Zhangzhou Railway?


Jingzhang Railway is a section of railroad from Beijing to Zhangjiakou. From the distance, the two places are nearly 200 kilometers apart, in the case of high-speed, it takes more than 2 hours to drive the journey. And Zhangjiakou was, at that time, a shortcut for the West to enter China and an important line of defense. Once the country was in distress, this railroad could quickly organize its forces in a short time and form a linkage between the surrounding provinces and cities as well as the region.


Why Build a Herringbone Railroad?

Overcoming two major problems


What should Zhan Tianyou do when the top foreign experts were unable to overcome the problem? Zhan Tianyou first studied the map, followed by a lot of fieldwork, and found two major problems.


The first was the difficulty of opening the tunnel.


As we all know, there are two mountain ranges between the two places, Juyongguan and Badaling, and if we want to build the fastest railroad, we must tunnel through the two mountain ranges.


Scheme: Zhan Tianyou let people from the top of the mountain down a shaft, and then let people in the two ends of the mountain to the middle of the shaft, so not only to shorten the construction time by half, but also with no advanced machine, as for pumping and ventilation fan, it is saved. This method is the famous "shaft excavation method".


The second is the climbing of the train.


In some mountain roads that do not need to be tunneled, it will encounter the problem of large slope, if the normal method of laying tracks, then the train in the place of large slope, it is easy to derail due to excessive speed.


Solution: This section of mountain road from Badaling to Sanbao is a long and sloping road. So the speed of the train will get faster and faster until finally it is completely out of control. But in the middle of the two points, there is a three-way road leading to Qinglongqiao. If when the train travels between the two points, the train turns in a big arc and then drives into the flat place of the Green Dragon Bridge. Then change the rear of the train to the front, then return from the Qinglong Bridge and turn in a big arc to drive down to the three fortresses, although the road is a bit roundabout, but can perfectly solve the problem of slope.

Why Build a Herringbone Railroad?

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