The Decauville manufacturing company was founded by Paul Decauville (1846–1922), a French pioneer in industrial railway
Industrial railway
An industrial railway is a type of railway that is not available for public transportation and is used exclusively to serve a particular industrial, logistics or military site...

s. Decauville's major innovation was the use of ready-made sections of light, narrow gauge track fastened to steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

Railroad tie
A railroad tie/railway tie , or railway sleeper is a rectangular item used to support the rails in railroad tracks...

; this track was portable and could be disassembled and transported very easily. The first Decauville railway used gauge; Decauville later refined his invention and switched to and gauge.

Starting in 1875, his company produced track elements, engines and cars. Those were exported to many countries, in particular to the colonial possessions
In politics and history, a colony is a territory under the immediate political control of a state. For colonies in antiquity, city-states would often found their own colonies. Some colonies were historically countries, while others were territories without definite statehood from their inception....

 of European powers. The French military became interested in the Decauville system as early as 1888 and chose the gauge track to equip its strongholds and to carry artillery pieces
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 and ammunition
Ammunition is a generic term derived from the French language la munition which embraced all material used for war , but which in time came to refer specifically to gunpowder and artillery. The collective term for all types of ammunition is munitions...

 during military campaigns. Decauville track was used during the French military expeditions to Madagascar
The Republic of Madagascar is an island country located in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa...

 and Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...


By the First World War, the Decauville system had become a military standard and the French and British eventually built thousands of miles of trench railways
Trench railways
Trench Railways represented military adaptation of early 20th century railway technology to the problem of keeping soldiers supplied during the static trench warfare phase of World War I...

 track. The Germans had a similar system, with normalized engines.

Decauville railways were widely used in construction yards, quarries, farms, cane fields and mountain railways up to the 1950s. The company also produced road vehicles and construction engines.

Decauville tram installations for henequen
Henequen is an agave whose leaves yield a fiber also called henequen which is suitable for rope and twine, but not of as high a quality as sisal. Alternative spellings are Henequin and Heniquen. It is the major plantation fiber agave of eastern Mexico, being grown extensively in Yucatán,...

 plantations in the Mexican
The United Mexican States , commonly known as Mexico , is a federal constitutional republic in North America. It is bordered on the north by the United States; on the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; on the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and on the east by the Gulf of...

 region of the Yucatán
Yucatán officially Estado Libre y Soberano de Yucatán is one of the 31 states which, with the Federal District, comprise the 32 Federal Entities of Mexico. It is divided in 106 municipalities and its capital city is Mérida....

, were so extensive (approximately 4,500 kilometers of track) that the system became the de facto
De facto
De facto is a Latin expression that means "concerning fact." In law, it often means "in practice but not necessarily ordained by law" or "in practice or actuality, but not officially established." It is commonly used in contrast to de jure when referring to matters of law, governance, or...

mass transit system for the region. Some ex-hacienda
Hacienda is a Spanish word for an estate. Some haciendas were plantations, mines, or even business factories. Many haciendas combined these productive activities...

s of the area still have small operating, usually burro (donkey) powered, Decauville systems.

Two Portuguese beaches (Barril and Caparica) have seasonal tourist trains in Decauville system ( gauge) totalling 10 km.

See also

  • Decauville automobile
    Décauville automobile
    Decauville was a French automobile maker, a subsidiary of a company already famous for producing locomotives.The company was registered as Société des Voitures Automobiles Decauville in 1897 and the factory started producing automobiles in 1898. The first car was designed by Messrs Joseph Guédon...

  • Feldbahn
    A Feldbahn is the German term for a narrow gauge railway, usually not open to the public, which in its simplest form provides for the transportation of agricultural, forestry and industrial raw materials such as wood, peat, stone, earth and sand...

  • Forest railway
    Forest railway
    A forest railway, logging railway or logging railroad is a mode of railway transport which is used for forestry tasks, primarily the transportation of felled logs to sawmills or railway stations.- History :...

  • Heeresfeldbahn
    A Heeresfeldbahn is a German or Austrian military field railway . They were field railways designed for the military transportation purposes.- History :...

  • Light railway
    Light railway
    Light railway refers to a railway built at lower costs and to lower standards than typical "heavy rail". This usually means the railway uses lighter weight track, and is more steeply graded and tightly curved to avoid civil engineering costs...

  • Military railways
    Military railways
    Military railways are a form of transport communication technology used by the military forces for movement of strategically significant forces, bulk cargo or as a platform for military systems....

  • Minimum gauge railway
    Minimum gauge railway
    Minimum gauge railways have a gauge of less than or , most commonly , , or . The notion of minimum gauge railways was originally developed by estate railways and by the French company of Decauville for industrial railways....

  • Mountain railway
    Mountain railway
    A mountain railway is a railway that ascends and descends a mountain slope that has a steep grade. Such railways can use a number of different technologies to overcome the steepness of the grade...

  • Trench railways
    Trench railways
    Trench Railways represented military adaptation of early 20th century railway technology to the problem of keeping soldiers supplied during the static trench warfare phase of World War I...

External links

A paper read before the Institution of Mechanical Engineers
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