Pihl, Carl Abraham

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b. 16 January 1825 Stavanger, Norway
d. 14 September 1897 Kristiania (now Oslo), Norway
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Norwegian railway engineer, protagonist of narrow-gauge railways.
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Pihl trained as an engineer at Göteborg, Sweden, and then moved to London, where he worked under Robert Stephenson during 1845 and 1846. In 1850 he returned to Norway and worked with the English contractors building the first railway in Norway, the Norwegian Trunk Railway from Kristiania to Eidsvold, for which the English standard gauge was used. Subsequently he worked in England for a year, but in 1856 joined the Norwegian government's Road Department, which was to have responsibility for railways. In 1865 a distinct Railway Department was set up, and Pihl became Director for State Railway Construction. Because of the difficulties of the terrain and limited traffic, Pihl recommended that in the case of two isolated lines to be built the outlay involved in ordinary railways would not be justified, and that they should be built to the narrow gauge of 3 ft 6 in. (1.07 m). His recommendation was accepted by the Government in 1857 and the two lines were built to this gauge and opened during 1861–4. Six of their seven locomotives, and all their rolling stock, were imported from Britain. The lines cost £3,000 and £5,000 per mile, respectively; a standard-gauge line built in the same period cost £6,400 per mile.
Subsequently, many hundreds of miles of Norwegian railways were built to 3 ft 6 in. (1.07 m) gauge under Pihl's direction. They influenced construction of railways to this gauge in Australia, Southern Africa, New Zealand, Japan and elsewhere. However, in the late 1870s controversy arose in Norway over the economies that could in fact be gained from the 3 ft 6 in. (1,07 m) gauge. This controversy in the press, in discussion and in the Norwegian parliament became increasingly acrimonious during the next two decades; the standard-gauge party may be said to have won with the decision in 1898, the year after Pihl's death, to build the Bergen-Oslo line to standard gauge.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Knight of the Order of St Olaf 1862; Commander of the Order of St Olaf 1877. Commander of the Royal Order of Vasa 1867. Royal Order of the Northern Star 1882.
Further Reading
P.Allen and P.B.Whitehouse, 1959, Narrow Gauge Railways of Europe, Ian Allan (describes the Norwegian Battle of the Gauges).
A biographical article on Pihl appears (in Norwegian) in Norsk Biografisk Leksikon.
PJGR

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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