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Let's have fantasy world with XVIII European century technology, also let's have technology of making really big trains and rails for them (big like 2.5 meters track gauge). What I want is railroad system spanning whole continent (approx size of Asia). But there is a problem, there are many different countries, and often they are in state of war, or something close to proxy war.
So there goes question:

How to force all those states to have one more or less united railway system?

PS. Lets hope I didn't messed up tags.

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  • $\begingroup$ You likely cannot in the way that you seem to envision. While you can specify uniform standards for interoperability, each railway operator in each country is independent. Each national border is both a customs frontier and a change of railway company (interline transfer). You have set a time period during which communications-based ticketing and signalling and dispatching is impossible, so there is no way to coordinate thru-running, so you will have only slow, scheduled trains that terminate at the border. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Nov 22 '19 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ I like broad gauge railways, so +1 for going the Brunel route! Possibly 18th century steam technology won't be up to the task, though. Maybe edit to XIX? $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Nov 22 '19 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ In the real world, there are at least two Eurasian trans-continental train routes, from Western Europe to the Pacific. The northern route (through Russia) features one gauge break, between Europe proper and Russia. The second, through Russia, Kazakhstan and China, features two gauge breaks, one between China and Kazakhstan and the other between Russia and Europe. And this is in the modern world, with massive trans-continental trade and with everybody recognizing the importance of rail links in a global economy. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Nov 22 '19 at 14:34
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Railroad Cartel

Political interests are one thing, business interests are another. Unless the governments actively prevent trade, there will financial incentives to connect them. As it is unlikely these countries would allow foreign companies to own vital infrastructure, each would have their own railroad company.

Why would these companies work together?

As the companies cannot expand into rival nations, there is no reason to compete with their railroads. Instead by working together, they each can secure a monopoly on international trade in their own nation, charging whatever they like and making a fortune. These companies work together to keep upstarts down and profits high.

What about the politicians?

Now every nation has a powerful business group vital for national defense clamoring to keep the rails open. Between bribes and intimidation, these companies are in deep with the government (or maybe key politicians own stock)

Dynamic relations can also be helpful to these companies, as it would prevent upstarts from having international connections. Two new companies building a line between nation A and B? Well, trade dispute causes a blockade between them, killing the line. The cartel companies are unaffected as they can go through nation C as in intermediary.

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  • $\begingroup$ How it would work when countries are at war and want to use trains for warfare? $\endgroup$ – Guy with jewels' names Nov 22 '19 at 14:05
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    $\begingroup$ Assuming these are normal trains used for transportation, they just pay the companies to shuttle troops and supplies. If these are fantasy warfare battle trains, well the governments own those, while the train companies own the profitable transportation minded ones. Either way, expect countries loosing a land war to destroy their own tracks as they retreat and invading nations to have to build new lines. $\endgroup$ – Hink Nov 22 '19 at 14:15
  • $\begingroup$ Battle trains are not quite as fantastic as one might expect, although they're not common nowadays. $\endgroup$ – Cadence Nov 22 '19 at 22:25
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Im not really sure if thats helpful for you, but you could force them either through the napoleonic dominance over europe in the late 18th - early 19th century or as a result of the congress of vienna that happened after napoleons defeat.

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  • $\begingroup$ I don't think it would work, last time all countries were united was more like thousand years ago, today whole territory is way to big to be controlled by one government. $\endgroup$ – Guy with jewels' names Nov 22 '19 at 13:18
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding.SE! Please be aware that the question is asking about a fictional world with fictional countries, so answers that suggest tying the railway's creation into real-world events don't really seem to fit. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Nov 22 '19 at 13:19
  • $\begingroup$ Actually a pretty good answer: basic (realistic) choices are create a contiguous empire in which such infrastructure can be built to a single gauge & standard or else bribe and cajole many independent countries into a railway treaty. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Nov 22 '19 at 14:13
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You hardly can. The reason why certain countries have a different track gauge is exactly to hamper the logistic of a potential invasor, by making it impossible for its train to operate on the other rail network.

You can only have a transcontinental rail when either there is a single nation, like in the historical case of the USA or Russia, or when there is an economic incentive in having the railway. But since you state that all the countries are in non calm relationship it's hard to have a good economy between them.

Maybe you can try the card of religion: the prevailing religion of the continent mandates a pilgrimage in a location of the continent, and all the believers have to travel to reach it, making a railway the most convenient, though obtorto collo, option.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thats why I've added "fantasy" to world, many things that would be unthinkable IRL can happen there. $\endgroup$ – Guy with jewels' names Nov 22 '19 at 13:47
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Standards will rise naturally

Even back before WW2, Europe had fairly standardized railways, even though the nations had long histories of war. In peacetime, the railways were very much what tied the continent together, carrying mail and goods as well as passengers. In wartime, armies could use rails to carry supplies and soldiers, and for that, it was also practical to have the same railway gauge. So even on a continent of often hostile nations, it makes sense to have standardized rails, or else goods would have to be offloaded, moved and loaded at every border. In fact, today most of the world uses a global standard gauge of 1,435 millimeters, used in China, most of Europe, North America, most of Australia, Iran, and Turkey.

The Soviet Union had a different gauge of 1,524 millimeters, so the invading German army had to change the tracks as they moved forward - and the Soviets then changed them back as they forced the Germans out. This gauge is still used in most ex-Soviet nations.

My point is that you don't need a centralized authority - public or private - to have standardized systems. It is simply easier to lay tracks that match your neighbours'. If you have ambitions to expand into your neighbours' territories, this is also practical.

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The railway system is operated by a single mega-corporation which has enough money to put several, if not all, of the continent's governments in its pocket. They also do arms industry as a side project so they don't mind and in fact encourage the various wars since they feed their coffers. But they put a lot of capital into their unified railway system and are earning a lot from it so they have made it quite clear that it can't be touched by the various warring factions. In exchange they are enforcing strict security measures with constant inspections to ensure the countries are not using the unified railway system to directly harm another country (imagine a modern-day worldwide customs union run by a non-government organization such as the UN). To ensure fairness customs inspectors must always be of a nationality currently neutral towards the countries on whose ground they are inspecting. Obviously the trains are very heavily armed and armored to prevent rogue factions from disrupting them. Additionally the railways are both heavily fortified, guarded at regular intervals, and there is some system in place that allows quick and efficient repairs, in case of rogue factions trying to hit them and place the blame on one country or the other.

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    $\begingroup$ As a brigand in the hills, I'm all in favor of this 18th century mega-corp. They will need to move a tremendous amount of money around to pay all those guards and maintenance workers and train crews. A little bribery of a stationmaster or two, and my band of highwaymen will be stinking rich after a couple robberies! They may be well armed, but I'll find (or make) a weak spot for the jobs. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Nov 22 '19 at 13:33
  • $\begingroup$ Since we're talking about a company that is rich enough to control multiple governments, I am curious about what kind of bribe you could offer to counterweight it. Furthermore, even assuming successful robberies, after a couple such your group would be targeted and eliminated in short order. $\endgroup$ – Nightmayre Nov 22 '19 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ Attacks on gold trains wouldn't be that big issue, most of trains would be used for mass cargo hauling. $\endgroup$ – Guy with jewels' names Nov 22 '19 at 13:42
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Imperial train

The whole continent is loosely ruled by an Emperor.

Similarely to medieval Europe, this Emperor is not much more powerful that a random king. But he is the master the the train network and nobody will mess with HIM if it can be avoided.

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