The history of rail transport dates back nearly 500 years, and includes systems with man or horse power and rails of wood or stone. Modern rail transport systems first appeared in England in the 1820s. These systems, which made use of the steam locomotive, were the first practical forms of mechanized land transport, and they remained the primary form of mechanized land transport for the next 100 years.
The technology spread across Europe and had certainly arrived in Britain by the early 1600s. The Wollaton Wagonway was probably the earliest British installation, completed in 1604 , and recorded as running from Strelley to Wollaton near Nottingham. Another early wagonway is noted at Broseley in Shropshire from 1605 onwards. Huntingdon Beaumont (who was concerned with mining at Strelley) also laid down broad wooden rails near Newcastle upon Tyne, on which a single horse could haul fifty or sixty bushels (130-150 kg) of coal.
By the eighteenth century, such wagonways and tramways existed in a number of areas. Ralph Allen, for example, constructed a tramway to transport stone from a local quarry to supply the needs of the builders of the Georgian terraces of Bath. The Battle of Prestonpans, in the Jacobite Rebellion, was fought astride a wagonway. This type of transport spread rapidly through the whole Tyneside coal-field, and the greatest number of lines were to be found in the coalfield near Newcastle upon Tyne, where they were known locally as wagonways. Their function in most cases was to facilitate the transport of coal in chaldron wagons from the coalpits to a staithe (a wooden pier) on the river bank, whence coal could be shipped to London by collier brigs. The wagonways were engineered so that trains of coal wagons could descend to the staith by gravity, being braked by a brakesman who would "sprag" the wheels by jamming them. Wagonways on less steep gradients could be retarded by allowing the wheels to bind on curves.. As the work became more wearing on the horses, a vehicle known as a dandy wagon was introduced, in which the horse could rest on downhill stretches.
Because rails were smoother than roads, a greater quantity and tonnage of bulk goods such as coal and minerals could be carried, and without damage to highways. Naturally, a great deal of inventiveness was focussed upon improving the rails and reducing the degree of friction between wheel and rail. In the late 1760s, the Coalbrookdale Company began to fix plates of cast iron to the wooden rails. These (and earlier railways) had flanged wheels as on modern railways, but another system was introduced, in which unflanged wheels ran on L-shaped metal plates - these became known as plateways. John Curr, a Sheffield colliery manager, invented this flanged rail, though the exact date of this is disputed. The plate rail was taken up by Benjamin Outram for wagonways serving his canals, manufacturing them at his Butterley ironworks. Meanwhile William Jessop, a civil engineer, had used a form of edge rail successfully for an extension to the Charnwood Forest Canal at Nanpantan, Loughborough, Leicestershire in 1789. Jessop became a partner in the Butterley Company in 1790.
As the colliery and quarry tramways and wagonways grew longer, the possibility of using the technology for the public conveyance of goods suggested itself. On 26 July 1803, Jessop opened the Surrey Iron Railway in south London - arguably, the world's first public railway, albeit a horse-drawn one. It was not a railway in the modern sense of the word, as it functioned like a turnpike road. There were no official services, as anyone could bring a vehicle on the railway by paying a toll.
It was not until 1825 that the success of the Stockton and Darlington Railway proved that the railways could be made as useful to the general shipping public as to the colliery owner. This railway broke new ground by using rails made of rolled wrought iron, produced at Bedlington Ironworks in Northumberland. Such rails were stronger. This railway linked the town of Darlington with the port of Stockton-on-Tees, and was intended to enable local collieries (which were connected to the line by short branches) to transport their coal to the docks. As this would constitute the bulk of the traffic, the company took the important step of offering to haul the colliery wagons or chaldrons by locomotive power, something that required a scheduled or timetabled service of trains. However, the line also functioned as a toll railway, where private horse drawn wagons could be operated upon it. This curious hybrid of a system (which also included, at one stage, a horse drawn passenger wagon) could not last, and within a few years, traffic was restricted to timetabled trains. (However, the tradition of private owned wagons continued on railways in Britain until the 1960s.)
The first railway steam locomotive was built in 1804 by Richard Trevithick, an English engineer born in Cornwall. (The story goes that it was constructed to satisfy a bet by Samuel Homfray, the local iron master.) This used high pressure steam to drive the engine by one power stroke. (The transmission system employed a large fly-wheel to even out the action of the piston rod.) His locomotive had no name, and was used on the Merthyr Tydfil Tramroad in South Wales (sometimes - but incorrectly - called the Penydarren Tramroad).Trevithick later demonstrated a locomotive operating upon a piece of circular rail track in Bloomsbury, London, the "Catch-Me-Who-Can", but never got beyond the experimental stage with railway locomotives, not least because his engines were too heavy for the cast-iron plateway track then in use. Despite his inventive talents, Richard Trevithick died in poverty, with his achievement being largely unrecognized.
The impact of the Napoleonic Wars resulted in (amongst other things) a dramatic rise in the price of fodder. This was the imperative that made the locomotive an economic proposition, if it could be perfected.
The first commercially successful steam locomotive was Matthew Murray's rack locomotive The Salamanca built for the narrow gauge Middleton Railway in 1812. This twin cylinder locomotive was not heavy enough to break the edge-rails track, and solved the problem of adhesion by a cog-wheel utilising slots cast in one of the rails. It was the first rack railway.
This was followed in 1813 by the Puffing Billy built by Christopher Blackett and William Hedley for the Wylam Colliery Railway, the first successful locomotive running by adhesion only. This was accomplished by the distribution of weight by a number of wheels. Puffing Billy is now on display in the Science Museum in London, the oldest locomotive in existence.
In 1814 George Stephenson, inspired by the early locomotives of Trevithick, Murray and Hedley, persuaded the manager of the Killingworth colliery where he worked to allow him to build a steam-powered machine. He built the Blücher, one of the first successful flanged-wheel adhesion locomotives. Stephenson played a pivotal role in the development and widespread adoption of the steam locomotive. His designs considerably improved on the work of the earlier pioneers. In 1825 he built the Locomotion for the Stockton and Darlington Railway which became the first public steam railway in the world.
This vision had its counterpart in Britain, where it proved to be far more influential. William James, a rich and influential surveyor and land agent, was inspired by the development of the steam locomotive to suggest a national network of railways. He was responsible for proposing a number of projects that later came to fruition, and he is credited with carrying out a survey of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Unfortunately, he became bankrupt and his schemes were taken over by George Stephenson and others. However, he is credited by many historians with the title of "Father of the Railway".
The success of the Stockton and Darlington encouraged the rich investors of the rapidly industrialising North West of England to embark upon a project to link the rich cotton manufacturing town of Manchester with the thriving port of Liverpool. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was the first modern railway, in that both the goods and passenger traffic was operated by scheduled or timetabled locomotive hauled trains. At the time of its construction, there was still a serious doubt that locomotives could maintain a regular service over the distance involved. A widely reported competition was held in 1829 called the Rainhill Trials, to find the most suitable steam engine to haul the trains. A number of locomotives were entered, including Novelty, Perseverance, and Sans Pareil. The winner was Stephenson's Rocket, which had superior steaming qualities as a consequence of the installation of a multi-tubular boiler (suggested by Henry Booth, a director of the railway company).
The promoters were mainly interested in goods traffic, but after the line opened on 15 September 1830, they found to their amazement that passenger traffic was just as remunerative. The success of the Liverpool and Manchester railway influenced the development of railways elsewhere in Britain and abroad. The company hosted many visiting deputations from other railway projects, and many railwaymen received their early training and experience upon this line.
It must be remembered that the Liverpool and Manchester line was still a short one, linking two towns within an English shire county. The world's first trunk line can be said to be the Grand Junction Railway, opening in 1837, and linking a mid point on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway with Birmingham, by way of Crewe, Stafford, and Wolverhampton.
Meanwhile by 1840 Stephenson had produced larger, more stable, engines in the form of the 2-2-2 "patentee" and six-coupled goods engines. Locomotives were travelling longer distances and being worked more extensively. The North Midland Railway expressed their concern to Robert Stephenson who was, at that time, their general manager, about the effect of heat on their fireboxes. After some experiments, he patented his so-called Long Boiler design. These became a new standard and similar designs were produced by other manufacturers, particularly Sharp Brothers whose engines became known affectionately as "Sharpies"
The longer wheelbase for the longer boiler produced problems in cornering. For his six-coupled engines, Stephenson removed the flanges from the centre pair of wheels. For his express engines, he shifted the trailing wheel to the front in the 4-2-0 formation, as in his "Great A." There were other problems. One was that the firebox was restricted in size, or had to be mounted behind the wheels. The other was that, the generally held opinion arose that, to improve stability, the centre of gravity should be kept low.
The most extreme outcome of this was the Crampton locomotive which mounted the driving wheels behind the firebox and could be made very large in diameter. These achieved the hitherto unheard of speed of but were very prone to wheelslip. With their long wheelbase, they were unsuccessful on Britain's winding tracks, but became popular in the USA and France, where the popular expression became to "prendre le Crampton".
John Gray of the London and Brighton Railway was one who disbelieved the necessity for a low centre of gravity and produced a series of locos that were much admired by David Joy who developed the design at the firm of E. B. Wilson and Company to produce the 2-2-2 Jenny Lind locomotive, one of the most successful passenger locomotives of its day. Meanwhile the Stephenson 0-6-0 Long Boiler locomotive with inside cylinders became the archetypical goods engine
By the 1850s, many steam-powered railways had reached the fringes of built-up London. But the new lines were not permitted to demolish enough property to penetrate the City or the West End, so passengers had to disembark at Paddington, Euston, Kings Cross, Fenchurch Street, Charing Cross, Waterloo or Victoria and then make their own way via hackney carriage or on foot into the centre, thereby massively increasing congestion in the city. A Metropolitan Railway was built under the ground to connect several of these separate railway terminals, and thus became the world's first "Metro."
Russia was in need of improved transportation and geographically suited to railroads, with long flat stretches of land and comparatively simple land acquisition. It was hampered, however, by its outmoded political situation and a shortage of capital. Yefim and Miron Cherepanovs, Russian factory engineers, actually invented and built successful working locomotives for a mine tramway between 1832 and 1835, but their inventiveness was not pursued. Foreign initiative and capital were required. The first major public railroad was the Saint Petersburg-Tsarskoye Selo Railway, proposed and built by a Bohemian engineer, František Antonín Gerstner the son of František Josef Gerstner, in 1836.
|RAILROAD ACCUMULATED MILEAGE BY REGION|
|LA,AR & OK(Indian) Territory||20.75||107.00||250.23||331.23||1,621.11||5,153.91|
In 1869, the symbolically important trans-continental railroad was completed in the United States with the driving of a golden spike.
In many countries, these electric street railways grew beyond the metropolitan areas to connect with other urban centers. In the USA, "electric interurban" railroad networks connected most urban areas in the states of Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. In Southern California, the Pacific Electric Railway connected most cities in Los Angeles and Orange Counties, and the Inland Empire. There were similar systems in Europe. One of the more notable rail systems connected every town and city in Belgium. One of the more notable tramway systems in Asia is the Hong Kong Tramways, which started operation in 1904 and run exclusively on double-decker trams.
The remnants of these systems still exist, and in many places they have been modernized to become part of the urban "rapid transit" system in their respective areas. In the past thirty years increasing numbers of cities have restored electric rail service by building "light rail" systems to replace the tram system they removed during the mid-20th century.
In the 20th century, road transport and air travel replaced railroads for most long-distance passenger travel in the United States, but railroads remain important for hauling freight in the United States, and for passenger transport in many other countries.