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The Agricultural Revolution Index

Introduction to the Agricultural Revolution

The Industrial Revolution Index

Introduction to the First Industrial Revolution

The Development of Roads and Railways Index

Roads and Railways : Introduction
The Development of Roads
The Development of the Steam Locomotive :
Richard Trevithick

The Development of the Steam Locomotive :
John Blenkinsop

The Development of the Steam Locomotive :
George Stephenson

Building the Railways : Introduction
Building the Railways : Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Railway Mania
The Social and Economic Effects of the Railway

History Chapters Main Index

 

Chronology of the Development of the Railways 1789 - 1890

1760's

Abraham Darby laid an iron plateway

1760's

Nicholas Cugnot invented the first steam propelled vehicle

1760

1786's

William Murdock invented a model road engine similar to Cugnot's

1789's

William Jessop introduced flanged waggon wheels

1780

1801's

Trevithick's first passenger steam vehicle went into operation

1805's

Wandsworth-Croydon public railway opened

1806's

Oystermouth railway - first passenger railway in Wales was built

1808's

Trevithick's 'Catch -me-who-can' locomotive was built

1800

1812's

Blenkinsop's railway locomotive hauled coal from Middleton to Leeds

1813's

Hedley's 'Puffing Billy' was built for use on non-toothed track

1810

1820's

Wrought iron rails used to make railways

1825's

Stockton to Darlington railway line opened

1827's

First railway tunnel built under Liverpool

1829's

Stephenson's 'Rocket' wins Rainhill trials (Britain)
Marc Sequin built first French steam locomotive

1820

1930's

Liverpool to Manchester line opened (Britain)

1832's

First steam locomotive powered railway opened in France

1835's

Joseph Locke designed bulkhead rail

1837's

Telegraph used to connect signal boxes

1830

1840's

First railway excursion

1846's

Standard gauge introduced in Britain

1840

1851's

First refrigerated coaches

1859's

Pullman cars

1850

1863's

First underground railway

1865's

USA adopted standard gauge

1869's

First rack railway (Mount Washington, USA)

1860

1879's

Von Seimen's electric train operated in Berlin

1870

1881's

First electric passenger train used in Germany

1889's

Block signalling and continuous braking in Britain

1880

1890's

First electric underground train

1890

1912's

First diesel electric trains (Sweden)

1910

 

TWO CENTURIES OF REVOLTIONARY CHANGE

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The Industrial Revolution

The Development of the Railway

Gare de Lyon, Paris  Shirley Burchill

Gare de Lyon, Paris © Shirley Burchill

The development of the railway can really be divided into two parts. These are the evolution of the railway itself (the rails and wagons), and the development of motive power (the method of pulling the wagons along.)

The concept of a wagon running on parallel tracks is an old one. Medieval drawings show that miners made tracks by pinning down two parallel lengths of wood which crossed beams of timber, called sleepers. The miners ran wagons on these tracks to make the removal of material from the mine much easier.

By the end of the 18th century canals had been developed to carry minerals from mines and quarries. However, some mines were not located in areas where canals could be built easily or economically. To overcome this problem some mines had tracks laid to the nearest canal, road or costal port. At first these tracks were wooden and the wagons were either pushed by hand or pulled by horse.

In the mid-18th century an industrialist called Abraham Darby made a "plateway" of cast iron on top of wooden rails. Initially his "plateway" was just a method of storing the cast iron when the demand for iron was slack. It allowed him to keep his furnaces running and he would be able to lift the iron plate when the demand for iron increased. However, the cast iron "plateway" was found to be so useful that he kept it in place. A letter written by Mrs. Abiah Darby to a friend, around 1775, describes the success of her husband's "plateway":

 

"They used to carry their coal upon horses' backs, but he (Abraham Darby) got roads made and laid with sleepers and trails, as they have in the north of England. And one wagon with three horses will bring as much as 20 horses used to bring on their backs. But this laying the road with wood caused a scarcity (of wood) and raised the price of it, so that of late years, the laying of the rails of caste iron was substituted, which through expensive, answers well for wear."

 

Although records are incomplete, it is thought that Abraham Darby first laid is "plateway" some time before 1767. He began to cast plateway rails for the first time in the same year. However, this was still not technically a railway because it did not have any method of keeping wagons on the plateways.

Flanged plateway or L-shaped rail

Flanged plateway or L-shaped rail © Shirley Burchill

 

A later development was an "L" shaped rail which held the wagon onto the plateway. A further development by William Jessop, in 1789, was the introduction of wagon wheels with cast flanges on the inner rim. These held the wagons firmly on the track. 

Flanged wheel

Flanged wheel © Shirley Burchill

This simple concept became the standard and is still in use today. Many of the original plateways were constructed using stone blocks to link the cast plate and rails together. The stone blocks were later replaced by wooden sleepers set in a gravel track-bed, or ballast.

Generally, these railways, (or tramways as many were called), had wagons pulled by horses. In some cases they were constructed in such a way that the tramway ran down from the mine (or quarry) to the canal (or port). This meant that gravity was responsible for the movement of the loaded wagons.

Although tramways showed that heavy loads could be transported with far less effort than before, most people still looked at them as just a way to move produce to the nearest canal. Very few people realised their potential. This was because there was, as yet, no suitable method for moving long, heavy trains. As long as the horse was the only method of motive power, the railway system could not advance. This is not to say that no one had thought of the idea of a passenger carrying railway. In fact the first railway to carry fare-paying passengers was built in Wales in 1806. The Oystermouth Railway was horse-drawn and ran between Oystermouth and Swansea.

The concept of steam locomotives came about because a number of far-sighted engineers saw that there was a great future for the railway if the power of steam could be harnessed to pull it. Steam engines, such as the Boulton and Watt engine, were already being used to pull loads up the shafts of coal mines. Engineers saw that these engines could be adapted to tow a train along a track.

Some of the earliest railways were built to operate with a series of engines spaced out along the track at regular intervals. The train was attached to a winding rope which was hauled in towards the engine house. Once there, the train was attached to the next winding rope and the haulage continued. This method was expensive both in engine power and in fuel consumption, and it was very slow. There was an obvious need for a portable form of steam engine which could actually draw the train along. Such a steam engine needed to be small enough and light enough to be supported by the often brittle, cast iron track.

 

The following is an extract from Louis de Gallois' repot on the British railway. He is writing about the railways of the Northumberland and Durham coalfields in 1818.

"There is a network of 75 leagues of railway in a region which is 7 leagues long and 4 leagues wide. In addition, 150 leagues of underground lines have been laid. All the lines which are above ground run from the pit heads of the coal mines to the River Tyne and the River Wear. These two rivers can be navigated by large ships for several miles inland. 

A coal wagon can carry a load of about 25 metric quintals. The smallest downhill gradient is enough to set the wagons moving on their own. Five or six of these wagons coupled together can move downhill without the aid of horses or any other form of power. A child operates a brake to slow the wagons down if necessary. Should the slope be too steep that the wagons descend too quickly, an inclined plane is used. By means of a big pulley and a rope, the descent of a loaded wagon can be controlled, and at the same time an equal number of empty wagons can be hauled up the incline. The speed of the descent can be controlled by a brake on the pulley."

 

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