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Roads and Railways : Introduction
TWO CENTURIES OF REVOLTIONARY CHANGE
The Industrial Revolution
Building the Railways : Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Brunel was the son of the famous French engineer, Marc Brunel. During his career, Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed and built a number of railways of which his most famous construction was the Great Western Railway. Brunel also built bridges, tunnels and steamships.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel: Photo by Robert Howlett
Not all of Brunel's ideas were successful. He was obsessed for a while with the idea of a railway without locomotives. This railway would run by using air pressure. his idea was to use an air-tight cast iron tube laid along the middle of the track with a piston to be placed inside the tube and connected to the leading coach. Air would be pumped out of the tube, ahead of the piston. This would draw the piston forward, thus pulling the coaches. Brunel was not convinced that steam locomotives could be built to provide enough power to climb some of the steeper gradients on some of the lines he was designing. He thought that the piston pump design would be the answer to this problem.
The piston pump design was used by a French engineer, Monsieur C.F. Mallet. Mallet was so impressed by the design that he recommended its use throughout France. However, the design failed for a variety of reasons. One of these was that rats and mice ate the greased leather flaps which were used to keep the system air-tight! The main reason for its failure was that the technology needed was too advanced for the time. Even so, the piston pump system did manage to draw trains at speeds in excess of 100 kilometres per hour, which was twice as fast as the average steam locomotive.
By 1844 improvements in trade and industry led to increased demand for railways to carry goods and passengers quickly, efficiently and, above all, cheaply. Between 1845 and 1848, over 650 Acts of Parliament were passed for either new railways or extensions to existing railways. By the 1850's over 9550 kilometres of railways had been built in Britain. The advance of the railway played a large part in transforming the country from a largely agricultural nation to the first industrialised country in the world.
The Social and Economic Effects of the Railway
Another aid to the economy was a 1844 Act of Parliament that set down minimum standards for travellers and a fixed fare of one penny per mile for third class passengers. This became known as the 'parliamentary ticket'. The Act also stated that all carriages were to have seats and that they must be covered.
At least one train per day was to run at a minimum speed of 19 kilometres per hour. The poorer people benefited from this Act since many of them could now afford to travel by train for the first time. As the century progressed and individual wealth grew, it meant that all but the very poor were able to take holidays by the sea. This led to the growth of travel and what we now call tourism.
There were many other social and economic effects which evolved as a direct result of railway development. The basic cost of raw materials, such as iron and coal, came down as transport costs dropped. As a result of this industrial growth increased at a faster rate. Food production and distribution became easier. This meant that more people could enjoy fresh meat, fish, milk and vegetables. The population became better fed and healthier.
As the railways expanded over the whole country it became necessary to create a standard country-wide time so that accurate timetables could be produced. Before this clocks had varied from district to district. Clocks in London and Bristol, for example, might have shown completely different times at any given moment. Then all clocks were set to a standard 'railway time'.
The expansion of the railway also made more work available and new jobs were created. However, this was partly offset by the loss of jobs due to the decline in stagecoach travel. The stagecoach companies had reached their peak in 1840. Competition with the railway put them into terminal decline, despite their efforts to compete by cutting prices. There was even a steam driven stagecoach! The greater speed and comfort of the railway, however, meant the decline of road travel for the next century.
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