History of Rail - History


A small wading bird, related to the cranes.

(Minesweeper No. 26: dp. 840; 1. 187'10"; b. 35'6", dr. 10'4 s. 14 k.; cpl. 72; a. 2 mg.; cl. Laywing)

The first Rail, a single-screw, steel "bird"-class minesweeper, was laid down on 15 December 1917 by the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash., launched 25 April 1918; sponsored by Mrs. Rohert Morgan; and commissioned on 5 June 1918, Ens. R. E. Allen, USNRF, in command.

Assigned to the Atlantic, Rail departed Bremerton on 25 June reaching Key West on 11 August, she continued on to Norfolk where she conducted minesweeping operations and training exercises into 1919. In March of that year, she sailed north tn Boston, then east to Inverness, Scotland, where on 20 April she joined the North Sea Minesweeping Detachment. Eight days later the detachment began the first of seven operations, which, during the summer, cleared the barrage laid down by the U.S. and Royal Navies between the Orkneys and the ~ coast of Norway to block the entry of German ships into the Atlantic.

On 2 May, the detachment completed the first sweep and put into Kirkwall, Scotland, its new base of operations for the remaining six sweeps. Damaged on 8 July and 29 August by mines which fouled her kite and exploded, Rail remained with the detachment through the completion of the 7th sweeping operation on 19 September. The detachment then prepared to return to the United States. On 15 October, Rail with others of her class departed Davenport and, after several stops en route, arrived at Tompkinsville N.Y. on 20 November 1919. ' '

Within the week the North Sea MinesweeDing Detachment was disbanded and Rail moved south, to Norfolk, for overhaul Then, reassigned to duty in the North Sea, she returned to Scotland in March 1920 and operated from Rosyth during April, May, and June. On 17 June she sailed for home.

Designated AM-26 on 17 July, Rail remained active with Mine Foree, Atlantic, after her return. Based at Norfolk, she conducted sweeping exercises off the east coast and in the Caribboan, during annual doployments, until 1925. III midFebruary 1925, she returned to the PacifiG. Until 12 March, she participated in Fleet Problem V, then into June operated in Hawaiian waters. On 8 June she headed back to the Atlantic to continue her previous operating schedule, spending several months of each year in the Caribbean, through the decade. In 1932 she redeployed to the Pacific.

Transiting the Panama Canal in Februarv, she steamed north to San Francisco and, into 1934, conducted training exercises and participated in maneuvers off the west coast. On 9 April 1934, she departed San Francisco and returned to the east coast, only to retransit the Panama Canal late in the year to participate in Fleet Prohlem XVI, a fivc-phase exercise to test the fleet's ability to secure advanced bases in the Pacific.

After hrief operations out of Pearl Harbor, Rail shifted to San Diego in June 1935. Based there for almost 3 years, she deployed westward only once, to Pearl Harbor for Fleet Problem XVIII in the spring of 1937. In late 1)eeember 1938, she steamed south to the Panama Canal Zone; operated there for 4 months, and returned to San Diego in May 1939. She was transferred to Pearl Harbor 11 months later.

On 7 December 1941, Rail was tied up to thc Coal Dock at Pearl Harbor. Within minutes of the start of the Japanese attack, her crew had the enemy under fire with .50 caliber machine guns. Rescue and salvage work soon commenced, but shortly after noon was interrupted for sweeping operations in the North Channel. On the 8th she resumed salvage operations and continued them until the 21st. From that day to 19 January 1942, she underwent engine repairs; then, 3 days later, she stood out of Pearl Harbor as an escort for a ship bound for Johnston Island.

Reclassified as a tug (AT-139) on 1 June 1942, Rail remained in the Hawaiian area, serving on ASW patrol and conducting experimental minesweeping operations in addition to completing salvage and towing assignments

On 26 January 1943, Rail with two barges in tow, headed for Samoa. Arriving on 11 February, she continued on to Noumea, New Caledonia, and the New Hebrides. In March she moved up to the Solomons to participate in the Russeli Islands offensive, and, through the New Georgia campaign, towed gasoline, oil, and ordnance barges; retrieved landing craft from the beaches, assisted in rescue and salvage operations, and brought damaged merchant and naval ships and craft into Tulagi for repairs.

In mid-September, Rail returned to Noumea and assumed towing duties in the New Caledonia area. Assignod a tow to the New Hebrides in early January 1944, she spent the latter half of the month en route to and from New Zealand and in February resumed towing operations out of Espiritu Santo.

On 1 June, Rail, now ATO-139 (effeotive 15 May 1944) departed the Solomons New Hebrides area and shifted to Nev. Guinea. Arriving at Milne Bay on the 4th, she operated along t~t coast from Millle Bay to Biak through the summer. In ( )etfThel she visited Cairns, Australia, then resumed operations along the New Guinea coast, in the Admiralties, and, in November, in~the Halmaheras. In late November and early December, she towed harges to Leyte, Philippines. Then, toward the end of the year, she departed Manus with the Luzon attack force.

On 5 JanuarN 1945, Rail transited Surigao Strait. On the 7th, she entered the South China Sea where Japanese aircraft attempted to turn the Allied force. On the 9th, the ships entered I,ingaN~en Gulf and Rail took up station to give assistance where needed. Through the 14th she provided retrieving, salvage, and towing services. On the 18th, aiter completing an intelligence and salvage inspection of a sunken Japanese submarine, she moved south, to Leyte, whence she returned to Luzon for operation "Mike VII"—the assaults on Zambales province at the end of the month. With no opposition in the San Antonio area, she moved around to Grande Island at the entrance to Subie Bav; assisted the damaged transport Caralier; then returned to Leyte, arriving in San Pedro Bay on 4 FehruarN-.

Two weeks later, the tug returned to N'ew Guinea, underwent overhaul at Hollandia; and, late in April, hrought more barges to the l'hilippines. Arriving at Leyte on l May, she remained in the Philippines—operating primarily in the Samar, Leyte, and Luzon areas—until mid-December. On the 26th, she departed Guiuan and arrived at San Francisco on 5 February 1946 to begin inactivation. Decommissioned on 29 Aprii 1946, Rail was transferred to the Maritime Commission for disposal on 17 January 1947.

Rail earned six battle stars during World War II.

Railroad history

The earliest railroads reinforced transportation patterns that had developed centuries before. During the Middle Ages most heavy or bulky items were carried by water wherever possible. Where natural interconnection among navigable rivers was lacking, gaps in trade were likely to develop, most notably at watersheds. By the 16th century canal building was being widely used in Europe to integrate waterway systems based on natural streams. During the Industrial Revolution canal networks became urgent necessities in western Europe and the western Mediterranean. In Britain and France the increased use of coal for raising steam and for iron smelting greatly increased the need for canal transportation. In the 50 years after 1775 England and Wales were webbed with canals to provide reasonably inexpensive transport of coal. But in areas of concentrated industry in hilly country, such as around Birmingham and in the “Black Country” of England, or areas of heavy coal production in droughty uplands, as in western County Durham, the transporting of coal by water seemed impracticable.

A development of the late Middle Ages, the plateway, suggested a means to make steam-powered land transport practicable. In central Europe most of the common metals were being mined by the 16th and 17th centuries, but, because they occurred in low concentrations, great tonnages of ore had to be mined to produce small yields of usable material. In that situation it was helpful to provide a supporting pavement on which wheels might run with somewhat reduced friction. Recourse was had to the minimum pavement possible, that provided by two parallel rails or plates supporting the wheels of a wagon. The wheels were guided by a flange either on the rail or on the wheel. The latter was ultimately preferred, because with the flange on the wheel debris was less likely to lodge on the rail. In the Harz Mountains, the Black Forest, the Ore Mountains, the Vosges, Steiermark, and other mining areas such railroads or plateways were widespread before the 18th century.

The bulk and weight of the steam engine suggested its being mounted on a railway. This occurred in Britain where, in the 17th century, coal mining had become common in the northeast in Tyneside and in South Wales. By 1800 each of these areas also had an extensive plateway system depending on gravity-induced movement or animal traction. The substitution of steam-engine traction was logical. The timing of this shift during the first decade of the 19th century was dictated by improvements in the steam engine. The weight-to-power ratio was unfavourable until 1804, when a Cornish engineer, Richard Trevithick, constructed a steam engine of his own design. In 1802 at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire he built a steam-pumping engine that operated at 145 pounds per square inch (roughly 1,000 kilopascals) pressure. He mounted the high-pressure engine on a car with wheels set to operate on the rails of a cast-iron tramroad located at Pen-y-Darren, Wales.

In the United States Oliver Evans, a Delaware wheelwright, in 1805 built an engine with steam pressure well above the single atmosphere that Watt used in his early engines. Evans was commissioned to construct a steam-powered dredge to be used on the docks in Philadelphia. He built his dredge away from the Schuylkill River, having it move itself, ponderously, to its destination by rail.


Scinde Railway Edit

The Scinde Railway Company was established in 1855, after Karachi's potential as a seaport was first explored in the early 1850s. Henry Bartle Frere, who was appointed Commissioner of Sindh shortly after its fall in the Battle of Miani, sought permission from Lord Dalhousie to begin a survey for a seaport. The Scinde Railway was established by a settlement in March 1855, and was incorporated by Parliament in the Scinde Railway Act of July of that year. [1] [2] Frere began the rail survey in 1858, and a rail line from Karachi to Kotri steam navigation up the Indus and Chenab Rivers to Multan, and another rail line to Lahore were proposed. Work on the railway began in April 1858, and Karachi and Kotri—a distance of 108 miles (174 km)—were connected by rail on 13 May 1861. [3]

Punjab Railway Edit

The Punjab Railway was established shortly after the July 1855 passage of the Scinde Railway Act. [1] [2] [4] As the Karachi-to-Kotri line was being constructed and the Indus Steam Flotilla was being set up to transport passengers to Multan, the Punjab Railway was laid from Multan to Lahore and onward to Amritsar. The line opened in 1861, connecting Karachi and Lahore.

Indus Steam Flotilla Edit

The Indus Steam Flotilla was a freight and passenger steamship company which operated initially between Karachi and Multan and later between Kotri and Multan after the completion of the Karachi-Kotri Railway Line between 1858 and 1870. [5] The Indus Steam Flotilla provided "the navigation of the Indus, &c, by means of steam vessels [sic], between Kotri and Multan, to be worked in connection with the railways." [ citation needed ] It plied the Indus and Chenab Rivers from Karachi Port in the south to Makhad in the north via Jhirk and Mithankot. The journey between Karachi and Multan alone took up to 40 days. The company had its headquarters in Kotri, and its promoters negotiated the same guaranteed rate of return as the original guaranteed railways. It later merged with the Scinde and Punjab Railways to form the Scinde, Punjab & Delhi Railway. With the Scinde Railway in place, the Indus Flotilla steamers could take cargo from Kotri instead of Karachi (saving about 150 miles (240 km) through the Indus River delta). The railway bypassed Jhirk (Jherruk), reducing its importance. In 1856, the Scinde Railway charter was expanded to include the construction of Punjab Railway connecting Multan

Scinde, Punjab & Delhi Railway Edit

The Scinde, Punjab & Delhi Railway was formed in 1870 from the incorporation of the Indus Steam Flotilla and the Scinde, Punjab and Delhi Railways by the Scinde Railway Company's Amalgamation Act of 1869. Deepak [1] The company inherited a reputation as the worst-managed of the early private companies. After its purchase in 1885, the SP&DR was merged with several other railways to form the North Western State Railway (NWR).

Indus Valley State Railway Edit

The Indus Valley State Railway was undertaken by Scinde Railway chief resident engineer John Brunton, assisted by his son William Arthur Brunton, in 1869-70. The Empress Bridge, opened in 1878, carried the IVSR over the Sutlej River between Ferozepur (Firozpur, south of Lahore) and Kasur. The line reached Sukkur in 1879, and the steam ferry which transported eight wagons at a time across the Indus between Rohri and Sukkur was found to be cumbersome and time-consuming. The opening of the Lansdowne Bridge in 1889 resolved the bottleneck, and Karachi Port was connected to the rail network. With other companies, the Indus Valley State Railway was merged with the Scinde, Punjab & Delhi Railway in 1886 to form the North Western State Railway.

Punjab Northern State Railway Edit

The Punjab Northern State Railway, opened in 1876, was a line between Lahore and Peshawar. The route of what became the railway was first surveyed in 1857, followed by years of political and military debate. The Punjab Northern State Railway was created in 1870-71 to construct and operate a railway between Lahore and Peshawar. The first section of line (from Lahore to Peshawar) was opened in 1876, and in 1883 [6] the Attock Bridge over the Indus River was completed. Francis Joseph Edward Spring was deployed from the Imperial Civil Service's engineering section in 1873 as consulting engineer for the PNSR survey and the construction of portions of the railway and bridges, and remained attached to the railway until 1878. Several major bridges were constructed to complete the PNSR line from Lahore to Peshawar.

Sind–Pishin State Railway Edit

Government considered Russia, who might advance from Afghanistan into Quetta, a threat to its rule in South Asia. [7] In 1857, Scinde, Punjab and Delhi Railway chairman William Andrew suggested that rail lines to the Bolan Pass would have a strategic role in responding to a Russian threat. During the Second Anglo-Afghan War (1878–80), a new urgency was felt to construct a rail line to Quetta for easier access to the frontier. Work began on the line on 18 September 1879, and the first 215 kilometres (134 mi) from Ruk to Sibi was completed in January 1880. Beyond Sibi, however, the terrain was difficult. After harsh weather, the over-320-kilometre (200 mi) line finally reached Quetta in March 1887. [7]

Trans–Baluchistan Railway Edit

The Trans-Balochistan Railway ran from Quetta to Taftan and onward to the Iranian city of Zahidan. It was named the Nushki Extension Railway, since its construction began west of Nushki in 1916. The line reached Zahidan in 1922. It is 732 kilometres (455 mi) long, with the last 100-kilometer section in Iran. It is little used, with one fortnightly train between Quetta and Zahidan. [8]

Kandahar State Railway Edit

The Kandahar State Railway opened in 1881 and originally ran from Sibi and onward to Rindli, with the intention of reaching Quetta and Kandahar. [9] However, the line never reached Quetta. [10] The railway joined with the southern section of the Sind–Pishin State Railway and, in 1886, amalgamated with other railways to form the North Western State Railway (NWR). From Sibi the line ran south-west, skirting the hills to Rindli, and originally followed the Bolan stream to its head on the plateau. Flooding led to the abandonment of this alignment, and the railway follows the Mashkaf Valley. [11] Although the Bolan Pass rail construction enabled the NWR route to be selected, the line was later dismantled. [ citation needed ]

The North Western State Railway (reporting mark NWR) was formed in January 1886 from the merger of the Scinde, Punjab & Delhi Railway, the Indus Valley State Railway, the Punjab Northern State Railway, the eastern section of the Sind–Sagar Railway, the southern section of the Sind–Pishin State Railway and the Kandahar State Railway. [12] The NWR also absorbed several smaller railways, including the Quetta Link Railway (a strategic line constructed by the Scinde, Punjaub & Delhi Railway in 1887), Jammu–Sialkot Railway (opened in 1897), Kasur–Lodhran Railway (opened 1909-10 and later dismantled), Shorekot Road–Chichoki Railway (opened 1910), Sialkot–Narowal Railway (opened 1915), Shahdara Bagh–Narowal Railway (opened 1926) and the Trans–Indus Railway (opened 1913). The military and strategic concerns for securing the border with Afghanistan were such that Francis Langford O'Callaghan, who was posted from the state railways as engineer-in-chief, was called on for a number of demanding railway projects, surveys and constructions in the Northwest Frontier. [13] What began as military and strategic railway projects became part of the North Western State Railway network at its formation in 1886. The Bolan Pass railway was completed in 1886, and the 1887 Khawaja Amran Railway Survey included the Khojak Tunnel and the Chaman Extension Railway. [14] The Khojak Tunnel opened in 1891 and the railway reached Chaman, near the Afghan border. By 1905, it was the longest railway under one administration and the strategic railway of the Northwest Frontier. In 1947, much of the North Western State Railway in Pakistan became part of Pakistan Western Railways the Indian portion was incorporated into the Eastern Punjab Railway. [15]

After creation of Pakistan, 1,947 route miles (3,133 km) of the North Western Railways remained in India, leaving 5,048 route miles (8,124 km) in Pakistan. In 1947, Muhammad Ali Jinnah and the Government of Pakistan invited Frank D'Souza to set up the Pakistani rail system. [ citation needed ]

The railway was extended to Mardan and Charsada in 1954, and two years later the Jacobabad–Kashmore 2 ft 6 in ( 762 mm ) line was converted to 5 ft 6 in ( 1,676 mm ) broad gauge. In 1961, the Pakistani portion of the North Western Railway was renamed Pakistan Railways. The Kot Adu–Kashmore line, constructed between 1969 and 1973, provided an alternative route north from Karachi. [ citation needed ]

History of Rail-Trails

It began in the mid-1960s as a quiet Midwest phenomenon barely noticed in the major metropolitan areas of America. The idea: To convert the abandoned or unused rail corridors—which were closing at an increasingly rapid pace across America—into public trails.

As tracks started being pulled out, people instinctively began walking along the old corridors, socializing, exploring, enjoying nature, discovering railroad relics and marveling at the bridges and tunnels. At the time, most people simply walked the corridors although some outdoor enthusiasts skied or snowshoed the local pathways in winter. These early users started calling them “rails-to-trails"—a name that quickly caught on. Of course, none of the corridors were paved or graded that would not come until later.

The rail-trail movement would see its formal birth with the opening of the Elroy-Sparta State Trail in 1965 and the opening of the Illinois Prairie Path soon thereafter. In 1980, the U.S. Congress passed the Staggers Rail Act, which largely deregulated the nation’s struggling railroad industry and allowed for the discontinuation of unprofitable routes. This prompted the abandonment of 4,000 to 8,000 miles of lines each year throughout the early 1980s. In 1983, Congress became concerned about the potential permanent loss of thousands of miles of rail corridor and amended the National Trails Systems Act to create “railbanking,” a tool to preserve inactive corridors for future rail use, while providing for interim trail use.

When we opened our doors, there were 250 miles of open rail-trails in America. With 30 years of leadership, this “great idea”—to preserve America’s irreplaceable rail corridors by transforming them into multi-use trails—has blossomed into a movement.

Today, rail-trails are continuing to make a significant mark on American communities, with more than 21,000 miles of rail-trails providing a place for tens of millions of people to walk, run, hike, skate and cycle each year.

High-Speed Rail History

The history of railways is a history of speed.
Since the origin of railways in Europe during the Industrial Revolution at the beginning of the 19th Century, the speed of passengers trains was an essential argument to compete, not necessarily with other transport modes (the railway in itself changed the scale of time for passenger travel) but among the different companies. The speed on rails also constituted an evidence of technological development of the most advanced countries at that time.

It’s easy to imagine that the 50 km/h reached by the impressive “Rocket” locomotive from George Stephenson in 1829 represented a true high-speed consideration for railways since the beginning.

And very soon railways reached even much more impressive speeds: 100 km/h before 1850, 130 km/h in 1854, and even 200 km/h at the beginning of the 20th Century.

In any case, these were just speed records. The maximum speed in revenue operation was much more modest but nevertheless important, reaching 180 km/h as the top speed and 135 km/h as the average speed between two cities in the 1930s, with steam, electric or diesel power..

But the appearance on stage of other transport modes, aviation (faster) and private cars (offering point to point travels in privacy and forgetting frequency), forced passenger railways to use their best arguments to compete.

1964 The birth of Shinkansen

After some significant speed records in Europe (Germany, Italy, UK and specially France, 331 km/h in 1955), the world was surprised when, on 1 October 1964, Japanese national railways started the operation of a fully brand new 515 km standard gauge line (1435 mm, apart from conventional lines previously built in Japan, in meter gauge), the Tokaido Shinkansen, from Tokyo Central to Shin Osaka.

This line was built to provide capacity to the new transport system necessary for the impressively rapid growth of the Japanese economy. JNR president Shinji Sogo and Vice President for Engineering Hideo Shima promoted the concept of not only a new line, but a new transport system, called to be extended later to the rest of the country and to become the backbone of passenger transport for the future generations of citizens in Japan.

The Tokaido Shinkansen was designed to operate at 210 km/h (later increased), broad loading gauge, electric motor units powered at 25 kV ac, Automatic Train Control (ATC), Centralised Traffic Control (CTC) and other modern improvements.

High-Speed Rail (HSR) was born.

1964 – 1981 The birth of the TGV

After the big success of the Shinkansen operation, technical progress in several European countries, particularly France, Germany, Italy and UK, developed new technologies and innovations aimed to establish the basis for the "passenger railway of the future".

Despite an unknown future (Concorde, political opposition, 1973 first petroleum crisis, etc.) and even if several other existing or new transport modes intended to compete with the classic railway concept, finally SNCF, the national French railway company, started the operation of the first high-speed line between Paris to Lyons on 27 September 1981, at a maximum speed of 260 km/h.

The European HSR was born, but in contrast to the Shinkansen concept, the new European HSR was fully compatible with existing railways and this largely conditioned the further development of the system in the Old Continent.

1981 – 2009 HSR services spreading in the world

Once again, after the big success of the TGV, each European country looked for the new generation of competitive long and medium distance passenger rail services, in some cases by developing its new technology and in others by importing.

Joining the group of countries offering high-speed rail services in Europe were Italy and Germany in 1988, Spain in 1992, Belgium in 1997, the United Kingdom in 2003 and the Netherlands in 2009.

In the meantime, some similar cases appeared in other countries and regions, such as China in 2003 (even if the big development came later, in 2008), South Korea in 2004, Taiwan Railway High-Speed Corporation in 2007 and Turkey in 2009.

2009 and beyond From yesterday to tomorrow. The HSR of the future

A new dimension and a new perspective for HSR started in China on 1 August 2008. The 120 km high-speed line between Beijing to Tianjin represents just the first step in a huge development to transform the way of travelling for the most populated country in the world. Since 2008, China has implemented almost 20,000 kilometres of new high-speed lines and thanks to an enormous fleet of more than 1 200 train sets, carries 800 million passengers per year (2014 and growing), more than the half of the total high-speed traffic in the world.

And following the example led by China, new high-speed systems are under development around the world: Morocco, Saudi Arabia, USA, etc.

Accordingly with 2015 expectations, and in spite of the development of other transport modes (for example the Maglev, automatic driving cars, improvements in aviation, etc.), by 2030-2035, the extension of the world HSR network could reach more than 80,000 kilometres, representing an important challenge for operators, industry, authorities, etc.

High-speed must be continuously developed and performed in order to continue to be present in passenger transport in the next 50 years (or more).

2008 Renovation and Modernization

Like Eloy Alfaro, President Rafael Correa had a vision of a railway connecting Quito and Guayaquil. Since 2008, the Ecuadorian government has invested millions of dollars in renovating the rail system. The stations have been modernized, the tracks repaired, the coaches refurbished, the engines maintained. The change is astounding. Hundreds of miles of unused tracks are back in service, and visitors and Ecuadorians alike are marveling at the train's renaissance.

Railroad Track: Its Evolution Over Nearly 200 Years

As individual components of railroad infrastructure go railroad track, or rails, is the single most important part.

While the ballast and ties also play a very important role within the track structure, without the rails, of course, trains could not operate.

Throughout the decades and centuries railroad track technology has gradually improved with the most important advancement coming in the development of "T"-rail in the mid-19th century.

Today, virtually all main lines with speeds above 25 mph use welded or continuous welded rail (CWR) as it is much easier to maintain than the older "stick" or jointed rail that required being bolted together.

A closeup view of 136-pound welded rail along the former Baltimore & Ohio's West End near Hancock, West Virginia taken on March 11, 2007. To the left is the rail's weight followed by the manufacturer and date it was produced. Rob Kitchen photo.

The earliest aspects of railroad infrastructure are, of course, the track and roadbed.

Railroad track, as with railroading itself, has its roots in England where years coal mines had been using horses or mules to pull carts that used flanged wheels to operate on wooden or strap-iron rails (which was essentially a wooden rail with a piece of flat iron attached to the top).

This type of track remained in use as late as the 1840s (by this point strap-rail was the norm) until solid iron "T"-rail was developed by Robert Stevens president of the Camden & Amboy Railroad, it was a revolutionary design still used to this day. 

The "T"-rail replaced the unstable and dangerous strap-rail (which was simply thin pieces of iron attached to wooden planks) that caused the deadly phenomenon of "snake heads."

This term described iron strap that came loose behind  passing car/locomotive and peeled upward.

The result was a can opener-like effect when the next car passed over the broken rail as it easily tore through the wooden floor, killing or maiming anyone in its path.

Other Types Of Infrastructure

The Western Maryland's Connellsville Extension was still in excellent condition when Roger Puta captured this photo from train WM-6 on August 16, 1969. The route was abandoned in 1975.

Throughout most of the 19th century iron was the primary choice for railroad track and every other structure being built. However, in the 1890s the much stronger and durable steel was introduced.

Steel was not only much stronger than iron but because it had a longer lifespan railroads were willing to pay a little more for it as in the end it meant an improved bottom line. 

It was not until the 1950s that railroad track would see another major change.

That decade saw the first use of continuous welded rail (CWR), also known as ribbon rail, which is laid in lengths of 1,500 feet or so (roughly a 1/4-mile), rather than 39-foot track bolted together.

Aside from saving railroads millions in maintenance costs and derailments CWR does not buckle, because it resists thermal expansion and contraction.

When track is not properly maintained it begins to sink into the ground as a result of rotten ties as seen here at the Erie Lackawanna's yard in Marion, Ohio during March of 1976. Gary Morris photo.

Once the benefits of CWR were realized the industry quickly began replacing its most heavily trafficked main lines with the new type of railroad track and by the 1970s most of these routes employed it.

Even better for railroads was the fact that CWR did not necessarily have to be purchased new.

If a rail line already contained the desired track weight (such as 100, 110, or 120-pound rail) it could simply be welded into strings and re-laid costing only the maintenance time required.

Roger Puta captured this scene along the Burlington Northern main line at Castle Rock, Washington in October, 1978.

The one drawback to CWR is its tendency to kink, or turn into spaghetti, during the high heat of summer.

Known as sun kinks this phenomenon can result in either slow orders or the movements to be suspended entirely until the night or late evening when cooler temperatures allow the track to settle back into place.

However, warm temperatures are needed when installing CWR as doing so in cold weather when the steel tends to contract can result in buckling and warping when warmer weather prevails.

Roger Puta captured this photo from the fireman's side of the cab of Santa Fe F7A #306-L leading train #2, the eastbound "San Francisco Chief," negotiating Tehachapi Loop on August 26, 1967. Note the freight train above.

During the late 19th century railroad track could weigh less than 80 pounds (typically measured per yard) but as the decades passed and locomotives and cars grew larger the rails have had to follow.

Today, the major rail arteries around the country employ track that weight at least 120 pounds but some can weight up to 140 pounds.

Interestingly, relics can still be found out there, particularly on tourist railroads that can contain railroad track dating back to the late 1800s and be no heavier than 90 pounds.

What years of deferred/no maintenance look like decaying ex-Chicago & North Western trackage near Hamburg, Minnesota on August 18, 1994. The property is still in service today, operated by the Minnesota Prairie Line. Doug Kroll photo.

Today, with trains so heavy and the required weight of the track now well in excess of 100 pounds new rail can be very expensive so when purchasing it railroads try to closely match it with whatever type of service it is intended for.

For instance, if a rail line only sees short or infrequent trains such as on branch lines these typically are not as heavy as long coal drags, which will, naturally, require much heavier rail.

In any event, early railroad track has given way to the much heavier and more comfortable (in terms of the ride) ribbon rail.

And, CWR has become a science into itself as railroads must make sure they install the rail correctly and in warm enough temperatures to keep kinking from occurring.

Brief History of Consolidated Rail Corporation

Railroads were the country’s primary source of freight transportation prior to 1930. Between 1930 and 1960, railroads were detrimentally affected by the growth of air and truck transportation. In the east, railroads were financially harmed by the collapse of coal traffic in the 1960s as the country shifted to oil. As a result, between 1967 and 1972, six major northeastern railroads went bankrupt. To address the imminent collapse of freight and passenger traffic in the east as a result of the railroad bankruptcies, Congress passed the Regional Rail Reorganization Act of 1974 (the “3R Act”). The 3R Act provided interim funding to the bankrupt railroads and created Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) as a government-funded private company. Under the Act, the United States Railway Association (USRA) prepared a Final System Plan, identifying the rail lines from the bankrupt railroads that would be transferred to Conrail. The Final System Plan was approved by Congress as the Railroad Revitalization and Regulatory Reform Act of 1976 (the “4R Act”) and signed into law on February 5, 1976.

Conrail was incorporated in Pennsylvania on February 10, 1976, and began operations on April 1, 1976. The Company's mandate was to revitalize rail service in the Northeast and Midwest and to operate as a for-profit company. Conrail’s economic recovery and turnaround began in 1980 when the Staggers Rail Act was signed into law. The Staggers Act largely deregulated railroads, the rates for which had been fixed since the turn of the century when railroads represented virtually the only mode of transcontinental transportation. The Staggers Act made railroads more competitive with trucks by allowing them to price services, adjust rail rates, react to market conditions, and provide special contracts. Conrail’s first year of profitability came in 1981. By 1983 Conrail was the fourth largest freight hauler in the United States. In 1985, Conrail management proposed a plan for the public offering of Conrail stock. By the fall of 1986, the Conrail Privatization Act was signed, authorizing a public stock offering to return Conrail to the private sector. In 1987 Conrail was returned to the private sector in what was then the largest initial public offering in U.S. history, raising $1.9 billion.

In the spring of 1997, Norfolk Southern Corporation (NS) and CSX Corporation (CSX) agreed to acquire Conrail through a joint stock purchase. CSX and NS split most of the Company’s assets between them. The Surface Transportation Board (STB) officially approved the acquisition and restructuring of Conrail on July 23, 1998. NS and CSX took administrative control of Conrail on August 22, 1998. The approved merger plan restructured Conrail into a Switching and Terminal Railroad operating about 1,200 miles of track in three regional areas. On June 1, 1999, Conrail began operating as a Switching and Terminal Railroad for its owners, NS and CSX, in the three geographical areas of Northern New Jersey, Southern New Jersey/Philadelphia, and Detroit, Michigan. In 2007, it expanded its operations from Northern New Jersey to Staten Island, New York.

The history of railways in Britain: from the first steam trains to the rail revolution

They were central to the spread of the industrial revolution, helping to make Britain one of the most powerful nations in the world. How much do you know about the history of steam trains and rail travel in Britain?

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Published: February 26, 2021 at 6:05 am

When travelling by train in the 21st century, few of us might realise how the railway transformed the world. Railways changed the landscape physically and culturally, putting Britain at the forefront of railway technology and architecture in the 19th century. Until the railways, most people rarely travelled further than the next market town, perhaps 10 miles away. Stations were gateways to journeys of over a hundred miles, completed in a few hours in futuristic machines. Find out more about the history of the railways, when trains were invented, and where the developments happened, with this guide to the history of railways and rail travel in Britain…

Follow the links below to jump to each section:

  • When was the steam train invented?
  • The development of British railways
  • 8 places linked to the birth of the railways in Britain
  • Fascinating facts about the history of rail travel

When was the steam train invented?

Unlike the atom bomb, for example, there was no single invention with the steam engine. First you had the stationary steam engine where the most important person was Thomas Newcomen. Then James Watt improved its efficiency and its capacity to generate power. Later on, the stationary steam engine was transformed into the locomotive with George Stephenson.

What the steam engine enabled people to do was transform themselves beyond the existing constraints of energy use, meaning that human society could develop in all sorts of ways. Now we know that the long-term environmental consequences of industrialisation were detrimental but on the other hand life would have been totally different if we had remained shackled by the manufacturing, energy, and communication systems before the steam engine.

The long-term implications of steam power were everything we understand by modernity. It gave us the ability to speed up existence and overcome the constraints under which all other animal species operated. For much of human history we were not radically different in organisational terms from other animals, which have language, the capacity for acting as a group and systems of hierarchy. For much of human history that was how we were but we moved to a very different tune when we had everything that is understood by modernity. It was the steam engine that set that in motion.

Answered by historian Jeremy Black in BBC History Magazine

The development of British railways

Thundering along at previously unimaginable speeds, early steam locomotives were a frightening prospect for their Victorian passengers. Before the opening of the first major railway line, the Liverpool & Manchester in 1830, there were fears it would be impossible to breathe while travelling at such a velocity, or that the passengers’ eyes would be damaged by having to adjust to the motion.

Little more than 20 years later, their fears allayed, people flocked to this exciting new form of transport, and by mid-century, millions were dashing across the country on tracks stretching thousands of miles. From professional football and the Penny Post to suburban living and seaside excursions, the railways changed the face of Victorian Britain.

“The railways were absolutely central to the spread of the Industrial Revolution,” insists railway historian Christian Wolmar. “Britain could not have become, for a time, the world’s dominant economic power without them. But it’s also impossible to exaggerate the social impact. Almost anything you can think of was transformed or made possible for the first time by the railways.”

The technology that made it possible – engines driven by steam – was already gathering momentum by the late 18th century, when James Watt produced the steam-powered loom. But it was Richard Trevithick who opened up the possibility of making a steam-engine propel itself – by using high-pressure steam to increase the power/weight ratio. By 1804, one of Trevithick’s engines was trundling along crude early rails at an ironworks in Wales.

It wasn’t until 1825, however, with the opening of the Stockton & Darlington line, that the world saw a proper steam locomotive haul wagons for the first time. That locomotive was George Stephenson’s Locomotion, which reached speeds of 15mph on the opening day. Unfortunately, Stephenson’s engines proved so unreliable that horses were the mainstay for the first few years – and the railway age only really built up a head of steam with the completion of the Liverpool & Manchester line.

After a monumental effort from thousands of hard-working, hard-drinking navvies to construct the line, and a very public competition to decide on the best locomotive, the world’s first steam-hauled, twin-tracked railway opened to great fanfare on 15 September 1830, with Stephenson’s Rocket leading the way. Originally conceived as a freight railway to reduce the cost and time of transporting goods, the line proved equally popular among intrepid travellers.

Despite a fatal accident on the first day, thousands were using the line within weeks. Fanny Kemble, a famous actress, was awestruck: “You can’t imagine how strange it seemed to be, journeying on thus without any visible cause of progress other than the magical machine, with its flying white breath and rhythmical, unvarying pace”. While most couldn’t match her eloquence, Kemble encapsulated the enthusiasm. Better than anything that had gone before, the Liverpool & Manchester proved that Stephenson’s engineering was sound and demonstrated how profitable railway companies could be.

Encouraged by the success, entrepreneurs began submitting applications to parliament for all sorts of railways schemes. Known as ‘railway mania’, the ensuing rush is best demonstrated by the fact that 240 Acts were passed in 1845 (amounting to 2,820 miles of new track), compared to just 48 the year before. There was some opposition but over the next ten years, as railway companies became attractive investments, unprecedented levels of capital funded the construction of 4,600 miles of track. “It was an incredible feat of engineering and organisation, not to mention downright hard slog,” explains Wolmar. “It’s an achievement that remains completely undervalued, especially when you consider that the railways were dug out by spade and pickaxe.”

At first, train travel was too dear for the average working man but fares gradually came down thanks to competition and William Gladstone’s 1844 Railway Act, which obliged every company to supply at least one train daily at the cost of no more than 1d a mile. Meanwhile, the growth of excursion trains and the Great Exhibition of 1851 stimulated vast numbers to use the railways for the first time.

By the end of the 1850s, passenger numbers had risen beyond all expectations. In 1854 alone, 92 million journeys were made in England and Wales alone, on a network stretching 6,000 miles. The magic of train travel had caught the public imagination and the rapid expansion of the iron road left few aspects of life in Victorian Britain untouched.

8 places linked to the birth of the railways

Darlington Railway Museum, County Durham

Where the first passenger steam locomotives ran

A local holiday was declared for the opening of the Stockton & Darlington Railway on 27 September 1825. Aware of the importance of the day, crowds clustered around the newly-constructed line in anticipation. They weren’t to be disappointed. Ever the showman, George Stephenson hit speeds of 15mph in his steam locomotive, Locomotion – outpacing the local horses in the process. As one impressed spectator recalled: “The welkin [sky] rang loud with huzzas while the happy faces of some, the vacant stares of others and the alarm depicted on the countenances of not a few, gave variety to the picture”.

Conceived primarily to transport coal from collieries to the river Tees at Stockton, this was the first venture in the world to employ steam engines for hauling goods. But the railway also leased out the rights to run passenger services to various operators, including two female innkeepers.

Despite the fact that horses were still used far more than the unreliable locomotives, the Stockton & Darlington deserves its place in history as the first to carry passengers on steam-hauled wagons. The railway age wasn’t to begin in earnest for a few years yet, but this was a pioneering achievement.

Located on the original route of the railway, the Head of Steam museum encompasses three of the original 19th-century buildings – North Road Passenger Station, the Goods Shed and Hopetown Carriage Works. On such hallowed ground, visitors can see George Stephenson’s trailblazing Locomotion.

Rainhill Station, near St Helens, Merseyside

Where the Rocket shot to fame

Early railway promoters understood the allure of the spectacle. Having ruled out the use of horses for their ambitious project, in April 1829 the directors of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway (L&MR) announced a contest of steam locomotives to be held six months later at Rainhill, nine miles from Liverpool. Rules were laid down and engineers invited to enter their engines, with £500 and a contract to supply eight locomotives as the prize.

As expected, the Rainhill Trials captured the public imagination and around 15,000 spectators took their places on specially erected grandstands for the inaugural day of the week-long event. After the more madcap inventions had been eliminated – including Cycloped, which consisted of a horse running on a treadmill that pulled the wagons – four realistic contenders emerged. With the challengers listed like runners and riders in a horse race, the final day promised much. In the event, none mounted a serious challenge to George Stephenson’s Rocket, which was the only engine to complete the course.

Having toiled long and hard to improve the unreliable engines used at Darlington, Stephenson’s new machine performed brilliantly as it sped back and forth over the 1.5-mile track, averaging an impressive 14mph and reaching 30mph when let loose. The prize, and the adulation, was his. Bigger and better locomotives would arrive soon enough, but the spectacular success of Rocket was a critical moment because it showed the world the immense potential of steam locomotives.

It is from Rainhill station that the locomotives set off toward Lea Green in October 1829. Rainhill is a Grade I listed building, and still a working railway station. The nearby Skew Bridge, a Grade II listed structure over which the A57 now runs, is also well worth a visit. The most acute of 15 such bridges on the L&MR, it was built in 1828 at an angle of 34 degrees to the railway.

Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester

Where the railway age was born

On the morning of Wednesday 15 September 1830, a procession of eight trains hauled by one of George Stephenson’s triumphant locomotives was greeted by jubilant crowds at Edge Hill, the Liverpool end of the recently completed Liverpool & Manchester Railway. The presence of a VIP, the deeply unpopular Duke of Wellington, all but ensured a mixed reaction at the Manchester end, with hostile elements making clear their antipathy to the Tory government’s stubborn resistance to social reform.

Such unsavoury scenes marred the festivities but the promoters of the railway were pleasantly surprised when passengers quickly warmed to the train in the following weeks, attracted by the fact that the journey took just a couple of hours, less than half the time it took in a stagecoach. Previous lines had been open to fee-paying passengers, but within a short period the Liverpool & Manchester Railway was primarily a passenger service – and the first to rely solely on steam locomotion.

For the first time a double-tracked, steam-powered railway hauled passengers and goods between two major cities. As the world awoke to read reports of this pioneering achievement in the north-west of England, the railway age was born.

Housed in Liverpool Road station, the original terminus for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, the Museum of Science and Industry hosts a permanent exhibition on the construction and early years of the railway. Visitors can step into the first-class booking hall to see what it would have been like in the 1830s and learn about the people who worked and travelled on the early locomotives.

Huskisson Memorial, Liverpool Cathedral

Where the first railway fatality is commemorated

Although the onlookers could not have known at the time, the sense of wonder that characterised the first day of the Liverpool & Manchester was tempered by tragedy. Having pulled out of Liverpool, the celebratory procession made good progress, reaching Parkside, 17 miles down the track, in under an hour. Ignoring warnings to stay inside the carriage, a group of notables including the Duke of Wellington and Liverpool MP William Huskisson, took advantage of the stop to stretch their legs. Huskisson approached the duke, but as they shook hands a shout alerted them to an approaching train, the Rocket.

While everyone else shuffled to safety, Huskisson panicked and struggled to clamber into the carriage. As he thrashed around for a hold the door swung open, knocking him into the path of the onrushing locomotive. A loud crunch was heard as his leg shattered under the wheels, “squeezing it almost to a jelly,” according to a report in The Times. Stephenson rushed him to Manchester, reaching record speeds of 35mph along the way, but Huskisson died in agony later that evening.

There is a memorial tablet at the scene of the accident, alongside the line at the former site of the Parklands station, near Newton-le-Willows. Far more convenient is the rather grand tomb in St James’s Mount Cemetery, in the grounds of Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. A monument to the world’s first widely reported railway casualty, it’s a reminder of a man crushed, quite literally, by the rapid progress of the steam train. /

Stephenson Statue, National Railway Museum, York

Where the ‘father of the railways’ is remembered

George Stephenson (1781–1848) is lauded as the father of the railways, but the gruff engineer is a figure that stimulates as much controversy among historians today as he did among his peers in the first half of the 19th century.

He may have adapted the ideas of others, as naysayers have argued with some justification, but there is little doubt that his vision, drive and ambition played a vital role in the construction of both the Stockport & Darlington and Liverpool & Manchester lines. As a self-educated and notoriously brusque man, it’s hardly surprising he provoked the ire of many contemporaries, not least aristocratic landowners. But it was precisely that grim-faced determination that made Stephenson such an iconic pioneer of the railway age.

The imposing statue that today surveys the main hall at the National Railway Museum (NRM) in York once overlooked the Great Hall at Euston station, the original terminus of the London & Birmingham Railway, which was established in 1833 and overseen by the great man’s son, Robert Stephenson. The largest museum of its kind in the world, the NRM tells the story of railways from the early 19th century to the present day, houses a vast array of railway artefacts and a full-size replica of Stephenson’s most famous engine, the Rocket.

Box Tunnel, Wiltshire

Where the Great Western penetrated rock

As ‘railway mania’ gripped the nation and parliament sanctioned thousands of miles of new tracks, Britain’s landscapes presented some stern challenges to the progress of the iron road. Stephenson’s main rival for the title of greatest railway engineer was Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the driving force behind the Great Western Railway (GWR), an ambitious venture linking London and Bristol, approved in 1835.

Sparing no expense in his pursuit of perfection, Brunel not only decorated his stations, like Bristol Temple Meads, with great panache, he also overcame considerable engineering challenges. Maidenhead Bridge, at the time the widest in the world, is a good example of his genius, but the 1.75-mile tunnel at Box, near Corsham in Wiltshire, remains one of his most impressive achievements.

Despite protestations that it was impossible to take the train straight through the hill, work on the project began in September 1836. It was a monumental task, with 4,000 labourers employed to blast out the limestone with explosives, and excavate with pickaxes and shovels. By the time it was finished five years later, the project had claimed the lives of 100 men, with many more injured while working by candle-light deep underground. Much to Brunel’s pleasure, however, the resulting tunnel was almost perfectly straight. One (probably apocryphal) story goes that Brunel aligned it so that every year on his birthday, 19 April, the rising sun is visible through the tunnel.

When it finally opened in 1841, Box Tunnel proved the doubters wrong and marked a watershed in the history of the GWR. Its striking west portal is easily visible from the A4, but walkers setting out from nearby Colerne will be rewarded with the best views.

Royal Albert Bridge Saltash, Cornwall

Where Brunel opened up the west

Although rival schemes for a railway to Falmouth, Cornwall, were proposed as early as the 1830s, the line only got parliamentary consent in 1846, with the Act stipulating that the ferry across the river Tamar at Saltash be replaced by a railway bridge. As chief engineer, Brunel’s challenge was to create a structure that would stretch across 1,000 feet of water, a formidable obstacle.

On 1 September 1857, watched by thousands of expectant spectators, the first truss was floated out into the centre of the river supported by two barges. Gradually raised at a rate of six feet a week with hydraulic jacks, the truss reached its final height, 100 feet above the water, on the first day of July 1858. Some six years after the foundation for the first pier was laid, a south Devon locomotive crossed the bridge for the first time in April 1859.

Brunel was too ill to attend the official opening and the great engineer died that September. A few months later, his name was spelled out in vast metal letters at either end of the bridge – a fitting memorial to his achievement there. As majestic today as it must have appeared for the first time in 1859, the Royal Albert Bridge is best appreciated from one of the many vantage points on the banks of the Tamar river.

St Pancras Station, London

Where rampant competition produced a landmark

The rivalry between the biggest train companies – by now the largest companies in the world – had intensified by the second half of the 19th century. With millions taking advantage of cheap trains to the capital, the Great Exhibition of 1851 was a real money-spinner for some. But the Midland Railway had failed to profit like its rivals because it lacked direct access to London. With all merger options blocked, the Midland had no choice but to make its own way, quickly obtaining consent to build a line from Leicester to Hitchin, connecting to the Great Northern’s tracks into King’s Cross. The line opened in May 1857 but traffic was already heavy and the Midland’s trains were constantly delayed.

If the Midland was to transform a prosperous regional network into a strategic long-distance system, carrying tonnes of Yorkshire coal to the insatiable grates and furnaces of the Big Smoke, it had to be brave enough to build another line into London. It took another decade, but the directors did take the plunge. The resulting construction project, to create a terminus at St Pancras, caused mayhem across vast swathes of north London, with 20,000 people losing their homes. Even the dead, buried in the old St Pancras church yard, had to be removed. After all that destruction, the line into London and the great Gothic station at St Pancras finally opened on 1 October 1868.

Like the station itself, the Midland Grand Hotel, completed in 1873, was a deliberate attempt to dominate its neighbour, King’s Cross, owned by the Great Northern. The Midland may have been the last train company to arrive in London, but they were determined not to be the least. The sheer scale and Gothic grandeur of St Pancras station is a lasting testament to the vigour and ambition engendered by the competition that characterised this incredible period of railway expansion.

Words by Daniel Cossins. Historical advisor: Christian Wolmar, author of Blood, Iron and Gold: How the Railways Transformed the World (Atlantic, 2009).

8 fascinating facts about the history of rail travel

Peter Saxton, author of Making Tracks: A Whistle-Stop Tour of Railway History, shares eight lesser-known facts about the history of railways…

Early travel was heavy going

Early railway engineers had to overcome extraordinary challenges when building their lines. Steam engines tend not to deal well with heavy inclines, so every effort was made to keep railways as flat as possible. This resulted in huge engineering structures: bridges, tunnels, embankments and cuttings began to appear across the country.

In some areas, even flat land could be a problem. When surveying the route for his Liverpool and Manchester Railway in the 1820s, George Stephenson had to figure out a way to cross the large peat bog known as Chat Moss in Manchester. He came up with the solution of floating the railway across the bog on a bed of tree branches and heather, bound together with tar and rubble.

Huge amounts of material were swallowed by the bog before enough of a foundation was built up. The line exists today and was recently electrified as part of the modernisation of rail routes in the north-west of England.

Early train tunnels faced plenty of challenges

A damp problem of another kind faced Marc Brunel and his son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, when they undertook to dig the first tunnel under the Thames, between Wapping and Rotherhithe.

Originally designed as a foot tunnel, construction started in 1825 but the tunnel wasn’t opened until 1843, because of gas leaks, floods, and financial problems. The Brunels used a revolutionary method of construction called the ‘shield’: an iron framework containing 36 chambers, each large enough to contain a workman.

Wooden shutters were installed at the front of each chamber and the whole apparatus was positioned against the surface to be excavated. The workmen removed the wooden shutters and proceeded to dig away at the earth facing them. Once they had dug to the required depth, they would prop up their excavated chamber, place the wooden shutter against the new earth face, and the whole structure would be winched along for the process to start again.

This must have been back-breaking, unimaginably hard work, with the constant risk of the river breaking through. Upon completion the tunnel became an immediate tourist attraction, with people flocking to experience the thrill of walking beneath the river. Eventually, though, it became part of the railway network, and today it sees an intensive railway service as a part of the London Overground network.

Train travel helped to standardise UK time

Before the railways were built, communities across the UK set their clocks according to their own local time. Bristol, for example, was 10 minutes behind Greenwich Mean Time. This was fine for as long as the pace of life was governed by the natural speed of humans and horses, but the advent of a fast, structured form of transport in the railways meant that a standardised system of time became imperative.

The risk to safety of various parts of the country working on slightly different, locally agreed time is clear, not to mention the difficulty in constructing understandable timetables. The Great Western Railway had already adopted standardised time, but it was the Railway Clearing House – a body set up to apportion financial receipts among the many private railway companies – that set the pace elsewhere. It decreed in 1847 that all railway companies should operate using GMT, and by 1855 the vast majority of towns and cities had complied. Clocks were set to a signal set to GMT sent along the newly installed telegraph system.

Charles Dickens was a prolific rail user

Charles Dickens had described the coming of the railway to London’s Euston station in a powerful passage in Dombey & Son (1848). He described the havoc and dislocation brought to Stagg’s Garden (Camden) as an almighty canyon that was cut through the existing streets.

Dickens was in fact a prolific user of railways, both in Britain and on the occasion of his visits to the United States. In 1865, however, he was involved in a tragedy that would change his life: Dickens was returning from the continent with his mistress, Ellen Ternan, and her mother, on 9 June 1865. Near Staplehurst in Kent, a gang of workers was busy repairing the track – they had, however, misread the timetable and had thought there was no train due. They had removed a section of track, and the train, hitting this missing section, crashed down into the valley of the river Beult.

Dickens’ carriage was precariously close to the edge – he and his companions managed to climb out and he then went down into the valley to help the victims. Dickens later remembered that he had left the manuscript of Our Mutual Friend in the carriage, and he climbed back into the wreckage to retrieve it.

The incident marked him – he had flashbacks for the rest of his life, and the year after the crash he published his eeriest short story, The Signalman: the chilling tale of a lonely signalman, haunted by an apparition that appears just before tragedy strikes.

There was stiff competition for the fastest trains

All over the world, railway companies produced locomotives that were grand statements of the new age. As technology improved, trains got faster and railway companies vied with one another to produce the fastest locomotives.

In the 1920s and 30s, the two great companies running trains between London and Scotland engaged in a battle to win passengers to their lines. These were the London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), running up the West Coast line, and the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), running up the East.

William Stanier of the LMS produced the Princess Coronation class of locomotive – the most powerful steam engine to be built for use in Britain – and for a time one of these engines held the steam speed record, beating its arch rival the LNER. The latter, however, held the trump card. Designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, the A4 class of locomotive was a sleek, streamlined wonder, and on 3 July 1938, one of the class named Mallard famously snatched the record back, reaching 202.8 km/h (126mph) and achieving a record for steam that still stands today.

Trains were central in early brand awareness campaigns

City transport systems also invested in strong design, such as the Art Nouveau Metro stations designed by Hector Guimard in Paris or the huge decorated stations on the Moscow Metro. In London, from the early decades of the 20th century, transport companies recognised the value of a strong image for the transport system. Underground station platforms had become cluttered with advertising that made it difficult for passengers to pick out the actual station name boards.

Advertisements for beer and port at Holborn Underground Tram Station, London, 1931. (Photo by City of London: London Metropolitan Archives/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Consequently, Albert Stanley and Frank Pick, two geniuses of early brand awareness, created a standardised name board consisting of a blue bar showing the station name against a solid red circle. This later evolved to become the ubiquitous London Transport roundel seen throughout the capital today.

Further to this, Pick decided to commission designer Edward Johnston to come up with a new typeface, bold and clear, that could be used on signage throughout the system. The Johnston typeface can still be seen across the London transport network – in the 1970s it was tweaked slightly to create New Johnston, but the principle of clarity remains.

Plan, plan, plan

The railway network in India was planned in its earliest years by the then governor general, Lord Dalhousie. He stipulated that there should be a common ‘gauge’ (the width between the rails), and he settled on 1676mm (5ft 6in) – wider than the generally adopted standard.

In such a vast country, the need for a coherent system to link the cities and regions was paramount – initially, of course, with the imperial objective of moving troops and goods quickly and efficiently. Today India has a well-used railway system that with a few exceptions runs throughout on one gauge.

In Australia, however, there was no one to plan out a rail system for the whole country. Early signs were promising, with an objective laid out that the standard gauge be adopted throughout the country. Unfortunately, a farcical set of circumstances ensued, with one Irish chief engineer in New South Wales plumping for the Irish broad gauge, only to be replaced by a Scottish engineer who favoured the standard gauge.

The decision by Queensland and South Australia to adopt a narrower gauge still meant that once the various networks met up with one another, Australia had an almighty transport-related headache. As early as 1911, agreement was reached to convert lines to standard gauge where possible – this is a process that continues today, where finances allow.

The high-speed dream

Speed has been a key selling point for the railways throughout their history. In 1957, Japan opened its first high-speed line and has since become famous for its (to British eyes) unbelievably punctual network. Countries around the world are investing in high-speed networks – none more so and most astonishingly than China.

A slow starter in railway history, China has invested huge amounts in steam technology, building main line steam locomotives right up to 1988. In a complete reversal of this policy, in recent years the country has invested huge sums of money in its high-speed network, meaning that today it possesses the biggest network of high-speed lines in the world, and one that continues to grow.

China is also home to the fastest regular service in the world, albeit not on a conventional railway: the Shanghai Maglev (magnetic levitation) train operates from Shanghai Airport and reaches a top speed of 431 km/h (268mph).

This information first appeared in BBC History Magazine and BBC History Revealed magazine and has been combined for use online

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