History of trains in the UK

The UK marked an important milestone in the history of trains since it was Britain where the first steam locomotive was used. Initially the wooden wagons were horse-drawn on straight rails. The art of the rails was perfected as different systems were used in the years to come, until in 1820 John Birkenshaw implemented the use of wrought iron rails to roll the wagons.

In 1804, the first steam locomotive was built and ran 9 miles being the first of its kind. Although there were a few other significant events in the railway history during the following years, it wasn’t until the 1830s that trains began to be used more frequently, especially in the coal industry. In 1827 there was the first locomotive-hauled public railway in the world that opened on a 25-mile stretch. From there on out there were a few privately owned railway companies controlling local rails.

In the 1830s there was an increase in cotton and weaving production, but unfortunately the development of the canal was restricted. This being the way they normally had to transport opened the door to the use of the locomotive as an alternate means of transportation. The Lancashire canal, not only had limitations with transporting goods, but there was no real enthusiasm about passenger travel. So, ultimately the trains were an inevitable success and led to the decision to build new lines linking Britain’s major cities. The London and Birmingham (L&BR) lines were opened on July 4, 1837. The development of these early lines was not without obstacles and found itself having to avoid privately owned lands or paying extremely high costs to build on them, which led to building lines that were not necessarily the ideal routes.

The increasing interest of investors in trains paved the way for the creation of a huge national network that would at the end connect the country. Since the legal process to approve the construction of a line had to be a separate act for each line by Parliament, investors were normally more convinced of backing shorter lines. This boom led to high level of competition and a development of over 8,000 miles of lines during 1836 and 1847. During this time, George Hudson became an icon and was even recognizes as the “railway king”. His vision helped set the foundations for the modern railways systems, by offering standardized methods of transporting passengers and cargo on his various lines. This era of railroad mania came to an end in 1846 when the market finally collapsed.

It is important to mention that in this time period there was never a development of a national plan for railroads, there were simply good investment for independent entrepreneurs. This is evident when even to this day we can find in the UK repeated routes, several train stations in the same city, or independent lines with no relevant connections. Moreover, the Beeching Axe of the 1860s did take care of eliminating at least most of these duplicates.  In 1840 the government sees the need to get involved for safety reasons and passes the “Act for Regulating Railways”. There are railway inspectors that are appointed to investigate any incidents to assure passenger safety.

Again, the UK marks history by building the first underground railway. London was on its way to become what it is today, and although much smaller than the current day city, it was already saturated with railways, but none of these entered the city. To be able to do so, they would have to demolish more buildings that were allowed, or made sense for that matter. So, in 1863 the first line was opened to what would become today’s London Underground. For the next hundred years the railways are grouped into iconic companies that are still remembered today such as Great Central Railway (GCR), Great Western Railway (GWR) or London and South Western Railway (LSWR).

History of trains in the UK

Image courtesy of Knivesout at Flickr.com

The next noteworthy breakthrough is in the 1940s when the government sees the necessity to get involved once again, but not the concern is not in terms of safety. As a solution, British Railways is established in 1947 and in the post-war time period the country, where there is the need to mitigate a now concerning economical strain on the country. So, they move forward in cutting down, optimizing and slowly forging the system that we know today.

It seems that in the years to come the railways would only show progress in technology, when in 1968 electric or diesel programs replace steam locomotives. This progress did not prevent the cultural shift to come in the 1970s and 1980s, when inexpensive personal transportation would slowly replace and deem the train system unnecessary at times. The railways in hopes to revamp their system introduced the High Speed Trains. There’s a lot to look forward to, there’s even talks of a second golden age. The rise in population inevitably leading to increased traffic jams opens the doors for trains to, with their dedicated lines, to offer a time and cost efficient solution.