Stockton and Darlington Railway
From Academic Kids
The line was 26 miles (40 km) long, and was built between Stockton-on-Tees and Darlington and from Darlington to several collieries near Shildon in north-eastern England. The line was initially built to connect inland coal mines to Stockton, where coal was to be loaded onto sea going boats.
Inspired by wealthy local wool merchant Edward Pease, the S&DR was constructed in the early 1820s and was initially meant to be an ordinary horse-drawn wagonway, which were then commonplace in England. However George Stephenson persuaded the S&DR's builders to permit steam locomotives to operate experimentally on the line.
Steam locomotives were then a new and unproven technology, and were slow, expensive and unreliable. Many people weren't convinced that they were a viable alternative to the horse. So at first, horse traction predominated on the S&DR, until steam could prove its worth.
The parliamentary bill allowing for the construction of the line, however, included provisions for the use of steam locomotives, and the transporting of passengers, which at the time were regarded as little more than a sideline.
The official opening of the line was on 27 September 1825; the first steam-hauled passenger train ran and carried up to 600 passengers. The first passenger train was not fast, taking two hours to complete the first 12 miles (19 km) of the journey. Most of the passengers sat in open coal wagons, but one experimental passenger coach was built, called "The Experiment", which resembled a wooden shed on wheels, carrying various dignitaries.
An experimental regular passenger service was soon established. The early locomotives were slow and unreliable, but as steam technology advanced, the journey time was gradually reduced. The S&DR however was principally a freight-carrying line and passenger transport was little more than a sideline.
Steam traction was expensive in comparison to horse drawn traffic, but it soon proved that it was viable and economic. Steam locomotives could haul more wagons, and haul them faster, so in a typical working day the expensive steam engine could haul more coal than the cheaper horse.
It soon became apparent that mixing faster steam-hauled and slower horse-drawn traffic was slowing the operation down, and so as steam technology became more reliable, horse-drawn traffic was gradually abandoned.
At first, the organisation of the S&DR bore little relation to that of most modern railways, and was run in the traditional manner of the wagonways of the time. The S&DR merely owned the tracks and did not operate trains; anyone who paid the S&DR money could freely operate steam trains or horse-drawn wagonloads on the line. This separation of track from trains resembled the canals, where canal companies were often forbidden from operating any boats. There was no timetable or other form of central organisation. Trains ran whenever they wanted, and fights often broke out when rival operators came into conflict over right-of-way on the tracks.
This chaotic situation was tolerable on competely horse-drawn traffic wagonways, but with faster steam trains it soon became unworkable, as the faster speeds meant a collision could have serious consequenses. With the advent of steam, new operating methods had to be developed.
By 1833 the S&DR had become entirely steam-operated, and it gradually began to resemble a modern railway. The S&DR company became the sole train operator on the line, parallel tracks were built for trains travelling in opposite directions, timetables were established and a crude signalling system was established to prevent collisions. These methods of operation became standard on railways across the world.
The S&DR proved a huge financial success, and paved the way for modern rail transport.
The expertise that Stephenson and his apprentice Joseph Locke gained in railway construction and locomotive building on the S&DR enabled them a few years later to construct the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the first purpose-built steam railway, and also his revolutionary Rocket locomotive. The company also proved a successful training ground for other engineers: in 1833 Daniel Adamson was apprenticed to Timothy Hackworth, and later established his own successful boiler-making business in Manchester.