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Railroads England - The First Railroad Projects

( Originally Published 1927 )

Up to this time the main impetus to the construction of railways had come from the owners of collieries; but now an additional incentive appeared in the field. Improved facilities for shipping cotton were needed even more than for shipping coal, and the attention of those interested in steam railroads was diverted from the mining districts of England to the great trade centres of Liverpool and Manchester.

William James, the wealthy promoter of plans for railways, was in Liverpool in 1821 and found there was much discussion regarding the building of a tramway between that city and Manchester. The increase in trade had been marvellous ; in nine years the quantity of raw cotton sent from the one city to the other had increased by 50,000,000 pounds' weight, and other raw materials in proportion. In the neighborhood of Manchester many thriving towns had sprung up, the inhabitants of which were mainly de-pendent for their livelihood on the regularity of the supply of cotton from Liverpool. The principal means of transport were the Duke of Bridgewater's Canal and navigation on the Irwell and Mersey, but the great volume of trade was outstripping these methods of handling it. Cotton lay at Liverpool for weeks, waiting to be shipped, and it actually took longer to convey the cargoes from that port to Manchester than it had done to bring them from the United States to England. When the canals were frozen communication was stopped and factories were idle. There was the same difficulty in conveying manufactured goods from Manchester to Liverpool for export, and the manufacturers of the one city and the merchants of the other were eager to find some more efficient mode of transit.

A prominent Liverpool merchant, Mr. Sandars, discussed with William James the possibility of constructing a railway, and with the assistance of some others they decided to make a survey for such a line. No sooner had their surveyors started work, however, than farmers and gardeners along the proposed line rose in arms against them. Men attacked them with pitchforks and sometimes with guns, one of the chain-men was captured by a crowd of miners and almost thrown down a coal-pit, women and children stoned them; sometimes there were regular battles in which the surveying instruments were smashed. At length wet weather set in and the work of surveying was suspended until spring.

William James, having heard of George Stephenson's locomotive, went to Killingworth and inspected the engine. He was much impressed by its power and smoothness of action,, and wrote to Mr. Losh, who had been Stephenson's partner in acquiring a patent for the locomotive : "It is the greatest wonder of the age, and the forerunner, as I firmly believe, of the most important changes in the internal communications of the kingdom." As James was a man of influence and was connected with the promoters of the proposed line between Liverpool and Manchester, Stephenson and Losh were desirous of enlisting his aid on behalf of their patented locomotive, and drew up a deed by which in consideration of his giving "his recommendation and best assistance" to their engine they assigned to him one fourth of the profits which might be derived from the employment of their loco-motive for railroads which might be constructed south of a line drawn across England from Liverpool to Hull.

In the spring of 1822 the survey of the Liverpool and Manchester line was resumed and, in spite of all sorts of obstacles, was completed. As, however, the promoters found that there would be great opposition to their scheme in Parliament they shelved their project temporarily while they devoted their efforts to securing friends for the plan.

The Stockton and Darlington Railway had been authorized by Parliament, and one day, late in 1821, two men from Killingworth, Nicholas Wood and George Stephenson, called to see Edward Pease, the sponsor of that line. Stephenson had heard of the passing of the Stockton and Darlington Act and hoped to be employed in constructing the road. Pease took a liking to the inventor. "There was," he after-wards said, "such an honest, sensible look about him, and he seemed so modest and unpretending. He spoke in the strong Northumbrian dialect of his district, and described himself as `only the engine-wright at Killingworth ; that's what he was.' "

Pease discussed his plans with Stephenson. The engineer recommended a railway in preference to a tramroad, in which view Pease was inclined to agree. Next they talked of the tractive power and Pease said that the company had based their whole calculations on the employment of horse power. "I was so satisfied," he said, later in speaking of the conversation, "that a horse upon an iron road would draw ten tons for one ton on a common road, that I felt sure that before long the railway would become the King's Highway.'

At this point, however, Stephenson asserted that the locomotive engine with which he had been working for years on the Killingworth Railway was worth fifty horses and that engines constructed on that plan would entirely supersede all horse power upon rail-roads. "Come over to Killingworth," he said, "and see what my Blucher can do; seeing is believing, sir."

Pease then spoke of the opposition which the rail-way promoters had to encounter, to which Stephen-son rejoined, "I think, sir, I have some knowledge of craniology, and from what I see of your head, I feel sure that if you will fairly buckle to this railway, you are the man successfully to carry it through."

"I think so, too," said Pease; "and I may observe to thee, that if thou succeed in making this a good railway, thou may consider thy fortune as good as made."

The upshot of the interview was that Pease, having received satisfactory information as to Stephenson's character and qualifications, engaged him, with the approval of the other directors of the Stockton and Darlington Company, to report concerning the practicability of constructing their railway on a line they had previously surveyed and to recommend any changes or improvements in its course, together with estimates of comparative expenses. This matter of expense was important, as the company had already paid out considerable sums. "We wish thee to proceed," Pease told Stephenson, "in all thy levels, estimates, and calculations, with that care and economy which would influence thee if the whole of the work were thy own."

Stephenson made his survey and reported that, by adopting certain changes, a line shorter by about three miles might be constructed at a considerable saving of expense and at the same time more favor-able gradients would be secured. The directors of the company, much pleased, employed him to draw up specifications and contract for materials. Edward Pease went to Killingworth, saw Stephenson's locomotive at work, and was so much impressed by it that he formed a partnership with the inventor for the establishment of a locomotive foundry and factory in the town of Newcastle. The Stockton and Darlington Railway was now to be constructed and Stephenson was appointed the company's engineer.

In making the working survey of the line Stephen-son went over every foot of the ground himself, accompanied by his assistants. With Pease and the other directors he discussed three important points from every angle : the comparative merits of cast-and wrought-iron rails ; the gauge of the railway ; the employment of horse or engine power in working it when ready for traffic.

Although he was financially interested in a patent for cast-iron rails, Stephenson advised the directors not to use them. "They will not stand the weight," he said; "there is no wear in them, and you will be at no end of expense for repairs and relays."

"What kind of road, then," he was asked, "would you recommend ?"

"Malleable rails, certainly," he answered; "and I can recommend them with the more confidence from the fact that at Killingworth we have had some Swedish bars laid down—nailed to wooden sleepers—for a period of fourteen years, the wagons passing over them daily ; and there they are, in use yet, whereas the cast rails are constantly giving way."

The price of malleable rails, however, was so high that it was decided that only one-half of the quantity required should be of that type and the remainder cast-iron.

The gauge of the road was made 4 feet 8 1/2 inches, which was the gauge of the wheels of the common vehicles in use, such as the carts and wagons that were employed on the first tramways, and the gauge of the Wylam wagon-way, the Killingworth railroad, and the Hetton railroad.

As for the tractive power, fixed engines were to be used at the Brusselton incline, but in general the road was to be worked by horses. Three locomotive engines were ordered from Stephenson's factory at New-castle, and these were found capable of running at a rate of from twelve to sixteen miles an hour, but they were better adapted for the heavy work of hauling coal trains at low speeds than for the needs of the Stockton and Darlington Railway.

When the road was partly laid Stephenson with his son Robert and John Dixon, a young surveyor, made a journey of inspection. At Stockton they went to an inn for dinner and Stephenson ordered a bottle of wine to drink success to the railway. "Now lads," Stephenson said, as Dixon reports his words, "I will tell you that I think you will live to see the day, though I may not live so long, when railways will come to supersede almost all other methods of conveyance in this country, when mail coaches will go by railway, and railroads will become the Great Highway for the king and all his subjects. The time is coming when it will be cheaper for a working man to travel on a railway than to walk on foot. I know there are great and almost insurmountable difficulties that will have to be encountered ; but what I have said will come to pass as sure as we live. I only wish I may live to see the day, though that I can scarcely hope for, as I know how slow all human progress is, and with what difficulty I have been able to get the locomotive adopted, notwithstanding my more than ten years successful experiment at Killingworth."

The Stockton and Darlington line was opened on September 27, 1825. Great throngs gathered to witness the inauguration of this first public railway, which was laughed at by some, criticized and opposed by many, and only believed in by a few. The journey commenced at the Brusselton incline, about nine miles from Darlington, where the fixed engine drew a train of loaded wagons up the slope from the west and lowered them on the east side. At the foot of the incline was a locomotive, with George Stephenson to drive the engine. The train consisted of six wagons, loaded with coal and flour, a passenger coach with the directors of the company and their friends, twenty-one wagons fitted with temporary seats for passengers, and six more wagons of coal. The account of a spectator says : "The signal being given, the engine started off with this immense train of carriages; and such was its velocity, that in some parts the speed was frequently 12 miles an hour; and at that time the number of passengers was counted to be 450, which, together with the coals, merchandise, and carriages, would amount to near 90 tons. The engine, with its load, arrived at Darlington, a distance of 8 % miles, in 65 minutes. The six wagons loaded with coals, intended for Darlington, were then left be-hind; and, obtaining a fresh supply of water and arranging the procession to accommodate a band of music, and numerous passengers from Darlington, the engine set off again, and arrived at Stockton in 3 hours and 7 minutes, including stoppages, the distance being nearly 12 miles."

"The arrival at Stockton," says this observer, "excited a deep interest and admiration." Well might Stephenson be pleased. As the traffic continued the results were such as to surprise and delight even the most enthusiastic of the friends of the road. The company had expected to make its profits principally from the carriage of coal for sale at the stations along the line and did not contemplate the hauling of coal to seaports for export to the London market, but it was this latter traffic that soon exceeded the former and made the company rich. In a few years the annual shipment of coal, led by the Stockton and Darlington Railway to Stockton and Middlesborough, exceeded five hundred thousand tons.

The passenger traffic over the thirty-seven miles of the road, as well as the export coal business, surprised the directors. The number of travellers between the two towns was small, and it was thought doubtful that many would care to take the risk of riding on a railway; only after some hesitation was Stephenson authorized to have a passenger coach built. The carriage he had constructed according to his plans was a very modest affair, a rude cabin on four wheels. A row of seats ran along each side of the interior and a deal table was fixed in the centre ; entrance was by a door at the end, as in an omnibus. This coach Stephenson christened the "Experiment," and it took part in the procession on the opening day.

The "Experiment," drawn by a single horse, made the journey daily between the two towns for a fare of a shilling and each passenger was allowed four-teen pounds of luggage free. It was not worked by the railway company, but was let to a firm of carriers, who paid toll for the use of the line. Proving profitable, several other coaching companies were organized by innkeepers of Darlington and Stockton, and an active competition for passenger traffic sprang up.

The railway carriages used by these rival companies were generally stagecoach bodies, mounted upon an under-frame with flange wheels. The passengers paid different fares, according to whether they rode inside or outside, which corresponded to first and second class. Competition with each other upon the railway and with the regular stagecoaches on the highroad led to increase of speed, and the carriages were presently travelling at the rate of ten miles an hour, which was considered rapid locomotion, and which was the rate of travel of the mail coaches.

Mr. Clephan, a resident of the district, describes some incidents of this rivalry for passenger traffic. Says he: "There were two separate coach companies in Stockton ; and amusing collisions some-times occurred between the drivers—who found on the rail a novel element for contention. Coaches cannot pass each other on the rail as on the road; and at the more westward public-house in Stockton (the Bay Horse, kept by Joe Buckton) the coach was al-ways on the line betimes, reducing its eastward rival to the necessity of waiting patiently (or impatiently) in the rear. Difficulties, too, occurred along the road. The line was single, with four sidings in the mile ; and when two coaches met, or two trains, or coach and train, the question arose which of the drivers must go back ? This was not always settled in silence. As to trains, it came to a sort of understanding that light wagons should give way to loaded; and as to trains and coaches, that the passengers should have preference over coals; while Coaches, when they met, must quarrel it out. At length, midway between sidings, a post was erected; and a rule was laid down that he who had passed the pillar must go on, and the `coming man' go back. At the Goose Pool and Early Nook, it was common for these coaches to stop ; and there, as Jonathan would say, passengers and coachmen `liquored.' . . One Dixon, who drove the `Experiment' between Darlington and Shildon, is the inventor of carriage-lighting on the rail. On a dark winter night, having compassion on his passengers, he would buy a penny candle, and place it, lighted, amongst them, on the table of the 'Experiment'—the first railway coach (which, by the way, ended its days at Shildon, as a railway cabin), being also the first coach on the rail (first, second, and third-class jammed all into one) that indulged its customers with light in darkness."

Such was the increase of traffic of all kinds on the Stockton and Darlington Railway that the company soon found it best to take charge of all the business, minerals, merchandise, and passengers. It had been agreed in the company's act of incorporation that the line should be free to all who wished to use it on payment of certain rates and that anyone might put horses and wagons on the rails and carry goods for himself. This led to great confusion and many difficulties. The goods trains became so long that the carriers found it necessary to obtain the aid of the locomotive engine to help them, and there were mixed trains of passengers and merchandise that complicated the situation further. Therefore the company assumed entire charge of traffic, built new and better carriages for passengers and established a regular passenger service.

This service was of course very primitive. There were no brakes on the carriages, no gates across the turnpike roads, and no signal-lamps. One method of night-signal used when stopping a train was for the engineer to burn a tow-line kindled by a shovelful of red-hot cinders. A candle placed in a station window was the usual signal to stop to take on passengers. The cars had no springs and no buffers, and travellers were treated to continual bumpings and joltings.

From the opening of the railway three of Stephen-son's locomotives were regularly employed to pull the coal trains, and these proved very efficient. One day there was a race between No. 1 engine, the "Active," and a stagecoach driven from Darlington to Stockton on the highroad; it was considered a great triumph for Stephenson that the locomotive arrived at Stockton first, beating the coach by about a hundred yards.

For some years, however, most of the hauling was done by horses, which seemed to be the cheaper method, as the inclination of the gradients was to-wards the sea. The horse would draw the train along the level road until it reached a descending grade, down which the train would run by its own weight.

There the horse would be unharnessed, and then would be wheeled round to the other end of the wagons, to which what was called a "dandy-cart" was attached. Into this cart, which was usually fitted with a well-filled hay-rack, the horse would leap and continue the journey comfortably ensconced in his own dining-coach.

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