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Railroads England - Plans For A Railway From Liverpool To Manchester

( Originally Published 1927 )

Stephenson's success with his locomotives at Killingworth and in the construction of the Stockton and Darlington road led to his being employed to survey the projected line between Liverpool and Manchester. In this new work he met continual opposition, not only from the owners of the canal whose monopoly of traffic would be threatened by a railway, and from land-owners and farmers who objected to such a road being located near their fields, but from the general public, who criticized and laughed at what they considered the absurd ideas of this engineer. Stephenson had indeed increased his claims as to what the steam railway would accomplish and declared that it could travel at a speed double that of the fastest mail coach in England. Friends of his urged him to be more moderate in his views, and one of them, Nicholas Wood, wrote : "It is far from my wish to promulgate to the world that the ridiculous expectations, or rather professions, of the enthusiastic speculator will be realized, and that we shall see engines travelling at the rate of twelve, sixteen, eighteen, or twenty miles an hour. Nothing could do more harm towards their general adoption and improvement, than the promulgation of such nonsense."

Yet Stephenson stood by his guns in face of all ridicule. Parliament took up the subject of the Liverpool and Manchester line, of which Stephenson was now the chief engineer, and a special committee was appointed to question him. The counsel for the rail-way company was himself rather doubtful as to the wonders promised by the engineer and counseled him not to claim a speed of more than fifteen miles an hour. A member of the committee, thinking to show how ridiculous were Stephenson's views, proceeded to ask questions. "Well, Mr. Stephenson," said he, "perhaps you could go seventeen miles an hour ?"

"Yes," was the prompt answer.

"Perhaps some twenty miles might be reached?" "Yes, certainly."

The member, smiling, continued : "Twenty-five, I dare say, you do not think impossible?"

"Certainly not impossible."


"Certainly not."

"Now tell me, Mr. Stephenson, will you say that you can go thirty miles an hour ?"

"Certainly," answered the engineer.

Every committeeman roared with laughter at this simpleton who made such preposterous claims for his railway.

Stephenson, however, was more than a match for any member of that Parliamentary committee who sought to ridicule him. To explain his familiarity with the subject he stated to the honorable gentlemen that he had built fifty-five steam engines, of which sixteen were locomotives. The engines he had constructed for the Killingworth railroad eleven years before were still working with perfect success. He was satisfied that he could prove the safety of using high-pressure locomotives on a railroad and the superiority of this method of transporting goods over all others.

In regard to the charge that locomotives would so frighten horses that it would be difficult to travel on horseback or plough fields in the vicinity of the railway he said that horses quickly learned to take no notice of them and that in the neighborhood of Killingworth the cattle went on grazing while the engines steamed by them. A mail coach, he considered, was more likely to be shied at by horses than a locomotive, and there were some horses that were so skittish they would shy at a wheel-barrow.

One member said in question: "Of course, Mr. Stephenson, when a body is moving upon a road, the greater the velocity the greater the momentum that is generated ?'

"Certainly," Stephenson answered.

"What would be the momentum of forty tons moving at the rate of twelve miles an hour ?"

"It would be very great."

"Have you seen a railroad that would stand that ?" "Yes."


"Any railroad that would bear going four miles an hour. I mean to say, that if it would bear the weight at four miles an hour, it would bear it at twelve."

"Taking it at four miles an hour, do you mean to say that it would not require a stronger railway to carry the same weight twelve miles an hour'?"

"I will give an answer to that. I dare say every person has been over ice when skating, or seen persons go over, and they know that it would bear them at a greater velocity than it would if they went slower; when it goes quick, the weight in a measure ceases."

"Is not that upon the hypothesis that the railroad is perfect ?"

"It is; and I mean to make it perfect."

Stephenson was next questioned on the risks of going around curves. "You say that the machine can go at the rate of twelve miles an hour; suppose there is a turn on the road—what will become of the machine` "

"It would go round the turn."

"Would it not go straight forward,"


"What is to be the plan of the road, and the height of the rail?"

"That has nothing to do with it."

"I ask you, what is to be the height of the flanch of the wheel?"

"One and a quarter inch."

"Then if the rail bends to the extent of an inch and a quarter, it will go off the rail?"

"It cannot bend ; I know it is so in practice." "Did you ever see forty tons going at the rate of twelve miles an hour?"

"No, I have not seen it, but I have seen the engine running from eight to ten miles round a curve." "What was the weight moved ?'

"I think little, except the engine—the weight of the engine itself."

"Do you mean to tell us that no difference is to be made between those forty tons after the engine, and the engine itself ?"

"It is scarcely worth notice."

"Then, though the engine might run round, and follow the turn, do you mean to say that the weight after it would not pass off ?"

"I have stated that I never saw such a weight move at that velocity; but I could see at Killingworth that the weight was following the engines, and it is a very sharp curve ; I believe they came down very frequently at the velocity of fully ten miles an hour; it is a sharper curve there than I should recommend to be put on any railroad."

"Have you known a stagecoach overturn when making not a very sharp curve, when going very fast ?"

"That is a different thing; it is top-heavy."

"Do you mean to say, none of your wagons will be top-heavy?"

"They will not; perhaps they may get a good deal of cotton upon them ; but I should construct the carriages so that they should not be top-heavy."

In such competent fashion Stephenson answered these questions, and many others, but the general disbelief in his claims, together with the opposition of the land-owners and canal companies, was sufficient to defeat the bill for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in Parliament at that session. How-ever, the interests of trade demanded a new line of communication between those two business centres and the promoters of a railroad continued their work. Again a bill was presented to Parliament, and again orators attacked it. A member of the House of Commons made an impassioned speech. "What," he said, "was to be done with all those who had advanced money in making and repairing turnpike-roads ? What with those who may still wish to travel in their own or hired carriages, after the fashion of their forefathers? What was to become of coach-makers and harness-makers, coach-masters and coachmen, inn-keepers, horse-breeders, and horse-dealers? Was the House aware of the smoke- and the noise, the hiss and the whirl, which locomotive engines, passing at the rate of ten or twelve miles an hour would occasion? Neither the cattle ploughing in the fields or grazing in the meadows could behold them without dismay. . . . Iron would be raised in price 100 per cent or, more probably, exhausted al-together ! It would be the greatest nuisance, the most complete disturbance of quiet and comfort in all parts of the kingdom, that the ingenuity of man could invent!"

The bill passed Parliament, however, in spite of this oratory, and Stephenson began to construct the railway. In this work he undertook and accomplished a remarkable engineering feat, the building of a part of the line over Chat Moss, a wide stretch of waste land and bogs that seemed impassable. Four miles of Chat Moss had to be traversed and to do this embankments were constructed and the bogs drained and filled in. Most engineers thought that a road could not be laid here, but Stephenson achieved it. In addition to the work at Chat Moss, other parts of the line were remarkable feats of engineering for that day; there were sixty-three bridges over and under the road at different places; the great Sankey viaduct, of nine arches of fifty feet span, rose to a height of nearly seventy feet above the Sankey canal; a tunnel was made under part of Liverpool, and the Olive Mount excavation was a deep cutting through solid sandstone rock for a distance of two miles.

Every detail of this gigantic work was attended to by Stephenson, who labored unremittingly and was always confident of success. Once someone spoke to him of the genius of Napoleon in achieving his aims. "Tush!" exclaimed the engineer, "don't speak to me about Napoleon ! Give me men; money, and materials, and I will do what Napoleon couldn't do—drive a railroad from Liverpool to Manchester over Chat Moss!"

He did this, and all England marveled at his accomplishment.

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