Thursday, April 12, 2018

Railing against rail, by JD

In 1829 Robert Stephenson entered his steam locomotive, called the Rocket, in a competition called the Rainhill Trials. It was to be held east of Liverpool and the winner would receive £500. There were 10 other locomotives entered in the contest and Stephenson had to transport his engine and equipment there, by horse and cart, from Newcastle. This is a folk song about this famous competition.

Read all about the event here:

The thing that caught my attention was the fact that Stephenson and his team took The Rocket by horse and cart to Lancashire. Now that must have been quite an adventure in itself. Remember this was long before there was a network of roads or railways. The first macadamised roads in this country were laid in the 1820s although whether the road between Newcastle and Liverpool was one of them is unclear. To get to the Trials it would have been necessary to disassemble their machine, load it onto the carts, arrange overnight stabling and feed for the horses (and themselves) travel the 150 miles or so to their destination. Then would come the job of reassembly and testing and other preparations for the contest.

Stephenson won and this is what 'state of the art' locomotive engineering looked like in 1829; the video is of a replica of the Rocket (not quite) full steam ahead -

I have the greatest admiration for Robert and his father, George Stephenson, the pioneers of the railway age. Their artistry and engineering skills were outstanding.

Having said that, I am not a fan of rail travel and never have been. In the early 19th century the railways were a wonderful alternative to the stagecoach; more comfortable, faster and much safer. But they declined in the 20th century and not entirely because of Dr. Beeching. They were superseded by the growth of personal transportation in the form of the motor car.

Now, in the 21st century they have long outlived their usefulness and the idea of building more of them in the form of the high speed rail link should be abandoned. They are a very inefficient way to move people around. I live very close to the main east coast line which connects London to Edinburgh. This is a 400 mile transport corridor between two capital cities and it is empty for most of the day. For the majority of the time there are no people being transported along it. Occasionally there is a train and for maybe 10 or 15 seconds once every hour our little stretch of line is doing its job.

Scrap the railways and put the land to better use. The Stephensons would approve, they were forward looking engineers of vision. Modern transport problems will not be solved by 19th century thinking.


Paddington said...

I have to beg to disagree. Rail is by far my favourite transportation, and has the added benefit of being the most energy efficient, other than sail.

CherryPie said...

So if we scrap railways what it the modern day solution for those who cannot drive (for various reasons) or afford private road transfers to their required destination?

I am with Paddington. There are places that due to distance or congested roads I choose not to drive to. The train is a far better option and with a little bit of investment it would be the perfect option which would lead to more people using them.