The Railways were formed in the United Kingdom in the year 1825, the first passenger railway being the Stockton to Darlington Railway. Many great engineers have been involved in the building and construction of these railways in the UK, including George Stephenson, Richard Trevithick and the Great I.K Brunel.
Steam engines dominated the country landscapes of the British Isles throughout the early twentieth century, and it was a schoolboys dream to be able to drive a steam locomotive when they were older.
Modernisation came and, in the late 1960s, steam was phased out in favour of the new diesel engines. Thousands of locomotives which had been built in Swindon, Darlington, Newcastle and York were scrapped and sentenced, until a few years ago, to lying abandoned in yards. Many local groups of volunteers have saved and salvaged some of these engines, taking on impossible projects. There seems to be certain nostalgia with the Steam Days that will never be replicated by the diesel era.
The North West
The railway linking the great industrial cities of Manchester and Liverpool opened in 1830. The 35 mile, double track system was the world’s first modern railway. These trains were timetabled and the line carried freight as well as passengers. The engines which worked the line were sister engines to the famous ‘Rocket’ engine, which a year earlier had won the ‘Rainhill Trials’. On the opening day of the Railway, William Huskisson, who was the MP for Liverpool and one of only a few MPs who actually backed the steam railways against strong opposition from canal owners and horse breeders, stepped out of his carriage and was run over by ‘Rocket’. Sadly he suffered severe injuries and died that night in hospital. The railway made an instant profit and was a great success. Britain was shrinking as a result of the opening of the new railway – the line was connected to the Grand Junction Railway and then linked to Birmingham and the capital London.
The Midland Railway opened linking Settle Junction and the 73 miles across the Yorkshire Dales and North Pennines to the border city of Carlisle – travelling through the harshest and wildest countryside in England. The engineering that took place on this mainline route was phenomenal, with 22 viaducts and 14 tunnels required to complete the route. The ‘Settle to Carlisle Railway’ is one of the most famous and scenic railways in the world, a must for any tourist or visitor to the UK.
In the North West we also have a few narrow gauge railways including ‘The Ratty’, the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway which is a 15inch narrow gauge railway that runs from Ravenglass to Dalegarth in Eskdale.
The North East
There is no better place in the United Kingdom to begin your rail tour than the North East, the birthplace of steam railways. George Stephenson used the opportunities of the local collieries, private railways and wagon ways of the North East to test his steam locomotives and trial his various designs of engines. He is responsible for engineering the first public railway, which started in 1825 and ran from the port of Stockton-on-Tees to the coalfields town of Darlington. Stephenson first began his railway work in the Killingworth Colliery, just north of Newcastle upon Tyne. He used the gauge of 4 foot 8½ inches, which became subsequently know as ‘standard gauge’ and was adopted across the world.
The Stockton and Darlington Railway had their works at Shildon and were subsequently absorbed into the North Eastern Railway in 1863, which then became part of LNER in 1923. Many steam locomotives have come out of the North East, including Sir Nigel Gresley’s ‘V2 Green Arrow’. ‘The Mallard’ is on display at the National Railway Museum in York, along with some other mainline steam locomotives from the glory days of Steam. These locomotives were built in their day as Anglo-Scottish expresses, which ran between London and Edinburgh, and constantly competed and won in their race for reduced timings with the LMR on the west side of the Country.
A new A1 Steam Locomotive was built at Darlington and turned out in 2008 – it is called ‘Tornado 60163’ and was built and funded by volunteers. In the North East we also have the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, which passes the beautiful countryside of the North Yorkshire Moors, and Goathland where ‘Heartbeat’ is filmed. The Railway now runs from Whitby to Pickering and is one of the best, if not the best, private railways in the United Kingdom.
The North East also has the Beamish Open Air Museum, which has a working replica of ‘Locomotion’ running most days inside the Museum. ‘Locomotion’ was built by Stephenson to work on the Stockton to Darlington Railway in 1825.
In York, we have the National Railway Museum where you can take in engines such as ‘The Mallard 4468’, which still holds the speed record for a steam locomotive of 126mph. The Museum is home to an amazing collection of railway memorabilia. There are classic railway paintings and objects, and many historic railway locomotives. The Japanese ‘Bullet Train’ and many other diesel locomotives including the Deltic and Royal Train engines (Class 47S) are also on display at this must-see Museum.
Fascinating fact – in the early 19th Century, while George Stephenson was working on his designs of locomotives, the Napoleonic Wars were raging and he was conscripted into the army, but he paid another man to take his place. If he had gone to fight would we have seen the steam locomotive and the railway as we know it today?