On this day : The 27th of September 1825

First Steam Powered Passenger Railway Opens

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The Stockton & Darlington Railway, which became the first in the world to use steam engines for motive power, might well have been a canal rather than a railway. The businessmen of Stockton involved in the scheme favoured a waterway, whilst their fellows inDarlington and Yarm wanted rails. But in 1818 the company decided a railway it would be, and work was begun to lobby Parliament for the powers required.

Parliament twice threw out the Bill sought by leading light Edward Pease and his friends, but on April 19 1821 after a petition containing 785 signatures had been used as evidence of backing for the plans, the necessary Act received royal assent.

A 26 mile line was constructed between Darlington and Stockton-on-Tees, intended to serve the coal industry, bringing that commodity to Stockton for transfer to sea-going ships for onward transportation. The first railway bridge (still in use) was constructed on the route by the wonderfully named Ignatius Bonomi. John Birkinshaw’s Bedlington Ironworks provided the revolutionary T-section iron rails in 15 foot lengths. And most famously, George Stephenson ’s firm built Locomotion No 1 to pull the trains.

The Act consenting to the line also allowed for the use of steam-powered locomotives, though this nearly went by the way as those drafting the documents did not recognize the terms used. A secondary trade was also enshrined in the Act, that of carrying passengers on the line, but this was it seems something of an afterthought.

But when the line officially opened on September 27 1825 about 600 passenger rode on the first train, most of them crammed into open coal trucks. The select few, local dignitaries and wealthy supporters, were transported in The Experiment, a passenger coach built for £80. The Experiment was carpeted and cushioned, but as it lacked springs the ride must not have been entirely comfortable.

Still less comfortable would have been George Stephenson and his brother James, who rode on the footplate of Locomotion No 1.

The first steam powered passenger journey took two hours to travel 12 miles from outside the Mason’s Arms pub in Shildon , the starting point, to Darlington, though this included a delay (another world first!) to remove a broken wagon, so in fact the true journey time was just over an hour, at the phenomenal speed of 8mph.

Then at Yarm a brass band boarded the train, playing until they reached Darlington at 3.45pm, where the historic trip ended with a 21-gun salute and a rendition of the National Anthem. The railway age had begun.

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