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Stockton to Darlington Railway

The Stockton and Darlington Railway

The Stockton and Darlington railway opened in 1825 and ran 26 miles (40km) between Stockton and Darlington. It was the first permanent steam locomotive railway in the country, and was built primarily to transport coal from the Durham coal-mines to the port at Stockton where the coal would be loaded onto shipping vessels for transporting around the British Empire.

Authorised by Parliament in 1821 the S&DR was originally supposed to be an ordinary horse-drawn ‘Plateway’ which was quite common-place in England at the time. A placeway was similar to a tramway system but the coal wagons were pulled by horses. Remember coal was very heavy to transport, and there were no ‘smooth’ roads, as we would know them in those days.

George Stephenson (1781 – 1848) was an English mechanical designer, who became famous for designing and building with his only son Robert Stephenson the ‘Rocket’ locomotive in 1829. It is a common misconception that the Rocket was the first steam locomotive to run on tracks. It was not, a designer Richard Trevithick had build steam locomotives around 25 years earlier. But it was Stephenson’s Rocket that used a number of innovative design principles that have been used on every steam locomotive ever since.

The first steam locomotive to run on the S&DR was known as Locomotion 1 and ran on the 27th September 1825. In 1828 the boiler of Locomotion 1 exploded killing the driver. Initially the S&DR simply owned the tracks they had laid down, and many different operators would pay the S&DR to run their locomotives or horse drawn wagons along the rail-lines. There were no timetables or any form of organisation, and fights would often break out between rival operators trying to use the line simultaneously.

Whilst this situation was tolerable with the slower horse drawn wagons, the introduction of the faster locomotives meant this chaotic situation could result in a serious collision. By 1833 the S&DR gradually began to resemble a modern railway. The S&DR company became the sole operator organising rail traffic. Parallel lines were built so trains could travel in opposite directions simultaneously. Timetables were established and a simple signalling system was organised to try and prevent collisions. The S&DR system became a huge success, and was modelled around the world. In 1863 the S&DR was absorbed into the North Eastern Railway company which merged with the London & North Eastern Railway in 1922.