As an integral part of determining the cost and availability of manufactured products and as a means of
improved communications, and as an industry unto itself, the improvement of transportation stimulated the course of the Industrial
Revolution. Finished products, raw materials, food and people needed a reliable, quicker and less costly system of transportation.
Canals and rivers had long been used as a means of internal transportation.
The mid-1700s began the first construction of canals between industrial districts. The construction of trunk
lines opened the central industrial districts in the 1770s. The major thurst of financial backing came from the merchants
and industrialists, who had a great stake in their construction. The problem of moving bulk goods overland was addressed,
at least for the time being, by canals. However, their days were numbered, for the coming of the railroads was imminent.
The principles of rail transport were already in use in the late 1700s. Tramways, using cast iron rails, were
being employed in a number of mines in England. By 1800 more than 200 miles of tramway served coal mines. It is not surprising,
then, to find a number of engineers connected with coal mines searching for a way to apply the steam engine to railways.
A number of men were involved in experimentation concerning the development of railroads in England. Between
1804 and 1820 we find a few partially successful attempts at developing a practical means of rail transport: Richard Trevithick’s
“New Cast1e,” a steam locomotive that proved to be too heavy for the rails, John Blenkinsop’s locomotive,
which employed a toothed, gear-like wheel, and William Hedley’s “Puffing Billy,” which was used for hauling
coal wagons from the mines.
A pioneer in railroads that bears mentioning here is George Stephenson. Stephenson was invited by the Stockton
and Darlington Railway to build the railroad between those two towns. The Stockton to Darlington line was the first public
railroad to use locomotive traction and carry passengers, as well as freight. The equipment on this line proved to be too
expensive to maintain. This was not the last to be heard from Stephenson.
In 1829 the Liverpool and Manchester Railway sponsored a competition to determine the best type of locomotive.
This contest took place on the Rainhill level at Lancashire from October 6 to 14, 1829. Three steam locomotives participated
in the Rainhill Trials; Timothy Hackworth’s “Sans Pareil,” John Braithwaite and John Ericsson’s “Novelty,”
and Stephenson’s “Rocket.” The “Rocket” won the Rainhill Trials. It is interesting and ironic
to note here that the first railroad accident death occurred at these trials.
Railroads dominated the transportation scene in England for nearly a century. Railroads proliferated in England,
from 1,000 miles in 1836 to more than 7,000 miles built by 1852. Here again is another example of economic necessity producing
innovation. The development of reliable, efficient rail service was crucial to the growth of specific industries and the overall
By researching the railroad industry in the United States, students will find them to have been neglected
over the years. Railroads have been superceded by modern forms of transport and superhighways. Perhaps a renaissance is due
for the railroads in this country. Students will also find that the railroads are a reliable means of transportation for passengers
and freight in Europe. Some interesting discussions may evolve around the railroads’ role in mass transit in an energy-conscious