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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 4, Issue 6 (October 1, 1929)

Our London Letter

page 19

Our London Letter

Just one hundred years ago—in October, 1829—there were conducted the famous Rainhill locomotive trials which preceded the opening of the historic Liverpool and Manchester Railway. This event is, of course, an outstanding incident in the story of the railway and the steam locomotive. Our London Letter this month is devoted to a review of this vital milestone in railway progress.

The Beginning of the Rail Transport Era

The Rainhill locomotive trials marked the opening of a new railway era. What is more they established, beyond all question, the superiority of the “Iron Horse” over existing means of movement, and paved the way for the extensive developments in the locomotive field that have been witnessed in the century which has succeeded the victory of Stephenson's far-famed “Rocket” engine that momentous October day. It is indeed a big jump from the crude locomotives which appeared in the Rainhill trials to the modern high-power steam railway engine. Yet, even at this time, there is a distinct likeness between our own locomotives and those of the pioneers of 1829. Without the patient efforts and unsparing genius of George Stephenson and his co-workers, the efficient locomotives of to-day could never have been produced. Lacking the aid of machines such as these, transportation would now have been in a much more backward state than is happily the case. Let us all, therefore, in this banner year in railway history, doff our caps in token of our appreciation of Stephenson's immense contribution to the progress of railways—and, indeed, of mankind in general.

The Magic of Stephenson's Name.

When pursuing the subject of early railway working, it is quite impossible to get away from the magic name of Stephenson. There were other engineers who played a vital part in the development of the locomotive, but it is George Stephenson, and his brother Robert, who ever and again step into the limelight with some fresh achievement to add another rung to the ladder of railway progress. At the Rainhill trials the genius of Stephenson received its hallmark. Here, the world-famed locomotive “Rocket” beat all comers in the £500 open contest promoted by the directors of the Liverpool and Manchester line, for the most efficient steam engine.

Four years previous to the Rainhill trials the world's first public railway had been opened—the historic Stockton and Darlington line. On this occasion, George Stephenson's “Locomotion No. 1” had strikingly demonstrated the possibilities of locomotive haulage, and in the following year, 1826, construction of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, an idea originally suggested by a London engineer named James, was commenced. The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was planned as a double-track route between the two points named, to carry both passengers and merchandise. The promoters were backed up by the Liverpool and Manchester cotton merchants, as it was realised that, through the construction of the railway, the journey time of 36 hours (by water) from Liverpool to Manchester could be reduced to page 20 one of about two hours. May 29th, 1826, was the date of the first general meeting of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company, and at this meeting George Stephenson was selected to hold the appointment of chief engineer to the undertaking. In all, the new railway cost something like £820,000, engineering difficulties of a rare nature being encountered.

Difficulties of Early Railway Construction.

The countryside between Liverpool and Manchester is, for the most part, flat, but included in the route to be covered was the treacherous waste known as Chat Moss—a huge stretch of bog containing millions of tons of spongy vegetable deposits. This marshland, four miles in extent, had to be drained and levelled, and at one point an embankment of moss was formed, stretching fully a mile in length, and varying in height from ten to twenty feet. Sand and gravel were laid over the moss, and upon this was placed a roadbed of broken stone, supporting the wooden sleepers upon which the rails rested. As the work proceeded the weight of the material pressed down the surface of the marsh, and thousands of cubic yards of filling disappeared in a night.
The Father Of Railways.George Stephenson.

The Father Of Railways.
George Stephenson.

Despite these difficulties, the engineers doggedly stuck to their task, and, after some 520,000 cubic yards of filling had been employed, the moss was consolidated and a firm roadbed secured. A great deal of tunnelling had to be accomplished beneath the city of Liverpool, and the terminal at this end was reached by the aid of an incline, up and down which wagons were moved by an endless rope, operated by stationary engines. In all, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was thirty-two miles in length. The greater part of the line was remarkably free from curves. There were sixty-three bridges, and the rails forming the track were of wrought iron, in lengths of five yards each, two inches broad, and one inch thick weighing 35lbs. per yard. The rails were supported by cast-iron chairs at three-foot intervals.

A £500 prize for the best Locomotive.

Towards the close of the year 1828, operations were so far advanced on the construction of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway that serious attention was turned to the question of motive power. A deputation was sent to Darlington to study and report upon the locomotives utilised on the Stockton and Darlington system, but as much doubt existed as to the best means of haulage to be adopted, it was in the end agreed to offer an award of £500 in open competition for the locomotive engine which, in the words of the promoters, would be “a decided improvement on those now in use, as respects the consumption of smoke, increased speed, adequate power and moderate weight.” The actual conditions were that the locomotive should consume its own smoke, have two safety valves, be fitted with springs, and not exceed six tons in weight, and £550 in price. If the engine turned the scales at less than four and a half tons it might be on four wheels. If it weighed more than four and a half tons, six wheels were stipulated. The successful machine had to haul three times its own weight on the level.

News of the contest spread rapidly throughout the length and breadth of Britain. Apart from the substantial money prize held out as bait, it was felt that immense prestige would come to the lucky winner. At that time about fifty primitive railway locomotives had been turned out at Home; in the United States a single model steam locomotive had been constructed, while in Germany a couple of engines had been built, but these did not prove satisfactory in service. At that time there were many types of stationary steam engines being used to draw vehicles up inclines. For the Liverpool and Manchester competition some ten locomotives were built, but only four of these appeared at the trials in 1829. A fifth entry there was, it is true, but this was a comical affair, known as the “Cyclopede,” consisting of a horse moving an endless platform with his feet. Even a century ago, so clumsy a contraption page 21 was greeted with the derision it so well deserved.

Engines in The Famous Rainhill Trials.

Here, then, were the four locomotives which actually faced the judges at the Rainhill trials in October, 1829:—The “Rocket,” entered by George and Robert Stephenson and Henry Booth; Messrs. Braithwaite and Ericsson's “Novelty”; Timothy Hackworth's “Sans Pareil”; and Timothy Burstall's “Perseverance.” The “Rocket” had wheels of 4ft. 8 ½in. and 2ft. 6in. diameter. The cylinders, of eight inches diameter and seventeen inches stroke, were inclined at an angle of thirty-five degrees. The boiler which was six feet long and 3ft. 4in. in diameter, contained 25 copper tubes, each of three inches diameter. Working pressure was 50lbs. per square inch, and there were two exhaust outlets in the chimney, one for each cylinder. Weight in working order was four and a quarter tons. Both George and Robert Stephenson were concerned in the design and construction of the “Rocket.” Henry Booth, their partner, was the first secretary and treasurer of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company, and to him came the idea for the boiler tubes while the screw coupling was also his suggestion.

Winner Of The “Rainhill” Trials. (Photo, by courtesy of the Science Museum, London.) The famous “Rocket” locomotive (1829.)

Winner Of The “Rainhill” Trials.
(Photo, by courtesy of the Science Museum, London.)
The famous “Rocket” locomotive (1829.)

The “Novelty” locomotive, entered by John Braithwaite and John Ericsson, had wheels 4ft. 2in. diameter, on the Theodore Jones suspension principle. The cylinders were 6in. by 12in., placed vertically, driving through bell-cranks to a crank axle, the first employed on any railway engine. The boiler barrel which was twelve inches in diameter and ten feet long, contained a small tapering flue which returned on itself twice. Fuel was introduced through the top of the firebox. Bellows worked by the engine forced air into a closed ashpan. The fuel and water were carried on the locomotive itself, no tender being required. The weight in working order was 3 tons 17 cwt. Ericsson, it may be noted, emigrated in 1839 to the United States, where he produced the well-known early locomotive “Monitor.” Timothy Hackworth's engine “Sans Pareil” was regarded by many as a probable winner of the contest, for Hackworth was locomotive engineer of the Stockton and Darlington line, and was recognised as being exceptionally clever. The wheels of the “Sans Pareil” were of 4ft. 6in. diameter, coupled. The boiler was of 4ft. 2in. diameter and 6ft. in length, having a return flue, and the grate and chimney placed at the same end. The vertical cylinders were seven inches by eighteen inches, inverted over the trailing wheels. Although slightly in excess of the weight stipulated by the judges for four-wheeled engines, the “Sans Pareil,” which scaled 4 tons 15 cwt. 2qrs., was permitted to proceed on the trials. The “Perseverance” locomotive entered by Timothy Burstall, of Leith, made a most feeble show in the trials, and few details are available concerning it. It is believed to have been a four-wheeled machine with vertical cylinders, driving by means of return connecting rods, a countershaft turning the axle by gear wheels. Its weight was in the neighbourhood of three tons, and, like the “Novelty,” it had no tender.

The Great Contest.

The course at Rainhill consisted of a level stretch of track about nine miles east of Liverpool. The first test took the form of running backwards and forwards over a measured mile and a half, one-eighth of a mile being allowed at each end in addition for starting and stopping. Later the condition was imposed that the locomotives should be required to run seventy miles practically continuously at an average speed of not less than ten miles an hour. Immense crowds gathered on the morning of October 6th, 1829, and it was only with difficulty that the track could be cleared for the contestants. Graphic pen and brush pictures have been given us by historians and artists of the day of the gay scene on that historic morning. Lords and ladies, engineers and cotton merchants, simple country folk, and city workers, all classes were represented, and it was with a tremendous page 22 cheering that the locomotive “Rocket” set out on the opening run.

During the first test the “Rocket” drew 12 tons 9 cwt. at the speed of twelve miles per hour, and later ran light at eighteen miles per hour. With a load of 13 tons (including passengers) it covered the course at fifteen miles an hour. The cheering of the dense crowd had scarcely faded away when the “Novelty” locomotive took the field. This engine actually attained a speed of twenty-eight miles an hour
The World'S First Most Successful Locomotive. (Photo, by courtesy of the Science Museum, London.) George Stephenson's historic “Locomotion No. 1,” the efficiency of which was demonstrated at the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825.

The World'S First Most Successful Locomotive.
(Photo, by courtesy of the Science Museum, London.)
George Stephenson's historic “Locomotion No. 1,” the efficiency of which was demonstrated at the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825.

without a load, and many a reckless sportsman was at once prompted to “put his shirt” on the “Novelty.” Alas, on the resumption of the trials on October 7th, the “Novelty” upset all calculations by bursting its bellows, after performing one trip loaded at 20 3/4 miles an hour. The following day the “Rocket” performed a seventy mile run at an average speed of fifteen miles per hour, at one time reaching twenty-nine miles per hour. The “Novelty,” patched up by its designers, again faced the trials on October 10, but ill-luck seemed to dog it all along the line, for on its first trip the feed-pipe burst. The “Rocket” then again stepped into the arena and accomplished two runs without tender at thirty miles an hour. Poor old Timothy Hackworth was as unfortunate as his competitors, Messrs Braithwaite and Ericsson. His locomotive “Sans Pareil” met with disaster after attaining a speed of fourteen miles an hour; while the “Perseverance” meeting with an accident during the course of its preparation for the trials, had to be withdrawn after running a short distance at about five miles an hour.

“The Rocket” proves Victorious.

It was apparent that Stephenson's “Rocket” was an outstandingly superior engine to any of the other entrants, and to the designers of this machine, therefore, went the prize of £500 offered by the Liverpool and Manchester directors. To Timothy Burstall for his locomotive “Perseverance” went a consolation prize of £25. The “Rocket” was at once put into traffic on the Liverpool and Manchester line on its opening on September 15th, 1830, and for six years it performed useful service. In 1836 the “Rocket” was sold to James Thompson, of Carlisle, for £300, and after working in colliery service for some years, it was handed over to the Science Museum, South Kensington, London, in 1862. The firebox of the “Rocket” has unfortunately disappeared, but the whole of the original engine, page 23 with this exception, may to-day be seen at South Kensington. The “Sans Pareil” locomotive also is on show at this famous institution—to which we are indebted for the accompanying pictures—while another exhibit consists of the original wheels of the “Novelty” locomotive.

The Verdict of History.

The Rainhill locomotive trials form an epic of the “Iron Way.” Railway developments on a scale undreamt of by Stephenson and his fellow pioneers followed in the wake of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opening. Little by little all Britain was covered with a network of railway tracks. The glistening steel riband flung itself across every continent, and now, despite developments on the roads, the railway continues, after a century of service, to rank as the world's most important means of land transport. By mankind the name of Stephenson must ever be held in the highest esteem. By railway-men the world over the romance of the “Rocket” will never be forgotten.

The only people, scientific or otherwise, who never make mistakes are those who do nothing.—Huxley.

In Service On The North Island Main Trunk Line, New Zealand. (Photo. W. W. Stewart.) The powerful Class “X” locomotive, designed and built in New Zealand's Railway Workshops. These locomotives have a tractive effort of 26,620lbs., and weigh 94 tons in working trim.

In Service On The North Island Main Trunk Line, New Zealand.
(Photo. W. W. Stewart.)
The powerful Class “X” locomotive, designed and built in New Zealand's Railway Workshops. These locomotives have a tractive effort of 26,620lbs., and weigh 94 tons in working trim.

The Real Railroaders.

A real railroader is more than a jobholder.

He works on a railroad because he loves it, because there is something about it which thrills him and lures him.

He never loses the joy of watching a speeding train screaming into the sunset, with its power and its rush and thunder, its hint of far places, its battle against distance and the elements.

To him there is a deeply human element about that vast, thunderous, vibrant machine called a railroad—something to cherish, to foster, to work for and fight for and consider always in its every element of welfare.

Those men soon began to stand forth unwilling to take the easy course of the yes-man, but eager to exert initiative and to battle sincerely for constructive principles.

For the true railroad man there is so much to be done that there are not enough days in the year, not enough years in a lifetime, for him to accomplish everything he wants to do. He is as much a pioneer as anyone who ever discovered new country; the urge onward is ceaseless, and that is what makes life worth while.—Sir Henry Thornton, President of the Canadian National Railways, in the New York “Saturday Evening Post.”