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Tay Bridge disaster
Tay Bridge disaster

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2.3 Railways in Britain

The railway age started with attempts to make a steam engine small enough to be fitted to a wagon for hauling coal at collieries, the wheels moving on a wooden or iron rail for guidance. Improvements to the drive mechanism led directly to the Locomotion designed by George Stephenson, and the opening of the first passenger and goods service for the 27 miles between Stockton and Darlington in County Durham. It was opened in 1825 and was quickly followed in 1830 by a line between Manchester and Liverpool, but the opening saw the first railway fatality: local MP Mr Huskisson was run down by the locomotive Rocket.

Both railways were an immediate success, allowing raw materials and manufactures to be transported faster than by canal. Their popularity with the public was great, both for leisure and work.

The railway network expanded fast, although the greatest period of expansion occurred a little later, when railway mania took hold (see Input 5, linked below). The construction teams were most efficient when laying track on the level or along slight gradients, whereas a great deal of engineering work was needed for embankments or cuttings even where dips and hills were only moderate. Understandably, bridges over river valleys and estuaries were a challenge.

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