Growth of Railways in the UK

Small local rail systems in the form of wagon ways were introduced in Britain in the mid-1500s. The first passenger carrying line was opened Wales in 1807. These early systems were horse drawn but during the early 1800s attempts were made to develop machine powered systems  culminating in 1825 in George Stephenson’s Locomotion No 1 engine which was used by the Stockton and Darlington Railway for the first locomotive powered passenger system in the world.

Growth in passenger numbers was rapid until about 1920. This was followed by a fall until the 1970s, as the rail operators became unprofitable. World War II produced a blip in passenger numbers but significant growth only occurred from the 1970s onwards with the introduction of higher speed trains and rail privatisation. This growth has continued to the present day. 

Evolution of passenger numbers

The early rail systems ran on wooden rails. These were replaced with iron rails and subsequently steel by the 1860s which gave a significant improvement in life. The importance of iron and steel in rail is well illustrated by the words for “railway” in languages round the world. The French name “chemin de fer” translates as “iron way”. Iron appears in the word for railway in other European languages, including those in Scandinavia. This is also the case in Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Hindi Arabic and even the Gaelic languages. Strangely this is not the case for English!

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