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A History of the British Railway

Part 1

When Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558 railways of sorts had existed for thousands of years. They were mostly private affairs running across, or more often under, private land belonging to whoever owned the railway. Under the first Queen Elizabeth Parliament grew in stature, but not to the stage where it would think of regulating these railways. Yet, 200 years after Elizabeth I became Queen that was exactly what it would begin to do.

An Act of Parliament granted the railway that obtained it certain powers. It could take other people's land and charge the public fares to use the trains. The first such Act was that authorising the Middleton Railway in Leeds. It was not quite what we would now think of as a railway. The track probably consisted of wooden rails on stone blocks. The locomotive fleet consisted of a collection of 1 horsepower 0-2-2-0 designs, powered by hay and carrying names such as "Dobbin", with a maximum speed of 4 miles per hour. Trains would not have been longer than 2 wagons. At the time, this railway was very much a one-off and at the forefront of technology.

1758 is a long time ago and some dates to place it into context may be needed. It was exactly 200 years after Elizabeth I came to the throne, 170 years after the Spanish Armada, 153 years after the Gunpowder Plot, 98 years after the Restoration, 46 years after the last Stuart monarch, 6 years since the year first began on January 1st, 19 years before Britain lost the American War of Independence, 59 years before Queen Victoria was born, 71 years before the Liverpool and Manchester Railway staged the Rainhill Trials and 196 years before Elizabeth II would come to the throne. The death of Henry Tudor (Henry VII) and the accession of Henry VIII, 249 years previously, was more recent then than the Act is now. George II was king and his grandson George was still two years from the throne. Nobody would have dreamt of suggesting that he might be insane in later life. The office of Prime Minister did not really exist, although it is now claimed that the equivalent office was held by the Duke of Newcastle (a Whig - the idea of being a Liberal was still 100 years off). The telephone, the radio, electricity and the television were all yet to be invented. There were still only six known planets in the solar system - Uranus would not bring the total up to 7 for another 23 years. Britain was yet to claim Australia. Canals are often cited as the predecessors of railways, yet when the Act was passed the only canals really consisted of locks in rivers, with the exception of the Merseyside Sankey Canal, opened on the other side of the country the previous year. If you looked into the memory of the world's oldest living tortoise, it would still only take you back to a time when the Middleton was around 80 years old.

Come 1800, some 42 years later, and railways were rather more common, although almost all consisted of short metal or wooden rails laid on stone blocks with wagons towed by these 1hp locomotives, still travelling at 4mph. The only real exception was a tramway across Dartmoor, which used granite rails and omitted the sleepers. This route is still largely intact, although now disused and waiting for railtour operators to exploit its scenic potential.

The limitations of the 1hp design were all too apparent and there was a great deal of exploration for a successor to the design, possibly generating 2hp and operating at 6mph. Meanwhile the intercity road coach operators were also using the same 1hp design, often in multiple and achieving 10-20mph, but with a lot of stops along the way and a very poor safety record.A Cornishman called Richard Trevithick developed a road coach powered by steam generated by heating water in a boiler, but this was bulky, hot and the roads really weren't up to the weight. Furthermore, if the driver went to the pub without carrying out proper safety precautions the boiler was likely to explode and demolish the pub, as Trevithick found out himself. In 1804 a rail version was deployed on a test run on the Penydarren Tramway in South Wales, where it successfully hauled over 40 wagons downhill - although it was unable to haul them uphill, it only achieved 4mph and the railway really wasn't up to the weight.

The exact appearance of the doyenne of all railway locomotives is lost to history, but drawings of other locomotives which Trevithick was building around that time suggest something along these lines. This is the front of the locomotive; the funnel was inconveniently placed adjacent to the firebox door. A basic cylinder protrudes from the front of the boiler barrel, with coupling rods connecting it to cogwheels on this side and a flywheel on the other. It was basic, but it moved - winning Trevithick's local backer a 500 guinea bet in the process.

Consequently, when the Swansea and Mumbles Railway became the first railway in the world to carry passengers in 1807 it was decided that carrying passengers was sufficiently revolutionary for the promoters, who placed an order for a selection of the standard 1hp locomotives and some very basic passenger vehicles. In fact, the first railway to really make use of steam locomotives was the Middleton Railway in Leeds, which found that they were cheaper to run than horses, but needed a "rack rail" to ensure that they had enough grip to pull the trains. This rack rail had a series of little bites taken out of it so that a cog wheel with little teeth underneath the locomotive could slot its teeth into the bites and stop the train from rolling back or rolling out of control. This was particularly important, as the train was achieving the amazing speed of 5mph and the brake hadn't been invented yet.

The doyenne of this batch was called Salamanca; she was ordered by the line's owner, John Blenkinsop, and built by Fenton, Murray and Walker. Loading gauge restrictions dictated an oval boiler, placed on its narrow side; the line was then re-routed and round boilers were subsequently used. The local press called her a "Machine" since there wasn't really a suitable term at the time for a steam boiler moving itself in a lumbering, wheezing manner with a long rake of coal trucks in tow. One of the most important locomotives ever built, she resulted in the laying-off of a large number of horses and men, prompting a certain amount of Luddite hostility.

The Middleton's four locomotives were so successful that soon railways all over the North East were buying these little locomotives, getting them to haul trains and modifying them. Like the 1hp locomotives which had preceded them, these new machines were given names - Puffing Billy, Wylam Dilly and Elephant. With all these locomotives rushing around with heavy coal trains as fast as a man could run, there were, inevitably, going to be accidents.

The Middleton led the way in this important field, scoring the first occurrences of two of the four causes of fatalities on a railway - trespass and locomotive explosions. A boy called John Bruce, racing the train by running along the tracks in front of it, became the first ever fatality in a railway accident when the locomotive won the race by a head. Shortly afterwards, the first commercially successful railway locomotive became the first to be written off, when the driver tied down the safety valve to increase the pressure in the boiler and make the locomotive go faster. Unfortunately he forgot to untie it and the steam pressure became too great, causing the feeble boiler to explode and killing the driver, who in turn became the first railwayman to be killed by his own locomotive. (The news of this explosion, which hurled the driver some 100 yards, did not reach London for some seven years - coincidentally being reported in The Times as news while the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was being debated in Parliament.)

The Middleton failed to learn from this and blew up another locomotive the same way some years later, creating a locomotive shortage which was presumably part of the decision to return to the use of horses soon after; steam locomotives were rather more complex and quite expensive to replace when they blew up (something which their predecessors rarely did). In any event, by 1835 the two surviving locos were very old; even at the time they were recognised as museum pieces. Still very keen on leading the field in railway development, the Middleton first arranged for the final locomotive of the group to become the first railway locomotive to be preserved and then proceeded to make it one of the first preserved railway locomotives to be cut up. The railways never have been very good at preserving their own history.

Elsewhere, development continued apace, with George Stephenson building Locomotion No. 1 for the Stockton and Darlington Railway. The 1825-built locomotive was a capable design and was the first locomotive to run on the first railway built to use steam traction from the beginning. The locomotive and its sisters impressed people. Although the maximum speed was still only around 10mph, this was still 2½ times as fast as the 1hp design, which was now recognised as probably nearly obsolete.

On the opposite side of the Pennines, and somewhat further south, the cotton-spinners of Manchester wanted a quicker way of transporting their produce to the port at Liverpool. George Stephenson was invited to design a railway. This he did, creating an impressive double track route with the first proper railway tunnel, though the tunnel was worked by stationary engines and did not get to become the first to be worked by steam locos. Most of it is still used as a mainline today (although the tunnel has been shut). It was also arranged that there would be a competition for the best locomotive to haul the Liverpool and Manchester Railway's trains, and Stephenson was invited to enter. This he did, with a small locomotive called Rocket. His friendly competitor, Timothy Hackworth, asked him to cast the cylinders for his entry, Sans Pareil (which translates as "without equal") which Hackworth was building in his garden shed. This Stephenson did also.

On a bright day in 1829, five locomotives - Rocket, Sans Pareil, Novelty, Perseverance and Cycloped - lined up to take part. Cycloped, which featured a horse on a treadmill powering the wheels, was disqualified when the frames broke, dropping the horse. Perseverance was damaged en-route to the event and forced to withdraw. Lightweight Novelty ran very well until her piping expired. Heavyweight Sans Pareil failed with a cracked cylinder. Rocket won and the Stephensons received the contract to build a fleet of locomotives for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. Sans Pareil was purchased as a consolation prize.

Rocket - the first locomotive with a multi-tube boiler. This is believed to be pretty much what she looked like when she was proving her excellence at Rainhill; subsequently she was heavily rebuilt for regular operation. The unfortunate result is that the replicas are all immediately recognisable as one of the world's most famous steam locomotives, whereas the original looks like an early industrial shunting locomotive which is easily overlooked on trips to the Science Museum.

(Sans Pareil has also been the subject of replicas, which also match her appearance at Rainhill; generally the original is described as the "remains of" Sans Pareil, which is a bit mean considering that most of her survives in broadly recognisable condition.)

Rocket duly returned to the Stephensons' workshops for rebuilding, with its place in history secured as a bright yellow locomotive with cylinders at a 45° angle and a top speed of 30mph. By the opening day in 1830 it was one of several locomotives on the new railway with a smart smokebox, horizontal cylinders and black paint. It is not clear how much of the locomotive which won the Rainhill Trials was left, apart from possibly the nameplates. Hauling a few flatwagons carrying a brass band it paraded happily along the railway.

Halfway down the railway two trains had stopped in loop lines for water, with the main fast lines running between them, and a passenger on one of the trains, William Huskisson MP, recognised the Duke of Wellington, war hero, in a carriage on the other. The two men disagreed on many points, such as transport policy on railways. Huskisson was one of a few MPs who approved of rail travel. He decided this would be a good opportunity to settle disagreements, so he got out of his compartment and, defying specific requests from the management, crossed the tracks to say hello. What positions the two men spent the next few moments in is not well recorded. What is well recorded is that, very soon after, a loud whistle came down the wind as Rocket approached at a record-breaking 35mph with her brass band (and no brakes). Huskisson, still recouperating from illness, panicked and dithered over which way to go as the express approached. Eventually he hurried to a nearby door and hung on tight to the outside. British trains have never been built for such behaviour. Flying down the tracks like, well, a rocket, Rocket swept up the unfortunate MP and ran over his legs. The train stopped a little further down the line and the brass band was unloaded, to be replaced by a moaning Huskisson, who was swept away at a new world record of 36mph by another Stephenson-built locomotive. With both track and train not being built for this, and such things as track forces and suspension not yet being understood, this probably finished the MP for Liverpool off.

The South began to pay attention now, and the Canterbury and Whitstable Railway, with its locomotive Invicta, connected the city of Canterbury to the sea via a friendly little line and a short tunnel under Tyler Hill. Soon after the Midlands began to develop its railways, when Leicester was connected to the coal mines at Swannington, to the northwest of the town, via a mile-long tunnel at Glenfield - the world's second railway tunnel to be worked by steam locomotives and the longest one in existence at the time. Its restricted bore meant that when in 1832 the first trainload of passengers were carried through they were all covered in soot from the locomotive and had to get out at the other end for a wash in a local brook.

The third railway tunnel intended to be worked by steam locomotives was going to open in 1832 to carry the Purton Steam Carriage Road under Nibley Hill in the Forest of Dean, but unfortunately that line was refused its Act of Parliament and the partially-built tunnel disappeared under subsequent landscaping and road widening.

Locomotive and railway development continued apace. In 1835 the Liverpool and Manchester took delivery of locomotives Nos. 57 Lion and 58 Tiger. The design was increasingly recognisable as that of a modern-day steam locomotive (albeit with a tall funnel and big brass dome). Lion went on to become a major film star in such productions as The Titfield Thunderbolt (1953); Tiger disappeared, presumed scrapped. Also in 1835 came the world's first trunk railway, running from London's Euston station to Birmingham Curzon Street and from there to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. The London and Birmingham Railway and the Grand Junction Railway, designed and built by Robert Stephenson and the lesser-known Joseph Locke respectively, created what was then a very fast, high quality line suited to speeds of 45mph. It is now a core part of the West Coast Mainline (although Birmingham Curzon Street, overcrowded and undersized, shut in 1854 to be replaced by Birmingham New Street) and what is essentially the original route (albeit with 4 or 6 tracks rather than 2) is used by trains travelling at up to 125mph. In this respect it is arguably one of the greatest engineering triumphs in the world.

Euston's Doric Arch is much commented on - presumably because it was in London and has been demolished. Rather more impressive was the Birmingham terminus of the London and Birmingham, which had to be big to overawe the neighbouring Grand Junction facilities. The Grade I listed building is one of the oldest station buildings in the world and is proposed to form part of the new High Speed 2 Birmingham terminus. Currently it is derelict due to the difficulty in finding a use for such buildings.

It doesn't come out well in pictures; for a basic idea of the proportions, the splaying feet on which the four pillars rest are each three feet tall, making each pillar about 50 feet high.

Stephenson had, mostly by historic accident, built his railways with the rails 4ft 8¼inches apart. This was suited to colliery railways. Unfortunately, railways in mountainous terrain, such as those being built in North Wales, could not afford the expense of building railways to such a wide gauge. Equally, as was rapidly noted by the young engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the colliers' gauge was too narrow for trains to run at speed with any degree of comfort. He began calling for railways to be built to a wider gauge and, ever a man of action, when the opportunity arose for him to design and build the brand new Great Western Railway from London to Bristol, he told the management that his railway would not be the cheapest, nor the quickest to construct, but it would undoubtedly be the best. They decided to agree with him.

Brunel's CV was not as long as that of the ageing George Stephenson, or of his young son Robert. Unlike Joseph Locke, it did not include the Grand Junction Railway. However, he had been involved with his father Marc in building the Thames Tunnel (still in use today as the East London Line) and he was clearly going places. Yet the GWR's decision to employ him was a controversial one. His railway was argued to be a ridiculous idea and an impediment to progress. His imposing bridge across the Thames at Maidenhead was regarded as doomed to collapse as soon as his peers saw the designs. His tunnel at Box was said to be a path to Hell. However, the impressive broad gauge railway, with very smooth track and fast locomotives designed by the Stephensons and the talented young Daniel Gooch, was completed in 1838. The bridge at Maidenhead very notably did not fall down. His station at Paddington in London is an architectural marvel with nice swirls on the ironwork and a statue of a cuddly illegal immigrant from Darkest Peru sitting on the Lawn. But a lot of people insisted on going over the hill at Box rather than risking the tunnel.

When Brunel turned his attention to breaking the monopoly of the Glamorganshire Canal on coal and iron traffic in South Wales, he probably didn't know that the little single line that he was building, not even deserving of his broad gauge, would go on to become one of the world's most profitable railways. Linking Merthyr Tydfil with Cardiff Bay, the Taff Vale Railway started inauspiciously in 1841. But it grew - and grew fast.

The TVR's original station at Cardiff Bay survives today - just - along with the main station building. The building is listed and for some time it, along with the line and platform under the awning to the right, was used as a museum. As part of the Bay redevelopment it was anticipated that the last mile of railway into the Bay would be swept away to allow for a new road and a monorail system; to this end the museum was moved to Barry. (Barry didn't want it either and it has now ended up on a third site, north of Bridgend and about 20 or so miles to the west of here.) The railway closure failed to pass the various safeguards and the line remains open. The platform is an open affair behind the main building; the space under the awning has been derelict for 15 years.

While it was growing, George Hudson set up the North Midland Railway in Yorkshire. He followed this up with a string of other small companies, which rapidly gravitated together to form the very profitable Midland Railway and the extraordinarily profitable North Eastern Railway. Hudson became a Railway King, known to everyone as a rather vulgar man with too much money. With fat profits coming in for all these companies, mostly carrying intensive passenger and freight traffic (particularly coal and urgent mails to and from the Americas), it became clear to everyone that any old fool could set up a railway company and make a million pounds.

This attracted the attention of one William Gladstone MP who decided to regulate the rail industry by law. Parliament duly passed legislation which governed passenger and freight services. On the freight side, the railways were given a "duty to carry", essentially making them the national carrier with a duty to take any load (if it could be made to fit along the railway) from anywhere to anywhere. This was not easy. A wagon carrying goods from Rhymney (South Wales) to Lydbrook (Forest of Dean) - about 40 miles - by the end of the 19th Century would have a variety of possible routes, none of them terribly fast. It could, for example, go to Newport (change train), then to Pontypool Roads (change train), then to Lydbrook Junction (change train), and thence to Lydbrook. While the load had to make the journey somehow and it couldn't be carried on the roads (which weren't up to it) or by water (since the River Rhymney is not navigable), this journey would take the better part of three days at best.

Passengers, meanwhile, benefitted from a requirement that the railways should ensure that every station, every day, on their network was served by at least one train carrying third class passengers in decent accommodation at no more than 1d per mile. This was the origin of the phrase "Parliamentary train" which finds numerous references in popular culture. As a rule, each stretch of line got one train carrying third class passengers stopping at all intermediate stations and therefore not getting anywhere particularly quickly. Most of these trains ran at inconvenient times. Hudson's network scented a business opportunity, however, and began running the services in the way in which Gladstone would have approved - although they increased numbers in third class by abolishing second class.

Although nowadays the freight regulations have been abolished, the passenger rules have only been slightly tweaked. The train now offers standard, rather than third, class and only has to run once a week. Several stations and lines across the country "benefit" from parliamentary trains, run to keep lines open rather than go through the lengthy process of shutting them. As the ultimate aim is either to withdraw the relevant passenger services or run them in perpetuity at no cost to the operator, the trains involved still run at inconvenient times to unmemorable schedules very slowly. Oddly, this does not always result in the service not carrying any passengers at all, but at least this helps to offset the costs of operating it.

The era also saw the rare occurrence of some railway companies agreeing with each other - occasionally anyway. Trains had reached Carlisle from Newcastle in 1834 and from Maryport on the Cumbrian Coast shortly afterwards, creating an east-west route. The railway between Lancaster and Carlisle, meanwhile, was funded by all the railway companies responsible for the line from Euston to Lancaster and produced plans for a north-south station, Carlisle Citadel, joining the Caledonian Railway from Glasgow. This would have to cross the east-west line, which was trying to organise its own station, Carlisle Crown Street, in a very similar spot, to replace the Newcastle line's out-of-town London Road station. The Lancaster and Carlisle obtained permission to buy out Crown Street for a certain sum and amalgamate it into their own station. At this point Hudson intervened, took over the Newcastle and Maryport lines and began demanding extortionate sums for the right to take over Crown Street. He continued to do this even after Parliament told him to hand it over for less than a tenth of the sum he wanted. The Lancaster and Carlisle, determined to settle the matter so they could finish Citadel, consulted the local Sheriff, who came round one Saturday morning shortly after the early trains had left and informed the employees at Crown Street station that they should leave immediately because he was closing the station. Lancaster and Carlisle workmen descended on the solid buildings and timber platforms. The lunchtime train from Maryport, which had departed Maryport when there was a fully-operational station to arrive at in Carlisle, turned up and was told to proceed to London Road because his original destination had been completely demolished.

Carlisle Citadel station made every effort to live up to its name; unfortunately the massive overall roof has been cut back to be merely expansive, but the former supporting walls around the station indicate its original scale. A modern 2-car train demonstrates its size.

The station was ultimately notable for serving 7 railway companies and acting as the border crossing point for two mainlines to Scotland (the LNWR/ Caledonian and the Midland/ North British), plus the coastal route from Lancaster to Glasgow via Barrow and Dumfries. Nowadays it retains considerable status, but only holds Grade II* listing.

By the end of the 1840s the economy was in ruins and Hudson had left the country in something of a hurry. Technically his railway networks were bankrupt, but they were carrying too much coal to let a little thing like that stand in their way. The Midland sprawled out from Derby to Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Peterborough. The North Eastern stretched from York to Hull, Leeds and Newcastle. It owned some of the oldest stretches of railway in the world and proudly placed Locomotion No. 1 on a plinth outside Darlington Bank Top station. With Hudson gone and the economy picking up again, the future was bright for everyone. It was at this point that trouble started.

Although railways had been falling out for years, with the Stockton and Darlington engaging in an early demonstration of typically below-the-belt behaviour (charging a competing company over the odds in exchange for access to a bit of S&D track), the beginnings of serious arguments between big companies came over the Bristol and Gloucester and the Birmingham and Gloucester railways. The Great Western had openly stated an interest in both of them. It negotiated with their owners and hoped to eventually claim a through route from the port at Bristol to the city of Birmingham, which would be converted to broad gauge for the purpose. Unfortunately, the Great Western's management literally woke up one morning to the news that both railways had been bought by the Midland Railway.

An extremely annoyed Great Western backed the set-up of the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway. Worcester had, when it was founded, made the slight mistake of not being sat somewhere on the dead straight line between Cheltenham and Birmingham Curzon Street which was chosen for the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway and thus had no rail services. (There had been an offer of a diversion, but Worcester had rejected it because it preferred stagecoaches. The railway killed the stagecoaches and, despite pleas for clemency, Worcester's punishment for this initial lack of compliance is ongoing.) The Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton therefore offered Worcester a rail service and the Great Western access to Birmingham via a back route. Unfortunately the OWW went over budget and the Great Western declined to bail it out, merely pointing at a clause in the Act which demanded a double track railway built to broad gauge. The Midland, evidently in a mood for annoying the Great Western management at Paddington, offered the OWW some money in exchange for building bits around Worcester to single track standard gauge. The OWW obliged and was promptly sued by the Great Western. The OWW asked for some more money. It got none, but Brunel decided to take over construction work on parts of the line. Some of the contractors, who wanted paying, were not very keen to depart and a pitched battle took place for the workings at Chipping Camden Tunnel, overseen by a magistrate desperately reading the Riot Act at the fighting navvies, who paid him no attention whatsoever.

With opening coming up and the OWW getting somewhere near being finished (principally to the Midland's specifications, but with mixed gauge track so Great Western and Midland trains could traverse the route), it was decided to employ a locomotive superintendant. It came as some considerable surprise to the unfortunate young man involved when he arrived that, a week from opening, the OWW had omitted to procure any actual locomotives for him to superintend. After racing all over the country he obtained six surplus locomotives to haul the trains. Loco B, a smart tender engine, was employed to haul the opening train, steaming merrily along to the terminus of the line and running around its train to go back. In his excitement the stationmaster set the points wrong and the locomotive deposited its tender in the canal. The locomotive superintendent was left screaming for another locomotive, which arrived and took them home. The OWW then amused itself finishing off bits of double line and aiming vaguely for Wolverhampton while the Great Western built a railway of its own to Birmingham via Banbury. There was some argument over the double line, as some of it was only laid for standard gauge. The Board of Trade Inspector eventually forced them to lay the extra rail, which was removed as soon as he'd gone. He worked the last broad gauge train over the route. Meanwhile, the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton settled down to provide a service offering such levels of reliability, safety and comfort that it obtained the nickname of Old Worse and Worse.

The fun of introducing new transport to obscure areas began to be demonstrated on the Cambrian Coast as steam started to reach the area. In the early years of the century the Festiniog Railway had been set up to link the Ffestiniog slate quarries with the coast at Portmadoc (the Festiniog spelling is used in the Railway's Act of Parliament, so the owners have been stuck with it ever since; the English couldn't or wouldn't spell Welsh place names). The railway had been built to a nominal 2ft gauge and worked by horse power, but this was inadequate so in 1863 the company took delivery of four new steam locomotives. They were extremely effective and caused a traffic boom, so soon rendered themselves obsolete. Somehow three of them have survived. The Ffestiniog is better noted now for their replacements - a fleet of powerful "push-me-pull-you" machines called Double Fairlies, with a chimney at each end and a cab in the middle.

A little down the coast near the village of Towyn (now Tywyn) was the inland village of Abergynolwyn (still Abergynolwyn), which was next door to a thin belt of low-quality slate. A Manchester cotton miller who was short of work because the American Civil War had made cotton a bit of a rarity decided to invest in slate, and so bought mining rights for the area and proposed to build a railway. The 2ft 3in gauge Talyllyn Railway (spelt correctly, but geographically wrong since it has never reached the lake called Talyllyn) was begun in 1864 and authorised in 1865. Its first locomotive, No. 1 Talyllyn, was delivered in late 1864 to Towyn, whose inhabitants had no idea what to do with her. This comparatively complex locomotive was the first sign of the Industrial Revolution in that area. A later owner of the loco, Tom Rolt, invited his 1950s readers to compare it to a "'Comet' airliner being delivered for the use of some remote village". Talyllyn, sensing a weakness, refused to do more than blow smoke at them and so was banished to spend 18 months based in a shed in the woods above Abergynolwyn. Once she had finished building the line and her non-identical sister Dolgoch had been delivered the two settled down to work the railway from their base in Towyn. Officialdom gave a few handy pieces of advice, which were ignored by the out-of-the-way line, and it became one of many narrow-gauge lines in the area which were simply a largely-unchanging part of the landscape.

Small, round and slightly cuddly, 1864-built Talyllyn is the fourth-oldest working steam locomotive in the country (the record for being oldest goes to Ffestiniog Railway locomotive Prince, which is also small, round and slightly cuddly - this seems to be a good survival trait if you're a steam locomotive).

Getting her to steam effectively is still a knack - though once controlled Talyllyn is an excellent locomotive - and it is therefore easy to imagine when working on her what it must have been like for those who had never been confronted with a locomotive before, let alone one as awkward as this.

Notable features include the lack of frames, the excess of brasswork and the buffers (which are unusual on railway vehicles of this gauge). Seen here hard at work on her original railway at the age of 145. Coupled immediately behind her is one of the Railway's prized fleet of original coaches, whose windows were extensively vandalised by Victorian tourists scratching their names in the glass.

Meanwhile, in South Wales, things were getting petty. An area of about 200 square miles rested on top of millions of tons of coal. People were ready to dig it out and other people wanted to burn it. It was simply a matter of moving the coal from the mines to the coast and banking the massive cheque for doing so. The dock owners then simply had to unload the wagons into the waiting ships. This would have been simpler were it not for the tides of the Severn Estuary - the second highest in the world and restricting shipping to going in and out of the docks at Cardiff and Newport just twice a day, totalling about 1 hour of time when any movement could take place. So the owners of Cardiff Docks amused themselves building more docks so that more coal could be transported.

The problem was that by this stage the Taff Vale Railway (up the Taff valley) had been joined by the Rhymney Railway (up the Rhymney valley). When the owners of the docks, the Bute Dock Company, came to build their second major dock, they made it available only to their friends at the Rhymney Railway. The Taff Vale, which only got half of the old dock (the Rhymney got the other half of that into the bargain) got upset and complained. Bute Docks told the Taff Vale where it could stick itself.

However, being rude to the world's most profitable railway company is never a good idea, and the Taff responded by backing a new company wanting to build a railway to and docks at nearby Penarth. The Bute Dock Company complained and took legal action - with no mention of any effort to meet the Taff's demands. The Taff Vale bought out the railway to Penarth, finished the docks at Penarth and claimed exclusive use of them. Penarth was immediately used to capacity, since the TVR had no need to pay dock fees there.

While all this was going on the Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway was attempting to siphon off some of the profitable coal trade from the Rhondda and ship it down its railway to Newport, which it shared with a cowboy concern called the Brecon and Merthyr Railway between Caerphilly and Newport. What the Brecon and Merthyr thought it was doing this far south of Brecon and Merthyr is unclear; what the Brecon and Merthyr thought it was doing at all is even less clear. The Breakneck and Murder, as it was known, owned the Seven Mile Bank - seven miles of steep railway descending from the highest railway tunnel in the country to an unfortunate little station frequently filled with wrecked coal trains - and once invited the Rhymney Railway locomotive superintendent to watch the Breakneck and Murder's locomotive superintendent showing off a new loco. It overturned, leaving both companies looking for new locomotive superintendents. When the Company eventually arranged to be connected to Merthyr proper its surveyor was found by William Crawshay, multi-millionaire owner of Cyfarthfa Ironworks, Cyfarthfa Castle and half of Merthyr, trying to build a railway across Crawshay's front garden. Crawshay told him where to put his railway and it ended up avoiding Crawshay's land by crossing the River Taff on a rather expensive viaduct a mile to the north.

Back to the Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport lot. The PC&N (still the Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport and not to be confused with the nearby Pontypool, Caerleon and Newport) took up a policy of buying old circus vehicles for passenger coaches (since they had steps from the doors to the lineside and the PC&N didn't have any platforms at their stations) and bought a selection of tatty old tank engines from the Great Western - which they ran until the Grouping in 1923, at which point the PC&N was forcibly merged into the Great Western. The Great Western kindly gave the tank engines their old numbers back before withdrawing them again a few years later.

The PC&N also had some problems with their first train into Newport. The last mile of railway into Newport was the "Golden Mile" - so called because the owner of nearby Tredegar House was persuaded to allow the railway through his parkland in exchange for a small payment for every train which ran along the stretch of line. He then opposed every other railway which attempted to enter Newport from the north. Parliament had ordered the Great Western, as owners of the existing railway along the desired route, to grant running rights from the junction with the PC&N into Newport. The Great Western defied the constitution and ignored Parliament. The PC&N opening train arrived at the junction and, after much whistling, shouting and irritated telegraphs, was told to get stuffed. After a week of waiting and considerable wrangling the train was kindly permitted to proceed into Newport.

Such behaviour between the rowdy South Welsh companies was merely silly. Such behaviour between the country's largest railway companies - companies which employed more people than the Government - was undesirable. Nonetheless, there is a most delightful story about a competing Great Northern Railway train arriving in the Midland Railway station at Nottingham. The locomotive was uncoupled to run around and rolled onto the centre roads of the station. At this point several locos belonging to the Midland rolled up in front of the startled passengers, collected the unfortunate engine and drove it into a nearby engine shed. The door was locked, the track approaching the shed lifted, and the competing company told to agree to the Midland's demands if they wanted their locomotive back. The hostage remained there for seven months. The court held that the behaviour was perfectly legitimate, as the locomotive was trespassing.

It would be nice to think that this story is apocryphal (it isn't) and it is by no means out of character for the Midland, which had strong opinions on other companies. Years of difficulty with getting to London via the London and North Western, now owners of the railway into Euston, and the Great Northern, owners of the railway into Kings Cross, prompted them to build their own railway with their own station at St Pancras, proudly standing tall over Cubitt's little terminus for the Great Northern and gazing along the Euston Road at the London and North Western's Doric Arch. The extension began in Bedford, which became the junction for the link to the Great Northern, and ran southwards, demolishing various farms along the way and prompting their residents to gravitate southwards to the capital. Once in the capital, the railway carried out extensive slum clearance to accommodate St Pancras station, paying landlords some compensation and residents nothing at all. They also had to dig up parts of Kensal Green Cemetry to fit the approach lines in, which required them to trace all the relatives of those who would be disrupted in their eternal sleep and obtain permission to bury them in other holes in other parts of the cemetry. Having solved the problems over the southern end of a possible Anglo-Scottish route the Midland had an argument with the London and North Western over using their route to Scotland, which involved Midland trains heading north-west out of Leeds through Skipton, Hellifield, Clapham Junction and Ingleton to the junction at Low Moor. Ingleton to Low Moor was owned by the LNWR and, as the two companies got on so badly, most Midland trains terminated at the southern end of Ingleton Viaduct in the Midland station. Passengers then had to proceed through Ingleton and hope that the LNWR train heading North hadn't left before they got to the LNWR station. Meanwhile LNWR passengers would walk in the opposite direction to the Midland station. Passengers in both directions found that the connecting train invariably left just as they arrived.

Eventually relations broke down altogether and marked the beginning of a new craze - if you don't like it, build your own line. It wasn't really new, but with the best routes already gone it took on a new level at this point. 1876 saw the opening of the Midland's direct line to Carlisle via Settle, Appleby, 22 large viaducts and 14 tunnels. It was nearly shut in 1989. The Midland, slightly shocked by being forced to build a line which, by the time construction began, they didn't want any more, kept quiet after that.

100 feet high and 400 feet long, Ribblehead Viaduct is the dominating feature of the Settle and Carlisle Railway - guards often give it a little announcement to remind less interested passengers to look out of the window. The view is absolutely splendid - miles of Yorkshire bog can be seen stretching all the way to the Cumbrian border, with Ingleborough mountain overlooking proceedings from the south-west and Whernside looming over the head of the River Ribble from the north. A wild and inhospitable spot, construction work here claimed the lives of dozens of navvies and bankrupted the contractor.

Big viaducts were also going up in Scotland. Thomas Bouch designed a massive single-track structure across the Firth of Tay to carry the mainline from Edinburgh into Dundee. Eighteen months later, with a train carrying some 79 people trundling across it in a storm, the bridge collapsed with 79 deaths. However, after some considerable effort, the locomotive involved was recovered and returned to service, suitably nicknamed "The Diver". Bouch was told to accept full responsibilty for the deaths and removed from the project to bridge the Firth of Forth, just north of Edinburgh. A new viaduct across the Tay was built, which is still there today - as are the stumps of the piers of the original bridge. The Forth bridge, to avoid any collapsing issues, is massively over-engineered and takes the same amount of time to paint as it takes for the paint to flake off - hence the phrase "painting the Forth bridge" to refer to an ongoing, eternal, never-ending project (although it has been claimed that the project will end soon due to them finding a better type of paint).

South Wales had its own big bridge, that across the Severn between the towns of Lydney and Sharpness, which survived until 1960. Yet it was no good getting the coal to England more quickly if it couldn't be shifted to the mainline. Back in the Valleys, by the 1870s it could take weeks for a train to traverse the Taff Vale line from Pontypridd to Cardiff, a distance of some 15 miles, mostly due to a habit of using the mainline as extra storage space while they found buyers for the coal and ships to put it on. Some Rhondda mineowners, led by Dai Davies of the Ocean (Colliery, not water), set up their own railway company to carry coal to new dock, 20 miles south-west of Cardiff at Barry. The Barry Docks and Railway Company (later the Barry Railway, confusingly abbreviated to BR) was naturally opposed by the Taff Vale Railway but it could not be denied that another dock was needed and the new railway allowed the TVR to flow much more easily.

South Wales also benefitted from the opening of the Severn Tunnel in 1886, lopping over an hour off the London to Cardiff journey time and opening up more opportunities for long distance traffic in the area. Speed was becoming an issue. "If you don't like it, build your own line" was joined by "once you've got your own line, make it faster". The East Coast and West Coast mainlines entered into the "Races to the North" where, every evening for several months, expresses from London to Aberdeen left Euston and Kings Cross stations at about the same time and hurtled through the night across the 650 miles to the Granite City. The West Coast route was longer, twistier and hillier (much of it was the older of the two by about 10 years and so was like comparing Windows 95 with Windows XP) but the honours were tightly matched and eventually the two companies dropped the competition and settled a timetable between them which gave the West Coast the chance to serve its busy industrial stations and the East Coast the chance to do speed. Leading locomotives from both sides - Hardwicke from the West Coast and Stirling "Single" No. 1 from the East - have been preserved in the National Railway Museum and ran on preserved railways until the early 1990s.

The railways had long been part of an era which saw the levelling of many mountains (generally metaphorically), but in North Wales the 1890s saw the arrival of an old railway idea - the "rack and pinion" concept - to allow locomotives to climb frequently cloud-covered Mount Snowdon, the tallest mountain in England and Wales. The Middleton's early locomotives had been forced by the quality of iron available in 1810 to be too light to grip the track, so they had used the rack and pinion system to allow their locos to scramble across Leeds. The Swiss had used the technology to get narrow-gauge railways around their country. Those were for general business - the Snowdon Mountain was unashamedly for tourists.

The line was mostly constructed with the help of its nice new No. 1, named L.A.D.A.S after Laura Alice Duff Assheton Smith (wife of a local landowner, whose name would otherwise have been too long for the little engine's side tanks) and lots of big men. Nos. 2 and 3, Enid and Wyddfa (daughter of Laura and the Welsh name for Snowdon respectively), turned up towards the end of the construction process and the line was finished in time for opening in April 1896. The opening did not go terribly well. A couple of walkers heading up the mountain shortly after the first down train - two coaches controlled by No. 1 - had left the summit were stopped in their tracks by the sound of an avalanche above them. This was odd, because avalanches are rare on Snowdon. After a couple of seconds it became apparent that it was not an avalanche and the large rock which was bouncing down the mountain towards them was a badly bumped railway locomotive. It sailed past them in a manner most unbecoming of three tons of tidily formed metal and disappeared into the clouds below.

L.A.D.A.S. had left the summit normally, but something caused it to lose the rack as it headed down the mountain and consequently the steel wheel on steel rail machine, with two coaches in tow, had no grip. Instead it slid out of control. The crew jumped clear. A passenger, seeing them making good their escape, also did so (reasonably, despite cries that he should stay put). The loco toppled down the slide of the mountain; the carriages swayed the other way and crushed the unfortunate passenger.

The other loco out that day, Enid, was still at the Summit, but at about this point the crew seem to have deemed the appropriate interval to be past and set off down the mountain. Enid also lost the rack and slipped down the hill, but her progress was fortuitously arrested by the presence of two derailed carriages and the whole caboodle of four carriages and a loco came to rest stuck in a cutting. The injured passenger was rushed down the mountain to Llanberis, but died that night. The only other casualty was No. 1, which was returned to the shed and dismantled for spares. It had come to rest upside down having made one of the quickest descents ever made by any locomotive. The website for the Snowdon Mountain Railway merely states that "L.A.D.A.S is no longer in service" and there is not really much more that can be said about the short-lived machine. The Snowdon Mountain initially continued business as usual until they were persuaded by the Board of Trade that when technology goes completely wrong it's worth finding out what happened before you start using it again. A re-opening a couple of years later has been followed by an enviably successful and trouble-free career.

It was around this time that Parliament intervened again with two pieces of legislation. The fun one was the Light Railways Act, which allowed people to build railways without paying full attention to the various safety requirements. It was largely used for urban tramlines and preserved railways, but a few actual railways were built under its auspices. They were largely notable for featuring sharper than usual curves, very steep gradients, lightweight engineering, minimal earthworks, obsolete locomotives and rolling stock and no traffic. The idea was that railways could be built cheaply to obscure places. Most of the ones which were built were soon rendered obsolete by the omnibus and the motor car (and, on occasion, the bicycle) but one light railway has survived - mostly because it got daring and built a massive viaduct at Calstock to cross the River Tamar (somewhat in contravention of the spirit of the Act) and so is the only way for the residents of Calstock to get to Plymouth with any degree of efficiency.

This is not typical infrastructure for a light railway - most went for railways laid at ground level. However, the Tamar Valley is an awkwardly hilly area and so the Bere Alston and Calstock Light Railway provided this rather impressive concrete structure across the Tamar.

It is one of two ways to enter Cornwall by train, but since this line gives out two miles to the north (or four miles by train) at Gunnislake, it is not really the priority route. Apart from this viaduct, the slow speeds and tight curves are typical of a light railway, as were its popular loads of strawberries and flowers, though passenger levels and train frequency have always been higher than might be expected.

More serious was the demand that all railways fit continuous brakes to trains carrying passengers. Continuous brakes provide every vehicle with some form of braking mechanism and allow all brakes on the train to be activitated simultaneously from one or more common points. They also mean that if the train breaks in two the continuity of the brake will be broken, the brakes will come on and the whole train will grind to a halt. Some railways had already complied and almost all of the rest now grudgingly did so. There were two notable exceptions.

The first was the Talyllyn Railway, which pleaded low traffic, low budget and low speeds, promised to reduce the speeds further and duly carried on without continuous brakes.

The other was the Highland Railway, operator of Britain's most northerly railways (the ones radiating out of Inverness), which announced that it had no money and, in any event, its railways were safe enough without unnecessary red tape. The Board of Trade made various objections but the sheer distance from London to Inverness meant that the Highland was fairly safe and could continue failing to comply with its statutory obligations. This remained the case until one afternoon when a locomotive hauling passenger and goods stock arrived at a particularly remote station on the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh line and detached the goods stock to do some shunting. After it had finished the traincrew looked round and noticed that the coaches had disappeared.

The station was on a gradient heading down into the adjacent valley, so they could make a pretty good guess where the coaches had gone and set off down the hill after them. As they turned the corner at the bottom of the hill they duly encountered the coaches - which had run up the other side of the valley, run out of energy, run back and now ran into the locomotive at some speed. Fortunately, the Highland carried few passengers and their compartments were too small for people to be flung far, so injuries were light and there were no fatalities.

However, the accident still had to be reported and within a few weeks a very annoyed Highland Railway was overseeing the process of fitting its locomotives and coaching stock with continuous brakes.

Progress was even made on the Great Western, which in 1892 dropped broad gauge forever and reduced its network to standard gauge. On Friday May 16th the last broad gauge train left Paddington for Penzance. After its historic final run, it ran back to Swindon as an empty coaching stock movement. By Monday May 19th there was not an inch of broad gauge track left on the network. Some broad gauge locomotives and coaching stock were suitable for regauging; the rest were broken up. The first of the fleet, North Star, was preserved for posterity at Swindon Works as the only surviving broad gauge loco. She was scrapped in 1906. Subsequently a small stationary engine was found to have once been a broad gauge locomotive - this comparatively small machine, Tiny, now resident at Buckfastleigh on the preserved South Devon Railway, is the only surviving original example of the gauge to survive.

Tiny has a wheel in each corner and a vertical boiler. She is a shunting locomotive of the most basic type, with an ancestory tracing back more to Novelty than to Rocket. Crammed into a diminuitive museum at Buckfastleigh, this essentially square locomotive is almost impossible to photograph properly.

Replica broad gauge locomotives exist elsewhere - Iron Duke resides at the National Railway Museum at York and Fire Fly can be found at the Didcot Railway Centre - but Tiny is the only one which ran in the days of broad gauge expresses to the West Country. Her more impressive siblings are all long gone.

Although the Great Western had always justified broad gauge on the basis that it was faster than standard gauge, the conversion did force them into a mass clearout of old designs and a large number of all-new locomotives were built to the replacement gauge as a result. The Great Western also began competing with the new London and South Western Railway extensions into Devon and Cornwall (traditionally Great Western territory) for the fastest journey to London. On May 4th 1904 a particularly valuable load of gold arrived at Plymouth, and as the Great Western tended to take the mails while the LSWR took the passengers it was a Great Western locomotive - No. 3440 City of Truro - which took the load to London, with noted locomotive timer Charles Rous-Marten on board and a general feeling that the crew should experiment with how fast they could go.

Whiteball Bank, between Exeter and Taunton, provides a long and fairly straight descent from Whiteball Tunnel. City of Truro swept up the back of the hill, sailed through the tunnel and hurtled down the bank. As it rushed along at astronomical speeds a track maintenance gang ahead failed to clear the line fast enough, forcing an emergency brake application. The rest of the journey to London was comparatively mundane. The Railway Magazine, which Rous-Marten wrote a column for, proclaimed that very high speeds had been achieved but did not quote the exact figures. The Great Western had sat on them for fear of scaring people but released them in 1918, by which time Rous-Marten was dead. The maximum speed, according to the times quoted between quarter-mileposts, was 102.3mph. It was the fastest speed achieved by a steam locomotive so far which was anywhere near being authenticated and held to be the first time such a machine had broken the magical "ton" - but, in the absence of a second timer or a proper recording car, the record is disputed. Nonetheless, it got City of Truro preserved upon withdrawal and it is now owned by the National Railway Museum - although, following an overhaul completed in 2004 for the centenary of the record, the handsome little locomotive (easily the smallest locomotive claimed to have done a ton) is now on tour around various preserved railways.

Sadly almost never to be seen in the actual city of Truro, which is somewhat beyond her normal range, City of Truro holds the claim of being the fastest pre-First World War locomotive in Britain. Here she is seen preserved in late GWR livery, which she carried after an overhaul and renumbering to 3717. Since the improvements carried out as part of this overhaul have never been reversed, this colour scheme is felt to be more authentic. It also means that any run taking her over the ton now would merely prove that she is capable of such exploits these days, not that she could have managed it when brand new and slightly less efficient in 1904.

Such a run would also give several dozen very important railway people heart attacks at the sheer horror of such an important preserved locomotive (notable as a surviving early 20th-century express loco even without speed record claims) being thrashed so cruelly.

On the 1st of July 1906 the competition with the LSWR was brought to an abrupt end when a speeding LSWR overnight express from Plymouth - possibly trying the same thing - crashed into a milk train at 70mph in Salisbury station, derailed and killed 26 people, including the footplate crew. This unfortunate incident brought home the dangers of aiming for speed records, though they continued to be claimed with service trains for another three decades. The LSWR promptly eased its schedules and a truce was declared - holding for another 60 years, when the Western Region of British Rail, successors to the GWR, downgraded and partially closed the relevant part of the LSWR network.

Around this time, the Great Western also entered into a sort of partnership with the Money Sunk and Lost Railway (also known as the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway). The MS&LR had a rather keen director who also owned the Metropolitan Railway and the South Eastern Railway. He decided to link the three up and then build a tunnel under the English Channel to connect to continental Europe. The railway was renamed Gone Completely (although it is better known as the Great Central) and constructed a long, fast mainline from Sheffield through Nottingham, Leicester and Rugby to join the Metropolitian near Aylesbury. It rapidly transpired that the Metropolitian was a successful company with a busy railway used by slow stopping trains, so a loop was built to join the Great Western's new North line from Banbury to London near the Chiltern town of High Wycombe. The two railways then split again at Neasden, then on the outskirts of London - the Great Western ran down to Paddington and the Great Central headed into Marylebone via a length of the Metropolitan Railway. The condition for using this bit of rather older railway is that the Great Central trains are not allowed to call at any stations along the way, so passengers are unable to change between the two railways.

The Channel Tunnel was not opened until 1994, by which point much of the Great Central had been shut for 28 years; most of the traffic either uses a motorway or the London and North Western route. The London and North Western is, however, some 60 years older than the Great Central and built for somewhat smaller trains - the Great Central can take stock of a similar size to the Great Western (although this was intentional, to allow the larger Continental wagons and coaches to run through to the North, while the Great Western was just a hangover from the fatter broad gauge trains). The Great Central was the last all-new mainline to be opened in Britain until 2003.

Far away in Scotland, at about the same time, the end of expansion came with the opening of the West Highland Railway's Mallaig Extension, from Fort William to Mallaig. It left Mallaig, a fishing village on the west coast of Scotland, just six hours from Glasgow and was the last railway to open up a new area of Britain to communications. Unlike the Great Central it is still open today. Arisaig station, the last passing loop on the single line branch before the terminus at Mallaig, is the most westerly station on the British mainland.

Now it was the era of final consolidation. Back in South Wales, a mere 600 miles away from Mallaig, the Barry's success led to the Bute Docks company deciding to build their own railway, as they were making tiny little profits while the Taff, the Rhymney and the Barry were all making so much money that even their shareholders were becoming rich. The new railway had all the usual problems with the local landowner (who, in this case, was also the owner of the railway) who didn't want it digging up his vineyard below Castell Coch (Red Castle, just north of Cardiff) and so had the railway installed in a shallow tunnel instead. Unusually for a tunnel, this one was demolished when the line shut to make way for a new road. This railway used Rhymney Railway tracks for the first few miles from Cardiff and then swept around North Cardiff before running up the Taff Valley to the outskirts of Pontypridd, where it joined the Taff Vale a few hundred yards north of a junction between the latter and the Barry Railway.

"Joined" is probably the wrong word. The new railway - called hopefully the Cardiff Railway - reached the proposed junction in 1902 but had some problems persuading the Taff Vale that the junction had adequate facilities and would be safe for use on a busy railway. The Taff's main argument was that the Act permitted the Cardiff to join the Taff's freight lines, which were on the western side of the railway. Unfortunately the Cardiff was coming in from the east and so would have to cross the mainline on the level first. Whenever the TVR ran out of arguments the Barry Railway weighed in with some of its own. The TVR was also briefly distracted by a strike by its workforce, to which it responded by (successfully) suing the union for lost profits before returning to destroying the Bute Docks' ambitions of owning their own railway. Eventually in 1910, the Cardiff suggested to the Taff and the Rhymney that they should all bury the hatchet and stage a merger. The Taff Vale and the Rhymney, probably scenting an increase in profits, agreed and the junction was installed. A train was run across it and then there was a pause while the merger went through Parliament. The Barry and Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport made noises about "monopoly" and the scheme was thrown out. The Taff promptly had second thoughts and when the Cardiff Railway next went up to Pontypridd they found that their junction had disappeared.

The three railways instead went for a joint board under the Director of the Rhymney Railway. Cornelius Lundie, also known as Pooh Bah after a certain Gilbert and Sullivan character who did every job under the sun, was a successful businessman who had overseen the Rhymney as it went from strength to strength. He also preserved Rhymney Railway locomotive No. 16 (his personal favourite of the fleet) for posterity at the railway's Caerphilly works. Unfortunately, after many years of controlling the Railway and refusing to retire, he died partway through the life of this merger and, although the joint management survived him, No. 16 didn't.

A certain amount of autonomy remained, however, allowing the Taff to demonstrate that its high ranking in the world's most profitably railways stakes wasn't necessarily anything to do with its management. Its decision to sue the union over its strike probably led directly to the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, via over 70 years of nationwide union distrust of their employers. Meanwhile it decided that it needed some new locomotives and so, after casting around and sorting out which country had the best reputation for high-quality engineering, placed an order in early 1914 for a few new locomotives from a plant in Germany. Much to its surprise, some minor international issues got in the way of this deal, requiring it to buy the locomotives from a British manufacturer instead. To the company's even greater surprise, it became apparent by 1916 that the British manufacturer wouldn't have the necessary capacity to build the locomotives for some years and the Taff had to spend the rest of its life working tatty mid-19th century locomotives. Electrification was pondered, but that wouldn't have resolved the locomotive supply problem.

"Peak Coal" in 1913 led the rail network into the Great War in excellent condition, with the splendid Edwardian trains and ongoing technological developments. By 1919 the war had decimated the workforce and brought on the first round of closures. 1917 had seen the worst ever British railway accident at Quintinshill, just north of the Scottish border of the West Coast Mainline, when a troop train collided with a local stopping service before being hit by a northbound express, killing 227 people. 126 bankrupt and semi-bankrupt companies now faced the future with little optimism - particularly as war had trained a lot of young men to use their initiative and taught them how to drive. It also produced a lot of surplus lorries. The young men bought the lorries with their redundancy money and took on jobs as road hauliers. For the first time the railways were going to have to compete. Unfortunately the legislation of the 1840s had rendered them unable to do so. They still had to carry the unprofitable loads and fund this with income from the profitable ones. Road hauliers picked and chose and took the profitable business.

The Government decided that, having run the railways during the war, they would like to have full-time control over them. However, Britain was not yet ready for nationalisation, so the Railways Act 1921 did not go quite that far. Instead, it resulted in the Grouping.

>>>History of the British Railway Part 2>>>


<<<Railways Department<<<
Middleton Railway information drawn from the Middleton's A History of the Middleton Railway in Leeds; railway fallouts from Great Railway Battles; Talyllyn Railway information from Railway Adventure by Tom Rolt; Snowdon Mountain Railway from the relevant J.I.C. Boyd book on railways in North Caernarvonshire; South Wales information from the multitudes of books on the region; Old Worse and Worse from John Boynton's book on the Oxford, Worcester and Wolverhampton Railway. Other information drawn from The Archaeology of Railways by P.J.G Ransom and other sources of a miscellaneous nature.

Last modified 20/07/11

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