History of Rail Transport/Early Rail Transportation

Early Rail Transportation

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Benjamin Outram's Little Eaton Gangway in July 1908 with the last train of loaded coal wagons arriving.

Wagonways, which preceded steam powered railways, were the tracks, horses and equipment used for hauling wagons of coal, ore, or stone from mines and quarries to waterways or ports.

Wagonways were built in England as early as the 16th Century. Although wagonways merely consisted of parallel planks of wood, they allowed horses pulling them to achieve greater speeds and pull larger loads than on the slightly more rough roads of the day. Crossties were introduced fairly early to hold the tracks in place. Gradually, however, it was realized that tracks would be more efficient if they had a stip of iron on the top. This became common practice, but the iron caused more wear on the wooden wheels of the wagons. Eventually, wooden wheels were replaced by iron wheels. In 1767, the first full-iron rails were introduced.

Wooden wagon wheel
Iron Wagon Wheel

In the 19th Century, steam engines began to be trialed in England, however they were found to be more expensive to run than horses. However, steam engines gradually improved, and the wagonways transformed into railways.

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