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The History of Britain's Railways
Beware of the Trains
 This year the theme for the David Winter Collectors Guild is "The Railways". To celebrate I felt that a little bit of history is required.

The Guild Pieces

 Even though the first steam railway service in Britain wasn’t opened until 1825, the principals of early railways date back to as early as the 17th century when wagonways were used to transport coal to ports. However, it was not until 1803 that an engineer, Richard Trevithick, built the world’s first steam locomotive (pictured right) at Coalbrookdale in Shropshire. A replica of this engine can be seen at the Science Museum in London.

 Even though Richard Trevithick built the first steam engine it was not until 1829 and the construction of a railway line between Liverpool and Manchester that a pinnacle event in history was created. As the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway drew closer it was decided to hold a competition to choose the design for the locomotive which was to run on the railway.
George Stephenson's 'Rocket'
In October, the 'Rainhill Trails' took place and George Stephenson's 'Rocket' (pictured right) won. With the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway the railway, as a means of transporting passengers as well as goods, was born.

 By the end of the 1800's many railway companies had been created all over the British Isles. The most famous was the Great Western Railway (GWR) which opened its first section of railway from Paddington to Maidenhead in 1938. Despite George Stephenson's 4 foot 8.5 inch gauge being used across the country Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the first chief engineer of Great Western Railway, thought that a wider gauge of 7 feet would be a lot safer. However, in 1846 Parliment decided that Stephenson's 4 foot 8.5 inch gauge would become Britain's standard. Isambard Kingdom Brunel resisted this change and it wasn't until 1892 that Brunel's 7 foot gauge was finally converted to the standard 4 foot 8.5 inch gauge.

 In 1921 a The Railway Act stated that most of Britain's railway companies should be merged to form four larger companies. London, Midland and Scottish (LMS), London and North Eastern (LNER), Great Western (GWR) and Southern (SR). This created greater standardisation with each of the four companies creating their own corporate image and with both rural branch lines and main lines taking pride in their own stations and trackside operations.

 With both passenger and freight transportation in great demand there were some major advancements in both engine and rolling stock designs. There was also a lot of competition between the four companies. This rivalry was especially obvious between the LMS and LNER as to who could travel between Scotland and London the fastest. In 1938 LNER's A4 Pacific, designed by Sir Nigel Gresley, No. 4468 'Mallard' (pictured left) achieved the world speed record for steam traction when a speed of 126 mph was reached between Grantham and Peterborough on the 3rd July. This world famous locomotive, which can be seen fully restored at the National Railway Museum in York, still holds this record today.

Diesel-electric "Blue Pullman"
 However, by the end of the Second World War Britain's railways had became run down and were in great decline. It was therefore decided in 1948, after a Royal Assent of the Transport Act of 1947, to nationalise the railways and so British Railways was formed. Continued advancements were still being made in engine design with diesel and then electric slowly taking over from steam. However, it was not long before, in 1959, a locomotive called 'Evening Star' became the last ever steam engine to be built for British Railways.

 Despite being nationalised large parts of the railway network were running at a financial loss. So in 1961 the British Transport Commission was set up to investigate why this was so and to offer a solution. The chairman of this commission was a Dr Richard Beeching and on 1st January 1963 the 'Beeching Report' recommended that the loss-making lines should be closed. As a result, hundreds of lines and thousand of stations were shut down. By 1968 not only was steam locomotive power finally eliminated from the British Rail network but many railway employees found themselves out of work.

The Mid Hants "Watercress" Railway

 It is a strange fact that it was the large canal network that was put out of business due to the coming of the railway and it was the increase in road transport which did the same for the railways. One final twist in this story is that the steam engine has not been allowed to die. Many ended up in scrap yards and unfortunately only a few were saved from the acetylene torch. Most of those that did survive remain in full working order after years of hard work and dedication so that they are preserved along with the buildings and the railways they worked on for generations to come. Many once closed lines and stations have been saved and are now visited by rail enthusiasts and tourists alike.

 The biggest irony regarding Britain's railways is that despite Dr Beeching steam pulled trains can still be seen on the British main line on special occasions and charity events.

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