August 31 2018

When was the UK’s first railway built?

The invention of railway was Great Britain’s crown and glory, a vital component in kick-starting the industrial revolution. But it’s hard to imagine a time before high-speed trains and the London underground, especially when we live in a high-functioning world vastly reliant on rail transport.

The first ever railroads took the form of isolated wooden wagonways in the 1560s. These wagonways were owned by private railway companies which soon began to link together, eventually becoming a national network.

Although these wooden wagonways were technically the first railroads, according to The Guardian it was in 1804 that the first resemblance of the railway we know today was engineered. It was developed by British inventor Richard Trevithick and was used to transport iron along a nine-mile track. It became the first successful steam locomotive to run on rails, which revolutionised British rail and prompted the use of steam trains across the country.

But when did eager travellers start boarding trains? In 1830 Robert Stephenson implemented the first ever passenger service in the world, which took travellers from Canterbury to the seaside town of Whitstable 6 miles away. Fast forward 33 years to 1863, and the first underground service was built, connecting London Paddington to Farringdon.

Contrary to popular belief, electric trains actually appeared before the turn of the 20th century in 1883 in Brighton (although automatic signalling followed roughly 20 years later in the early 1900s) This was a critical turning point for our trains and railway systems, laying the groundwork in which engineers could go on to develop the modern day trains we know and love today.

But what about the introduction of major rail companies? In 1923 the existing 123 rail companies across the UK were condensed into just four major corporations: Great Western Railway, London Midland, Scottish Railway and London and North Eastern Railway. The railways were then officially nationalised in 1948, with a short seven-year period of privatisation between 1994 and 2001 due to the introduction and then forced administration of Railtrack. By 2002, a total of 25 rail companies were present across the UK, with strategic plans put into place to maintain and improve railways across the country.

If you’re interested in being a part of the British railway journey, take a look at our rail jobs to find your next opportunity.


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