Rail transport

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Theme Convener: Harold Wyatt

Railways began in Britain. They were our engineers’ answer to one of the challenges of the industrial revolution – the need to transport heavy loads by land.

But, almost at the same time, Britain gave railways to the world. Before the famous “Rocket”, for example, had completed her trials, the “Stourbridge Lion” locomotive was exported to America and put in steam in 1829. British engineers, contractors and navvies built the first railway systems of a number of countries abroad.

As well as creating and holding the lead in building railways and locomotives for export, British engineers founded the locomotive industries of a number of nations. “Buddicom” and “Crampton”, for instance, are names still famous in the French locomotive industry. In Belgium the firm of John Cockerill, one of the greatest engineering undertakings in Europe, can claim British origin. Similarly, the names of Hall, Haswell and Urquhart are well-known in Europe and Russia.

Much of the success of British locomotives abroad has depended on our particular mastery of steam. But our industry is by no means bound by this. One of the firms founded by Robert Stephenson, for example, has just completed a 660 h.p. diesel-electric locomotive for the Tasmanian Government; and this is exhibited in the Pavilion for the summer before it is shipped overseas.

Little seen by the general public, but of great industrial importance, are the small traction units built here for specialised purposes – for instance, flame-proof diesel locomotives for use underground in mines, small works locomotives of many sizes and gauges, and powered inspection trolleys for technical use on the permanent way.

At home, we have abundant evidence that railways are no longer bound to steam. As examples of electrification, the London Underground system and the Southern Region’s extensive suburban services are demonstrated here. An essential part of the achievement of the first of these was British skill in tunnelling, demonstrated in one of the display arches in Hungerford Bridge, behind the “Transport” Pavilion.

Much that was learned in the building of London’s Underground has been put into practice in the unique automatic railway used by the Post Office in London. One of the trains is operating in this section.

Hand in hand with progress in the building of locomotives has gone progress in rolling stock and the permanent way. There is plenty of evidence of this in the Pavilion, notably a new all aluminium-alloy coach, which weighs no more than 23 tons. This has been the result of a great deal of original research and shows a new aspect of uses for such alloys.

The inventor of the railway ticket was an Englishman named Edmondson. His methods for printing and dating it were the beginnings of the system which has culminated in the coin operated, ticket-printing, issuing and change-giving machine of the present day.

But there would be little value in the engineer ing skill in locomotives, rolling stock or the permanent way, without equally advanced signalling systems and train control. Displays of these can be seen on the mezzanine floor.