At the beginning of the 19thCentury the turnpikes were a mess, the canals were slow, and moving large consignments of goods was fraught, time consuming, and possibly ruinous. The movement of large quantities of coal and other minerals was similarly problematic – the solution, as we all know, was the railway. Was it inevitable, that like the turnpike and the canal, the railway would have its day? Would some newer and more radical solution, to the mass movement of goods and people, be forthcoming. Thus far the answer would seem to be a resounding no.
Railway networks are still expanding, closed routes are being re-opened and newer and faster forms of propulsion are being used on them. In the case of the Maglev they no longer run on wheels but levitate above the track on a powerful magnetic field, which is also part of the means of propulsion. If this seems an awful long way from Stephenson’s Rocket, you’re right it is. When Stephenson was building engines the properties of electromagnetism were still waiting for Michael Faraday to uncover them. And it wasn’t until 1838, 180 years ago, this year, that Messers. Cooke and Wheatstone put these newfangled forces to work in their telegraph system, first installed on the GWR, in 1838, between Paddington and West Drayton.
The electric telegraph and the block system became the backbone of the safe movement of trains on the railway, and in one guise or another it still is. If you thought it was a long way from ‘Rocket’ to Maglev it’s an even longer one from the Bobby controlling the movement of trains, with his watch and his flag, standing by the tracks, to today’s Train Protection Warning System and computer controlled signals operated from Regional Operating Centres – not lineside signal boxes.
The photo shows Ex-LMS 4-6-0 Class 5MT No.44871, approaching Ingrow, with a recreation freight working during the K&WVR’s Spring Gala.
If you have enjoyed my blogs – I have written a book about my 60 years involvement with railways, from trainspotter, via steam age footplateman, to railway author and photographer, this is a link to it: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Gricing-Real-story-Railway-Children/dp/1514885751