Stockton and Darlington Railway

Year:1825

Duration:3 years

Cost:£5.1m (in today's money)

Country: Darlington, UK

What did this project achieve?

Construct a railway line to transport coal and passengers using steam trains

The Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) was the first passenger railway to use steam trains to transport passengers. The company operated across north east England from 1825 to 1863.

The S&DR’s first line connected coal mines at Shildon in County Durham to Darlington. It opened on 25 September 1825.

The company used steam trains to haul its coal wagons from the first day of operation. Passengers travelled by horse and carriage until 1833 when that service switched to steam.

The S&DR built a line between York and Darlington. It also expanded to Middlesbrough Docks, west to Weardale and east to Redcar.

The railway was often in financial difficulties and was nearly taken over by a rival in the late 1840s.

When the company was finally sold to the North Eastern Railway in 1863 it consisted of 200 route miles (320km) and around 160 locomotives.

Difference the new railway made

Although the S&DR wasn’t the first railway - and its trains weren’t the first to carry passengers - the successful opening of the line in 1825 meant that steam railways proved themselves as an effective means of public transport.

How the railway line was built

George Stephenson and his son Robert were the main engineers for the line. You can see their portrait at ICE headquarters in central London.

George Stephenson had already successfully designed and built steam locomotives to haul coal at the Killingworth colliery in North Tyneside.

The original railway was 25 miles (40km) long. Stephenson mostly used malleable iron rail for the track. Cast iron rails were used at junctions.

The line was single track. Square sleepers supported each track separately – this allowed horses pulling wagons to walk between the tracks.

Stephenson used sleepers made from oak on track to the west of Darlington and stone to the east. He had wanted to use stone sleepers throughout but the company couldn’t afford it.

The first steam locomotive to run on the line was called Locomotion No 1. It pulled a carriage named Experiment. Other locomotives used on the line were called Hope, Black Diamond and Diligence.

“​‌

George Stephenson told me as a young man that railways will supersede almost all other methods of conveyance in this country… [they] will become the great highway for the king and all his subjects.

Engineer John Dixon

quoted by Samuel Smiles in his Life of George Stephenson

Fascinating facts

Allowing for stops, the first train to run on the S&DR averaged a speed of 8mph (13km/h) on its inaugural journey. The average running speed of a healthy man is between 10-15mph (around 16-24km/h).

S&DR train drivers had to pay their firemen - and for locomotive fuel - out of their own wages.

The trains used on the railway were not always safe. The boiler of locomotive number 5 exploded at Simpasture Junction in March 1828. One of the two firemen was killed, the other severely scalded.

In July the same year, the boiler of Locomotion No.1 exploded at Aycliffe Lane station, killing driver John Cree.

People who made it happen

  • Main promoter: Edward Pease, a woollen manufacturer from Darlington
  • Engineers: George Stephenson, Robert Stephenson

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