Looking at how London – and, indeed, Britain as a whole – changed in the nineteenth century, it’s hard to overlook the influence of the development of the railways. While there had long been horse-drawn waggons on tracks, there was less need for horses to be used in this way as the British railways advanced. Here are some of the biggest links that London has had with the railways’ history.


A revolution that became London-bound

Much of the railways’ early development occurred outside London. For example, it was in 1804, while the Napoleonic Wars were waging, that Richard Trevithick managed to put together a steam locomotive capable of transporting ten tonnes of iron. Similarly, in 1825, it was between Stockton and Darlington where the opening of a new rail line allowed two locomotives to transport, at a speed of 8 miles per hour, 21 coal waggons over 25 miles – a previously unheard-of achievement.

It would also be fair to say that not everyone was enthusiastic about the idea of railways coming to London. The History Learning Site counts the Duke of Wellington as one high-profile critic. Wellington, best-known for defeating Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, was concerned about trains possibly encouraging poor and undesirable people to travel to London.


“God’s Wonderful Railway” arrives in London

Nonetheless, it was in 1838 that Robert Stephenson completed a new rail line between London and Birmingham. Three years later, Isambard Kingdom Brunel finished the Great Western Railway, which ran between London and Bristol. So highly acclaimed was this new line that its initials, GWR, were used to dub it “God’s Wonderful Railway”. Aptly, Brunel’s name is preserved today by Brunel University, which is located in the Uxbridge area of west London.



A number of history-making firsts in the capital

London was also the location of the planet’s first underground city transport service, which opened in 1863 and connected Paddington and Farringdon. It wasn’t a complete success to begin with; as The Guardian reports, it was overcrowded and steamy. However, it was popular with passengers. For meeting demand, rail carriages were brought in from Great Western Railway – which, in 1923, formed one of the UK’s four major railway companies, also including London Midland.

The London Underground, as it came to be known, continued to develop in the twentieth century. Air-operated doors replaced manually-operated ones on Tube trains in 1929, while the District line saw its first aluminium train entering service in 1952. Development hasn’t relented this century; in 2010, the Metropolitan line saw the first air-conditioned, walk-through Underground train run.


Keep railways looked-after with our help

Despite the London railways’ great history of success, it remains vital to heed various issues relating to safety. At SAS Rope & Rail, we have the expertise to take care of various aspects of delivering and maintaining rail projects in London for your company’s benefit. We can, for example, carry out confined space works, structural surveys, roof repairs, structural welding, rail bridge repairs and gutter and reactive rail maintenance.

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