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A brief history of early steam trains
An invention that changed the world is 200 years old in 2004. Britain is celebrating the bicentenary of the steam railway locomotive with a year-long events programme, but it is not an engineering giant such as James Watt or George Stephenson being fêted The man who first put steam engines on rails was a tall, strong Cornishman described by his schoolmaster as “obstinate and inattentive”. Richard Trevithick (1771-1833), who learnt his craft in Cornish tin mines, built his “Penydarren tram road engine” for a line in South Wales whose primitive wagons were pulled, slowly and laboriously, by horses.
On February 21, 1804, Trevithick’s pioneering engine hauled 10 tons of iron and 70 men nearly ten miles from Penydarren, at a speed of five miles-per-hour, winning the railway’s owner a 500 guinea bet into the bargain. He was 20 years ahead of his time – Stephenson’s “Rocket” was not even on the drawing board but Trevithick’s engines were seen as little more than a novelty. He went on to engineer at mines in South America before dying penniless aged 62. But his idea was developed by others and, by 1845, a spider’s web of 2,440 miles of railway were open and 30 million passengers were being carried in Britain alone
Perhaps because it was the birthplace, Britain can boast more railway attractions per square mile than any other country. The figures are impressive: more than 100 heritage railways and 60 steam museum centres are home to 700 operational engines, steamed-up by an army of 23,000 enthusiastic volunteers and offering everyone the chance to savour a bygone age by riding on a lovingly preserved train. The surroundings – stations, signal-boxes and wagons – are equally well preserved and much in demand by TV companies filming period dramas
Wales deserves a special mention for its Great Little Trains. Though small in stature, these narrow-gauge lines are real working railways, originally built to haul slate and other minerals out of the mountains, but now a wonderful way for visitors to admire the scenery, which is breathtaking. There are eight lines to choose from and one, the Ffestiniog Railway, is the oldest of its kind in the world.
Then there are the railway museums that are historic in their own right. “Steam” at Swindon is built into the former workshops of the Great Western Railway (GWR) which has near-legendary status among rail fans; the GWR Railway Centre at Didcot re-creates its golden age in an old steam depot where polished engines are tended lovingly. Part of Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry is situated in the world’s oldest passenger station; and the ‘Thinktank’ museum in Birmingham contains the world’s oldest active steam engine, designed by James Watt in 1778.
But it is North East England that is known as the birthplace of railways for here, around Newcastle, the world’s first tramways were laid and, later, the world’s first public railway between Stockton and Darlington steamed into life. At Shildon in County Durham, a £10 million permanent Railway Village is taking shape, to open in the autumn, the first out-station of the National Railway Museum
At nearby Beamish, the open-air museum of North Country Life – where the past is brought magically to life – there’s an opportunity to see one of the earliest railways re-created. Feel the wind – and steam – in your hair as you travel in open carriages behind a working replica of a pioneering engine such as Stephenson’s Locomotion No.1, built in 1825.
Thames Ditton Miniature Steam Railway
Malden District Society of Model Engineers Ltd is a club society of around 190 members devoted to promoting the hobby of large scale model engineering to all those interested in the hobby of Model Engineering. The large and small scale railway tracks are open to the public from Easter until October on the first Sunday of each month and every Bank Holiday from 1pm. Trains start running at 2pm. The principle station is Willowbank station complete with 3 platforms and its own signal box. Angel Road is a junction without a station but its own Signal box, and lastly Hampton Court Junction where the locomotives sheds and carriage sidings are located, The ground level track is over a 1800ft long oval comprising of two circuits with a number of sidings and passing loops, at one point there are 4 running tracks side by side. The Roundhouse is our locomotive shed, we built it ourselves and it took 7 years months and 7 days & was officially opened in 1986. As you will see from the 1990 picture it is a built around the turntable, the shed consists of 16 Roads where our resident and visitors locomotive are sheded and serviced. Willowbank Station is the main station on the ground level track, it is here that the 1000 plus passengers depart and arrive for their train rides on an open day afternoon. The station has one through road and one arrival road and two departure roads. Trains are controlled from the Signal box in the centre of the station. The signal box is a true replication of British Railways mechanical signalling practice using a 17 lever frame. The signalling is of the semaphore system of signals which are electrically operated in conjunction with with train operated track circuit protection. The elevated track is 1,620ft long with gradients of 1 in 120 and 1 in 80. The track is like a figure of eight with one loop folded back on top of the original loop. The station is called Rythe High Level. This second elevated track was completed on Sunday December 26th 1971 after 5 years work. The late Robbie Roberts 3½" gauge Tich christened the track with wheels of just 1 3/4" dia and cylinders of 11/16" bore completed the circuit with its wheels a blure and its exhaust like an angry bee. The Elevated track is capable of running 3½" and 5" gauge locomotive as well as small 7¼" gauge locomotive. On a good day up to 6 engines can be in operation. The locomotives are predominately 5" gauge, though the odd 3½" gauge locomotive is sometimes seen running. The 7¼" gauge rail is used for the passenger cars.
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