Today we tend to take the railways for granted. If we talk about them at all it is usually to complain about trains being late, overcrowded, or cancelled. Train travel seems to have have lost its magic for many people. Familiarity has bred contempt because for as long as you have been alive there has always been the option of travelling on a train.
But imagine what it must have been like 180 years ago when the first passenger steam train was introduced, and riding at high speed through the countryside was a new and exciting experience.
Well you don’t have to imagine it – there is an eyewitness account. Two weeks after the Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened on 15 September 1830, a man, known to us only as E.W.S, took a trip on the new contraption. He wrote a charming account of his experience for the Wath-upon-Dearne (West Riding of Yorkshire) publication ‘The Village Magazine’.
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway was the first railway in the world to run a regular passenger service, and the first to be powered by steam engines. It ran luxurious carriages for those who could afford the fare and open top trucks for ordinary passengers. E.W.S took a snug seat in one of the posh carriages.
He starts his description of the 32 mile journey from Manchester to what he calls ‘the rising and flourishing port of Liverpool’ as follows:
‘For the first quarter of a mile, as if to prepare us for the tremendous extreme that we were soon to encounter, our speed was not more than 6 miles an hour. We then began to find that our progress was increased by every succeeding stroke of the engine; so that in a very few minutes we were flying through the country at the rate of twenty five miles an hour.’
He turned to a fellow passenger and said, ‘Where now are the labours of the horse; and how insignificant do his exertions appear, when compared with the principle by which, meteor-like, we are now shooting through the air?’ Continue reading »