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27 September 2009

On this day in history: The world`s first public railway opened, 1825

In the early nineteenth-century various groups group of businessmen decided to resurrect plans to improve transport links between the collieries of South Durham and the port of Stockton-on-Tees. The committees initially planned to cut a canal to re-route the River Tees but a lack of finance meant that no work was carried out. In September 1818, a joint meeting of interested parties considered whether a canal or a railway system would be more beneficial but since an agreement was not reached the businessmen decided to consult with a leading civil-engineer, John Rennie; however, the interested parties from the town of Yarm also invited the Welsh engineer George Overton to survey possible routes.

Overton's report favoured a scheme to build a railway at a cost of £124,000. In November 1818, after careful consideration of the report, the retired wool-merchant Edward Pease and the Darlington banker Johnathan Backhouse called a meeting at Darlington Town Hall to discuss the formation of a railway company. The plan received a favourable response resulting in the creation of the railway company the following month.

The first task of the company was to persuade Parliament to pass the required legislation. After two failed attempts, the Bill finally received Royal Assent in April 1821. To begin with the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company did little beyond decide upon the design of their seal and the wording of their motto, but finally, in early 1822, they appointed George Stevenson as their chief engineer. Construction started in May of that year and continued for the next three years.

On 27th September 1825, the Stockton and Darlington Railway held the formal opening of the line. The company invited local nobles and other dignitaries to travel in a special train along the twenty-five mile route from Shildon to Stockton. While the invited guests travelled in a special coach, the rest of the passengers travelled in a further fourteen coal wagons and, as if to underline the commercial nature of the venture, the train also included another twelve wagons laden with coal and goods.

At 9am, the large crowd of onlookers waved off the train, hauled by Stephenson's Locomotive No. 1. It took two hours to reach Darlington, where six coal wagons were removed from the train so that their contents could be given to the poor people of the town. The remaining train arrived in Stockton at 3.45pm welcomed by a cheering throng and a twenty-one gun salute.

See John Moore's Stockton and Darlington Railway Website for more information.

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