Fear as First Passenger Train Reaches 15mph

A photograph taken during celebrations to mark the centenary of the 1825 event with Locomotion 1 pulling the world’s first rail passengers
A photograph taken during celebrations to mark the centenary of the 1825 event with Locomotion 1 pulling the world’s first rail passengers

by Ray Setterfield


Event Date: September 27, 1825
Location: Stockton-on-Tees, County Durham, England, United Kingdom

For the first time in history a steam locomotive carried passengers on a public railway on this day. The engine was called Locomotion No. 1 and in control was its designer, the engineer George Stephenson.

It belonged to the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which operated across the North East of England. Apart from 36 wagons filled with sacks of coal and flour, the train included a purpose-built passenger coach called The Experiment. Bone-shaking and springless, the carriage resembled a shed on wheels and was occupied by various dignitaries.

The rest of the passengers stood in open coal wagons, though a few had the "luxury" of temporary wooden benches.

The directors had allowed room for 300 passengers, but the train left carrying between 450 and 600 people, some travelling on top of wagons full of coal.

As the train set off, watched by hundreds of curious onlookers, it was led by a man on horseback with a flag and managed to cover eight and a half miles (14km) in two hours at an average speed of 8mph (13km/h).

The historic journey came about after a meeting between Stephenson, who had built steam engines to work in local collieries, and Edward Pease, the son of a wool merchant.

Pease rode round the country buying fleeces from farmers and in the course of his travels became convinced of the need for a railroad to carry coal from the collieries to an East Coast port. In 1821, with a group of businessmen, he formed the Stockton & Darlington Railway company.

Then he came up with a plan for an eight-mile (12.9km) line to exploit a rich vein of coal. The coal wagons would be pulled by horses.

When he heard of the scheme, Stephenson contacted Pease and told him that he should consider building a locomotive railway and that he had already built a locomotive that was "worth fifty horses".

Pease saw the engine at work, realised Stephenson was right and offered him the post of chief engineer at the railroad company.

So it was that the historic "passenger train" made its first run. But it was not the only railway "first": it was also the scene of the first recorded accident involving a passenger. When the horseman ahead of the train was out of the way and the train was going down a slope, Stephenson opened the throttle and his train reached the staggering speed of 15mph (24km/h).

This so unnerved one passenger that he fell off and his foot was crushed by the following wagon.

Published: September 12, 2018

Related Famous People

Articles on Events in September