Chugging Along with the History of the Railroad

Railroads and trains have a long history in the US. The history of the railroad stretches back almost to the beginning of the country as the first steam engine came to America in 1753. The railroad also has a long history in England, as the first railway was built in Leeds in 1758. Compared to the high speeds trains can achieve today, the first trains traveled relatively slowly, with speeds around 15 mph or slower. Trains changed over time. The earliest were actually pulled by horses while later versions were powered by steam.

Rail Road History

In England, the history of the railroad dates back to the 18th century. While trains were in the colonies or the soon to be US in the 18th century, there was no passenger rail until the 19th century. The Middleton Railway was the first railway in England. It was established by an Act of Parliament in 1758. The railway allowed the city of Leeds to develop a thriving coal industry, as it could efficiently send the coal to other areas of the country.

The first passenger train ran in Wales in March of 1807. The train, pulled by horses, traveled from Swansea, along the coast of the bay, to the village of Mumbles. By the 1860s, the trains were steam-powered. Although the Middleton Railway still exists, the Mumbles train was dismantled in the 1960s.

In the US, passenger railways were constructed starting in the 1820s. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, or B&O railroad, is the oldest railroad in the country. It was started in 1827 with the goal of sending freight and passengers west, from the city of Baltimore to the Ohio river, in Virginia. The rail line was later extended to reach even further west, to Chicago, St. Louis, and eventually Cleveland, OH.

The Switchback gravity railroad was also started in 1827, in Pennsylvania near Mauch Chunk and Jim Thorpe. The railroad was powered by the force of gravity. Its trains moved down inclined slopes, pushed by force alone. Every so often, the train would switch direction, moving in a zig-zag down the slope. While the railroad's original purpose was to transport coal, not people, it soon became a tourist attraction. People liked riding the gravity railroad, as it was similar to riding a roller coaster.

By the late 19th century, railroads stretched from the east coast of the US to the west coast. Journeys that previously took months or years to complete could be undertaken within a period of days. The railroad was called the Transcontinental Railroad, as it stretched across the width of the continent. It allowed passengers to travel from east coast cities such as New York and Philadelphia to west coast cities such as San Francisco.

Train History

The earliest trains date back hundreds of years. At first, trains were not like the trains of today. They were usually carts driven by horses along rails laid on the ground. In the 17th century in England, these early trains were used to bring coal out of the mines. By the middle of the 19th century, steam-powered trains were beginning to be used.

James Watt invented one type of steam engine that proved to be very popular. He patented the engine in 1769 and the first actual engine was built in 1776. The patent ran out in 1800, at which point others began building train engines that were inspired by the Watt engine. In 1804, Richard Trevithick built the world's first high-pressure, steam-powered locomotive.

At first, the people who built steam engines had difficultly convincing others that their creations were better than using horses to pull the carts. A major problem with early steam-powered locomotives was that the trains would break the rails due to their weight. Early trains, such as Trevithick's Catch Me Who Can, weighed 10 tons. The Catch Me Who Can could travel at a rate of 15 mph, but did not catch on as it broke the rails of the circular track it ran along.

Train Parts

Trains are made up of hundreds of different parts. Each train car has pairs of wheels, mounted on an axle. The wheels are connected to the truck, or bogie, of the car, a frame that holds the wheel sets in place. The other parts of a train depend on the way it is powered. Steam locomotives, which have not been produced in the US since the late 1950s, featured boilers, which produced the steam, as well as cylinders which pushed the steam to the engine. Gasoline powered trains also have cylinders. Electric trains usually have an external connector that links them to the power source. The external connection can be a third rail that runs along the side of the track or an overhead line.

 

 

 

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