Passenger train

Inventor of train was born next to a railway

George Stephenson (Wylam, Newcastle-on-Tyne, June 9, 1781 – Chesterfield, August 12, 1848)

The idea of transporting freight and passengers over a long distance by train originates from the Englishman George Stephenson, who was born next to a railway line, so to speak. That happened in 1781 in the English mining village of Wylam, which even today has barely 2000 inhabitants.

On that local railroad, it was the horses that pulled the loads of coal. In the mine a little further on, James Watt's steam boilers were at work pumping the water out of the mine.

George's father was a stoker of the pumping machine and the horse railway passed the family's house.

As a child, George had to look after the geese and cows for a widow in the neighborhood and make sure they didn't get on the tracks. 'I never went to school', he later told a parliamentary committee, 'my parents had no money to send me to school and when I was nine years old I had to work in the coal mine.

The first years as a coal sorter; when I was seventeen I became a stoker's mate with my father.'

That is why Stephenson knew everything about rails and steam boilers at a very young age. He had a natural talent for repairing the rickety devices and also improving them.

In no time he was nicknamed 'the machine doctor' and was asked to make repairs all over the mining area. It was worth gold to the mine owners.

He also made an impression physically. He was a bear of a man, big and strong. He had a big mouth and liked to be tempted into a game of wrestling or boxing. Rarely did he lose out. However, his illiteracy played tricks on him, so that he still took evening classes as an adult. And he constructed his first steam locomotives. In 1821 he was commissioned to lay out a 24-mile (38 km) railway between Stockton and Darlington collieries. The line was, as always, for horse traction. But Stephenson immediately had better rails installed. He replaced the old cast iron bars, which easily broke, with ones made of wrought iron. He came up with all kinds of tricks to better stabilize those bars. That was literally groundbreaking work. In September 1825 he had a railway line ready that could carry his heavy steam locomotives, although they were actually intended for freight transport.

By this time, Stephenson and his son Robert had set up their own small locomotive building factory in Newcastle. At the beginning of 1825, the first measurements had also been taken to build a railway between the industrial city of Liverpool and the port city of Manchester.

The canals could no longer handle the transport, the roads were barely passable and the industrialists were eager for the new route. But the government and the landed gentry did not want to go along.

And anyone who lived from transport by land or water was afraid of the new competition. Surveyors setting out the track were pelted with stones and fired upon from an ambush. The landed gentry raised a small army to make life miserable for Stephenson's men.
Before a parliamentary committee, experts argued that pregnant women easily miscarried due to confrontation with a locomotive; cows stopped giving milk and chickens stopped laying eggs. Priests knew that Stephenson's work was the work of the devil.

The fact that the Newcastle giant also spoke a dialect that no one understood was not really conducive to communication.

Stephenson concocted a ruse. He invited everyone to take a ride on the short stretch between Stockton and Darlington. And he threw a big party with a speed contest between locomotives as the main attraction. A competition that he easily won with his Rocket locomotive.

Almost all of the high lords tacked. He sent the last grumpy fellows a package of shares of the new railway line free of charge. He just bribed them. And immediately all objections were over.

For four years, Stephenson struggled to build the 40 miles of railway line between Liverpool and Manchester, partly because the route ran through a swamp. But on September 15, 1830, the first public railway was ceremoniously opened. Thousands of people lined the track to watch the train 'rush past' at 30 kilometers per hour. All England was talking about Stephenson. The fact that an accident – the first train accident – also killed a member of parliament that day was quickly forgotten.

The Rocket locomotive, with which Stephenson won his first competitions on the mainland, from Brussels to Mechelen: it consisted of three locomotives, each with a set of wagons filled with prominent people. The infernal machines bore the proud names of The Arrow, Stephenson and The Elephant.

The latter included none other than George Stephenson himself. All equipment was made in his workshops. The first Dutch train, De Arend, ran from Amsterdam to Haarlem on September 20, 1939, a journey of 16 km and less than half an hour.

About this time Stephenson retired to a lavish country retreat near Chesterfield where he lived off his annuity for another ten years. He experimented with breeding cows, with a new kind of fertilizer and new animal food.

Or he came up with a method to fatten chickens in half the time. Stephenson's second wife died in 1845.

In August 1848 he came up with the less good idea of marrying a third time. The next day he died. Rarely losing a wrestling or boxing match, the Newcastle giant had for once overestimated himself.

Train enthusiasts can still travel to Chesterfield, where he is buried in the main church.