It is not everyday, we see something that has genuinely changed the world. But today I did and it is called Locomotion. Nowadays, it looks distinctly ‘old hat’ yet as Pete Waterman explains, when it was first seen in action it must have been as exciting and frightening as the Space Shuttle. Nevertheless, when its inventor George Stephenson let loose this contraption on the unsuspecting British and hence the globe, he was really launching the first system of public transport. and so in some ways Locomotion became less Space Shuttle and more prototype Jumbo Jet.
Of course Locomotion was the first steam locomotive to run on rails. But what I had failed to grasp prior to visiting Locomotion’s home at the ‘Head of Steam’ Museum at Darlington was that well before its first run in 1825, rail line systems were an extensive mode of transport in Georgian Britain. The only difference was that it carriages and trucks were horse drawn. Not surprising then that the first time Locomotion tasted speed was when it was carried some of the way from Newcastle to its start up point of Darlington on such a waggon.
Its first run along the Stockton to Darlington line complete with a load of coal and a carriage for the Directors of the whole project was a immediate success. So much so the coal was given away to the poor. There is no record of the passengers being charged at all let alone asked to pay the extortionate fare required today to travel on Britain’s railways.
It is ironic then that despite this little loco ushering in mass travel by train, it only pulled carriages of passengers one more time. The rest of its 40 odd years of working life was drawing coal from the Durham coal fields to provide steam for the factories and ships of the growing industrial revolution. Yet Locomotion’s efforts not only brought in that era, it helped also to power it as well.