Timeline of rail transport

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This is a timeline of rail transport, attempting to describe milestones in the development of the transports. Speed records are described in the timeline of high-speed rail.

Big picture

Time period Development summary
<18th century People have to use their own strength, and the power of animals, wind and water when they want to build, move anything, or transport themselves and their goods.[1]
18th century The steam engine-burning fuel to produce heat energy is invented.[1] By the end of the century, every mine in Great Britain already has its own simple railway network, with horses pulling carts from mines to factories.[2]
19th century Railroad Era. The railway transport takes off during the century, with the first lines built across Europe in the 1830s-1850s. However the second half of the century, local public transport is still primarily reliant on horses.[3]
20th century Diesel trains are introduced in the 1930s. These trains are faster, quieter and cleaner than steam trains, offering more comfortable rides.[1] In the 1960s and early 1970s, a considerable interest is put on the possibility of building tracked passenger vehicles that could travel much faster than conventional trains. From the 1970s, interest in an alternative high-speed technology centers on magnetic levitation, or maglev, which rides on an air cushion created by the electromagnetic reaction between an onboard device and another embedded in its guideway.[4]

Full timeline

Year Event type Details Geographical location
600 B.C The earliest form of "railroads" is developed by the Greeks, who make grooves in paved limestone roads so that they could use wheeled vehicles to ease transport of boats across the Isthmus of Corinth. However, with the fall of Greece to Rome in 146 B.C., these early railways would fall into ruin and disappear for over 1,400 years.[4]
1515 Technology Cardinal Matthäus Lang writes a description of the Reisszug, a funicular railway at the Hohensalzburg Castle in Austria.[5] Austria
1550s Introduction Germany begins installing roads of rails called wagonways to make it easier for horse-drawn wagons or carts to cross the countryside. These primitive railed roads consist of wooden rails over which horse-drawn wagons or carts move with greater ease than over dirt roads.[4]
1725 Line The Tanfield wagonway opens to connect the Durham coalfields to the River Tyne.[6] United Kingdom
1764 Introduction The first railway in the United States is built in Lewiston, New York.[7] United States
1769-1774 Technology Scottish inventor James Watt develops the stationary steam engine.[2][1] United Kingdom
1770s Technology Iron replaces the wood in the rails and wheels on the carts used on wagonways, which would then evolve into tramways that spread across Europe.[4]
1784 Technology English ironmaster Henry Cort patents the puddling process, making iron cheaper to produce.[8] United Kingdom
1787 Technology John Curr, a Sheffield colliery manager, invents the L-section plate rail.[9] United Kingdom
1789 Technology Englishman William Jessup designs the first wagons with flanged wheels, which have grooves that allow the wheels to better grip the rail and is an important design that carry over to later locomotives.[10] United Kingdom
1803 Samuel Homfray decides to fund the development of a steam-powered vehicle to replace the horse-drawn carts on the tramways.[4]
1803 Introduction English civil engineer William Jessop opens the world's first public goods railway line, from Croydon to the River Thames at Wandsworth.[11] United Kingdom
1804 Technology British engineer Richard Trevithick successfully tests the first steam-powered locomotive to ride on rails. At seven tons, however, the locomotive is so heavy it would break its own rails.[12][2][13][14] United Kingdom
1809 Introduction The first railroad track in the United States is built in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The track is an experimental project, only 60 yards long.[15] United States
1811 Technology John Blenkinsop invents a steam engine which has cogs on one of its wheels.[16]
1813 William Hedley builds his "Puffing Billy" to pull coal wagons at the Wylam Colliery in Northumberland. The transport is so reliable that it is used for fifty years.[16]
1814 Technology British engineer George Stephenson builds the very first steam engine for the locomotive.[4][13][14] United Kingdom
1820 John Birkinshaw invents wrought iron, a more durable material than cast iron. Wrought iron would then be used for rail systems until the advent of the Bessemer process.[4]
1821 Englishman Julius Griffiths was the first person to patent a passenger road locomotive.[4]
1825 The Stockton to Darlington rail line opens. Two locomotives are used (the "Experiment" and "No 1"), being able to pull 21 coal wagon 25 miles at 8 miles per hour. In many senses, 1825 is seen as the start of the age of the railways.[16][4] United Kingdom
1825-1830 Commercial appearance of train networks come late in the decade, with English inventor George Stephenson as pioneer in the field.[2]
1825-1835 The British Parliament agrees to the building of 54 new rail lines.[16] United Kingdom
1826 Colonel John Stevens -who is considered to be the father of railroads in the United States, demonstrates the feasibility of steam locomotion on a circular experimental track constructed on his estate in Hoboken, New Jersey. This happens three years before Stephenson perfected a practical steam locomotive in England.[4] United States
1828 Introduction The first railway appears in France.[17] France
1829 The Rainhill trials take place. The "Rocket" built by George Stephenson becomes the winner of a £500 prize, after attaining about 30mph.[16] United Kingdom
1830 Introduction The Liverpool to Manchester railway opens.[16]
1833 Steam trains start operating on the line for passengers.[16]
1835 Introduction The first steam hauled railway in Germany, the Ludwigs-Eisenbahn, opens between Nürnberg and Fürth, with a lenght of 6km.[18] Germany
1835 Introduction The first railway line openes in Belgium between Brussels and Mechelen.[19] Belgium
1837 Introduction The first Cuban railway line opens, prior to Spain. The first line connects Havana with Bejucal.[20] Cuba
1837 Introduction The first train in India runs from Red Hills, Chennai to Chintadripet bridge in Madras.[21] India
1838 Line Robert Stephenson, the son of George Stephenson, completes the London to Birmingham rail line.[16]
1839 Introduction The first railway line in Italy opens.[22] Italy
1841 Isambard Kingdom Brunel completes hos London to Bristol line - the Great Western Railway. This is considered such a stunning achievement that people use the rail line's initials (GWT) to call it "God's Womderful Railway".[16] United Kingdom
1842 Introduction The first railway system in France opens.[17] France
1851 Introduction The first long distance railway line in Russia opens connecting Moscow with Saint Petersburg.[23] Russia
1852 Introduction The first railway in Africa opens, in Alexandria, Egypt.[24] Egypt
1856 Englishman Henry Bessemer, who took out a patent on the later called Bessemer process, which would further enable cheaper production of steel in the late 1860s, sparking the rapid expansion of railways across America and other countries around the world.[4] United Kingdom
1863 Line The first section of the "London Underground" begins its work.[2] United Kingdom
1863 Introduction The construction of the first transcontinental railroad in the United States begins.[25] United States
1866 Scientific development German industrialist Werner von Siemens discovers the dynamo-electric principle.[3] Germany
1872 Introduction The first railway line in Japan opens between Yokohama and Tokyo.[26] Japan
1879 Technology Werner von Siemens demonstrates an electric railway with external power source at the Berlin Commercial Exposition.[3][1][27] Germany
1881 Technology The world's first electric tram line, Gross-Lichterfelde Tramway, openes in Lichterfelde near Berlin, Germany. It is built by Siemens.[3] Germany
1883 Line British electrical engineer Magnus Volk opens the Volk's Electric Railway in Brighton, England.[28] United Kingdom
1890 Technology The entire London train fleet starts using electrical engines. This marks the beginning of the new era of urban rapid transit systems.[2] United Kingdom
1890s Steam powered passenger trains in England carry people living in the country to cities for work and for pleasure. City people travel by train to the countryside or the seaside. On some trains there are carriages with bedrooms, called sleeping cars, and restaurants and bathrooms have been added.[1] United Kingdom
1891 Line Construction of the Trans-Siberian railway begins.[29] Russia
1892 Technology The diesel engine is invented by German engineer, Rudolf Diesel.[1] Germany
1893 General Electric produces the first electric locomotive.[30] United States
1895 Technology Japan's first electrified railway starts operation.[31] Japan
1901 Introduction The first electric monorail is built in Germany and is still running. It hangs from an overhead track.[1] Germany
1917 Technology General Electric produces an experimental Diesel-electric locomotive using Lemp's control design, the first in the United States.[32] United States
1924 Introduction The first mainline diesel-electric locomotive is built in the Soviet Union.[33] Soviet Union
1964 Technology Japan's Shinkansen high-speed train, often called 'bullet train', becomes the first high speed train in service.[1] Japan
1970-1975 Light rail vehicles come into use. These would replace trains in some places.[1]
1981 Line The French government puts one of the fastest trains in the world into service: the TGV (Train a grande vitesse) between Paris and Lyon.[34] France
1997 Technology The first Maglev train prototypes are tested in Japan.[35] Japan
2004 Line The Shanghai Transrapid Line in China becomes the first commercial high-speed maglev train line to run.[1] China
2010 The Shanghai's subway system becomes the largest in the world.[36] China

Meta information on the timeline

How the timeline was built

The initial version of the timeline was written by User:Sebastian.

Funding information for this timeline is available.

What the timeline is still missing

Timeline update strategy

See also

External links


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 "Rail transportation: a timeline". kidcyber.com.au. Retrieved 7 February 2018. 
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  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "1879 – Siemens presents the world's first electric railway with an external power source". siemens.com. Retrieved 5 March 2018. 
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 "The History of the Railroad". thoughtco.com. Retrieved 7 February 2018. 
  5. Tzanakakis, Konstantinos. The Railway Track and Its Long Term Behaviour: A Handbook for a Railway Track of High Quality. 
  6. Greene, Kevin. The Archaeology of the Roman Economy. 
  7. "History of Railways in the United States of America". sinfin.net. Retrieved 6 March 2018. 
  8. "Henry Cort". britannica.com. Retrieved 6 March 2018. 
  9. Chrimes, Michael M. The Civil Engineering of Canals and Railways before 1850. 
  10. Clarke Jr, Marcus A. Mans Creation. 
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  17. 17.0 17.1 "Railroads in 19th Century Europe : Great Britain, France, Germany, and Russia". zum.de. Retrieved 6 March 2018. 
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  19. De Cet, Mirco; Kent, Alan. The Complete Encyclopedia of Locomotives. 
  20. Twigg, Alan. 101 Top Historical Sites of Cuba. 
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  32. "Diesel locomotive first uses". locomotives-and-trains.com. Retrieved 6 March 2018. 
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  35. Osamura, Kozo; Hirabayashi, Izumi. Advances in Superconductivity X: Proceedings of the 10th International Symposium on Superconductivity (ISS ’97), October 27–30, 1997, Gifu Volume 1–3. 
  36. Giap, Tan Khee; Randong, Yuan; Mu, Yang. Annual Analysis Of Competitiveness, Simulation Studies And Development Perspective For 34 Greater China Economies: 2000-2010.