The train. As a form of transport they’ve been with us since 1804 (well, in terms of powered locomotives), and their genesis can be found in earlier experiments with steam power. Rails themselves pre-date self-powered trains by some margin; the earliest form of ‘track’ dates back to 600 BC and the Ancient Greeks. Horse-pulled carts travelled across rails in 16th Century Germany. Rail transport has been with us for a long time, but as mentioned before, commercial train operations didn’t start until 1804, and the development of a rail network using self-propelled locomotives would be an on-going process in Victorian Britain, as well as the world.
New technology, financial concerns and even the impact of World War II have shaped rail networks all over the world. What we have now is a vast, linked network that in theory, allows someone to board a train in London and travel all the way to China. In practice such journeys don’t exist (at least not for passenger trains). However the work on steam power that began in the 18th Century has developed into something where the potential for global rail travel exists.
If you want to read a bit more on the history of the railways (at least, from a UK perspective), check out the sections further down. What I haven’t addressed yet is why I love trains.
My earliest memories of trains come from waiting at Stevenage station, waiting for trains to take me to London (and sometimes to other places). Big, powerful Intercity 125 express trains would thunder through the station, whilst the regional 317s (and later 365s) would usually carry me and my family to wherever we were going. I remember on one occasion we were on one of the express trains (that occasionally stopped at Stevenage) and I got to go to the buffet car (something you won’t find on a commuter train).
Alongside these memories there are memories of reading books on the era of steam trains (such as the Flying Scotsman and Mallard) at my Nan and Grandad’s home. There was a trip to London where we saw a number of model railways and that’s also one of my earliest memories of travelling on the London Underground.
For reasons I’ve never quite been able to pin down, I’ve fallen in love with rail travel and the grandeur it can hold. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always glamorous (a lot of the time it isn’t), but a lot of the time it’s something kinda special.
I’ve a lot more to say on trains and rail travel, check out the sections below!