All About Stephenson’s Rocket Steam Train….
One of the most famous trains in the world and certainly the most recognisable is Stephenson’s Rocket. But who was Robert Stephenson and why was this train so important?
Robert Stephenson – The Man Who Took Life’s Opportunities
Born in 1803 in Northumberland, Stephenson was son to an already famous railway legend, George. His father was a respected civil engineer who not only built the first city to city rail line but also is credited with inventing the standard rail gauge also known as the “Stephenson Gauge” – (A track gauge is basically the width of the rail line and has four basic categories of Minimum, Narrow, Standard and Broad).
Unlike many other rail pioneers, Robert was not from a poor background. He was educated at the Percy Street Academy in Newcastle but in his fifteenth year started a mining engineering apprenticeship under the guidance of Nicholas Wood.
Before he could finish, his father sought his services in order to survey a new railway line. After this, he felt the need to further his education and spent half a year at Edinburgh University before setting sail to Colombia where for 3 years learnt his trade as a mining engineer in tough conditions. Many experts agree that this is where Stephenson learnt most about rail-road engineering and it wasn’t long before he returned back to England to put his newly developed skills into action.
In 1829 he worked night and day on his new project – The Rocket which was the winner of the famous Rainhill Trials. Did you know that Stephenson also designed bridges? He is accredited with designing and building The High Level Bridge, Britannia Bridge and Victoria Bridge in Canada which for a long time was the longest bridge on the planet.
In this year he also married a woman called Frances Sanderson who tragically died 13 years later. In his later years he turned to politics, where he represented the beautiful coastal town of Whitby in the Houses of Parliament. He died in 1859 where he was still a member of parliament.
The Rocket – Powering the Liverpool to Manchester Railway
There is a mis-conception that The Rocket was the first ever steam powered train. This is incorrect. But it was the best of its type where the Stephenson carefully and skilfully built a train that was way ahead of it’s time.
Built to a Standard Gauge, The Rocket was a masterpiece in every sense of the word. The design was not only simple and sensible but also so clever that it was to be the die cut design of steam trains for decades to come.
The cylindrical chimney is what most people recognise first. Placed at the front of the train with the main boiler set in the centre and finally the firebox at the back. The huge driving wheels were powered by cylinders and the smaller rear wheels ran independent of the front.
As with many engineering feats of the time, the first day of service was the scene of a tragic accident. Local MP, William Huskisson was killed as the train struck him. Amazingly, this was not enough to halt proceedings and a total of eight trains embarked on a journey from Merseyside to Manchester.
The rocket was used for 14 years on the same line before being retired to Lord Carlisle’s Railway line in Cumbria where it ran right up until 1840. Today, the train is on display at the Science Museum in London.
Watch a BBC video on the workings of this famous stream train.