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Historical Facts & Information on Trains

Updated on April 16, 2014

Stephenson's Rocket | Source

Earliest Trains

The earliest trains or locomotives were powered by steam engines which were devised in the early 1700s. James Watt (1736-1819), a Scottish mechanical engineer, invented a steam engine, the design of which was used to power the early locomotives. A fire burning coal or wood heated up water inside a boiler which generated steam. The steam was used to drive cylinders called pistons backwards and forwards and rods from these turned the wheels of the train. One renowned and popular steam locomotive was designed by George Stephenson (1781-1848), an English civil and mechanical engineer, in 1829 and was called the Rocket.

Stephenson's Rocket Locomotive at the London Science Museum

commons' | Source

The Flying Scotsman in Doncaster, England (public domain) (public domain) | Source

During the 1800s, railway tracks were laid down and steam trains made travel very much possible for large number of passengers. Steam trains are still in routine use in some countries of the world. In Great Britain, steam trains are popular tourists attractions, especially in science museums where visitors can learn a great deal of history. Many old locomotives have been restored, and famous ones such as the Flying Scotsman and the Mallard, which set the speed record for a steam train in 1938 of over 200kmph, are household names.

Old Steam Trains of the 1940s in UK

The Mallard Locomotive | Source

French TGV | Source

After the Second World War, locomotives powered by diesel engines quickly replaced the old stream trains. These diesel-powered trains were faster, smoother and kind to the environment than the steam locomotives and, along with electric trains, form the basis of modern railway networks. Electric trains are run on electricity which is obtained either from an overhead cable or from a 'live' rail in the center of the train track. These trains are especially associated with the underground railways system in London and many other cities in Great Britain, but they also run above ground.

Some underground trains are totally automatic, being operated by electronic signals generated via the track from a central control unit. One of the fastest trains in the world, which can achieve the high speed of over 520kmph, is the French TVG (train a grande vitesse), which is electrically-operated.

Inter-city 125 Train

commons' | Source

One of Britain's Intercity series, the 125, is the fastest diesel train being able to reach a speed of 233kmph. The speed record is held by a Japanese locomotive, the Bullet, which is capable of reaching speeds of up to 260kmph.

Trains have always been used to move freight as well as passengers, and a variety of special trucks are used depending upon the materials being transported.

Japanese Bullet Train at the National Railway Museum, York | Source


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    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 5 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      wow how interesting.. I just saw on the history channel about how trains got started and it was fascinating.

      great hub

      voted up and sharing