This Railway Might Have Been Little, But It Was Mighty

September 27, 1825

The Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR) made its debut in northeastern England’s County Durham, thereby launching the first service of locomotive-hauled passenger trains. It linked the village of Witton Park with the market town of Stockton-on-Tees and also provided connections to several coal-mining facilities near the town of Shildon.

The S&DR, covering a total of 26 miles (41.8 kilometers), was the longest railway line in existence at the time it opened. There was a longtime need in County Durham for transporting all of the coal and iron mined in that area – a way that would be more efficient than continuing the traditional horse-and-cart approach and less expensive than trying to construct a local system of canals.


In the Opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, a watercolor painted in the 1880s by John Dobbin, crowds are watching the inaugural train cross the Skerne Bridge in Darlington.

On the opening day for the new rail service, the inaugural passenger train took two hours after departing Witton Park to complete the first 12 miles (19.3 kilometers) of the route. Nearly all of the hundreds of passengers on board for the ride sat in open coal wagons, with dignitaries traveling in a coach that resembled a wooden shed and was called “The Experiment.” 

A report prepared for the British Association for the Advancement of Science almost four decades later provided additional details about that maiden run. “The whole train moved at a rate of 10-12 miles [16.1-19.3 kilometers] per hour, with an estimated weight of 86 tons [78 metric tons],” recounted the report. “It was computed that about 700 people were drawn on this train, a number that created the greatest astonishment.” 

Upon arriving at Stockton on Tees, the train was welcomed by a crowd of approximately 40,000 people and also a 21-gun salute. The pioneering S&DR proved to be a financial success over the next several years. The S&DR remained in operation until 1863, when it was taken over by the North Eastern Railway. For more information on the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR), please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockton_and_Darlington_Railway.

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