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Improvements in boiler technology enabled steam engines to operate at higher pressures, which were essential to provide the power needed to haul heavy loads.
On 21 February, 1804, Richard Trevithick’s locomotive hauled the world’s first steam train on the tramway of the Pen-y-Darren ironworks in South Wales.
Together with his son Robert, he surveyed the land for the construction of the Stockton & Darlington Railway in 1821.
The railway opened on 27 September 1825, when the steam locomotive “Locomotion”, built by Stevenson’s company and driven by him, hauled an 80-ton load of coal and flour nine miles in two hours.
The early iron rails were flanged but later the flanging was incorporated into the wheel design and this is still the case today.
Trevithick was very familiar with the pump engines used in Cornish mines and he was also greatly influenced by his neighbour William Murdoch who had developed a model steam carriage.Barrows set on wheels were moved around on wooden rails mounted on logs or on blocks of stone.In due course, the rails were topped with a strip of iron and eventually fully cast iron rails were introduced, providing even greater strength.A recurrent problem in running these early trains was the continual breakage of the cast iron rails which proved to be very brittle under the weight of the heavy steam locomotives.One of the people working on this problem was George Stephenson, a Northumbrian, who not only improved rail strength and durability but also achieved fame as a locomotive designer and builder of railways.
In the course of repairing a model of Newcomen’s engine, he realized that a significant amount of energy was being wasted by repeatedly heating and cooling the cylinder.