For enthusiasts and researchers of the Great Eastern Railway

RE048 Atmospheric Railways, early 1840's.

NEW MAY 2020.  In the early days of railways, the means of haulage was still very much an open question - much more so than with hindsight we might imagine. There were three main candidates. Steam locomotives were of course a possibility, given a big boost by the Rainhill Trials. Another option was rope haulage, powered by lineside winding engines. There were also several advocates of atmospheric railways, in which a pipe would run the length of the track: creating a vacuum one side of a piston in it would cause the atmospheric pressure acting on the other side to propel it to the other end. All that was needed was a vacuum pump.

It was not until 1847 that Brunel opened his well-known atmospheric line by the side of the Exe estuary (and as early as 1848 when he abandoned the experiment). His ideas didn't spring from nowhere, however. By that time there were at least three other lines in Britain which employed atmospheric traction - one in Ireland, one at Wormwood Scrubbs in London, and one near Croydon. All are mentioned in this account.

Some had felt that the Norwich and Yarmouth Railway would have been ideal to become the first atmospheric railway, and so the company had missed a trick in that respect. In this file Robert Stephenson, never a great supporter of atmospheric railways, supplies figures for the line which showed this was not the case. George Bidder weighed up the possibility of using the method on the Blackwall Railway, before deciding on rope haulage.

These extracts, taken from 'The Civil Engineer and Architect's Journal, Scientific and Railway Gazette' between 1839 and 1847, give the flavour of the time. It was realised that the greatest challenge lay in an air-tight link between the piston inside the pipe and the train - the problem which Brunel eventually found insurmountable. There were several patents taken out which looked feasible, however, as well as a few scatter-brained ones (such as making the piston out of iron and having a strong magnet on the first carriage, or having a large brick-built tube with the train inside it forming the piston. In the latter case, a concession to passengers was that the tube should have windows in it so they could see out!).

What you get here are just a selection from the many references in the Journal. They include summaries of the evidence put before the Select Committee of the House of Commons set up to report on the pros and cons of atmospheric propulsion - yes, it was seriously considered to that extent.

The 40 pages of extracts conclude with part of the History of Engineering, a major series written in 1847 by the then President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, Sir J Rennie. Included here is his survey of raiways in general (a fascinating record when most of it was in the very recent past, and doubtless he knew many of the people he mentioned). He considers locomotive engines, lineside stationary engines with rope haulage and the story of atmospheric railways to that date.

The file has bookmarks and is word-searchable. It will be available to download as soon as payment has been made. You go to your account and click on ‘Downloads’. New customers create an account as they place their order.

File
Pages 40
File Size (MB) 23.6

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