Although the first regular steam engine passenger run was inaugurated over a one-mile section on the 6.5 mile track from Canterbury to Whitstable, Kent, England, on May 3, 1830 hauled by the engine Invicta, railed tracks were used for mining purposes as early as 1550. These tracks were used at Leberthal, Alsace near the French-German border and at the Brosseley Colliery, Salop, England in 1605.
The first self-propelled locomotive ever to run on rails was built by Richard Trevithic (1771-1883) at Salop in England. The first electric railways was Warner Von Siemen’s 600-yard- long Berlin electric track opened for the Berlin Traders’ Exhibition on May 31, 1879.
The oldest underground subways railway system in the world is the London Transport subways system whose first section was opened on January 10, 1863.
The birth of the organised rail transport, however, came in the year 1841. A Baptist preacher of Derbyshire on his way to a temperance society meeting in Leicester was inspired with the idea of engaging a special train to carry the friends of temperance society from Leicester to Southborough and back to attend a quarterly delegate meeting. The man behind this idea was one Thomas Cook. He sold his idea to his friends.
A few weeks’ later 570 passengers made the journey by the Midland Counties Railway at a specially reduced fare. And thus began a new era in rail passenger transport. Many other countries in Europe built and opened railway lines as a result of the success of railways in England. Railway tracks were laid in France, Austria and Switzerland. Across the Atlantic the tracks were laid in America.
This revolution in rail transport technology produced an immediate expansion in the European travel scene. The mobility provided by rail-roads encouraged a large number of people to move from the place of residence to another place for short periods for the purposes of travel. In the year 1881, the railways carried over 600 million passengers over lines operated by one hundred odd companies.
The railways were now keen to stimulate travel and to improve the system. There was also an element of competition now and various railway companies tried to make travel as comfortable as possible for the travellers by introducing more and more amenities and facilities.
In the early 1870s, first class railways travel was introduced by an American, G.M. Pullman, who developed the Pullman coaches with their luxury furnishing and dining facilities. Long distance travel could now be undertaken in comfort and with pleasure.
The longer distances in America necessitated the ensuring of greater comfort for passengers. The Pullman coaches manufactured in America were imported by some railway companies in England by other European countries. By the year 1872, the Pullman Company had 700 cars working over 30,000 miles of railways under contract with over 150 different companies.
The introduction of rail transport vastly increased the opportunities for escape from the rigors of city life. The railways can be considered as one of the most powerful motives for mass travel in the nineteenth century. Although the railways monopolised the mass travel market during the nineteenth century, they suffered from competition from coach and car transport during the twentieth, century.
Today’s rail transport market is very different from that of a hundred years ago. Railway services compete not only with automobile travel but with motor coach and airplane travel as well. In many countries rail travel offers a leisurely pace and unique views of scenic countryside along routes rarely seen by air or road.
In newer passenger trains comfortable sleeping accommodations are available. European trains are among the most modern and comfortable in the world. The single most significant development in the European public railways took place in 1989 when the community of European Railways representing the 12 members of the EC, plus Austria and Switzerland, announced plans for transcontinental high speed rail network.
It is estimated that by the year 2015, some 21000 miles, (33600 Kilometers) of new track capable of handling trains at a speed over 200 miles (360 Kilometers) per hours world be in operation.
Lately an interesting development is taking place in the field of transportation. The energy crisis since 1974 which resulted in widespread recession and galloping inflation have rather adversely affected travel by air and by the private car. It is becoming increasingly expensive to travel by air and by the private car and coach.
The fuel consumption per passenger kilometer is two to four times more in automobiles and ten times more in aero planes as compared to trains. This factor of increase in oil prices is responsible for the remarkable achievement in recent years in the growth of faster and cheaper rail transport.
Besides the cost factor, the railways also have an advantage over the airlines in that the terminal stations are often located in the heart of the cities and the train timings are generally more convenient. To add to this the growing congesting on highways and airports has given a further impetus to this trend.
All the above factors coupled with advanced technology and an increasing need for mobility is leading to a renaissance of the rail transport. The railways which were pioneers in the growth and development of early mass travel and were relegated to a secondary place with the introduction of motor and air transport once again are assuming an important role.
In almost all the European countries, the United States of America, Asia and elsewhere revolutionary ideas for achieving higher speeds and comfort are being conceived and put into practical
The trend, however, was discernible before the world was affected by the energy crisis. It was in Europe when the designs for faster and comfortable trains were first formulated. In the year 1960 British Railways electrified it London-Manchester line, a very busy line, to achieve the speed of 160 kilometers per hour.
The new high-speed trains on this line reduced their running time by full one hour from the former three hour forty minute-trip. Passenger traffic almost doubled in five years. In West Germany, a new inter-city system introduced in 1971 provided a rapid train service at two- hour intervals between every major city in the country and brought.
Over 30 per cent more passengers in the first twelve months. Passengers were provided with extra conveniences like telephones, secretarial services, latest stock quotations and ‘a la carte’ dining-car service round the clock.
Similarly, in France, the 160 kilometers per hour turbine train service, which began in 1970 between Paris and Caen in northern France, cut travel time by almost one-fifth. Passenger loads went up by 25 per cent in the first year.
High speed train services elsewhere in Europe connect Paris and Lyons in France, Rome and Milan in Italy and Moscow and Leningrad in Russia.
In Asia, it was Japan which took the epoch-making decision to use the latest technology and convert the rail line between Tokyo and Osaka covering a distance of 515 kilometers into a high-speed track.
This ambitious project was completed in the year 1964. The superfast train known as Hikari Express-‘bullet train’- travels on the new Tokaido line at a speed of 210 kilometers per hour cutting the journey time to less than three hours again six and a half hours taken earlier.
Encouraged by the success of its bold venture, it went further and built the new Sanyo line, 565 kilometers in length on which trains travel even faster at a maximum speed of 260 kilometers per hour.
Elsewhere in Asia, new and faster rail tracks are being introduced as the number of passengers carried by rail has been increasing in Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. However, it is only in recent years that extraordinary developments are taking place in rail transport systems, especially in Europe.
It was in France that a world record of speed was broken in the year 1981. In September 1981, a new high-speed train owned by the State-run SNCF Railroad Company shattered the 26-year old world record for rail speed by clocking 380 kilometers per hour (236 miles).
The record-breaking time was achieved near the central French city of Tonnerre during the test run of the French manufactured ‘Train a Grande Vitesse’ (TGV) train. It broke the previous record of 331 kilometers per hour (205 miles) that was set earlier.
The commercial operations of this high-speed train began in 1981 first between Paris and Lyon. The fastest train in the world, TGV, war launched in September 1981 covering the 560 kilometers distance between Paris and Lyon in one hour and 48 minutes. In comfortable, sound-proofed cars the only noise heard is the quiet hiss of air-conditioning.
The newest and the fastest, the ‘TGV Atlantique’, had reduced an hour off journeys from Paris to main cities in the West of France from Brest to Bordeaux. By mid-1990 the French started running TGVs along half their long-distance routes, to bring London, Bordeaux, Rotterdam and Cologne within 3.5 hours from Paris.
Several other new rail projects have been announced in the European countries. The Italian State Railways has inaugurated high-speed runs between Rome and Milan. The non-stop train makes the 393 miles (638 kilometers) trip in four hours and 55 minutes, about an hour less than the standard runs. Sweden has upgraded its four major lines to reduce the travel time between its major cities.
In the United States of America, the railways are coming back into the scene in recent years. Increasing number of railway lines is being built to carry a large number of passengers not only within the suburbs but also long distance. There is a great spurt in the urban rail system construction all over the Untied States.
It is increasingly being felt that a mass transit system can reduce congestion high density towns and that this may reduce the automobile pollution. Long-distance trains running on the Amtrak system between New York and San Francisco have been modernised.
The Amtrak has also added new double Pullman coaches on the system with a view to encourage more rail travel. High-speed train services now connect highly populated Washington – Baltimore – Philadelphia – New York – Boston ‘Corridor’ in United States.
After more than 25 years of research, the world of railways is on the verge of entering an exciting super high-speed era. Magnetic levitation (Maglev) technology will enable trains to run at supersonic speeds within the next decade. By about 2010 or so, Commercial passenger trains will run at more than 550 kilometers per hour floating frictionless a few centimeters above the rails.
It was Japan which first started working on Maglev in the late sixties. A milestone was achieved in 1999 April, on the new Yamanashi Maglev Test Line when a manned Maglev train clocked a record 552 kilometer per hour.
Super high-speed trains, independent of wheel and rail friction have been a long-standing dream of researchers. With maglev, the train is magnetically-levitated (not supported by wheels) and is propelled by a linear induction motor instead of conventional rotary electric motor.
The levitation method utilized ordinary direct-current electromagnets that are attached to the bottom of the vehicle. There magnetic field lifts the train. An electronic circuit amplifier controls the current to the electromagnets in order to maintain the gap .between rail and magnetic cores.
The gap is measured by a sensor. Barring the air-conditioning system, Maglev’s have no moving parts and therefore there is very little wear, no noise or vibration and low energy consumption.
Elsewhere in Asia new and faster rail tracks are being introduced. The new rail services are even giving airlines and the coach transport their greatest competition.
The up gradation of tracks and advances in maximum speeds in railway systems in Europe and elsewhere have made possible for travellers to reach various city centres in almost the same time as air travel time. Many business travellers are being lured away from air travel especially in continental Europe.