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Manchester to Liverpool: the first inter-city railway
Liverpool Road Station in 1830
Liverpool Road Station is now part of the Museum of Science and Industry

The world's oldest inter-city railway, which joins Manchester and Liverpool, is celebrating its 180th birthday.

The line has been in constant use since opening on Wednesday 15 September 1830.

It was initially intended to ferry goods between the port of Liverpool and the growing industry of Manchester.

Within a year of its opening, the country had become enamoured with the idea of rail travel and the trains using the line were carrying thousands of passengers too.

It's difficult to imagine now, with the easy transport links between the two cities, but movement of goods and people in the early 19th Century wasn't a straightforward task.

Swapping water for steam

The main route was by water via the canal network, but the high fees charged to use it were causing merchants major monetary problems.

Wapping Tunnel in Liverpool in 1830
The construction of Liverpool's Wapping Tunnel was a major feat

The situation called for a radical solution.

In 1822, Liverpool corn merchant Joseph Sandars and Mancunian spinning mill owner John Kennedy asked surveyor William James to investigate a route for a railway.

At the time, steam locomotives were cutting edge technology (the first working locomotive was built in 1804) but the idea was met with approval in both cities and on Saturday 24 May 1823, The Liverpool and Manchester Railway Company was founded.

Removing the opposition

The railway's journey from proposition to reality wasn't a direct one.

William James' initial survey was defective, so in 1824, the rail pioneer George Stephenson was put in charge of the project.

George Stephenson in 1848
George Stephenson was in charge of the railway construction

It looked like an ideal solution, but George's son, Robert, who was responsible for the working out the measurements for all his father's projects, was away - and as a result, George's survey was also off the mark.

This led to the Parliamentary Bill proposing the railway being rejected - though the measurements weren't the only problem, as it also faced stiff opposition from the Marquess of Stafford, who faced a drop in earnings from his Bridgewater Canal.

A third survey was accurately completed by Charles Blacker Vignoles, whose employers John and George Rennie were able to convince the Marquess of the railway's importance to such an extent that he went from opposing it to financially supporting it - allowing a second Bill to be passed in 1826.

A railway is built

Despite his failure with the survey - and thanks to the Rennie brothers' high prices - George Stephenson was put in charge of building the railway.

The engineering feat of completing the 35 mile line remains an astonishing achievement, given the technology of the time.

The Sankey Brook valley viaduct in 1830
The Sankey Brook Viaduct was one of 64 bridges and viaducts built

The project saw the building of termini at Liverpool Road in Castlefield and Edge Hill in Liverpool, and 64 bridges and viaducts (including a nine arch viaduct spanning the Sankey Brook valley), the construction of the Wapping Tunnel in Liverpool and the cleaving of a huge pass through Olive Mount, all within the space of three years.

Perhaps the most impressive part is the crossing of Chat Moss bog near Irlam.

Finding that he could not drain the bog, George Stephenson's solution was to create an artificial grounding within it.

For weeks, workers tipped stone and earth into the bog to create a foundation on which wooden hurdles were built to carry the line.

So strong was this construction that the same hurdles carry the track and the considerably heavier trains across Chat Moss today.

Inter-city travel begins

After much testing with Stephenson's famous locomotive, The Rocket, the track officially opened on Wednesday 15 September 1830.

Edge Hill Station in Liverpool in 1830
The railway ran from Liverpool Road in Manchester to Edge Hill in Liverpool

It was such an important moment for the nation that the Duke of Wellington, the prime minister at the time, led the army of dignitaries who climbed aboard the first train.

That first journey didn't go entirely according to plan.

William Huskisson, the MP for Liverpool, decided to seize the opportunity of a planned stop at Newton-le-Willows to speak to the Duke.

However, he misjudged the speed of the train and was run over, later dying of his injuries and gaining the undesirable title of being the first documented railway casualty.

That sad moment didn't stop the train gripping the imagination of the nation though and soon it was carrying numerous passengers and goods, linking the two cities forever with one sturdy track of iron.

The original Liverpool Road Station terminus is now part of MOSI (Museum of Science and Industry), which also houses replicas of Stephenson's Rocket and Planet




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