Rail transport is a means of conveyance of passengers and goods, by way of wheeled vehicles running on rails. It is also commonly referred to as train transport. In contrast to road transport, where vehicles run on a prepared flat surface, rail vehicles are also directionally guided by the tracks on which they run. Track usually consists of steel rails, installed on ties (sleepers) and ballast, on which the rolling stock, usually fitted with metal wheels, moves. However, other variations are also possible, such as slab track where the rails are fastened to a concrete foundation resting on a prepared subsurface.

Rolling stock in railway transport systems generally has lower frictional resistance when compared with highway vehicles and the passenger and freight cars (carriages and wagons) can be coupled into longer trains. The operation is carried out by a railway company, providing transport between train stations or freight customer facilities. Power is provided by locomotives which either draw electrical power from a railway electrification system or produce their own power, usually by diesel engines. Most tracks are accompanied by a signalling system. Railways are a safe land transport system when compared to other forms of transport.[Nb 1] Railway transport is capable of high levels of passenger and cargo utilization and energy efficiency, but is often less flexible and more capital-intensive than highway transport is, when lower traffic levels are considered.

The oldest, man-hauled railways date back to the 6th century B.C, with Periander, one of the Seven Sages of Greece, credited with its invention. Rail transport blossomed after the British development of the steam locomotive as a viable source of the power in the 18th and 19th centuries. With steam engines, it was possible to construct mainline railways, which were a key component of the industrial revolution. Also, railways reduced the costs of shipping, and allowed for fewer lost goods, compared with shipping, which faced occasional sinking of ships. The change from canals to railways allowed for “national markets” in which prices varied very little from city to city. Studies have shown that the invention and development of the railway in Europe was one of the most important technological inventions of the late 19th century for the United States, without which, GDP would have been lower by 7.0% in 1890.

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The earliest evidence of a railway was a 6-kilometre (3.7 mi) Diolkos wagonway, which transported boats across the Corinth isthmus in Greece during the 6th century BC. Trucks pushed by slaves ran in grooves in limestone, which provided the track element. The Diolkos operated for over 600 years.[1]

Railways began reappearing in Europe after the Dark Ages. The earliest known record of a railway in Europe from this period is a stained-glass window in the Minster of Freiburg im Breisgau in Germany, dating from around 1350.[2] In 1515, Cardinal Matthäus Lang wrote a description of the Reisszug, a funicular railway at the Hohensalzburg Castle in Austria. The line originally used wooden rails and a hemp haulage rope, and was operated by human or animal power. The line still exists, albeit in updated form, and is one of the oldest railways still to operate.[3][4]

By 1550, narrow gauge railways with wooden rails were common in mines in Europe.[5] By the early 17th century, wooden wagonways were common in England and Wales for transporting coal from mines to canal wharfs for transshipment to boats. The world’s oldest working railway, built in 1758, is the Middleton Railway in Leeds. In 1764, the first gravity railroad in the United States was built in Lewiston, New York.[6] The first permanent tramway was the Leiper Railroad in 1810.

The design of the Chuck Taylor All-Star has remained largely unchanged

The design of the Chuck Taylor All-Star has remained largely unchanged

Age of steam

Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds), located in Salta, Argentina
The development of the steam engine during the Industrial Revolution in Great Britain, initially for pumping water, spurred ideas for mobile steam locomotives that could haul heavy weights on tracks. James Watt’s patented steam engines of 1769 (patent revised in 1782) were heavy low-pressure engines which were not suitable for use in locomotives. However, in 1804, using high-pressure steam, Richard Trevithick demonstrated the first locomotive-hauled train at Merthyr Tydfil, in South Wales.[13][14] Accompanied with Andrew Vivian, it ran with mixed success,[15] breaking some of the brittle cast-iron plates.[16] Two years later, the first passenger horse-drawn railway was opened nearby between Swansea and Mumbles.[17]

Earliest British steam railways[edit] In 1811, John Blenkinsop designed the first successful and practical railway locomotive[18]—a rack railway worked by a steam locomotive between Middleton Colliery and Leeds on the Middleton Railway. His first locomotive, called Salamanca, was built the following year.[19]:20 In 1825, George Stephenson built the Locomotion for the Stockton and Darlington Railway, north east England, which was the first public steam railway in the world. In 1829, he built the Rocket, which was entered in and won the Rainhill Trials. This success led to Stephenson establishing his company as the pre-eminent builder of steam locomotives for Railways in Great Britain and Ireland, the United States, and much of Europe.[19]:24–30

In 1830, the first intercity route, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, was opened. The gauge was that used for the early wagon-ways, which had been adopted for the Stockton and Darlington Railway,[20] with a 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 1⁄2 in) width which became known as the international standard gauge, still used by about 60% of the world’s railways. This spurred the spread of rail transport outside the British Isles.

By the early 1850s, Great Britain had over 7,000 miles (11,000 km) of railway, a stunning achievement given that only twenty years had elapsed since the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.[21]

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