Wooden wagonways, using either manpower or horsepower, had been used in Europe from as early as the 16th century, and by 1770 James Watt had turned the steam engine into a viable motive force.
Having done all the hard work, however, Watt declined to get involved with the search for a lightweight engine that could be made mobile, and it was left to his adversary Richard Trevithick to come up with a solution.
By dispensing with Watt's condenser and allowing steam from his high-pressure engine to exhaust into the atmosphere, Trevithick laid the foundations for the locomotive, and he built his first vehicle, a steam-powered road car, at Camborne, Cornwall, in 1801. Three years later came his first railway engine.
It ran on the normally horse-drawn line at the Penydaren ironworks in South Wales, pulling 10 tons of iron and 70 men. Unfortunately the cast-iron rails of the tramway were not strong enough to support the five-ton weight.
However, an engine similar to the Penydaren one was built to Trevithick's specifications at Newcastle the following year, and it seems highly likely that George Stephenson saw this machine.
It was hardly a success on the wooden tramlines, but it gave Stephenson valuable experience and in 1821 he was appointed engineer to the embryo Stockton and Darlington railway, the world's first freight- and passenger-carrying steam line. For this, he built his famous engine Locomotion, now in the Science Museum in London.
The Stockton-Darlington line opened on September 27 1825, with Stephenson at the controls of Locomotion as she hauled a train of 36 wagons filled with coal and flour.
Soon, Stephenson's Newcastle-based engineering company was contracted to build the seven-mile Bolton-Leigh railway in Lancashire, which opened in 1929 as a freight line with motive power provided by the Robert Stephenson-designed Lancashire Witch.
Even while the Bolton-Leigh line was under construction, Stephenson was hard at work on a much bigger and far more important project just a few miles away.
It was in the following year, 1830, after the now-famous trials for competing railway engines at Rainhill, that Stephenson's Rocket inaugurated the 36-mile Liverpool-Manchester Railway, which provided a big boost to the cotton trade with a fast, efficient link with the sea for imports and exports.
AN 1831 train crosses lonely Chat Moss on the Liverpool-Manchester line
THE world's first railway station in Liverpool Road, Manchester - still in existence.
he instant success of the Liverpool-Manchester line signalled the beginning of the end for the canals. Many canal companies saw the writing on the wall and built rail lines themselves, while others withered away slowly.
Just like the Canal Mania of the late 18th century, the railway boom was breathtaking in its speed and scope.Within a month, the Liverpool-Manchester line had forced the closure of no fewer than 14 daily inter-city stagecoach services, and within five years, it was carrying nearly 500,000 passengers and 350,000 tons of freight a year.
Others were quick to see the possibilities. Within 20 years, Britain had no less than 6,000 miles of railway, speeding the movement of raw materials and finished goods and opening up the country. And there was another, major spin-off.
The very act of building a railway sent industrial production soaring - making the rails themselves, the locomotives and rolling stock, bridges and tunnels and the building infrastructure, gave established construction and engineering industries a major shot in the arm and brought many others into existence.As the rails fanned out across the country, there was plenty of work for everyone, and when home demand eased off, the rest of the world clamoured for Britain's expertise and engineering skills.
In the Manchester region, locomotive-manufacturing works sprang up at Gorton, Newton Heath, Longsight and Earlestown, near Warrington.
By the middle of the century, in Manchester and Salford alone, nearly 6,000 men were making engines and boilers, with perhaps as many again in surrounding towns. The railway that had been built to support the textile industry had become a major industry in its own right.