The railway was properly born with the invention of the steam boiler, contraption able to provide traction power. The idea is due to Isaac Newton, who built in 1680 the first device of this kind, however discarded because of being not practical. Other tentatives followed with relative success, until in 1815 George Stephenson solved definitely the problem, constructing a locomotive destined to coal transport. Later it was adapted to be used to transport passengers, which gave start to the vertiginous development of the railway. One of the difficulties that the railway found in its expansion was the laying of railroads, specially in countries with rough terrain, which faced the complex task of leveling the terrain, widening passages and tunneling mountains. These difficulties were however overcome, for the results would compensate for the initial inconveniences.
Locomotive fitted with an armored artillery wagon during the American Civil War.
The first railway properly speaking, this is, with mechanical traction and destined to the transport of freight and passangers, was inaugurated in England the 27th September 1825 and it covered the route Stockton-Darlington. The European countries which first adopted this useful invention were France in 1832 and Belgium and Germany in 1835. The first Spanish railway was inaugurated the 28th October 1848 and it covered the route Barcelona-Mataró. United States was, after England, the first country that adopted this invention, the 29th August 1829; among the American countries followed Canada in 1840, Chile and Mexico in 1850, Peru in 1851, Brazil in 1854, Argentina in 1857, Uruguay in 1869 and Bolivia in 1873. The first Asian and African countries that adopted the railway were, respectively, India in 1853 and Egypt in 1856. In Australia the railway was introduced in 1854.
Locomotive "Fairlie" built in 1910, in service in the Mexican railways.
Initially the railway used only the power of the steam; however, already in the late 19th century, it started to be applied the electric power and the 20th century witnessed the almost total electrification of the railroads and the introduction of the Diesel engine. Electricity has a good number of advantages over steam, minimal and maximal, from the cleanliness to the greater uniformity and power of the traction, passing by the factor speed, so important nowadays. The railway has evolved so much since its early years that nothing in it reminds of the primitive models. The locomotives, no longer requiring the weight represented by the coal and the water, adopted more rational shapes regarding the dynamic requirements; the wheel arrangement has been perfected to achieve greater stability and the attachment between the different elements (wagons or cars) has been perfected to the point of forming the whole train an almost compact unit.
On the other hand, by increasing the engine power, it has been multiplied the load capacity, which makes the railway irreplaceable in the transport of freight and passengers. Regarding speed, to the 25 kilometers per hour developed by the first locomotive, can be opposed the 200 kilometers per hour reached by the electric train introduced in 1962 to cover the line Tokyo-Osaka, which moreover is automatized and remote-controlled. Also the rails, which initially were believed to not be able to measure more than 12 meters in length, because of being considered imperative to leave a certain space between them to avoid the effects of expansion and contraction caused by thermal variations, are nowadays welded to reach a length of up to four kilometers, while the more standard rails rarely measure less than 15 meters.
American express train of the 1940s fitted with a snowplow.
Another aspect is the gauge or distance between the inner faces of the rails, a factor of vital importance since it affects the connection between the railway networks of different countries. The problem was solved by adopting a value of international use, equivalent to 1435 millimeters, to which most European countries adhered; but not so Spain, where the value imposed by law since 1885 was 1668 millimeters. This discrepancy caused to Spain the nuissance of transfers with the French railways. The solution to this problem was found in 1968, when it was introduced a model of the TALGO with the wheels disposed in such a way that they would automatically adapt to both the Spanish and international gauge. Since then the Spanish railway could link directly with the European lines.
Also in their structure suffered modifications the railways. In this regard is specially notable the system which uses a single rail, known as monorail, achieving greater speed by reducing the friction on the rails. More innovative were the systems known as aerotrain and tubular train, introduced experimentally in the second half of the 20th century. The first one is a monorail train which, propelled by a turboprop engine, moves above an air cushion at speeds of up to 400 kilometers per hour. The second one uses as well the principle of air cushion, and in it the air absorbed by a turbine can impulse the train at speeds above 800 kilometers per hour.
Here starts the history...