Muscat Daily - - BREAK -

Two hun­dred years be­fore the first steam lo­co­mo­tive car­ry­ing pas­sen­gers chugged out of the Heigh­ing­ton rail­way sta­tion in the English town of New­ton Ay­cliffe in 1825, Bri­tish en­gi­neers were lay­ing wooden tracks across the is­land con­nect­ing coal mines to canal wharfs. Th­ese wooden track­ways, called wagonways, were the world’s first true rail­roads, and the pre­de­ces­sor to steam-pow­ered rail­ways.

The his­tory of rail trans­port goes back fur­ther than you think. Ac­cord­ing to the Tyne and Wear Ar­chives and Mu­se­ums, in ba­sic terms, a rail­way is sim­ply a pre­pared track that guides ve­hi­cles so that they can’t leave the track. By that ar­gu­ment, we can say that rail­ways date back to the rut­ways of an­cient Greece and Rome where two par­al­lel chan­nels were cut into the sur­face rock to guide wheels along a specific route. One of the most im­por­tant rut­ways are lo­cated in the Isth­mus of Corinth.

They were built in 600BC and were in use until the first cen­tury AD. By the Mid­dle Ages, wooden wag­ons car­ry­ing coal and run­ning on guided track­ways had be­come stan­dard min­ing prac­tice un­der­ground. Th­ese tubs, known as ‘hunds’, ran be­tween two widely placed wooden rails. A guide pin at­tached to the axle of the front wheels kept the hunds on course.

The use of flanges to keep wheels on the rails was first ob­served in the Wol­la­ton Wagonway, built in 1604 in the East Mid­lands of Eng­land, near Not­ting­ham, by busi­ness­man Hunt­ing­don Beau­mont. It was the world’s first over­ground wagonway. Pulled by horses, the wag­gonway trans­ported coal from the mines at Strel­ley to the dis­tri­bu­tion point at Wol­la­ton over a dis­tance of 3km.

From there the coal was taken on­wards by road, to Trent Bridge and then fur­ther down­stream by barge. The wagonway in­creased coal trans­port by sev­eral or­ders.

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