Locomotives or Stationary Engines

In November 1828 a report on the question of whether it would be better to work the Liverpool and Manchester Railway by stationary engines or by locomotives, was sent to George Stephenson, by the directors of that railway, these letters which I have transcribed are the replies, sent by George Stephenson and his son Robert to the report and other questions.
Allthough not strictly Newton History, It shows the behind the scenes politics at a time, Imagine the course Newtons History would have run if the trains had been pulled along by ropes from Stationary engines….

Copy of a letter sent by George Stephenson to the directors of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway

November 5th, 1928


Agreeably with your request I have examined the report, drawn up by the Deputation, which visited the North.

Respecting the detailed account taken from the Darling-ton Railway I have little to remark further than that Loco-motive Engines, will be found to do much more work upon the Liverpool & Manchester Line of Road than they can possibly do on the Darlington Line, and that the wear and tear of Engines made on the improved plan will not be one half of that at present. I may observe that the wear and tear of the Stationary Engines on the Darlington Railway is not noticed by the Deputation. With reference to the wear and tear of the Rails by Loco-motive Engines, I readily admit that on the Darlington Rly. where the road is very slight some effect may he perceived, but on this Line I do not see how any just comparison can be drawn, here we have, however, Rails and blocks, and what is of much more consequence, a better foundation for them to rest upon, besides having fewer and less acute curves ; all which will have a great tendency to preserve the good condition of the road.

On the Bandon and Wideopen Railway. where Stationary Engines are employed, had the Deputation remained at the changing places any length of time I have no doubt they would have found, that the stoppages or delays exceed what they now appear to anticipate.

The good state of the road is easily accounted for by the light loads which are carried on it. The wear and tear of ropes is certainly at variance, not only with my experience, but also with the information which the Deputation themselves received on the Hetton Railway.

In this instance they attribute the increased consumption to the acuteness of the curves. I concede that this cause does operate, but I cannot admit the difference calculated upon in the report. I still remain of opinion that on this Road the expence of Ropes will much exceed the estimated sum.

I shall now proceed to examine some of the items in the estimate made by the Deputation.

In their estimate on the necessary capital for fixed Engines, they reckon a 14-horse Engine will lead over one mile 1,600 Tons of goods per day. From the following calculation this power is evidently inadequate. The friction of the rope, that is the resistence which the rope makes to the fixed Engines, over and above that of the carriages and load being very important, it is necessary to determine it with some precision before we proceed to calculate the requisite power for moving the load. In ascertaining this particular I have been guided by my experience on planes where the descending load is found bearly sufficient to overcome the resistence of the rope, from which I find that a mile of 4 in. rope, weighing 32 cwts., will require a power equal to 2 3/4 horses moving at the rate of 2 1/2 miles per hour. Again, the effect of a horse power upon a Railroad is now well known from numerous experiments to be equal to 10 Tons of goods moved at the rate of 2 1/2 Miles per hour.

It is therefore evident that 20 Tons (the load calculated upon in the report) without ropes will require 2 horses at the rate of 2i miles per hour and to this add 2 horses, the requisite power for the ropes, will give 41 horses the power required for moving both rope and load at that speed.

But as the speed is reckoned at 10 miles per hour, and the power required increasing in the direct ratio of the velocity it is obvious that a power of 19 horses will be required at each station to drag the above load.

Let us now endeavour to ascertain if each load containing 20 Tons of goods moving at the rate of 10 miles per hour is adapted for the conveyance of t,600 Tons per day in one direction as stated by the Deputation.

It is clear that the load will pass from station to station in six minutes ; on the arrival of the load the rope most be detached from the wagon and attached to the tail ropes, when a signal must be given, before the other Engines can commence, let us allow for this, one minute at each end (surely no one can suppose that it can be done in less) and also that the rope returns at the rate of 15 miles per hour, which gives for each trip 12 minutes or 5 loads per hour, or for 12 hours 6o loads of 20 Tons each =1,200 Tons per day.

In this calculation the operations are supposed to go on with the utmost celerity without any provision being made for the slightest accident ; yet notwithstanding this it is evident that not more than 1,200 Tons can possibly be conveyed in twelve hours. On this data the following Estimate is made. The cost of ropes I take as stated in the Report, viz.?1d. per ton for the whole distance.


54 engines 19 horses each at £1,200
Extra power, say
Cost of ropes
Contingencies …

Interest on capital at 7 1/2% is ?6,075, which divided into 2,400 tons per day gives 194d. per ton for the whole distance.

Working the Fixed Engines. I will take as detailed in the report viz. 11,500 annually which divided into 2,400 Tons per day gives 367d. per Ton for the whole distance.

Attendance upon trains and oil for carriages I will also take at 125d. per ton the whole distance.


1d ..
Working engine, etc
Cost of ropes Attendance, oil, etc

Locomotive Engines. The Deputation in making their calculations on the expence of conveying goods by this kind of Engine have taken the price per ton paid upon the Stockton and Darlington Railroad as their guide, viz., 1/4d. per Ton per mile.

This data is far from being applicable to the Liverpool & Manchester Road, for in the former the descents and ascents in the line are beyond what is desirable, and moreover the load is solely in one direction. The engines therefore have to travel over one half the distance without any useful effect whatever which is a disadvantage I do not contemplate on this road, indeed, if we go so far as to suppose the load even on this road altogether in one direction. the Engines would produce a greater effect than on the Darlington Road not having in any instance to contend with ascents that would materially reduce their performance.

The following is an estimate of expense of leading goods by Locomotive Engines on the Liverpool and Manchester line :

48 Engines @ £600 = £28,800 = Capital.
Interest of this sum at 7 1/2 %
Repairs at £50 each per annum including wheels, Fire bars, etc.
One Engineer and boy at each Engine
Each Engine 250 Tons of coals at 7/-
Oil Hemp, &c. &c

This sum divided into 2,400 Tons per annum gives 4.18d per ton for the whole distance, to which must be added 1/4d. per ton for oiling the waggons, making the total cost by Locomotive Engines 443d per ton for the whole distance. Being rather more than 1/2 the expense by Stationary Engines there will consequently accrue to the Company an annual saving in the items of leading of ?10,000.

It will be observed that in the above calculation ?5o has been allowed for the annual cost of repairing Locomotive Engines, which exceeds that, thought sufficient by the Deputation after having minutely, investigated the charges at Darlington. The same caution has been adhered to throughout the whole of the items, and particularly with respect to the consumption of coals, where it will be seen that more is allowed for one Locomotive Engine than for one 19-horse permanent Engine. Fixed Engines. In reply to the remarks made against fixed Engines I shall take them as they are placed in the report-

1st. The greater capital required is an objection too well understood to require any comment from me.

2nd. The crossing of the public roads with Ropes would assuredly be very objectionable unless bridges were built which would require a still further increase of capital as well as make very abrupt ascents in crossing these roads where the Railway now crosses on a level. But a still greater difficulty than this exists, in preventing the occupier of such lands as may lie between the Engine Stations, from having that free access to and use of the Railway, to which by the present Act of Parliament he is entitled.

3rd. I should concieve that 54 Stationary Engines ot 19 horse power each would emit as much smoke as 48 Locomotives, therefore this objection applies as much to one mode as to the other.

4th. This remark is by far the most important of the whole and admits of being widely enlarged upon. It will, I think, be readily admitted that where an engine is working for twelve hours a day, one accident in twelve months may be expected, and I will suppose that it only requires three hours to repair this damage. It must not he forgotten that this delay is experienced through-out the whole line for this space of time, and that there are 54 Engines, which will make a total yearly stoppage of 162 hours, equal 13 1/2 days, or a reduction of the quantity of goods conveyed of 16,200 tons per annum. Accidents with the ropes I consider still more probable than with the Engines to which the last objection applies with equal force. I will suppose further that a waggon should get off the way when the train is moving at 10 miles per hour (and this may be expected to occur sometimes) the rope must either break or the waggons continue to move forward, which would be serious on high embankments. The con-sequence is you may conceive in case of such an accident on Broad Green.

5th. You are no doubt well aware of the prejudice existing in the public mind, to require any observations from me.

Locomotive Engines. The Directors are aware that an apparatus for experiments is now in progress for ascertaining the practicability of burning coal( or materially reducing the smoke from half baked coal the result of these experiments will probably be laid before you in a fortnight.

The second objection alledged against Locomotive Engines will certainly not be found to operate for in the whole of our deep excavations, there will be found to exist a continual current of air which will prevent the lodgment of sulphurous vapors, but without the aid of such a current, the velocity of the Engines and carriages will of themselves cause agitation in the air, quite sufficient to obviate any inconveniences on this score. The smoke emitted from a locomotive Engine cannot equal the smoke from the chimnies in a line of Street where the inconvenience is not felt.

In answer to the third objection let us suppose for the sake of argument that the rails sustain some injury from the Locomotive Engines. The extent of this injurious effect has been drawn from the Darlington Railway where the Rails are certainly too light, and the Engines moving on four wheels, which of course transfers the weight of the Engine to the rails by four points only ; but if six wheels are employed the weight upon the rails becomes reduced in the ratio of 3::2. This alteration which amounts to the same per thing as reducing the weight of the Engine together with the additional strength of the rails used on the Liverpool & Manchester line in a great degree removes the objection.

But I will go further and suppose that the rails are injured and in thirty years they are so reduced in strength that new ones are required from end to end of the line. The whole weight of a single line of road 30 miles in length is 1,650 Tons. This quantity let us suppose that by wear and tear is reduced one-fifth, there will remain


1,320 tons @ £8 per ton £10,560
1,650 tons @ £12 ,, —the original cost £19,800
Wear & tear of rails in 30 years .. £9,240

during which time 1,600 tons per day have passed along the road, making a charge for the above expence of 147 / 1000 of a penny for the whole distance, or 1/200 of a penny per ton per mile.

In this explanatory calculation I am aware that nothing appears for relaying the rails, but there is ample allowance made for it in the reduction, in the weight and also in the price of the worn out rails.

The difficulty of crossing Chat Moss is not so serious as is generally imagined. The Engines being placed upon 6 wheels is one step towards removing this objection but I am decidedly of opinion that the yeilding of the moss will be entirely overcome when the covering which we are now spreading over the surface for receiving the rails and sleepers, becomes compacted.

Let us suppose however that the moss does yeild it is easy to allow the Locomotive Engines to travel at some distance before the train of waggons and to carry this idea still further the train of waggons might also to be divided into such portions as may he found most desirable by experiments. It is sufficient for the present to prove that the difficulty brought forward does not militate against the Locomotive Engine.

The fifth objection that 20 or 30 Locomotives would he in the way at one end of the line is certainly true if so many are allowed to come together, but this ought never to be the case. Different stations ought to be prepared on the line in situations where this objection would not apply. Such an arrangement would certainly be found indispensible to secure regularity. I do not see that it is necessary for more than 10 to be together at any one station a number very easily managed. No bustle or inconveniences whatever arises from 6 being together at Darlington nor would there be if the number were doubled. From 10 to 12 I consider quite a manageable number, there is no necessity for having more at one station.

General Observations.

I now beg leave to lay before you a few other observations, which appear to have escaped the notice of the Deputation.

To the mode of conveying intelligence torn one station to another there is also a great objection. In clear weather a flag or Telegraph is found to answer the best purpose providing there are no obstructions; but in dull thick weather this mode cannot be available. A Bell is the next method, which is very uncertain from the variations of the wind and in calm weather the number of Bells at the different stations would be apt to misguide.

The next is by attaching the rope to the Engine which is pulled a few yards so as to communicate motion to the adjoining station, and although this is the most certain way in all weathers, there is necessarily a great loss of time and puts the dispatch calculated upon quite out of the question.

It must be expected that most of the embankments will shrink for a few years after operations are commenced and from time to time will require ballasting to keep the level. The ballast must be brought to the place by a waggon which must either be attached to the rope or a separate road laid down for the purpose. The former plan will involve the stoppage of the work the latter an additional expense. It is evident that whatever be the power of the fixed Engines proposed to be erected, the quantity of goods which they will convey must be limited, which is not the case with Locomotives for these may be increased in proportion as the trade increases, and setting aside the two ends of the line, there would not be more hustle in leading 10,000 Tons per day by the latter mode, than there would be in leading 2,400 by the former.

It is quite certain from the number of branches which will join this main line, that the trade in different parts will fluctuate exceedingly. This circumstances renders it imperative to employ more powerful Engines and stronger Ropes than will he required for the general traffic.

For instance a large quantity of coal will he sent from the Whiston Collieries to Liverpool. The Engines and ropes between Liverpool and that place must be made stronger than has been calculated upon in the report of the Deputation. The capital therefore which they have assumed must be modified and much difficulty will be experienced in adjusting the powers of the various Engines on the line excepting indeed, that they are all made very powerful to meet any contingent increase. If this provision be not made we may suppose that goods from Manchester or that end of the line, are equal to the full performance of the Engines in this case the goods from the intervening places as Whiston, Rain Hill, etc. must be detained until the more distant trade subsides.

These difficulties which will inevitably be experienced, are from the very nature of Locomotive power simply and most effectually obviated. Should the trade at any part undergo a temporary increase or decrease the necessary power may be immediately applied or withdrawn and disposed of as circumstances may require.

It is also clear that if permanent Engines he adopted, every branch Railway must form a junction at an Engine and a train from the branch must be joined to the train in the main line by the aid of horses or men.

At each end of the Line Locomotive Engines would have a desired advantage, in dragging and moving the carriages backwards and forwards amongst the various branches, which will certainly be required ; and not only at the ends of the line but at every situation where goods are to he delivered upon the line.

When these observations have been duly considered by the Directors they will perceive that in point of convenience and dispatch the two systems do not bear a comparison.

I am Gentlemen,

Your obedt. servt.
(Signed) GEO. STEPHENSON. Nov. 5th, 1828.

P.S.?It is perhaps necessary to add that in the above estimate of the expenses by fixed Engines, I have taken the items generally from those stated by the Deputation. In doing this it must not be concluded that I consider them scrupulously correct. For instance the Engines are taken at the precise power the traffic requires, I have never thought it adviseable in any instance to calculate in this manner.

Again, there will he required on Chat Moss at least 3 Engines if not 5, that will need to be supported entirely on piles. I would estimate ?1,000 each above the average price ?1,200 which is certainly very moderate including appurtenances. There are other points which would admit of further observations.

(Initialled) G. S.


NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, Aug. 3rd, 1829.


Since my arrival arrangements have been made which I expect will enable us to have the premium *Eng. working in the Factory say this day 3 weeks?this will give us time to make experiments or any alterations that may suggest them-selves. The tubes are nearly all made, the whole number will be completed by to-morrow night, they are an excellent job?the only point I consider at all doubtful is the clinking of the ends of the tubes.

The Body of the boiler is finished and is a good piece of workmanship. The cylinder and other parts of the Engine are in a forward state. After weighing such parts as are in progress the following is an Estimate of the weight :

c. q, lbs. Boiler, without the tubes 9 3 7 25 Copper tubes 4 2 22 Frame carriages and Bolts 4 3 3 I pair of 4 ft. 8 1/2 in. wheels and axle 13 I 0 1 pair of waggon wheels and axle … 5 o 0 4 Springs and Bolts 2 0 20 Copper fire place including bars, etc. 6 o o Chimney and soot 2 o 0 4 Supports for Boiler on Frame 1 2 4 2 Engines complete each 8 cwt. 16 o o Water in Main Boiler 11 3 0 Water in Copper fire box 3 o o Cwt. 8o o o

This weight I believe will cover everything. The wheels I am arranging so as to throw 2 1/2 Turns upon the large wheels in order to get friction upon the rail. Will there be any fatal objection raised to this? You had better get the tender made in Liverpool, the coach makers that made the last tender will make one neater than our men. The barrel might be covered with something like the body of a coach. It may be made lighter than the last.

We are daily expecting the arrival of the fire box. I hope you will despatch it as quickly as possible, as we shall require it in 4 or 5 days.

I have heard from Dixon that the Iron hoops are failing upon the Locomotive at that end of the line. Supposing The Directors of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway were anxious to secure the best type of locomotive for hauling the trains on their line, and on April 20th, 1829, offered a premium for the most efficient engine. The trials took place at Rainhill, near Liverpool, on October 8th, r829, and after exhaustive trials with four different types the ” Rocket” was adjudged the winner. This is undoubtedly the premium locomotive referred to as being under construction in Robert Stephensons letter of August 3rd, 1829. that you would require spare wheels I have ordered 4 metal ones to be got ready immediately, if you do not mean to have any spare ones, they can be used elsewhere. I thought it might be useful to have them ready. I am apprehensive that wooden wheels will be abandoned ; a pair of them failed at Darlington some time ago?on the common wagons they appear to stand well?The failure of the hoops on travelling Engine I am inclined to attribute to the horizontal connecting rods confining the wheels when partially and unequally worn to revolve in the same time whilst the circumferences are unequal. This indeed, appears the only distinction between the two applications. In the small Engine the objection will not exist, and I am further persuaded a considerable loss of power is to be ascribed to this defect.

Yours most respectfully,


I will write you in a few days detailing Hackworths plan of boiler, it is ingenius but it will not destroy the smoke with coal, which I understand is intended to form a portion of this fuel ; coke will be the remainder?he does not appear to understand that a coke fire will only burn briskly where the escape of the carbonic acid gas is immediate. If the two large wheels having 2 1/2 Turns upon them is an objection, please inform me, some reduction may perhaps be made, but it must be very little or the friction upon the rail will be inadequate to the load assigned.


NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, August 21st, 1829.


Having been a good deal from home since I wrote you last, I have not had an opportunity of writing you particulars of our progress so promptly as I promised The tubes are all clunk into the Boiler which is placed on the frame :?wheels, springs, and axle carriages are all finished. The clinking of the tubes is tight with boiling water. I am arranging the hydraulic pump to prove the Boiler up to 16o lbs before proceeding any further. The cylinders and working gear is very nearly finished. I expect the mode for changing the gear will please you it is now as simple as I can make it and I believe effectual. The fire box is put into its place, but it is not quite square built which gives rise to a little apparent neglect in the workmanship, I have endeavoured to hide it as much as possible. Tomorrow week I expect we shall be ready for trial in the evening.

I should like much to see you at N Castle on the following Monday to make further trial, so that we might consult respecting any alterations that may suggest themselves during trial.

I will write you between now and then to say positively when we shall make the trial, in the meantime let me know if you could get away from Lpool. My father may perhaps also come altho he had better not be pressed for fear of some-thing happening in his absence. Hackworths boiler you will comprehend from the following rough sketch. He has a double tube as usual, but he makes the boiler only 5 ft. long. Beyond the length he supplies the deficiency in length by a small cylinder around the fire tube which he makes surround 1. 1/2 inch from it ; this clearly saves weight, but I think not to the extent he anticipated for his boiler when finished including tubes weighs 2 tuns, 3 or 4 cwt. he saves in water decidedly in this point we are about equal. I fully hope our Engine will be 13 or 14 cwt lighter than his.

The part of a tube which projects beyond the Boiler and which contains the fire is not continued below the fire bars so that the part that projects is only a semi cylinder, this with the sketch will enable you to comprehend fully his intentions. His cylinders are 7 inches?the gear arranged in the same manner as the large Engine at darlington. Please inform my father and Mr. Locke the progress we have made.

Could you without inconvenience procure us any money on account of the Locomotive last sent, if you could do so I should feel particularly obliged, The price is ?55o.

Hoping to hear from you to say if I may expect the pleasure of seeing you in N Castle,

I am yours faithfully,



NEWCASTLE TYNE Aug. 26th 1829.


I am quite of opinion that the projecting part of Hackworths tube will be very liable to burn away from the water being blown into the large part of the boiler–We must however leave his alone and attend to our own. it will require all our attention.

On Wednesday I had the boiler filled with water and put up to the pressure of 70 lb per sq inch when I found that the yielding of the boiler end injured the clinking of the tubes. I therefore thought it prudent to stop the experiment until we got some stays put into the boiler longitudinally. The boiler end at 7o lb per sq inch came out full 3/16 of an inch. This you may easily conceive put a serious strain on the clinking at the tube ends. To-day I had the pressure up to a little above 70 the tubes were nearly every one tight, but the deflexion of the end still was more than it was prudent to pass over. I am therefore putting in 5 more stays, which I believe will be effectual. A circumstance which has occurred within a few days induces me to regard severe pressures upon boilers ; injudicious?We put up two hydraulic presses in a paper mill, which are to bear 6 1/2 Turns per square inch?the pipes which lead to the presses from the pumps were proved up to the pressure previous to leaving the factory and continued to act well for a week, when they burst with 5 tuns per square inch?A new set of pipes were made which withstood the proof pressure but afterwards burst with a much less pressure?Query therefore is it judicious to prove the boilers to 150 lbs per sq inch I should say not.?A pressure of lbs 10o per sq inch would not I think be objectionable. If the Engines were not so limited in weight then I would say prove them to 150 lbs or more.

The Chimney is made 14 inches diameter, being a little less than the area of the horizontal tubes. I think it should be less, the air being cooler and consequently occupies less space in the Chimney than in the tubes. I am still sanguine as regards the weight, 4 Tuns I believe will cover all. Of course I am calculating that if the Engine is reduced in weight below 41 the load dragged will be reduced in the same proportion.

I am much pleased to hear of the performance of the Lancashire Witch, the more I hear and experience I have in the Locomotive principle the more thoroughly I am convinced of its convenient adaptation to public Railways. The putting in of the stays will delay the trial of the Engine until Tuesday. If anything unexpected start up I will let you know.

Yours faithfully,


The wheels are made 4 ft. 8 ins.?the small pair 2 ft. 6 ins.



NEWCASTLE August 31St 1829.

My Dear Sir,

After the stays were put in, we tried the boiler up to 120 lbs. per sq inch, when I found it necessary to put in two more stays in order to make the ends withstand 15o ?this would be totally unnecessary if the fixed pressure for trial were 12o. We can however make it stand the required pressure altho I scarcely think it prudent from what I stated in my last.

The putting in of these stays has put the trial of the Engine off until Wednesday.?The Mercurial guage, is nearly finished, it will look well?The pipes being of wrought Iron has taken more time than I expected. The W heels of the Engine are painted in the same manner as _coach wheels and look extremely well.

The same character of painting I intend keeping up, throughout the Engine it will look light which is one object we ought to aim at.

Mr. Burstall Junior from Edinburgh is in N Castle. I have little doubt for the purpose of getting information.

I was extremely mystified to find that he walked into the manufactures this morning and examined the Engine with all the coolness imaginable before we discovered who he was. He has however scarcely time to take advantage of any hints he might catch during his transient visit.

It would have been as well if he had not seen anything.

I will write you on Wednesday Evening or Thursday Morning.

Yours faithfully,




NEWCASTLE TYNE, Sept. 5th 1829.


I daresay you are getting anxious but I Have delayed writing you until I tried the Engine on Killingworth Railway.

It appeared prudent to make an actual trial and make any alterations that might present themselves during an experiment of that kind. The fire burns admirably and abundance of steam is raised when the fire is carefully attended to. This is an essential point because a coke fire when let down is bad to get up again ; this rather prevented our experiment being so successful as it would have been throughout ? We also found that from the construction of the working gear that the Engine did not work so well in one direction as in the other, this will be remedied. The mercurial guage was not on, not from any defect but from my wish to get the Engine tried. We started from Killingworth Pit, with five waggons each weighing four Tuns.

Add to this the tender and 40 Men we proceeded up an ascent of 11 or 12 feet per Mile at 8 Miles per hour after we had fairly gained our speed.

We went three Miles on this Railway the rate of ascents and descents my father knows?on a level part laid with Malleable Iron Rail, we attained a speed of 12 Miles per hour and without thinking that I deceived myself, (I tried to avoid this) I believe the steam did not sink on this part. On the whole the Engine is capable of doing as much if not more than set forth in the stipulations.

After a great deal of trouble and anxiety we have got the tubes perfectly tight. As requested by you in Mr. Lockes letter. I have not tried the boiler above 120 lbs. The Mercarial Guage and some other nick nacks are yet to be put on. On Friday next the Engine will leave by way of Carlisle and will arrive in Lpool on Wednesday week.

I am Dear Sir,

Yours faithfully,


The weight of the Engine complete
Water say …




This text is transcribed by Steven Dowd from original material, published by the L & N W R, for the Franco-English Exhibition, London 1908

If there are vocabulary errors or spelling mistakes in the transcription i can only apologise, because you can more than likely directly blame me for them.

This transcription, its errors and omissions are my own transcription from the original published text and are copyright steven Dowd, if you plan to use this text on your website, please inform me before use.

©2006 – Steven Dowd

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