The following are some of the major inventors, advances, and events related to the history of Railroad Technology:
- The history of rail transport
apparently dates back to early Greek history, around 600 B.C. - See
were relatively common in Europe from about 1500 through 1800.
Typically used in mining operations, they consisted of horses that
hauled wagons on wooden tracks.
- The first iron plate covered wooden
rails were used on wagonways in Europe around the late 1700's.
- James Watt, a Scottish inventor and mechanical engineer, developed a
reciprocating steam engine capable of powering a wheel and then began
investigating the use of high pressure steam acting directly upon a
piston. This raised the possibility of a small engine that might be
used to power a vehicle. Watt actually patented a design for a steam
locomotive in 1784. His employee William Murdoch produced a working model of a self-propelled steam
carriage later that year.
- The first full scale working railway
steam locomotive was built in the United Kingdom (U.K.) in 1804 by
Richard Trevithick, an English engineer.
- The first commercially successful steam
locomotive was Matthew Murray's rack locomotive 'Salamanca'
built in England for the narrow gauge Middleton Railway in 1812.
- In 1812, Oliver Evans, an American engineer and inventor, published his vision of
what steam railways could become, with cities and towns linked by a
network of long distance railways plied by speedy locomotives,
greatly reducing the time required for personal travel and for
transport of goods.
- In 1814, George Stephenson, an English civil engineer, built one of the first successful flanged-wheel adhesion locomotives.
Stephenson played a pivotal role in the development and widespread
adoption of the steam locomotive. His designs considerably improved
on the work of the earlier pioneers.
- The first railroad charter in North
America was granted to Col. John Stevens in 1815. Grants to others
soon followed, and work began on the first operational railroads in
- The American railroad mania began with
the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad in 1828 and continued through much of the
- Designed and built by Peter Cooper in
1830, the 'Tom Thumb' was the first American-built steam locomotive
to be operated on a common-carrier railroad.
- From the beginning, there was a
distinction between the light fast passenger loco and the slower more
powerful goods engine. For more detail on the various advances in
locomotive design, go to Wikipedia.
- In 1830, the Liverpool
and Manchester Railway in England was the first modern railway
system. It carried both goods and passenger traffic on a regularly
scheduled run. It was the first to use a doubletrack throughout its length and the first to have a signalling
- Railway Post Office Cars and Express
Cars were usedto distribute mail and express parcels between cities
as early as the mid-1830's.
- In 1832, Sir Charles Fox, a British
inventor and civil engineer, was awarded one of his many patents for
designing a new rail switch or railway points.
- In 1837, Robert
Davidson, a Scottish inventor, built the first electric
- In the 1840's, Telegraphy became a
near-universal method of train coordination.
- The introduction of steel rails in the
mid-1800's led to a great expansion of railways across Europe and the
U.S. beginning in the late 1860's.
- In the U.S., although the South started
building railways early on, it concentrated on short lines linking
cotton regions to oceanic or river ports. The North and Midwest
constructed rail networks that linked every city by 1860. In the
heavily settled the Midwestern 'Corn Belt', over 80 percent of farms
were within 10 miles of a railway, facilitating the shipment of
grain, hogs and cattle to national and international markets.
- The Pullman Sleeping Car was invented
by George Pullman in 1857. Pullman's railroad coach or sleeper was
designed for overnight passenger travel. It was introduced for use in the early 1860's.
- In 1863, Scotsman Robert Francis Fairlie invented the Fairlie pivoting double-bogie
locomotive, allowing trains to negotiate tighter curves in the
track. This innovation became the model for most future diesel and
- In 1867, the first US patent for railroad crossing gates was awarded to J. Nason and J. F. Wilson.
- Throughout the 1860s and '70s,
railroads adopted the use of a 'caboose', giving brakemen and the
conductor some shelter and safety, and in the process creating a
symbol of American railroading.
- In 1868, Eli Janney, a U.S. Civil War
veteran, conceived and patented the first "knuckle" coupler
that replaced the link and pin couplers on North American railroads.
His design is still in use today.
- In May 1869, the construction of a transcontinental
railroad across the U.S. was completed. It was one of America's greatest technological
- In 1869, George Westinghouse an American entrepreneur and engineer, invented the
railway compressed air brake and was a pioneer of the electrical
industry. He subsequently established the Westinghouse Air Brake
Company. Modern trains still use some variation of his air brake
- In 1870, Eliza Murfey patented 16 devices for improving the
packing of bearings for railroad-car axles. These packings were used
to lubricate the axles with oil which reduced derailments caused by
seized axles and bearings.
- In 1870, William Robinson invented the
first track circuit used in railway
He established the Robinson Electric Railway Signal Company in 1873
and during the 1870s his signal systems were installed on railroads
throughout the U.S.
- William Robert Sykes, a British telegrapher and
clock maker, received a patent in 1875 for his 'lock and block'
system for mechanically connecting railroad signals and switches.
Sykes went on to found Sykes & Co. Railroad Signalling
Instruments, in London, England. The company became part of the
Brake and Signal Company after Syke’s death in 1917.
- In 1879, Mary Walton developed a method
of deflecting smoke stack emissions through water tanks and later
adapted the system for use on locomotives. In 1881, she invented and
received a patent for a noise reduction system used by elevated
railroads in New York City.
- In 1882, lavatories were first introduced for
use on the Great Northern Railway coaches in the U.K.
- In January 1888, the city of Richmond,
Virginia, served as the American proving ground for electric
- By the 1890's, electric power became
practical and more widespread, allowing extensive underground
railways in the U.S. and Europe.
- Elijah McCoy, a black inventor and
engineer, is notable for his 57 U.S. patents. Many had to do with
lubrication of railroad steam engines. Advertising for the
mechanical lubricator, that began to be used in the early 1900's,
gave rise to the expression "the real McCoy."
- In 1917, General Electric (GE)
produced its first experimental Diesel-electric locomotives, the
first in the U.S., using Herman Lemp's control design.
- In March 1918,the U.S. adopted five standard time zones across the nation and Alaska.
- In May 1934, the first streamlined diesel locomotives, the 'Pioneer Zephyr', was put into service.
- GE began mass
production of diesel-electric railroad switching engines in the mid-1930's.
- Diesel-electric railroad locomotion
entered the American mainstream when the Burlington
Railroad and Union
Pacific used Diesel 'streamliners'
to haul passengers in the late 1930's.
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- By the 1970s, diesel and electric power
had replaced steam power on most of the world's railroads.
- Starting with the opening of the first
between Tokyo and Osaka in Japan in 1964, high-speed rail transport
operating at speeds in excess of 300 km/h, have now been built in
many countries across Europe and Asia.
- In the 1970' s, interest in an
alternative high-speed technology centered on magnetic levitation emerged referred to as MAGLEV.
- In 2000, Amtrak
introduced the high speed Acela
Express (150 mph) passenger train on the Northeast Rail Corridor
in the U.S.
- In 2008, new U.S. legislation mandated that railroads implement
positive train control (PTC) technology on main lines used to
transport passengers and toxic-by-inhalation materials by 2015. PTC
technology is designed to automatically stop or slow a train before
certain types of accidents occur, including train-to-train
collisions, derailments caused by excessive speed, switches left in the
wrong position, etc.
- In March 2011, the AAR Tank Car Committee petitioned the U.S.
Department of Transportation (DOT) Pipeline
and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to adopt
higher standards for DOT-111 tank cars carrying packing group I and
II commodities - such as crude oil and ethanol. The standards include
enhanced tank head and shell puncture resistance systems and top
fittings protection that exceed current requirements. All tank cars
ordered after 2011 are built to these higher standards.
- From 2008 to 2012, major Class I railroads in the U.S. purchased 2,669 new
state-of-the-art locomotives, and rebuilt another 845 locomotives to
improve their capabilities, according to the Association of American
Railroads (AAR). They also installed 77 million new crossties and 2.9
million tons of new rail, and placed 61 million cubic yards of
The rate of innovation on America's railroads is increasing
rapidly as new technologies are being created to handle the continued
growth in rail traffic, stiff competition, increased train speeds,
new safety requirements, and more. Some of the many new inventions
- Wayside detectors - These
sensors identify defects—overheated bearings and damaged wheels,
dragging hoses, deteriorating bearings, cracked wheels, and
excessively high or wide loads—on passing rail cars.
- Acoustic detector systems
- These trackside systems use "acoustic signatures"
to evaluate the sound of internal bearings to identify those nearing
failure. They supplement or replace systems that measure the heat
that bearings generate to identify those in the process of failing.
- Track geometry cars -
These technology-rich cars use sophisticated electronic and
optical instruments to inspect track alignment, gauge, curvature,
and other track conditions. This information helps railroads
determine when track needs maintenance.
- Ground-penetrating radar - This technology
helps identify below-ground problems—such as excessive water
penetration and deteriorated ballast—that hinder track stability.
In addition, the rail industry has also made considerable
advancements in the use of information technology (IT) systems. For
- TTCI has developed the Integrated
Railway Remote Information Service (InteRRIS), an advanced
Internet database tracking railroad vehicles and equipment.
- The Equipment Health Monitoring
Initiative is a predictive and proactive maintenance system
designed to detect potential safety problems and poorly performing
- Norfolk Southern uses a variety of
data analysis tools to identify trends in customer freight
claims and damage notifications for specific shippers or commodities
that require attention.
- GPS, geo-fencing,
security applications for Smartphones, iPads,
wireless networks, and solar-powered devices
are just some of the many other technologies being integrated into
day-to-day railroad operations.
- The Rail Corridor Risk
Management System is a sophisticated statistical routing model
designed to ensure that materials are transported on routes that
pose the least overall safety and security risk.
Expect even more technological advances
as high speed rail and foreign competition drive companies to gain a
competitive edge in the global transportation marketplace through