Rainhill Trials

Rainhill Trials

The Rainhill Trials were an important competition in the early days of steam locomotive railways, run in October of 1829 in Rainhill, Merseyside (between Liverpool and Manchester).

When the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was approaching completion, the directors of the railway ran a competition to decide whether stationary steam engines or locomotives would be used to pull the trains. The Rainhill Trials were arranged as an open contest that would let them see all the locomotive candidates in action, with the choice to follow. Regardless of whether or not locomotives were settled upon, a prize of £500 was offered to the winner of the trials. Three notable figures from the early days of locomotive engineering were selected as judges: John Kennedy, John Urpeth Rastrick, and Nicholas Wood.


Locomotives that were entered were to be subjected to a variety of tests and conditions. These were amended at various points, but were eventually nailed down to:

*"The weight of the Locomotive Engine, with its full complement of water in the boiler, shall be ascertained at the Weighing Machine, by eight o'clock in the morning, and the load assigned to it shall be three times the weight thereof. The water in the boiler shall be cold, and there shall be no fuel in the fire-place. As much fuel shall be weighed, and as much water shall be measured and delivered into the Tender Carriage, as the owner of the Engine may consider sufficient for the supply of the Engine for a journey of thirty-five miles. The fire in the boiler shall then be lighted, and the quantity of fuel consumed for getting up the steam shall be determined, and the time noted.

*"The Tender Carriage, with the fuel and water, shall be considered to be, and taken as a part of the load assigned to the Engine.

*"Those engines which carry their own fuel and water, shall be allowed a proportionate deduction from their load, according to the weight of the Engine.

*"The Engine, with the carriages attached to it, shall be run by hand up to the Starting Post, and as soon as the steam is got up to fifty pounds per square inch, the engine shall set out upon its journey.

*"The distance the Engine shall perform each trip shall be one mile and three quarters each way, including one-eighth of a mile at each end for getting up the speed and for stopping the train; by this means the Engine, with its load, will travel one and a-half mile each way at full speed.

*"The Engines shall make ten trips, which will be equal to a journey of 35 miles; thirty miles whereof shall be performed at full speed, and the average rate of travelling shall not be less than ten miles per hour. [Note: The only other passenger railway in the world at that time, the Stockton and Darlington Railway, had an average speed of only about 8 mph (13 kph).]

*"As soon as the Engine has performed this task, (which will be equal to the travelling from Liverpool to Manchester,) there shall be a fresh supply of fuel and water delivered to her; and, as soon as she can be got ready to set out again, she shall go up to the Starting Post, and make ten trips more, which will be equal to the journey from Manchester back again to Liverpool.

*"The time of performing every trip shall be accurately noted, as well as the time occupied in getting ready to set out on the second journey. [Citation
last = Stephenson
first = Robert
author-link = Robert Stephenson
last2 = Locke
first2 = Joseph
author2-link = Joseph Locke
chapter = Account of the Competition for Locomotive Engines
publication-date = 1831
date = February 1830
year = 1830
title = Observations on the Comparative Merits of Locomotive and Fixed Engines as Applied to Railways
publication-place = Philadelphia
place = Liverpool
publisher = Carey & Lea
pages = 101-119
url = http://www.railwaysarchive.co.uk/documents/StephensonLocke_L&M1831.pdf
accessdate = 2008-08-30


Ten locomotives were entered, but on the day the competition began -- 6 October 1829 -- only five locomotives actually began the tests:

*"Cycloped", built by Thomas Shaw Brandreth.
*"Novelty", built by John Ericsson and John Braithwaite.
*"Perseverance", built by Timothy Burstall.
*"Rocket", built by George Stephenson and Robert Stephenson.
*"Sans Pareil", built by Timothy Hackworth.


Locomotives were run two or three per day, and several tests for each locomotive were performed over the course of several days.

The Rainhill stretch of the Railway was very level for a mile or so: a perfect site for the Trials.

"Cycloped" was the first to drop out of the competition. Built with "legacy technology", it used a horse walking on a drive belt for power, and was withdrawn after an accident caused the horse to burst through the floor of the engine.

Next to retire was "Perseverance". Damaged en route to the competition, Burstall spent five days repairing it. When it failed to reach the required 10 miles per hour on its first tests the next day, it was withdrawn from the trial. It was granted a £25 consolation prize.

"Sans Pareil" nearly completed the trials, though at first there was some doubt as to whether it would be allowed to compete as it was 300 lb (136 kg) overweight. However, it did eventually complete eight trips before cracking a cylinder. Despite the failure it was purchased by the Liverpool & Manchester, where it served for two years before being leased to the Bolton and Leigh Railway.

The last drop-out was "Novelty". In complete contrast to "Cycloped" it was cutting-edge for 1829, lighter and considerably faster than the other locomotives in the competition. It was accordingly the crowd favourite. Reaching a then-astonishing 28 mph (45 km/h) on the first day of competition, it later suffered some damage to a boiler pipe which could not be fixed properly on site in the time allotted. Nevertheless it continued its run on the next day, but upon reaching 15 mph (24 km/h) the pipe gave way again and damaged the engine severely enough that it had to drop out.

So, the "Rocket" was the only locomotive to complete the trials. It averaged 12 miles per hour (achieving a top speed of 30 miles per hour) hauling 13 tons, and was declared the winner of the £500 prize. The Stephensons were accordingly given the contract to produce locomotives for the Liverpool & Manchester Railway.

Rocket 150

In 1980 the "Rocket 150" celebration was held to mark the 150th Anniversary of the trials.

A replica of "Novelty" was built for the event, which was also attended by a replicas "Sans Pareil" and "Rocket" (plus coach).

The event was also attended by:
* "Lion", apparently the second oldest steam locomotive in existence
* "Flying Scotsman" No. 4472
* LMS 4-6-0 Jubilee class No. 5690 "Leander"
* "Sir Nigel Gresley" No. 4498
* GWR 0-6-0 No. 3205
* LMS Class 4 MT 2-6-0 No. 43106
* BR 92220 Evening Star, the last steam locomotive to be built by British Railways
* LMS 4-6-2 "Princess Elizabeth" No. 6201

Two Class 86 locomotives 86214 "Sans Pareil"cite book | last = Marsden | first = Colin | title = Motive Power Recognition :1 - Locomotives | publisher = Ian Allen Ltd | date = 1981 | location = Shepperton | pages = 133 | isbn = 0 7110 1109 5 and 86235 "Novelty"cite book | last = Nixon | first = Les | title = BR Colour Album | publisher = Jane's Publishing Company Limited | date = 1983 | location = London | Page = 11 | isbn = 0 7106 0287 1 were painted in a variation of the Large Logo Rail Blue livery where the BR logo was replaced by Rocket 150 motif on a yellow background.


In a recent (2002) restaging of the Rainhill Trials using replica engines, neither "Sans Pareil" (11 out of 20 runs) nor "Novelty" (10 out of 20 runs) completed the course. In calculating the speeds and fuel efficiencies, it was found that "Rocket" would still have won fair and square, since its relatively modern technology made it a much more reliable locomotive than the others. "Novelty" almost matched it in terms of efficiency, but its firebox design caused it to gradually slow to a halt due to a build up of molten ash (called "clinker") cutting off the air supply. The restaged trials were run over a section of line in Llangollen, Wales, and were the subject of a BBC "Timewatch" documentary.

This restaging should not be taken as accurate as there were major compromises made for television and because of the differences in crew experience, the fuel used, the modifications made to the replicas for modern safety rules, modern construction methods, and following operating experience. Sensible comparisons were made between the engines only after calcuations took into account the differences.

None of the replicas is without major differences from the 1829 originals.


* Dendy Marshall, CF, The Rainhill Locomotive Trials of 1829. From the Transactions of the Newcomen Society, 1929 Vol 9.

External links

* [http://www.newcomen.com/excerpts/rainhill/index.htm Newcomen Society paper]

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