World’s first passenger train service begins
Whilst the Stockton and Darlington Railway is rightly remembered as ushering in the railway age, using steam power to haul its trains, another line deserves to be celebrated as a world first, and an earlier one at that. Some 18 years before the first train set out from Shildon to Darlington on September 27 1825 , Swansea in Wales saw the first horse drawn rail service begin.
Railways were not a new phenomenon, indeed they had been used to transport coal as early as the beginning of the 17th century. In South Wales, a line existed at the start of the 19th century to shift stone from Mumbles around the bay to the canal in Swansea, whence it could be shipped to distant destinations.
Three years after the line was built one Benjamin French, who was a shareholder in the company running it, paid the princely sum of £20 for the right to run a passenger service on the line.
The inaugural run was on March 25 1807. An iron and wooden coach, built to seat 12, was pulled by a single horse, taking paying passengers from Swansea to Oystermouth, an out-of-the-way resort where they could spend a pleasant few hours before returning later in the day. It is thought that the fare in these early days was two shillings, which would have meant that only the well-to-do could undertake such a trip.
So while George Stephenson is remembered as the father of the railway, Benjamin French perhaps deserves to be known as its grandfather.
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