26th May 1826

Scotland’s first commercial railway signed off

The Edinburgh and Dalkeith Railway, which was initially intended to carry freight, was authorised by an Act of Parliament on 26 May 1826.

Although the coal transporting line used horses to pull its wagons, rather than engines, it is nonetheless considered Scotland’s first commercial railway. It was later incorporated into the passenger-carrying network.

Railway starts rolling

It opened for business in 1831 and over the next couple of years was expanded to Leith after a second Act of Parliament had been passed, and then to Fisherrow with a third. Although it was originally established solely with the aim of bringing coal from the pits of Dalkeith to the centre of Edinburgh, a private individual started transporting passengers on the line in 1832, which proved so successful that the railway company took up the idea itself.

Underwhelming experience

On 27 August 1832, a reporter for the Caledonian Mercury wrote about the experience, which was apparently underwhelming. “Not withstanding the attraction of novelty, and the agreeable sensation produced by being rapidly whirled along through one of the finest and richest districts of Scotland, we cannot say the trip afforded us unalloyed pleasure.”

The writer admired the obvious engineering that had gone into its construction and, in particular, the tunnel at the Edinburgh end, through which the trains moved “by force of gravity alone”, making the passengers feel “somewhat queerish”. However, “there is a want of system, order, and regularity in the conveyance of passengers which, when these are numerous, and the scramble of competition among the crimps of the different vehicles proportionable active and obstreperous, is calculated to produce a painful feeling of insecurity.”

Railway acquired

Fourteen years after its first opening, the North British Railway, which was based in Edinburgh and operated services north of Berwick and across Scotland’s central belt, bought the line from its operators.
At the time of the acquisition, the line was running on rails four and a half feet wide, but these were converted to standard gauge so they could accommodate the rolling stock used on the greater part of the British network.



Other events that occured in May

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