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The Rainhill Trials were an important competition in the early days of steam locomotive railways, run in October 1829 in Rainhill, Lancashire (now Merseyside) for the nearly completed Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
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 engineering were selected as judges: John Urpeth Rastrick, a locomotive engineer of Stourbridge, Nicholas Wood, a mining engineer from Killingworth with considerable locomotive design experience and John Kennedy, a Manchester cotton spinner and a major proponent of the railway.
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 fireplace. 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 (3.4 bar), the engine shall set out upon its journey.
- "The distance the Engine shall perform each trip shall be one mile and three quarters (2.8 km) each way, including one-eighth of a mile (200 m) 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 (2.4 km) each way at full speed.
- "The Engines shall make ten trips, which will be equal to a journey of 35 miles (56 km); thirty miles whereof shall be performed at full speed, and the average rate of travelling shall not be less than ten miles per hour (16 km/h). (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 miles per hour (13 km/h).)
- "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.
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, designed by George and Robert Stephenson; built by Robert Stephenson and Company.
- 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 (16 km/h) on its first tests the next day, it was withdrawn from the trial. It was granted a £26 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 pounds (140 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 miles per hour (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 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 (19 km/h) (achieving a top speed of 30 miles per hour (48 km/h)) 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.)
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 replicas of Sans Pareil and Rocket (plus coach).The Rocket replica bent its axle in Bold Colliery railway sidings during the event and was exhibited on a low loader carriage.
The event was also attended by:
- Lion, at the time of Rocket 150 the oldest operable steam locomotive in existence
(The British-built US locomotive John Bull, seven years older, was steamed in 1981)
- 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 and 86235 Novelty 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, as 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 materials and construction methods, and following operating experience. Sensible comparisons were made between the engines only after calculations took into account the differences.
None of the replicas is without major differences from the 1829 originals.