Victorian Railways 1850–90

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Map Code: Ax01791

The 1840s witnessed a speculative bubble termed Railway Mania, which culminated in a wave of bankruptcies including that of George Hudson, the ‘Railroad King’. Despite ruining many investors, the period of the frenzy did result in the laying of thousands of miles of track. Hudson, before his precipitous fall, managed to use his power to introduce the Railway Clearing House (1842), which helped to rationalize the laissez-faire chaos of railway operations. In addition, a Railway Inspectorate was introduced (1840), and the process of standardizing track gauges was initiated in 1846. The collapse barely dented the trajectory of railroad expansion; as a means of transport it was vastly superior to the roads of the time, and overwhelmingly preferred to canals for moving freight. By the later 19th century, the network had penetrated the remotest corners of England, and faster intercity lines were pioneered, culminating in the London-Edinburgh Flying Scotsman (1888). At the same time multiple ownership of different railways was rationalized through a process of consolidation and amalgamation.

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