The Rainhill Trails were a competition for a locomotive contract with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. In October 1829, over a period of eight-days, the trials were held. The locomotives that participated in the event were Sans Pareil, Novelty and Rocket. The Rocket, built by George Stephenson and his son Robert, won, radically changing the future of transportation.

Events leading to the TrialsEdit

In 1829, the completion of the world's first inter-city railway (not first ever railway, as several colliery railways operated during the time) was nearing completion. This was to be called the Liverpool & Manchester Railway, linking it's namesake cities for the main purpose of transporting cotton between the port of Liverpool and the mills at Manchester. Construction had begun 3 years ago, before the operators had even decided what would pull (or push) the carriages. Locomotives of the time were not suited for long-distance travel, as they were slow, bulky, and unreliable. Also, many people had a superstitious fear of the smoking hulks, fearing they would not only explode, but somehow poison the cows' milk and make the hens stop laying eggs. Therefore, by 1829, the designers had decided on a system of periodically spaced stationary steam engines placed every mile which would tow cars with ropes. This system was practically in place before George Stephenson and his son, Robert, made a strong case for the company to use steam locomotives. George was already employed by the railway as a design engineer. The company was at a standstill, being split almost 50/50 for locomotives or stationary engines. Finally, it was decided to hold an open competition to see if there were any locomotives capable of reliably and economically operating on the line. Thus, the Rainhill Trials were created.


The goal of the Trials was not specifically to find a single locomotive capable of operating on the Liverpool & Manchester Railway; more so to give locomotive designers an opportunity to prove the worth of their machines. Therefore, a set of specifications was laid which the entrants had to follow. These included:

The horse-powered 'Cycloped' was disqualified for following none of the Trial's requirements.

1. The locomotive must be powered by steam

2. The locomotive's ability to "consume its own smoke"

3. Boiler pressure was limited to 50lbf/sq in (344.7 kPa)

4. Locomotives were required to have three safety valves, including a valve for mercury in the also required pressure gauge.

5. Locomotives could not exceed 15 feet in height, must be spring borne, and, when exceeding the weight of 4.5 tons, must be carried on 6 wheels.

Most of the entrants followed all of these requirements. However, one entrant, the Cycloped, was not steam powered, therefore could not consume its own smoke and boiler pressure nonexistent since it was powered by a horse on a treadmill. Rocket also blurred a requirement by emitting smoke, though this was attributed to coal accidentally being mixed with the smokeless coke.

The prize for winning the competition was 500 Pounds and a contract for production of locomotives for the railway.

Entrant LocomotivesEdit

Novelty was an 0-2-2 vertical boiler lightweight steam locomotive. It was designed by John Ericcson and built by Ericcson and Braithwaite in London. Ericcson had to completely build and test the locomotive within 7 weeks of the trial because he learned of the trial so late. Even at the night before the Trial, it was discovered that the gauge of the wheels was off, forcing overnight work to smooth out the flanges. It had a wheel diameter of 4'2", a grate area of 1.3/4ft², and carried no tender, essentially making it a tank engine. One peculiar design flaw was apparent in the top-fueling fire. Firemen were forced to initially light the fire from an access hatch beneath the locomotive's chassis, then pour coal through a tube at the top of the boiler. This meant that firing the engine was basically guesswork since one would not be able to know how well the fire was burning. Also, the while the access hatch also allowed for the removal of built-up hardened cinders, this could not be done while the fire was lit, requiring a few hours to clean the locomotive's firebox and then build up full steam pressure again.

Perseverance was a similar vertical boiler 0-4-0 'tank engine' built by Timothy Burstall of Leith, who also had some experience on Road Steam Carriages. Perseverance shared many design aspects with Novelty, including large driving wheels (4'10"), a fire fueled through the top of the vertical boiler, and by carrying its fuel on the chassis. Interestingly, the locomotive is rarely mentioned in official reports of the Trials, and the reason why is disputed. For one, the locomotive fell short of most of the specifications. Also, a report on October 5th clams the locomotive fell from its transport carriage and sustained major damage to its cranks and pipes, rendering it inoperable. 

Sans Pareil was the heaviest locomotive in the contest. In fact, it was 4 tons over the limit for its 0-4-0 wheel arrangement, which disqualified it from the running for the prize; though it was allowed to partake in the Trial anyway. It was designed by Timothy Hackworth, who had plenty of experience designing large colliery locomotives such as teh Royal George 0-6-0, of which the Sans Pareil was basically a smaller version. Hackworth did not have his own factory, however, and had to work on what he could at night. He was forced to contract out to the Stephensons' for casting of the cylinders; a total of twenty were cast and Hackworth got the choice of which he wished to use. Later on, after the Trials, a crack in one of the cylinders was discovered, which lead Hackworth to believe the Stephensons had sought to sabotage him; though this is unlikely with the choice of cylinders given to Hackworth. Sans Pareil took a step forward in innovation by trying to maximize fire flue contact with the water in the boiler by having the flue double back in a U-shape. This also caused the smoke funnel to be placed at the rear of the locomotive, giving the locomotive backwards appearance. Its driver diameter was 4'6".

Rocket was the most modern locomotive in the competition. It was built to an 0-2-2 wheel arrangement with near-horizontal cylinders. It also featured a revolutionary firetube boiler and continuous vacuum-inducing funnel. Rocket was the fastest locomotive at the Trial, with a top speed of 30 miles per hour. It was built and designed by George and Robert Stephenson and their partner, Henry Booth (who was also in charge of the contest, causing much fuss over possible bias), in their factory at Newcastle-Upon-Tyne. It featured a driver diameter of 4'8.5" and a boiler pressure of exactly 50 psi. Rocket went on to win the Trails, but only by default, as the all other contestants had either broken down or just not fit the qualifications. 







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