The home of the world’s first steam railway locomotive is playing host to the latest in rail technology

A new low-emission, lightweight train is being demonstrated in Ironbridge, with the hope of reopening disused railway lines and extending existing networks. It is fitting, then, that this is happening just a stone’s throw from the place where the world’s first steam railway locomotive was built.

The Revolution Very Light Rail (RVLR) vehicle utilises the latest technology to provide a high-quality, affordable solution to facilitate the growth of the UK railway network. But rewind the clock over 200 years, and you will find the beginnings of rail locomotive propulsion as we know it.

The Coalbrookdale Company built the world’s first steam railway locomotive to a design by Richard Trevithick in 1802 – 27 years before Stephenson’s world-famous ‘Rocket’. 

Just as the consortium behind the RVLR vehicle has utilised the latest in innovation, Trevithick came to Coalbrookdale from Cornwall because he believed the Coalbrookdale ironmasters owned one of the few companies who could build a boiler that could withstand much higher pressures than the normal riveted wrought-iron plates. 

The original Trevithick locomotive has not survived, but a replica, built in 1990 in Telford, currently runs at Blists Hill Victorian Town, which is part of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, along with Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron. Fundraising is currently under way to cover the cost of repairs and maintenance of the replica.

Nick Ralls, Chief Executive at The Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, said: “Ironbridge is known the world over as the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. It was the Silicon Valley of its day and a centre for innovation. The Trevithick locomotive is just one example of this. It is incredibly fitting, therefore, that a new innovation in rail travel is happening right here in the World Heritage Site.”

The companies behind the RVLR, Eversholt Rail and Transport Design International, have worked closely with Harworth Developments, which owns the site of the former Ironbridge Power Station, over the past six months to develop the demonstration site. The speed with which the passenger line, unused since 1963, has been recommissioned and the necessary buildings, platform and other infrastructure features installed illustrates how rapidly a reopening can be implemented.

Tim Burleigh, Head of External Relations at Eversholt Rail, said: “Revolution VLR’s design and performance characteristics make it an attractive and sustainable rolling stock solution for many of the line reopenings being proposed through the ‘Restoring Your Railway’ programme. It is highly cost-effective, which will assist scheme sponsors in developing compelling business cases against the backdrop of an increasingly challenging economic environment.”

Tim Hurdiss, Associate Director – Major Projects, with Harworth Group, said: “‘We’re delighted to be working with TDI and Eversholt Rail to bring Revolution VLR to our Ironbridge site, where we are transforming the former Ironbridge Power Station into a mixed-use development of up to 1,000 homes, alongside a range of commercial, leisure and community uses. Together we are exploring the possibilities of how the former sidings and freight line could be brought back into use, opening up the prospect of passengers one day being able to arrive at Ironbridge by rail.”

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