‘In February 1804, the world’s first ever railway journey ran 9 miles from the ironworks at Penydarren to the Merthyr-Cardiff Canal, South Wales. It was to be several years before steam locomotion became commercially viable, meaning Richard Trevithick and not George Stephenson was the real father of the railways.
‘In 1803, Samuel Homfray brought Richard Trevithick to his Penydarren ironworks at Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales. Homfray was interested in the high pressure engines that the Cornishman had developed and installed in his road engines.
‘He encouraged Trevithick to look into the possibility of converting such an engine into a rail-mounted locomotive to travel over the newly laid tramroad from Penydarren to the canal wharf at Abercynon.
‘The first run was described in some detail by Trevithick:
“…we proceeded on our journey with the engine, and we carried ten tons of iron in five wagons, and seventy men riding on them the whole of the journey… the engine, while working, went nearly five miles an hour; there was no water put into the boiler from the time we started until our journey’s end… the coal consumed was two hundredweight”.
‘We cannot underestimate the importance of Trevithick’s locomotive.
‘In 1800, the fastest a man could travel over land was at a gallop on horseback; a century later, much of the world had an extensive railway system on which trains regularly travelled at speeds of up to sixty miles per hour. This remarkable transformation, a momentous occasion in world history, was initiated in south Wales in that February of 1804.’
National Museum of Wales