What’s on : Lectures

The Railway, telling the story of the development of the humble rail.

16 Oct 2018
Start time
7:30 PM
Tempest Anderson Hall
Mark Calvert, Mott MacDonald

Event Information

The Railway, telling the story of the development of the humble rail.

Mark Calvert, Mott MacDonald

We think of railway and the golden age of steam we picture Mallard and the Flying Scotsman thundering on the East Coast Main Line, elegant coaches fine china and cups of tea served as the landscape passes in a blur. Forward to the modern railway and the Intercity High Speed Train and the Japanese Bullet Train with mountains in the background.

With these romantic visions the most basic part of the railways are forgotten, the humble rail. On the face of it the rail brings no commercial value to the railway but is arguably the most important part.

The rail has come in many sizes, the rails of today are not from a linear development but from a haphazard and often fraught process which often resulted in death and destruction of trains.

In this lecture Mark Calvert will discuss the development of the rail from the early 1800s, how various engineers and companies competed with differing designs and standards, finishing with high speed rail line currently proposed and being built.

Mark Calvert IEng MICE is a Civil Engineering Project Manager at Mott MacDonald, a global engineering consultancy.

He is the Chair of the Institution of Civil Engineers in the Yorkshire and Humber region, representing over 4,000 members and promoting the great work civil engineers perform in transforming infrastructure and transforming lives.

2018 Year of Engineering mini series

Member’s report

The first rail way was not in the 18th or 19th, but at the end of the 16th century – wagonways, straight parallel timber rails on which carts with flanged iron wheels were pulled by horses – and in 1602, the Wollaton wagonway was built to carry coal. But the oldest continuously working public railway was built in 1758 to run between Hunslet and Middleton Park near Leeds.

Since the 19th-century railway age, an important focus has been on the stability of the track. From cast iron to wrought iron to steel, the problem was snapped rails. In the 1830s and 40s the problem and its associated costs were monitored. Gradually, proper test trials were conducted including all the elements of the track: the shape of the rail; the sleepers that tied them together; the plate; the fixings, joints, ballast, drainage – the variable relationships between load, rail-contact, traction and speed.

New rail standards were developed from 1904, and in 1914 a British standard for the modern permanent way was adopted. Further technical changes have followed – continuous rails, the best section-shape for the rail, the use of ballast to enable the rail to flex. All to achieve a stable, long-lasting, easily-maintained permanent way.

Carole Smith