From an open truck fitted with hard seats to a 140mph air-conditioned vehicle the British Railway carriage has come a long way in less than two centuries, yet it is surprising how long many features from those early years actually survived, as EVAN GREEN-HUGHES relates.
As the first railways were built primarily to carry minerals and coal from point of origin to port or canal very little thought was given to vehicles which might be suitable for the carriage of passengers. The Oystermouth Railway in South Wales is credited with being the first to offer passenger accommodation in March 1807 and what was provided there was essentially a contemporary stagecoach on rail wheels drawn by horses. The coach was operated by a private owner as the railway did not have its own stock, but instead charged third parties for operating their own vehicles on their line. Many early vehicles followed this pattern and it is from their use that the term ‘coach’ is derived.