After the Liverpool and Manchester Railway was linked to Birmingham by the Grand Junction Railway, it made sense for the business tycoons of the North West to extend this exhilarating new form of transport to London, and George and Robert Stephenson were given the job.
THE London and Birmingham Railway opened on September 17th, 1838, connecting Euston to Curzon Street via Rugby and Coventry in five and a half hours. At Curzon Street, passengers could change to the Grand Junction Railway for Manchester and Liverpool, whose cotton-merchants and mill-owners had paid for the link to the capital.
The railway’s engineers, George Stephenson and his son Robert, eventually secured Parliamentary approval with generous compensation payments to landowners and some re-routing, but even so, until 1844 trains were not hauled out of the capital by fire-breathing locomotives, but winched out by rope as far as Camden over a mile away, because of fears over smoke and noise on the steep incline.
Construction began on June 1st, 1834. The railway took five and half million pounds and four years to build,* and was not quite complete by Queen Victoria’s coronation on 28th June, 1838, owing to the troublesome Kilsby tunnel near Rugby. A stagecoach bridged the gap for the historic day.
* Measuring Worth would suggest that the ‘opportunity cost’ (basically, the hit taken by the economy) of a £5.5m project in 1837 would be roughly £600m today. HS2, a proposed upgrade to the line intended to cut the journey time from 81 minutes to 49, was expected to cost the taxpayer about £30bn in September 2015 (Independent).