British engineers and a sixteen-year-old boy played a key part in helping Imperial Russia begin her own railway revolution. In one respect, however, Russia failed to learn from the example the United Kingdom set for her: private enterprise.
IN 1836, sixteen-year-old John Wesley Hackworth arrived in the Russian capital, St Petersburg, bearing the heavy responsibility of delivering a steam locomotive, built by his father Timothy at Shildon in County Durham, to the Russian Empire’s first railway line.*
The locomotive’s destination was a 6ft-gauge, 17-mile demonstration track from St Petersburg to Pavlovsk, via Tsarskoye Selo and the famous Catherine Palace. The line’s purpose was to prove to Tsar Nicholas I, who personally attended the tests and who held the purse-strings, that Russia could build her own railways, and maintain them through a Russian winter.
Several of the line’s engineers brought experience from England, and a locomotive by the Cherepanov brothers was supplemented by the Shildon engine. The affable Tsar confided to young John his amazement at how far technology had come since 1816, when on a visit to England he had seen with his own eyes John Blenkinsopp’s rack-and-pinion locomotives at work on the Middleton Railway near Leeds.*
* See our post Timothy Hackworth.
* The Middleton Railway remains in operation today as a preserved industrial railway.