The Rainhill Trials were an important competition run in October 1829, to test George Stephenson's argument that locomotives would provide the best motive power for the then nearly-completed Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR). Five locomotives were entered, running along a 1 mile (1.6 km) length of level track at Rainhill, in Lancashire (now Merseyside).
Stephenson's Rocket was the only locomotive to complete the trials, and was declared the winner. The directors of the L&MR accepted that locomotives should operate services on their new line, and George and Robert Stephenson were given the contract to produce locomotives for the railway.
The directors of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway had originally intended to use stationary steam engines to haul trains along the railway using cables. They had appointed George Stephenson as their engineer of the line in 1826, and he strongly advocated for the use of steam locomotives instead. As the railway was approaching completion, the directors decided to hold a competition to decide whether locomotives could be used to pull the trains; these became the Rainhill Trials. A prize of £500 (equal to £43219 today) was offered to the winner of the trials. Three notable engineers were selected as judges: John Urpeth Rastrick, a locomotive engineer of Stourbridge, Nicholas Wood, a mining engineer from Killingworth with considerable locomotive design experience, and John Kennedy, a Manchester cotton spinner and a major proponent of the railway.
The L&MR company set the rules for the trials. The rules went through several revisions; the final set, under which the competition was held, was:
Ten locomotives were officially entered for the trials, but on the day the competition began -- 6 October 1829 -- only five locomotives were available to run:
The length of the L&MR that ran past Rainhill village was straight and level for over 1 mile (1.6 km), and was chosen as the site for the Trials. The locomotives were to run at Kenrick's Cross, on the mile east from the Manchester side of Rainhill Bridge. Two or three locomotives ran each day, and several tests for each locomotive were performed over the course of six days. Between 10,000 and 15,000 people turned up to watch the trials and bands provided musical entertainment on both days.
Cycloped was the first to drop out of the competition. It used a horse walking on a drive belt for power and was withdrawn after an accident caused the horse to burst through the floor of the engine. The next locomotive to retire was Perseverance, which was damaged in transit to the competition. Burstall spent the first five days of the trails repairing his locomotive, and though it ran on the sixth day, it failed to reach the required 10 miles per hour (16 km/h) speed and was withdrawn from the trial. It was granted a £25 consolation prize (equal to £2161 today).
Sans Pareil nearly completed the trials, though at first there was some doubt as to whether it would be allowed to compete as it was 300 pounds (140 kg) overweight. However, it did eventually complete eight trips before cracking a cylinder. Despite the failure it was purchased by the L&MR, where it ran for two years before being leased to the Bolton and Leigh Railway.
The last locomotive to drop out was Novelty. In contrast to Cycloped, it used advanced technology for 1829 and was lighter and considerably faster than the other locomotives in the competition. It was the crowd favourite and reached a then-astonishing 28 miles per hour (45 km/h) on the first day of competition. It later suffered damage to a boiler pipe which could not be fixed properly on site. Nevertheless, it ran the next day and reached 15 miles per hour (24 km/h) before the repaired pipe failed and damaged the engine severely enough that it had to be withdrawn.
The Rocket was the only locomotive that completed the trials. It averaged 12 miles per hour (19 km/h) and achieved a top speed of 30 miles per hour (48 km/h)) hauling 13 tons, and was declared the winner of the £500 prize (equal to £43219 today). The Stephensons were given the contract to produce locomotives for the L&MR.
In 1980 the Rocket 150 celebration was held to mark the 150th Anniversary of the trials.
The event was also attended by:
Two Class 86 locomotives 86214 Sans Pareil and 86235 Novelty were painted in a variation of the Large Logo Rail Blue livery where the BR logo was replaced by Rocket 150 motif on a yellow background.
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In a recent (2002) restaging of the Rainhill Trials using replica engines, neither Sans Pareil (11 out of 20 runs) nor Novelty (10 out of 20 runs) completed the course. In calculating the speeds and fuel efficiencies, it was found that Rocket would still have won, as its relatively modern technology made it a much more reliable locomotive than the others. Novelty almost matched it in terms of efficiency, but its firebox design caused it to gradually slow to a halt due to a buildup of molten ash (called "clinker") cutting off the air supply. The restaged trials were run over the Llangollen Railway, Wales, and were the subject of a 2003 BBC Timewatch documentary.
This restaging should not be taken as accurate as there were major compromises made for television and because of the differences in crew experience, the fuel used, the modifications made to the replicas for modern safety rules, modern materials and construction methods, and following operating experience. Sensible comparisons were made between the engines only after calculations took into account the differences.
The replicas had major differences from the 1829 originals.