Selling

How Britain exported rail to the world.


The year 1829 saw the first use of a practicable steam locomotive when Rocket won the Rainhill Trials. Within five years locomotives and rolling stock were being exported to many countries for use in industrial enterprises, particularly to Russia and North America.

This speed of ‘technology transfer’ is really very impressive given the communications systems of the time. Because the technology was so new, an engineer often accompanied the first locomotive to its destination, ensuring that it was assembled and used correctly. Some engineers took their families with them and remained in these countries to help build the rest of the railway system. As a consequence, new production of locomotives, rolling stock and infrastructure began that competed directly with British companies - and often was more efficient. The Americans began building locomotives in the 1830s.

This speed of ‘technology transfer’ is really very impressive.

Before the invention of photography, drawings were the main advertising tool. These types of drawings were much more aesthetically pleasing than those created for production. They were often colour washed and shown in a very flattering light to appear more attractive and impressive. Iconic drawings of classic railway designs were also used on business cards, brochures and company literature.

By the 1850s the emerging markets of the British Empire provided ready-made demand for the products of the British railway industry. New opportunities were quickly exploited too in Japan and China. Private locomotive constructors in particular were very adept at spotting potential new markets and sending out marketing materials on a speculative basis. These usually included ‘technical’ drawings, ‘attractive’ drawings (soon replaced by photographs) and prose featuring the heritage of railways in Britain.

Since the Second World War there has been a decline in exports of railway locomotives and rolling stock by British firms to the rest of the world. Currently there is only one volume manufacturer and it is building vehicles designed abroad under licence for use on the UK domestic railways. Engineering drawings are no longer used to sell the locomotives; instead video, photographs and brochures are the norm.

Background: Class 87