The first railway engineers had to innovate a lot and their job was often times perilous. Challenges were plenty and extraordinary in nature. Consider the steam engines of the early days that were heavy and not suited to heavy inclines. Naturally, efforts were always made to ensure that rail tracks remained as flat as possible regardless of the topography. Unfortunately, this translates to monumental engineering structures such as tunnels, bridges, cuttings and embankments.
Then in some locations, flat plains could be just as worrying. Take for instance the large peat bog, Chat Moss near Manchester. In order to float rail tracks on top, the chief engineer used heather and tree branches as a bed that he bound using rubble and tar. It was only after a huge amount of material was taken in by the bog that the foundation felt stable enough. This line in fact exists today as well and is now electrified!
Tunnelling is yet another huge task that early engineers undertook without the use of today’s massive tunnelling machines. The first engineers to build tunnels were under the Thames and between Rotherhithe and Wapping.
While this tunnel was first conceived as a foot tunnel, eventually it was opened over 2 decades later as a railway tunnel. The work was back-breaking and small sections could be worked on every few months. Preparation and safety took the most time rather than the actual digging. The day of completion made the tunnel an instant tourist attraction, with folks from all over the country flocking to get a glimpse of the manmade marvel. Compare that with today’s London Underground!