World’s First Passenger Railway

Railroads were already in existence for quite some time, used primarily to transport goods, prior to the idea of them being used to transport people as well. This concept was first thought up by Benjamin French at the Bush Inn in Waterfront, Swansea, Wales in 1806.

Originally miners from Mumbles, Wales, had identified the requirement for a railroad to assist in the transport of coal between where they worked in Mumbles, and Swansea. The necessity of this route to Swansea was paramount to the region as it was where the coal mined locally was loaded onto ships.

On 25th March 1807, a year after the Swansea-Mumbles line started transporting cargo, the railway began to also start transporting passengers. Benjamin French brought about the world’s first passenger railway by converting an iron carriage to be fit for transporting people. He began to advertise this new found service after agreeing to pay the owners £20 a year for its use.

The Swansea-Mumbles track was a total of 5 miles in length and was horse powered. The locomotive would not make an appearance for several decades. Steam power was just beginning to be introduced and an early version of a steam-engine powered train was briefly tested on this track.

This however did not prove to be viable simply because the tracks themselves buckled under the weight of the cargo, and train itself! The line was later electrified in 1928, meaning that three forms of regular locomotive power had been utilised in its life time.

The electric double-decker cars introduced were the largest ever built for service in Britain at the time, seating a total of 106 passengers. Due to them often being run in pairs they actually had a total seating capacity of 212 per train!

The railway was eventually closed on the 5th January 1960 when a ceremonial train took its last journey. Allegations have been made that the intention of closing the world’s first every passenger railway was to simply earn more direct income from the bus service, aided by local council, by removing the competition.

A Mumbles Railway Society was formed in 1975 to both archive material and campaign for the line to one day be re-opened. The front end of one of the rail cars has also been restored and preserved, it can be viewed in the Tram Shed alongside the National Waterfront Museum.

Photo credit: Brian Kerslake

The world's first passenger railway was introduced in Wales on 25th March 1807 and ran 5 miles between the mining town of Mumbles and Swansea, Wales.