1712 Thomas Newcomen develops an inefficient industrial stationary steam engine, which condenses steam under a vacuum.
1758 First "railway" is built - the Middleton Colliery Railway in Leeds, to carry coal to the River Aire using horses.
1765 James Watt improves upon the steam engine with the invention of the "Separate Condenser".
1776 Cast iron L-shaped plates are laid by John Curr at a colliery near Sheffield.
1789 Cast iron edge rails are laid by William Jessop on the Loughborough and Nanpanton Railway.
1801 Opening of the horse-powered Surrey Iron Railway (Croydon to Wandsworth) - the first public freight railway.
1804 5th February: "Trevithick" locomotive runs on Penydarren Tramway in South Wales. Hauls 10 tons for nine miles at five miles per hour.
1807 Opening of Oystermouth Railway, Swansea, a horse-powered railway believed to be the first to carry passengers.
1812 First commercial use of locomotives on Middleton Colliery Railway, Leeds, using Murray & Blenkinsop engines.
1813 Blackett & Hedley build "Puffing Billy" for use on Wylam Colliery Railway.
1814 "Blucher", first locomotive built by George Stephenson and weighing six tons, runs on Killingworth Colliery Railway.
1821 Bill is passed by Parliament for construction of famous Stockton & Darlington Railway, with George Stephenson as engineer.
1824 George Stephenson is appointed as engineer to develop the Liverpool & Manchester Railway.
1825 Stockton & Darlington, the world's first public railway, is opened. Stephenson's 4' 8" gauge is now standard.
1829 Rainhill Trials to find steam locomotive for Liverpool & Manchester Railway is won by Stephenson's "Rocket".
1830 15th September: The Liverpool & Manchester Railway, the world's first "inter-city" route, is opened by the Duke of Wellington.
1836 20th April: Ffestiniog opens as the world's first narrow-gauge railway using 1' 11½" gauge.
1838 Great Western Railway, engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, opened from Paddington to Maidenhead on a broad gauge (7').
1842 Edinburgh to Glasgow railway opened on 26th February; rail route from Edinburgh to London completed.
1844 First large-scale amalgamation of several railways to form single company. George Hudson of York is Chairman.
1846 "Railway Mania": 272 Acts of Parliament for new railways, few of which passed the initial planning stage.
1853 The first train passes through Herefordshire with the opening of the Shrewsbury to Hereford via Leominster line.
1863 Opening of the Metropolitan Railway, the world's first underground line and the UK's highest main line (1,484 feet above sea level).
1876 Special Scotch Express journey time reduced to nine hours by the "Flying Dutchman" (Kings Cross to Edinburgh).
1879 First restaurant service on British railway on trains between London and Leeds.
1890 Opening of the first electric underground railway, the City and South London line. Forth Bridge in Scotland opened.
1892 The 4' 8½" standard gauge, first recommended by Royal Commission in 1846, wipes out the GWR "Broad Gauge".
1899 Last main line into London, the Great Central Railway from Sheffield and Manchester to Marylebone, is opened.
1904 The Plymouth - London mail train becomes the first steam locomotive to attain a speed in excess of 100 mph.
1911 First national rail strike succeeds in gaining increased wages and additional power for the Railway Trade Unions.
1914 Railways come under government control as World War I breaks out. Many women take on jobs on the railways.
1923 "Big Four" created - Great Western, Southern, London & North Eastern and London, Midland & Scottish.
1935 "Silver Jubilee", Britain's first streamlined train, sustains 100 mph for over 40 miles on a Kings Cross - Newcastle train.
1938 All-time record for steam traction achieved at 126 mph for a Peterborough to Grantham train.
1939 World War II begins and the railways come under government control again. Railways become a prime target for bombing.
1945 Labour government reintroduces the "Big Four" and pledges nationalisation but funds are low.
1947 Royal Assent is given to Transport Act; this provides for national ownership of the railways and canals.
1948 Nationalisation: "Big Four" becomes six regions - Southern, Western, London Midland, Eastern, North Eastern and Scottish.
1955 British Transport chairman announces £1.2m plan for replacement of steam with diesel/electric traction.
1960 Last British Railways steam locomotive completed at Swindon: No. 92220, "Evening Star".
1961 Dr. Beeching appointed chairman of British Transport Commission.
1963 Beeching proposes cuts to railway system, many smaller village stations and lines are closed. The Great Train Robbery takes place at Seers Crossing.
[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2003]