The image shows the railway track of the Liverpool to Manchester railway in 1830 and it clearly shows that the rail was the ‘fish belly’ profile secured to stone sleepers, by the spike and wood method.
This can also be confirmed by the picture of the carriage used on the Liverpool Manchester railway at the time, which clearly shows the carriage sitting on the fishbelly rails attached to stone sleepers.
The ‘fish belly’ rail was first seen about 1800, intending to correct a basic weakness of the bar type seen previously, which could easily break in the middle. The ‘fish belly’ rails were of a T section, with a bulge on the bottom edge, strengthening the vulnerable middle section without wasting iron at the naturally stronger ends and centre line.
Astley Green has in its possession a number of lengths of this type of track, which were found locally, but originally came from a foundry in the North East. It could easily be the same track commissioned by George Stephenson for use on the Liverpool to Manchester railway and the Bolton to Leigh Railway which preceded the Liverpool to Manchester line.
The Bolton- Leigh railway opened two years before the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&MR). At first, the railway was freight only, but a passenger service started on 13 June 1831. The Liverpool to Manchester railway opened on the 15th September 1830 making it the first passenger carrying railway in the world.
The first section of the Bolton to Leigh Line was opened on 1 August 1828 between Derby Street Bolton and William Hulton’s collieries at Pendlebury Fold near Chequerbent in Westhoughton. Fletchers sidings near Bag Lane provided a connection for Fletcher’s collieries at Howe Bridge in Atherton. The line was completed to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Leigh by end of March 1830.
The railway operated from Bolton Great Moor Street to Leigh. In 1829, the 2.5 miles (4.0 km) long Kenyon and Leigh Junction Railway (K&LJ) was incorporated to link the Bolton & Leigh Railway with the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, joining it at Kenyon Junction near Warrington.
The track profile was cast in iron and square granite sleepers were used. The method used to secure the fishplate to the sleepers consisted of drilling two holes in the granite and plugging with wooden dowels. Spikes were then driven through the fishplate into the wood securing it to the granite block.
The records of the Liverpool to Manchester railway line show the track was laid using 15 feet (4.57 m) ‘fish-belly’ rails at 35 lb/yd (17.4 kg/m), laid either on stone blocks or, at Chat Moss, on wooden sleepers. Measurement of the track lengths held by the museum, show that they conform exactly to this specification, seeming to confirm the samples are contemporary to the track laid on the Liverpool – Manchester railway and the Bolton – Leigh Railway.