[Footnote: Introductory address delivered to the Class of Engineering, University of Edinburgh, October 30, 1883.]


"The transmission of vehicles by electricity to a distance, independently of any control exercised from the vehicle, I will call Telpherage." These words are quoted from my first patent relating to this subject. The word should, by the ordinary rules of derivation, be telphorage; but as this word sounds badly to my ear, I ventured to adopt such a modified form as constant usage in England for a few centuries might have produced, and I was the more ready to trust to my ear in the matter because the word telpher relieves us from the confusion which might arise between telephore and telephone, when written.

I have been encouraged to choose Telpherage as the subject of my address by the fact that a public exhibition of a telpher line, with trains running on it, will be made this afternoon for the first time.

You are, of course, all aware that electrical railways have been run, and are running with success in several places. Their introduction has been chiefly due to the energy and invention of Messrs. Siemens. I do not doubt of their success and great extension in the future--but when considering the earliest examples of these railways in the spring of last year, it occurred to me that in simply adapting electric motors to the old form of railway and rolling stock, inventors had not gone far enough back. George Stephenson said that the railway and locomotive were two parts of one machine, and the inference seemed to follow that when electric motors were to be employed a new form of road and a new type of train would be desirable.

When using steam, we can produce the power most economically in large engines, and we can control the power most effectually and most cheaply when so produced. A separate steam engine to each carriage, with its own stoker and driver, could not compete with the large locomotive and heavy train; but these imply a strong and costly road and permanent way. No mechanical method of distributing power, so as to pull trains along at a distance from a stationary engine, has been successful on our railways; but now that electricity has given us new and unrivaled means for the distribution of power, the problem requires reconsideration.

With the help of an electric current as the transmitter of power, we can draw off, as it were, one, two, or three horse-power from a hundred different points of a conductor many miles long, with as much ease as we can obtain 100 or 200 horse-power at any one point. We can cut off the power from any single motor by the mere break of contact between two pieces of metal; we can restore the power by merely letting the two pieces of metal touch; we can make these changes by electro magnets with the rapidity of thought, and we can deal as we please with each of one hundred motors without sensibly affecting the others. These considerations led me to conclude, in the first place, that when using electricity we might with advantage subdivide the weight to be carried, distributing the load among many light vehicles following each other in an almost continuous stream, instead of concentrating the load in heavy trains widely spaced, as in our actual railways. The change in the distribution of the load would allow us to adopt a cheap, light form of load. The wide distribution of weight, entails many small trains in substitution for a single heavy train; these small trains could not be economically run if a separate driver were required for each.

But, as I have already pointed out, electricity not only facilitates the distribution of power, but gives a ready means of controlling that power. Our light, continuous stream of trains can, therefore, be worked automatically, or managed independently of any guard or driver accompanying the train--in other words, I could arrange a self-acting block for preventing collisions. Next came the question, what would be the best form of substructure for the new mode of conveyance? Suspended rods or ropes, at a considerable height, appeared to me to have great advantages over any road on the level of the ground; the suspended rods also seemed superior to any stiff form of rail or girder supported at a height. The insulation of ropes with few supports would be easy; they could cross the country with no bridges or earth-works; they would remove the electrical conductor to a safe distance from men and cattle; cheap small rods employed as so many light suspension bridges would support in the aggregate a large weight.

Moreover, I consider that a single rod or rail would present great advantages over any double rail system, provided any suitable means could be devised for driving a train along a single track. (Up to that time two conductors had invariably been used.) It also seemed desirable that the metal rod bearing the train should also convey the current driving it. Lines such as I contemplated would not impede cultivation nor interfere with fencing. Ground need not be purchased for their erection. Mere wayleaves would be sufficient, as in the case of telegraphs. My ideas had reached this point in the spring of 1882, and I had devised some means for carrying them into effect when I read the account of the electrical railway exhibited by Professors Ayrton and Perry. In connection with this railway they had contrived means rendering the control of the vehicles independent of the action of the guard or driver; and this absolute block, as they called their system, seemed to me all that was required to enable me at once to carry out my idea of a continuous stream of light, evenly spaced trains, with no drivers or guards.

I saw, moreover, that the development of the system I had in view would be a severe tax on my time and energy; also that in Edinburgh I was not well placed for pushing such a scheme, and I had formed a high opinion of the value of the assistance which Professors Ayrton and Perry could give in designs and inventions.

Moved by these considerations, I wrote asking Professor Ayrton to co-operate in the development of my scheme, and suggesting that he should join with me in taking out my first Telpher patent. It has been found more convenient to keep our several patents distinct, but my letter ultimately led to the formation of the Telpherage Company (limited), in which Professor Ayrton, Professor Perry, and I have equal interests. This company owns all our inventions in respect of electric locomotion, and the line shown in action to-day has been erected by this company on the estate of the chairman--Mr. Marlborough R. Pryor, of Weston. Since the summer of last year, and more especially since the formation of the company this spring, much time and thought has been spent in elaborating details. We are still far from the end of our work, and it is highly probable what has been done will change rapidly by a natural process of evolution. Nevertheless, the actual line now working does in all its main features accurately reproduce my first conception, and the general principles I have just laid down will, I think, remain true, however great the change in details may be.

The line at Weston consist of a series of posts, 60 ft. apart, with two lines of rods or ropes, supported by crossheads on the posts. Each of these lines carries a train; one in fact is the up line, and the other the down line. Square steel rods, round steel rods, and steel wire ropes are all in course of trial. The round steel rod is my favorite road at present. The line is divided into sections of 120 ft. or two spans, and each section is insulated from its neighbor. The rod or rope is at the post supported by cast-iron saddles, curved in a vertical plane, so as to facilitate the passage of the wheels over the point of support. Each alternate section is insulated from the ground; all the insulated sections are in electrical connection with one another--so are all the uninsulated sections. The train is 120 ft. long--the same length as that of a section. It consists of a series of seven buckets and a locomotive, evenly spaced with ash distance pieces--each bucket will convey, as a useful load, about 2½ cwt., and the bucket or skep, as it has come to be called, weighs, with its load, about 3 cwt. The locomotive also weighs about 3 cwt.

The skeps hang below the line from one or from two V wheels, supported by arms which project out sideways so as to clear the supports at the posts; the motor or dynamo on the locomotive is also below the line. It is supported on two broad flat wheels, and is driven by two horizontal gripping wheels; the connection of these with the motor is made by a new kind of frictional gear which I have called nest gear, but which I cannot describe to-day. The motor on the locomotive as a maximum 1½ horse-power when so much is needed. A wire connects one pole of the motor with the leading wheel of the train, and a second wire connects the other pole with the trailing wheel; the other wheels are insulated from each other. Thus the train, wherever it stands, bridges a gap separating the insulated from the uninsulated section. The insulated sections are supplied with electricity from a dynamo driven by a stationary engine, and the current passing from the insulated section to the uninsulated section through the motor drives the locomotive. The actual line is quite short, and can only show two trains, one on the up and one on the down line; but with sufficient power at the station any number of trains could be driven in a continuous stream on each line.

The appearance is that of a line of buckets running along a single telegraph wire of large size. A block system is devised and partly made, but is not yet erected. It differs from the earlier proposals in having no working parts on the line. This system of propulsion is called by us the Cross Over Parallel Arc. Other systems of supplying the currents, devised both by Professors Ayrton and Perry and myself, will be tried on lines now being erected; but that just described gives good results. The motors employed in the locomotives were invented by Messrs. Ayrton and Perry. They are believed to have the special advantage of giving a larger power for a given weight than any others. One weighing 99 lb. gave 1½ horse-power in some tests lately made. One weighing 36 lb. gave 0.41 horse-power.

No scientific experiments have yet been made on the working of the line, and matters are not yet ripe for this--but we know that we can erect a cheap and simple permanent way, which will convey a useful load of say 15 cwt. on every alternate span of 130 feet. This corresponds to 16½ tons per mile, which, running at five miles per hour, would convey 92½ tons of goods per hour. Thus if we work for 20 hours, the line will convey 1850 tons of goods each way per diem, which seems a very fair performance for an inch rope. The arrangement of the line with only one rod instead of two rails diminishes friction very greatly. The carriages run as light as bicycles. The same peculiarity allows very sharp curves to be taken, but I am without experimental tests as yet of the limit in this respect. Further, we now know that we can insulate the line satisfactorily, even if very high potentials come to be employed. The grip of the locomotive is admirable and almost frictionless, the gear is silent and runs very easily.

It is suited for the highest speeds, and this is very necessary, as the motors may with advantage, run at 2,000 revolutions per minute.