1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Atmospheric Railway

ATMOSPHERIC RAILWAY. About 1840–1845 great interest was excited by a method of propelling railway trains through the agency of atmospheric pressure. Various inventors worked at the realization of this idea. On the system worked out in England by Jacob Samuda and S. Clegg, a continuous pipe or main was laid between the rails, and in it a partial vacuum was maintained by means of air pumps. A piston fitting closely in it was connected to the leading vehicle of the train by an iron plate which passed through a longitudinal groove or aperture running the whole length of the pipe. This aperture was covered by a valve consisting of a continuous strip of leather, strengthened on each side with iron plates; one edge was fastened, while the other was free to rise, and was closed against a composition of beeswax and tallow placed in the groove, the surface of which was slightly melted by a heater, carried on each train, in order to secure an air-tight joint. Connected behind the piston was a frame carrying four wheels which lifted and sustained the continuous valve for a distance of about 15 ft. Thus the piston having atmospheric pressure on one side of it and a vacuum equal to 15 or 16 in. of mercury on the other, was forced along the tube, taking the train with it. Various advantages were claimed by the advocates of the system, including cheapness of operation as compared with steam locomotives, and safety from collision, because the main was divided into sections by separating valves and only one train could be in each section at a given time. It was installed on about 2 m. of line between Kingstown and Dalkey (Ireland) in 1843 and worked till 1855; it was also tried on the London and Croydon and on the South Devon lines, but was soon abandoned. The same principle is applied in the system of pneumatic despatch (q.v.) to the transmission of small parcels in connexion with postal and telegraph work.

For further particulars see three papers by J. Samuda, P. W. Barlow and G. Berkeley, with reports of the discussions upon them, in Proc. Inst. C. E., 1844 and 1845.