'Pneumatic Railway for Passengers, 1864.'
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The idea of pneumatic, or atmospheric propulsion for a railway originated with George Medhurst in around 1810. His system involved air being pumped along a pipe, pushing a piston which would drag a vehicle along rails outside the pipe. It was considered that pneumatic propulsion had potential advantages over steam, in particular the fact that as a pneumatic railway would not need a locomotive to pull it, trains would be lighter and tracks cheaper to build. A number of pneumatic railways were built during the 1840s, including Brunel's South Devon Railway, but the technology could not displace steam. Illustration from 'The Crystal Palace, Sydenham: to be sold by auction...on Tuesday 28th day of November 1911', published in London by Knight, Frank & Rutley, 1911.