The railways made a rapid impact on Britain. It was only in 1830 that inter-city rail travel started with the link between Liverpool and Manchester, but by 1840, they, and the other four largest English cities (Birmingham, Sheffield, Leeds and Bristol), were all linked to London.
Trains offered substantial savings in time and comfort over coach travel. In 1836, Manchester was reached from London in 18 hours 30 minutes by coach, but in 1844, this was reduced to 7 hours 45 minutes by train.
When, in 1847, the Trent Valley line was opened, providing a service to the north-west which avoided Birmingham, the LNWR’s publicity pointed out that those needing to do business in Manchester or Liverpool and return to London the same evening would have 4 hours in Manchester rather than 21/4.
By 1850 it was possible to travel by rail from London to Plymouth, Holyhead, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen. Even in the 1830s the mainline railways north of London saw themselves as an end-on connecting system. Arrangements had to be made for through fares and rates and the subsequent sharing of payments on an agreed basis through the mechanism of the Railway Clearing House the inspiration for which was the clearing house servicing the City banks.
The first railways were dedicated to the carriage of minerals, but following the example of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway which attracted a surprisingly large passenger traffic, freight traffic was less important until the late 1840s. This was in part because concentration on first and second class passenger traffic proved remunerative, but also because it was easier to arrange for through traffic to other lines for passengers than for freight. Traffic managers were perhaps slow see the potential of freight, particularly coal, for which the canals and coastal shipping were substantial carriers.
However, by 1849, the LNWR had a contract with the Clay Cross Company to bring 45,000 tons per year to London, though it was two decades before more coal was transported to London by rail than by sea. Elsewhere railways developed an enormous traffic in coal which was widely used, domestically and industrially, as well as by the railways themselves and for locomotive firing.