Stephenson’s Planet (2-2-0)

Stephenson’s Planet was the first 2-2-0 steam locomotive and was the ninth locomotive built for the Liverpool & Manchester Railroad. The Planet was built in 1830 and was the next major design improvement after the Rocket, which won the Rainhill Trials in 1829.

As steam locomotives continued to prove their worth in Britain, more advanced designs began to be developed and produced, namely from Robert Stephenson and Company. One of these advanced designs was Stephenson’s Planet. Planet was the first locomotive to have its cylinders located inside the boiler, moreover, it was the first locomotive in Britain to include buffers and coupling mechanism, as well as a steam dome to prevent water from entering the locomotive’s cylinders. As the first 2-2-0 locomotive, all subsequent locomotives of this arrangement were known as “Planet” types. The Planet types were the first locomotives to be produced en mass, as eighteen subsequent locomotives were manufactured, three of which by Murray & Wood of Leeds. Although these locomotives had a short operating life, they left a profound impact on the budding railway industry in both the UK, Ireland, continental Europe, and North America.

George Stephenson and his son Robert are widely known for their pioneering of the steam locomotive, and the world’s first commercial railways. The Stephenson’s are known for building the famous Rocket locomotive, which won the Rainhill trials in 1830, thus, securing steam locomotive traction on the world’s first passenger hauling railway, the Liverpool and Manchester. The Rocket included many technological advances, especially its lightweight 0-2-2 wheel arrangement that encompassed speed and reliability. Always eager for innovation, Stephenson immediately sought to improve on the technicalities of the Rocket, experimenting with inside frame cylinders and horizontal driving wheels.

Pleased with the operations of the Rocket, the Stephenson’s began experimenting with its successor locomotive. The Northumbrian, an 0-2-2 arrangement similar to Rocket, which was produced in 1830, however, the 2-2-0 Planet type was favored. Because more than one example was produced, the Planet effectively became the first standard locomotive design on the Liverpool and Manchester. Known worldwide for pioneering the locomotive, various railway representatives traveled to Britain to place their order with the Stephensons, most notably, the John Bull, commissioned by President Stevens of the Camden & Amboy Railroad in New Jersey.  Additionally, the 2-2-0 type locomotive was the first to operate on a commercial railroad in North America. This locomotive, the Tom Thumb, was the landmark locomotive that proved locomotive traction was feasible for the United States, and far superior to horse traction. Although the 2-2-0 locomotive was a popular design in its day, it was surpassed by improved designs such as the 4-4-0 and 4-4-2 designs, which encompassed increased speed and various advancements in locomotive technology.

In addition to the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in Britain, the 2-2-0 configuration was utilized by various railways throughout the country, most notably the London & Birmingham Railway, who operated sixty-nine examples of the type. Additionally, the London & Greenwich Railway had five, and Ireland’s Dublin and Kingstown Railway operated two, Hibernia and Vauxhall. 

However, although successful, the Planet type was soon phased out, especially those including a tender, in favor of the 2-2-2 arrangement, as the added wheel-set allowed for a larger firebox, and improved the locomotive’s stability. Although, tank engines of the 2-2-0 arrangement continued to be produced, as an example of the type was built for the Roman Railroad in Italy by the Fairfield Locomotive Works. A unique variation of the type is Drummond’s C14 class 2-2-0T, which were built for push-pull service on the London and South Western Railway, a common operation in the modern era. However, the design did not prove feasible, as they were under powered, leading the locomotive’s to be rebuilt as 0-4-0, and subsequently spent their operating life in yards facilitating shunting duties.

Due to the rapid advancement of locomotive design, the original Planet was retired in 1840, just ten years after its construction. Unfortunately, the original locomotive was not preserved, however, a replica was constructed in 1992 by the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. The locomotive is operable, which allows visitors to turn back time, and experience the beauty of train travel during the Victorian Era. The locomotive is displayed in the museum’s Power Hall, which displays various industrial artifacts that fueled the industrial revolution.


The Planet was the first locomotive to include a steam dome and buffer and chain couplings, which became standard on all rail vehicles in the UK, Ireland, and continental Europe. The steam dome prevented water from entering the cylinders, which prevents a hydraulic lock, when an amount of liquid greater than the amount in the cylinder is surpassed. The locomotive included horizontal cylinders, which became commonplace after further developments of Rocket and Northumbrian. It is believed that the Planet is the first locomotive to be built with its cylinders inside the frame, which became quite common during the Victorian era.

Date Built1830
Whyte Configuration2-2-0
Driver Diameter5 ft
Axle Load4,820 lbs
Weight4.32 tons
Boiler Diameter3 ft
Boiler Tube Plates6 ft 6 in
Cylinders/Size2, 11 inx16 in


Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

Recent Posts