Engineers began constructing wooden railways in the mines of central Europe during the early 16th century. The first wooden railway in England was built at Wollaton in 1604. The original idea was to use the horse-drawn wooden railway to transport coal from Wollaton Colliery to the population of Nottingham. Soon afterwards similar railways were built in Shropshire and Northumberland.
Where possible, wagonways were laid out so that loaded wagons could travel downhill to a river or harbour. Horses were then used to take the empty wagons up the hill. In 1758 Parliament decided that colliery owners would have to seek permission before they built a wagonway. Later that year, Charles Brandling, became the first to have an Act of Parliament passed when he asked for permission to build a wagonway between his Middleton Colliery and Leeds.
Christopher Blackett, the owner of Wylam Colliery, had a five mile wooden wagonway that took coal to the River Tyne. In 1804 Blackett employed Richard Trevithick to build a locomotive that would replace the use of horse-drawn coal wagons. However, the Wylam locomotive weighed five tons, it was too heavy for Blackett's wooden wagonway.