The trains left Liverpool on time and without any technical problems. The Duke of Wellington's special train ran on one track, and the other seven trains ran on an adjacent and parallel track, sometimes ahead and sometimes behind the Duke's train. Around 13 miles (21 km) out of Liverpool the first of many problems occurred, when one of the trains derailed and the following train collided with it. With no reported injuries or damage, the derailed locomotive was lifted back onto the track and the journey continued. At Parkside railway station, near the midpoint of the line, the locomotives made a scheduled stop to take on water. Although the railway staff advised passengers to remain on the trains while this took place, around 50 of the dignitaries on board alighted when the Duke of Wellington's special train stopped. One of those who got off was William Huskisson, former cabinet minister and Member of Parliament for Liverpool. Huskisson had been a highly influential figure in the creation of the British Empire and an architect of the doctrine of free trade, but had fallen out with Wellington in 1828 over the issue of parliamentary reform and had resigned from the cabinet. Hoping to be reconciled with Wellington, he approached the Duke's railway carriage and shook his hand. Distracted by the Duke, he did not notice an approaching locomotive on the adjacent track, Rocket. On realising it was approaching he panicked and tried to clamber into the Duke's carriage, but the door of the carriage swung open leaving him hanging directly in the path of the oncoming Rocket. He fell onto the tracks in front of the train, suffering serious leg injuries and dying later that night.
The Duke of Wellington felt that the remainder of the day's events should be cancelled following the accident at Parkside, and proposed to return to Liverpool. However, a large crowd had gathered in Manchester to see the trains arrive, and was beginning to become unruly. Wellington was persuaded to continue to Manchester. By the time the trains reached the outskirts of Manchester the crowd had become hostile and was spilling onto the tracks. With local authorities unable to clear the tracks, the trains were obliged to drive at low speed into the crowd, using their own momentum to push people out of the way. Eventually they arrived at Liverpool Road railway station in Manchester to be met by a hostile crowd, who waved banners and flags against the Duke and pelted him with vegetables. Wellington refused to get off the train, and ordered that the trains return to Liverpool. Mechanical failures and an inability to turn the locomotives meant that most of the trains were unable to leave Manchester. While the Duke of Wellington's train left successfully, only three of the remaining seven locomotives were usable. These three locomotives slowly hauled a single long train of 24 carriages back to Liverpool, eventually arriving 61⁄2 hours late after having been pelted with objects thrown from bridges by the drunken crowds lining the track.
The death and funeral of William Huskisson caused the opening of the railway to be widely reported, and people around the world became aware that cheap and rapid long-distance transport was now possible for the first time. The L&M became extremely successful, and within a month of its opening plans were put forward to connect Liverpool and Manchester with the other major cities of England. Within ten years, 1,775 miles (2,857 km) of railways were built in Britain, and within 20 years of the L&M's opening over 6,200 miles (10,000 km) were in place. The L&M remains in operation, and its opening is now considered the start of the age of mechanised transport; in the words of industrialist and former British Rail chairman Peter Parker, "the world is a branch line of the pioneering Liverpool–Manchester run".
The Liverpool and Manchester Railway (L&M) was founded on 24 May 1823 by Liverpool merchants Joseph Sandars and Henry Booth, with the aim of linking the textile mills of Manchester to the nearest deep water port at the Port of Liverpool. At the time, the only means of bulk transport between the two towns other than animal-drawn carts was water transport on the Mersey and Irwell Navigation, the Bridgewater Canal and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, all of which were slow and expensive to use; transporting raw cotton the 35 miles (56 km) from Liverpool to Manchester was as expensive as the initial cost of shipping it from America to Liverpool. Although horse and human powered railways had existed for centuries, and steam power was beginning to be used in some experimental industrial railways, the L&M was to be the first steam powered railway to provide an inter-city passenger service, and the most expensive engineering project yet undertaken in Britain. (Because much of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway ran over land owned by investors in the company, and because many of the early locomotives were owned by the engineering firms which built them rather than by the L&M, it is impossible to give a precise figure for the L&M's construction costs. The direct construction cost of the line up to its opening was around £820,000, and the two years of lobbying necessary to get the railway authorised is estimated to have cost £70,000. In comparison, the Bridgewater Canal, which had the same purpose as the L&M in connecting Manchester to the Port of Liverpool, had cost an estimated £220,000 to build in the late 18th century. The average labourer's wage in the area at this time was around £20 per year.)
The Marquess of Stafford, owner of the Bridgewater Canal, was a friend of Liverpool's Member of Parliament William Huskisson, with whom he had worked at the British Embassy in Paris. Although the Marquess had initially feared the potential impact of railways on the income from his canal and had been strongly opposed to the railway, Huskisson persuaded him to allow the railway to use his lands and to invest in the scheme.