In 1801 Parliament passed an Act authorizing the Surrey Iron Railway Company to build a nine-mile (15 km) line between Croydon and the River Thames at Wandsworth. The line followed closely the River Wandle along whose banks many factories had been built. The owners of these factories were strong supporters of the decision to build the railway. William Jessop was appointed chief engineer of the project.
The line was opened on 26th July, 1803. It was therefore the first horse railway for public transport which was independent of a canal. The railway was fairly level and a horse could pull five or six loaded wagons carry over 20 tons of coal at just under 3 mph.
The line was a great success and the company successfully obtained a further Act of Parliament that gave permission to extend the line southwards to Godstone. This line was opened in 1805 and was mainly used to transport material from the quarries in the neighbourhood to the River Thames. The original intention was to extend the line to Portsmouth but the company ran out of money and the idea was abandoned.