Sometimes called the Father of the Railways - though he readily admitted that 'the locomotive has not been the invention of any one man, but of a race of mechanical engineers' - George Stephenson was the son of a Northumbrian colliery steam-engine keeper. His son Robert was the Stephenson who built the celebrated Rocket, and was in many ways as gifted and visionary as his father. A synopsis of the Stephenson effect on railways can be found here. Another useful site is steamindex.com which is full of details and further links relating to the Stephensons, father and son.
For an overview of the whole history of the railways, see Christian Wolmar's very readable book Fire and Steam. This is 'a history of how our country has been shaped, for better and worse, by the railways. It is also a lament for the way in which governments - going back nearly 200 years - have always taken the railways for granted, starved them of investment, lacked the imagination to plan ahead and, at worst, wreaked upon them all kinds of deliberate damage' - So says Rod Liddle in his review in the Times: full review here.