The propagation of elastic transient waves in a multi–layered medium subjected to in–plane loadings is investigated in this study. One of the objectives of this study is to develop an effective analytical method for determining transient full–field solutions in the layered medium. A matrix method is developed by expanding the matrix solution obtained directly from the boundary–value problem in the integral transform domain into a power series of the phase–related reflection and transmission matrix which characterizes the multiple reflections and transmissions of all waves in every layer. The transient response of the multi–layered medium is decomposed into infinite wave groups in which the waves are either reflected by, or transmitted through, the interfaces. The connection between the proposed matrix method and the generalized ray method is established for the layered medium in the transform domain. The matrix representation of the solution enables us to calculate the transient response of the layered medium without tracing the ray path manually. The obtained analytical solution can easily be applied to numerical calculations. The double inverse transform is performed based on Cagniard's method and the theoretical transient solution for a layered half–space subjected to an in–plane dynamic force will be presented in part II. An experimental set–up that simulates the plane stress condition for a layered half–space was established to obtain the dynamic displacement response. The experimental result agrees well with the theoretical solution. The proposed methodology in this study can be extended to solve more complicated problems such as waves propagating in three–dimensional space.