Posts Tagged ‘Middleton Railway’

Middleton celebrates 250th birthday!

Sunday, 27 April 2008


15 April, 2006, the Middleton Railway reopens after
a long closure while a deviation was constructed to
accomodate a new road . Hunslet diesel ‘John Alcock’
hauls the first train.

This week the 250th birthday of the oldest working commercial railway in the world was marked in the UK Parliament. A motion, tabled by Leeds West MP John Battle, congratulated the Middleton Light Railway and thanked the volunteers who keep it operating.

The Middleton Railway was the first railway to be granted powers by Act of Parliament in 1758. It was built to a gauge of 4 ft 1 in to carry coal from the Middleton pits owned by Charles Brandling to Leeds. Not all the land belonged to Brandling and the Act gave him power to obtain wayleaves. The line was privately financed and operated, initially as a wagonway using horse-drawn vehicles. Around 1807, the wooden tracks began to be replaced with iron edge rails.

In 1812 the Middleton Railway became the first commercial railway to successfully use steam locomotives. John Blenkinsop the colliery’s manager, had decided that an engine light enough not to break the cast iron track would not have sufficient adhesion, bearing in mind the heavy load of coal wagons it would have to pull up the steep gradient. He relaid the track with a toothed rail on one side, which he patented in 1811 (the world’s first rack railway) , and approached Matthew Murray of Fenton, Murray and Wood, in Holbeck, to design a locomotive with a pinion which would mesh with it. Murray’s design was based on Richard Trevithick‘s Catch me who can, adapted to use Blenkinsop’s rack and pinion system, and was called The Salamanca. This 1812 locomotive was the first to use two cylinders. These drove the pinions through cranks which were at right angles, so that the engine would start wherever it came to rest. With three more locos built later, the line remained in use for another twenty years. In 1881 the railway was converted to 4 ft 8½ in (1,435 mm) standard gauge.

In June 1960, the Middleton Steam Railway became the first standard-gauge railway to be taken over and operated by unpaid volunteers. Passenger services were initially only operated for one week, using an ex Swansea and Mumbles Railway double deck carriage. However, the volunteers of the Middleton Railway operated a freight service until 1983.

Regular operation of tourist passenger services began in 1969.

More information:

Middleton Today – Middleton Light Railway Receives Parliamentary Recognition
Wikipedia – Middleton Railway
Middleton Railway – Official website