All aboard: the world’s oldest working railway re-opens for business

The Middleton Railway in Leeds has re-opened.
The Middleton Railway in Leeds has re-opened.
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Yorkshire isn’t short of a heritage site or two and with the likes of Fountains Abbey, the Bronte Parsonage or the Captain Cook Museum topping the tourist trail, Leeds isn’t typically the first port of call when planning a sightseeing day out.

But what may come as a surprise to some, Leeds is home to the oldest continuously working railway in the world and the attraction remains one of the most popular visitor spots in the city.

Leeds’ heritage railway

Nestled just two miles outside of the city centre sits Middleton Railway.

The heritage railway was originally built as a collery railway in 1758 and required the first ever Railway Act of Parliament in order to build it.

Home to a cluster of pits, coal has been worked in Middleton since the 13th century and with horse-drawn waggons initially being used as the motive power to carry the coal to the staithes near the River Aire, the railway was introduced to provide a more efficient way to transport the load.

With the improved transportation, Middleton coal gradually helped to put Leeds at the centre of many developing industries, having been used as a source to power mills and factory engines, among others.

Paving the way for steam trains

In 1812, Middleton became the first commercial railway in the world to use steam locomotives successfully.

The locomotives were designed by colliery engineer and inventor John Blenkinsop, who recognised that an engine which was light enough not to break the cast iron track would not have sufficient adhesion to carry the heavy load of coal wagon, particularly up a steep gradient.

To combat the problem, Blenkinsop relaid the track on one side with a toothed rail and sought the aid of engineer Matthew Murray to design a locomotive with a pinion which would mesh with it and be able to take the engine’s weight.

Blenkinsop patented his rack and pinion system in 1811 and the locomotive, built by Murray in Holbeck, was named Salamanca(after the Duke of Wellington’s victory at the battle of Salamanca fought in the same year) and was the very first to use two cyclinders.

Rolling into 2018

Today the railway runs from Moor Road Station to Park Halt, on the northern edges of Middleton Park, and is operated entirely by volunteers.

After closing for maintenance during the winter season, the attraction will be re-opened to the public just in time for Easter on Saturday 31 March.

Along with an Easter bank holiday weekend of steam train rides and chocolate goodies, visitors can look forward to a host special events in 2018, with a model railway exhibition, a dispaly of Leeds built diesel locomotives, and a ‘Walk in the Woods’ event to see the bluebells and support the Alzheimer’s Society being just a few of the events lined up.

And although the train rides may be the main attraction, the railway also boasts a purpose built engine house which is home to a collection of locomotives, a ticket office and an museum of fascinating historic items, which illustrate the history of the railway and the development of locomotives over the years.

While it is a must-visit for train enthusiasts, it is an interesting attraction to visit for both families and history fans alike.


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