Navvies from Virgin Trains in hard graft at heritage railway

By Geoff Courtney

Britain’s railway history is spread over many generations, and indeed centuries, and this has been no better illustrated than by a tie-up between the Middleton Railway, the world’s oldest working railway, and Virgin Trains, one of the new breed of operators.

The Middleton Railway is based in Hunslet, Leeds – another name which will resonate with enthusiasts both at home and overseas – and can trace its roots back to 1758, when it began transporting coal in horse-drawn wagons running on wooden tracks from Middleton colliery to wharfs on the River Aire.

Hats off: Virgin Trains’ major projects director Tim Hedley-Jones (left) and Jonathan Colley, head of Azuma at Virgin Trains East Coast, experience a rather slower form of railway travel on the footplate of 1903-built Manning Wardle 0-6-0ST Matthew Murray at the Middleton Railway as part of a joint scheme that led to some of the operator’s employees experiencing life on a heritage line. VIRGIN TRAINS EAST COAST

In 1799 these tracks were replaced with iron-edged rails, and in 1812 it became the first commercial railway to use steam locomotives successfully, following the delivery of Salamanca, designed and built by steam locomotive manufacturer Matthew Murray at his factory in
Holbeck, Leeds.

Rack and pinion

The design of this 0-4-0 included a large central cog wheel on its left-hand side that engaged with a single rack located outside the track, making it the first rack and pinion locomotive, while another first followed in 1814 when it was featured in a watercolour by local artist George Walker, the first-ever painting of a steam loco.

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