The Middleton railway was launched in 1758 and remained the world's oldest working railway. It operates on weekends and public holidays in the United Kingdom's city of Leeds. The 1-mile track runs between Park Halt, on the outskirts of Middleton Park, and the Middleton Railway headquarters, which is at Moor Road, Hunslet.
This article will briefly explore what Middleton Railway is, the history of this charming railway and its informative museum. It will delve into how this heritage railway and museum in South Leeds became one of Britain's hidden gems and why Middleton Railway reviews are always superb!
A Significant Standard Gauge Railway Line in Britain
Since 1960, volunteers have entirely run the Middleton Railway. The railway is owned and operated by the Middleton Railway Trust Ltd. and offers passenger services every weekend and bank holiday Mondays, as well as for limited hours on Wednesdays in season.
The line runs between Moor Road and Middleton Park, with facilities and attractions along the way. The Middleton Railway Trust Ltd. also arranges special themed days during the season, and on special days, like Children's day in England. Middleton Railway reviews are consistently excellent.
The Humble Beginnings of Middleton Railway in Moor Road, Leeds
Middleton Railway Station, Moor Road, was built in 1758 to transport coal from Middleton to Leeds, a developing town near the city of West Yorkshire at the time. It began when Charles Brandling, the owner of the colliery, wanted to find a way to transport coal to Leeds. His competition, the Fentons in Rothwell, was transporting coal to Leeds by the river, and Brandling had to find a way to compete.
The intrepid colliery owner joined forces with his agent, Richard Humble, who came from the North-East, nearby York, where wagonways were common. Brandling was inspired and decided to build a wagonway to transport his goods to Leeds.
Brandling and Humble took an official route to ensure the permanence of the first functional wagonway operating from Leeds. They approached the government requesting an Act of Parliament for its construction and operation.
As such, the Middleton Railway was the first railway to be granted official permission to operate and carry coal cheaply to Leeds. This enabled Leeds to become a commercial centre for several developing industries that needed this valuable resource for operations, including glass and brick makers, metal workers and brewers. It also helped launch the Leeds locomotive building industry.
A Brand New Engine House And Steam Locomotives
In 1812, Middleton Railway launched its first train pulled by a steam-driven locomotive, thus becoming the first commercial railway in England to use steam locomotives successfully. The railway also became the first line to employ a train driver.
So Much More Than a Transportation Line
In 1959, the National Coal Board abandoned the northern section of the Middleton Railway. To keep the line open, Dr R F Youell gathered a group of students at Leeds University together and took over the operation of the historic railway.
Transporting passengers and freight in style
The first passenger service ran for a week using a double-deck tram from the Swansea & Mumbles Railway. A vintage diesel locomotive, rented from the Hunslet Engine Company, hauled the tram, which could seat 106 passengers and was the largest in Britain at the time. The group also ran "University Rag Week" trains in 1960 using a vintage diesel locomotive pulling a double-deck coach.
Later, the Middleton Railway volunteers operated a freight service from 1960 until 1983. Regular passenger services have been operational since 1969.
Since Brandling launched the railway and purpose-built engine house, it's operated every year, making it the world's oldest working railway. Although it no longer operates in the coal mining industry, Middleton Railway is a prime tourist attraction with rave reviews from those who have visited.
Keeping history alive
Part of what makes the charming Middleton Railway so historically significant is that it was the first standard gauge heritage railway reopened by volunteers interested in preserving history and ensuring that train services continue on the line.
Since then, the Middleton Railway has been operated entirely by unpaid volunteers through the Middleton Railway Trust instead of permanent or seasonal staff, as many such railways employ. Allowing visitors to buy a ticket and go for a ride is truly a labour of love!
5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Middleton Park Station, Moor Road
These days, the Middleton Railway line, running from Moor Road to Park Halt, is the place to be on a Sunday afternoon or public holiday. The Middleton Railway has a special engine house, ticket station, and a museum at the Park Halt stop. Here are some reasons why you should explore this unique attraction in England:
#1. You can take a heritage train ride
To buy your ticket, head into the engine house, where you'll see the ticket counter. After buying your ticket, head to the station's entrance hall. This is where you can view some of the historical displays.
Visitors can enjoy a leisurely Sunday train ride, enjoying the beautifully preserved stations along the way, and learn more about how Middleton Railway Trust Ltd. has preserved the railway over time.
#2. It's an excellent attraction for train lovers to visit
The Middleton Railway Station is a haven for those who love steam trains. You'll find a selection of famous and historically significant locomotives on the site. The collection represents locomotives built in Jack Lane in the Hunslet, Leeds area, where some of the most important companies ordered their trains from.
Another one of the main attractions is a collection of vintage trains. You'll have the opportunity to climb into heritage locomotive cabs to learn more about how the controls work. The steam and diesel locomotives are beautifully restored and a must-see.
One of the locomotives on the site is the "Sir Berkeley," which featured in "The Railway Children," a BBC TV show from the late 1960s. The Vintage Carriages Trust of Ingrow owns this vintage locomotive.
#3. You can visit the Middleton Railway museum
The museum is a star attraction when visiting the Middleton Railway station, Moor Road. Entry into the museum will give you access to various fascinating displays. The museum shows the history of a typical railway in England and provides a unique insight into the Leeds locomotive building industry.
Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the museum became an Accredited Museum in 2005 and has since received multiple-star reviews. Don't pass on a visit to this excellent landmark!
#4. You'll take a step back to simpler times
There's something magical about exploring the countryside of England by steam train instead of going by car. Steam-powered locomotives were invented decades before the first car! Visiting the Middleton Railway Station will transport you back in time for a few hours as you visit the site where the first standard gauge railway was built.
#5. Refreshments, Gifts, and More
The facilities at Middleton Railway station cater to people of all ages. There's a restaurant, cafe, and gift on the site shop where visitors can enjoy a cup of coffee or tea and other refreshments. There's also a gift shop well worth a visit where visitors can buy a souvenir like a key fob, coaster, fridge magnet, or bookmark. There are toilets and baby-changing facilities, and Middleton Railway is wheelchair and pushchair-friendly.
Children enjoy the range of railway-inspired toys available, and those who love trains and railways will be happy to hear that there's also a comprehensive collection of railway-themed books and videos. No wonder children and adults alike love visiting the Middleton Railway!
Middleton Railway is a Top Attraction in Britain
Visiting Middleton Railway station, Moor Road, Leeds, is an ideal family outing. A ticket for a vintage train ride is an enchanting gift for anyone who would enjoy an exciting and informative day out and about. It is also perfect for families to spend a few hours together on a weekend or bank holiday.
You can quickly get to Middleton Railway for a visit by car or by bus. There is a car park where you can leave your vehicle for a few hours as you visit the railway nearby.
People of all ages enjoy the attractions at Middleton Railway, like the museum and train rides. No wonder it receives excellent reviews from those who have visited!
If this article has sparked your interest in a visit, why not look at our Flying Scotsman holiday that includes the Middleton Railway?
Inside Track would like to thank Ian Smith (Vice President, MRT) for his contributions to this article, including background information and beautiful photographs.