Salamanca Locomotive

Built by Matthew Murray, Salamanca was the world’s first commercially successful steam locomotive. It was built for the Middletown Railway, which utilized edge railed track, and a rack and pinion propulsion system. 


Developed by Richard Trevithick in 1804, steam locomotives quickly paved the way for the future. Although Trevithick’s experiments were successful, the first locomotive did not reach fruition until eight years later in 1812, when Salamanca was built, which was essentially the world’s first commercial steam locomotive. The locomotive’s namesake was after the Battle of Salamanca that had occurred earlier in 1812, of which the Duke of Wellington reigned victorious.

Due to the Napoleonic Wars wreaking havoc on the supply of fodder for horses, John Blenkinsop, manager of the Middleton quarry recalled Trevithick’s experiments eight years prior. Blenkinsop recommended steam traction, as the coke that fueled the locomotives was readily available at the mine. Blenkinsop thus, called on engineer Matthew Murray, who had pioneered various machinery for the textile industry in Manchester, to build him a locomotive with his patented cog system, as Blenkinsop did not believe a locomotive could haul a train solely by adhesion. Murray delivered Salamanca to the mine railway in 1812, along with three subsequent cog locomotives shortly afterwards. Similar to subsequent locomotives, it spent its life on coal workings, hauling loaded chaldrons from the coal mines.

In 1812, Matthew Murray, of Fenton, Murray, and Wood, built Salamanca for the Middleton Railway between Middletown and Leeds. The railway was built with edge rails, and used a rack propulsion system introduced and patented by John Blenkinsop. In fact, Blenkinsop himself built a rack locomotive strikingly similar to Salamanca. The Middleton Railway, owned by Charles John Brandling, was built to haul coal into the city of Leeds, and was built using wooden rails and originally employed horse traction.

Middletown Railway and the Rack Propulsion System

With industrialization at its genesis in Britain, coal production continued to expand throughout the country. This prompted Charles John Brandling and his family to fund a wooden, horse-drawn railway to haul coal between Middleton and Leeds. Although horses were the ideal form of powering railways during this time, various engineers were trying their hand with steam power, both locomotive traction, and pumping engines for mines. However, the railway used wooden rails, which were incapable of handling the weight of a locomotive. Interest in locomotive traction became commonplace during the Napoleonic wars in the late 18th century, and with much interest in locomotive traction, iron tracks with edge rails were installed on the railway in 1799. Five years later, Trevithick experimented with his locomotive at the Pen-y-Daren plate way  in South Wales.

Despite Trevithick’s demonstrations eight years prior, many doubted if a locomotive could provide sufficient adhesion, thus, John Blenkinsop, manager of the Middleton Colliery, owned by the Brandling’s, patented the rack and pinion propulsion system. Many engineers of the time shared the common belief that a locomotive could haul four times its weight, however, Blenkinsop believed that with his rack system, the locomotive was capable of hauling much heavier loads. Thus, convinced of its capabilities, in 1812, the Brandlings accepted Matthew Murray’s Salamanca, onto their railway.

Blenkinsop’s rack system was used, as much uncertainty surrounded whether a locomotive light enough to not break the iron rails would have sufficient adhesion. The rack system worked via a cog wheel attached to the locomotive via a connecting rod, and a toothed rail outside the track gauge. Because of the rack system, the locomotive could effectively haul up to twenty times its own weight.

The Salamanca was a massive success, thus, Murray built three more of the type, which were believed to have been named, Lord Wellington, Prince Regent, and Marquis Wellington. The locomotives spent twenty years hauling coal chaldrons on the railway, unfortunately, Salamanca was pulled from service when its boiler exploded in 1817. Moreover, by the 1830s, significant advances in locomotive design rendered the cog locomotives obsolete.


Salamanca is known to be the first cog locomotive, utilizing a rack and pinion system in addition to the adhesion from the locomotive. This system allowed the locomotive to haul twenty times its own weight, as the type were successful, and remained in service for twenty years. The rack and pinion railway operates with a toothed rail outside the gauge, meshing with the toothed cog wheel on the left side of the locomotive, engaged via cylinders on the top of the center flue boiler.

The locomotive was built with two 8″x 20″ cylinders, and a center flue boiler. The piston cross heads of the locomotive traveled through guides, instead of traveling in a parallel motion, as this was common in the early years of locomotive design. Prior to the Stephenson gauge or standard gauge, the locomotive was built for the 4 ft 1 in. gauge of the short Middleton Railway.

Date Built1812
Gauge4 ft. 1 in.
Weight5 tons
Number of Cylinders2
Cylinder Dimensions8 in. x 20 in.
Boiler TypeCenter Flue
OperatorMiddleton Railway
Demonstration of a Rack and Pinion system.

Influence of Subsequent Locomotives

The success of the Salamanca and its three sister locomotives led other engineers to develop their own cog locomotives. Prominent engineer George Stephenson developed his Killingworth locomotives, such as Blucher and Wellington utilizing Blenkinsop’s rack system. Knowledge attained from the Killingworth locomotives assisted Stephenson in advancing steam technology, leading to the construction of pioneering locomotives such as Locomotion No.1 and Rocket.

When Salamanca and Prince Regent were placed into service in August 1812, this proved to be the unofficial beginning of steam traction and the modern era. By 1830, the cog railway fell into obsolescence, as the Rainhill Trials and the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway were operating using only the locomotive’s adhesion. The Middleton Railway operated as a rack and pinion railway until 1835, as locomotives operating primarily by adhesion became commonplace.

Throughout these years, various rack railways have been built throughout the world, primarily in mountainous terrain, as the early locomotives often struggled with less than ideal topography. Regarding the Salamanca, it proved to be a revolutionary locomotive during its time, as the only previous locomotives produced were those built by Trevithick during his many experiments. Although the cog railway has been tucked away into the history books, the legacy and innovations of the Salamanca have helped shape the modern world.





Lifelong Rail Enthusiast and Owner of Worldwide Rails

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