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 (1,245 mm) to carry coal from the Middleton pits owned by Charles Brandling to Leeds (near Meadow Lane, close to the River Aire). Not all the land belonged to Brandling and the Act gave him power to obtain wayleave. Otherwise 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 superior iron edge rails.
Introduction of steam
In 1812 the Middleton Steam Railway became the first commercial railway to successfully use steam locomotives. John Blenkinsop the colliery's viewer, or 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 and the steep track gradient. Accordingly he relaid the track on one side with a toothed rail, which he patented in 1811 (the 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.
The line thus entered the history books, in 1812, for it was first to operate successfully, and with three more locos built later, remained in use for another twenty years. In 1881 the railway was converted to 4 ft 8½ in (1,435 mm) standard gauge.