A railway that runs on coal and love

engineer on Middleton Railway

A hundred years from now will volunteers grease the wheels of lovingly restored lifts in London’s Gherkin? Will Chinese children go on trips to ancient factories where their ancestors once assembled iPhones? Will our own descendants thrill to the sounds and smells of recreated call centres and server farms?

If so, I hope they do these things with as much love and wonder as the workers and visitors at the Middleton Railway Trust. For in an unobtrusive building tucked away in south Leeds’ motorway tangle you can experience more than 200 years of railway history, or if you prefer, just buy a ticket and ride on a steam train.

Of course other steam railways are also available, and all good at what they do. But the Middleton Railway, successor to the World’s first commercially successful steam railway, can also claim to be the first such service to be completely run by volunteers. It’s still going strong after 50 years.


As a parent with primary school-aged children, I find the Middleton Railway is just enough train museum – perfect home tourist material. You can go in, buy a proper ticket, walk through a hall of engines and straight onto the Moor Road platform where the train is waiting to whisk you away to Middleton Park. There, at Park Halt, the engine is uncoupled and hitched back to the other end of the train for the uphill journey home. It’s a proper train trip, but not too long: you’ll be there and back in half an hour.


My four-year-old liked it so much that we stopped for a snack in the cheap and cheerful cafe and then went back for a second go on the train. Now he carries his little cardboard ticket everywhere and is pestering to have his birthday party on a steam train.

And as a history graduate with an unhealthy obsession over Leeds’ industrial heritage, I find a wealth of detail wonderfully presented. There’s a map of the city showing how steam engine manufacturing started at Matthew Murray’s Round Foundry in Holbeck before migrating to the Jack Lane area of Hunslet. And a map of the world showing how Leeds-built locomotives found their way across the continents. They’re also starting to use QR codes to link the static displays to more online information. Lots of possibilities here, I think.

There’s an ever-present risk with volunteer-run heritage of a descent into self-indulgence, of convoluted over-interpretation, passive aggressive signage and dotty personal hobbyhorses. The Middleton Railway shows no sign of these – a great return on investment of National Lottery players’ cash.

This sign says it all…

"Please visit the cab, but mind the mucky bits, the oily bits and the sticky out bits"

It’s the statement of confident people who care passionately about the museum and its contents, want to share it with the public, and to keep them safe as they do so.

  • The Middleton Railway runs a diesel passenger service every Saturday from 13:00 and a steam passenger service every Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday from 11:00. Check the timetables on their website.
  • Matt Edgar’s ‘Good Engines’ newspaper about Leeds steam engine pioneer Matthew Murray is for sale on his blog at matt.me63.com/engines.


  1. Middleton Railway is a favourite with our family and we have been taking our son since he was about one and a half. We had his second birthday party there and you get a carriage to yourself full of decorations. They also provided paper plates and plastic cups for us. Looking forward to visiting again soon especially now the weather is improving.

    Yay, you got a photo of my favourite sign in the engine shed.

  2. I have a bond with Middleton Railway. As its neighbour and going through a period of time of being unfeasibly broke with three young uns to make happy, it has brought joy on otherwise very dull days. We love that they let you right at the front of the steam train, when you go through a tunnel you can taste it. We go home with blackened but happy faces! On a practical side Middleton Railway provides locals with a real link to the woods, which believe it or not is as easy on public transport as you would imagine.

  3. Fantastic post. I never understand why Leeds doesn’t promote Middleton Railway more (signage on M62, A1, M1 etcetera). I understand that Middleton Park is undergoing major works soon. It would be good if they improved the links from Park Halt to the pond (again signage, pavement etc). Middleton Railway is a great day out even if you’re not too interested in trains.

  4. Couple of teeny corrections to the posting above.
    Scheduled Services normally at weekends from April to End of Year – the railway is normally closed for public operation from after New Year until the End of March. In August a Midweek – Wednesdays – Diesel Hauled Service Normally Runs.

    The scheduled there and back time is around half an hour , if its nice weather you can get out at Park Halt and wait for a later train if you want to , sometimes the railway locomotives get a little unwell on the journey up ( or back – not often only twice in the last three years that I can recall- oh and once we had a late start with frozen brakes one very cold morning – but we soon got back to time with no inconvience that we were aware of ) so dont totally assume that the times can be guaranteed.

    Dont forget the shop has lots of things for those that like trains – DVDs , Our Middleton Railway History Books as well as good value toys. Birthday Parties can also be booked for Dads ( or Mums / Grandads ! ) as a idea for a difference.

    Hope you family continue to enjoy the railway – some of the teenage members as well as helping in the shop, museum and on the trains have restored in the last three years the ‘Middleton Colliery’ Wagon , The Leeds Brewery Sponsered Tanker, and are valued with their assistance in the restoration of Locomotives such as Sir Berkley – [ currently on show at Locomotion Shildon ] and the North Eastern Railway Class H locomotive nearing completion.

    In 2011 further up coming planned special events include

    Hudswell Clarke Weekend
    Celebrating a Leeds Locomotive builder
    Saturday 18th & Sunday 19th June

    Model Railway Exhibition
    Saturday 2nd & Sunday 3rd July

    Autumn Gala Intensive Timetable
    Saturday 17th & Sunday 18th September

    And in 2012 , 200 years of Steam Powered Locomotive operation on the Middleton Railway , Leeds will be celebrated.

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