As it happened in England at the beginning of the exploitation of railways, in Spain diverse technical difficulties emerged and also took place the same confrontations with the interests of the landholders and the owners of stagecoaches. An example of the first was the construction of the Montgat Tunnel, first work of this type carried out in Spain; and regarding the second, will suffice with mentioning that the repeated sabotages led the governor of the province of Barcelona to dictate a ban, in August 1848, that protected the railway against the vandalism from the discontented, who dared to set fire in a bridge. However, the popular enthusiasm and the energy from the financiers overcame all the obstacles, albeit these forced to delay the inauguration repeatedly.

Finally, the 8th October 1848 were made the official trials with a convoy composed of ten units, in which were accommodated more than 400 persons. The trial was a great success. The duration of this first travel, not including the two stops made to verify the condition of the axes, was 55 minutes for going and only 48 minutes for return. It was estimated that these times could be reduced to the half for the future travels of this line. Finally, the Saturday 28th October 1848 it was solemnly inaugurated the first Spanish railway under the presidency of the Queen María Cristina. At 9:00 o'clock it was blessed the first convoy, in which, besides the authorities and representatives from the official corporations, traveled a music band from the artillery regiment, playing diverse instrumental pieces during the sortie.

In Masnou it took place a second blessing and at 11:45 o'clock the inaugural convoy entered in Mataró. Of the success and enthusiasm generated by this event gives testimony the fact that the day following the inauguration, Sunday 29th October, 4000 persons used the railway, an extraordinary number for that time. Besides, the newspapers did not spare praises for the new railway, remarking its speed. This eulogistic tone from the Catalan newspapers contrasts with the skepticism shown by the British press when Stephenson inaugurated the first British railway, since more than twenty years had already passed and the great advantages of the railway had been diffused accross Europe, entering deep into the mood of the public.

So much this was, that the 7th February 1851 it was opened to the public a new railroad, between Madrid and Aranjuez, financed by the Andalusian banker and politician José Salamanca, who would impulse the creation of other railroads in Spain. In fact this first line was the first step in his ambitious plans, which included to connect the center of the peninsula with Valencia, Estremadura and Andalusia. The solemn inauguration of the railroad Madrid-Aranjuez constituted one of the most important events of that time, to which assisted the Queen Isabel II and her Government. As a tribute to the Queen, José Salamanca ordered that the last rails of the line were made in solid silver.


In 1850 considerable progress had been reached, albeit very unequal. England had already 11000 kilometers of railways (from 1825); Germany had 6000 (from 1835); France had 3000 (from 1832); Austria-Hungary had circa 2000 (from 1837); Italy had 176 (from 1839); Spain had 28 (from 1848); Denmark had 32 (from 1847) and Switzerland had 27 (from 1847).

Railway world map

How does a steam locomotive work?

The most prominent part in the locomotive is the boiler, in which the steam is produced; there is also a combustion chamber (known as firebox), a smoke chamber (known as smokebox), a chimney (known as smokestack or simply stack in America), a regulator valve, cylinders, pistons, rods, wheels and brakes, to name the most relevant parts. In the combustion chamber is burnt the coal, heating the walls and the gases produced by the combustion. These very hot gases are canalized through a multitude of long and narrow tubes, which run longitudinally along the interior of the boiler which is filled with water. The heat of the gases is transmitted to the walls of the tubes causing the formation of steam which, being a gas, tends to expand itself. The gases, once fulfilled their mission of heating the water, end in the smoke chamber, under the chimney, placed always in the fore part of the locomotive.

Steam locomotive cutaway
A: Coal hatch - B: Firebox - C: Boiler - D: Boiler fire tubes - E: Steam intake - F: Chimney - G: Smokebox - H: Exhaust - I: Distribution - L: Cylinders - M: Pistons - N: Crosshead - O: Connecting rod - P: Grill.

The water steam, conversely, is directed, through a regulator valve directly controlled by the machinist, towards the distributors and finally to the cylinders, where reaching a high pressure, it pushes the pistons. Initially the cylinders were only two, but soon their number was increased to four, installed under the smoke chamber, two at each side. The cylinders that are in direct contact with the boiler gather the steam as it comes from it, this is, at high pressure, while the other two receive the steam that has already "worked", hence at low pressure.

Steam piston cutaway
The upper picture shows the basic working of a steam piston. The lower picture shows how the real thing would be, including a mechanism to reverse the direction of the movement.

A: System that opens and closes the inlets (B) - B: Inlets for steam admission - C: Cylinder - D: Piston moved by the steam expanded in the cylinder - E: Piston rod - F: Connecting rod that transforms the rectilinear movement of (E) in a rotatory movement - G: Driving wheel - H: Lever that synchronizes the distribution.

In the cylinders the pistons move with a rythm synchronized in a certain way. When, for example, the first one is in the beginning of its movement, the second one is in the middle, the third one in the end and the fourth one is in the middle of its return movement. The steam exhausted by the cylinders - at low pressure - is gathered in the smoke chamber in a sole tube, an exhaust cone installed in vertical position under the chimney. Here, in the smoke chamber due to the quick exit of the steam, every piston hit creates a suction that attracts the combustion gases and activates the forced draft on the grill where the coal is burnt, keeping it ignited. As aforementioned in other chapter, this forced draft was invented by George Stephenson. The chimney, which initially had the purpose of attracting the smoke for being expulsed to the exterior and, consequently, activating the combustion, in moderm machines it almost does not serve this purpose, for the smoke is expulsed to the exterior by the pressure of the exhausted steam.

Continue reading...

Locomotive cutaways

The first Hikari train

The steam locomotive

Steam locomotives

Railway Timeline

Locomotive Stamps
Leaders of the World

American locomotives

Australian locomotives

British locomotives
(19th century)

British locomotives
(20th century)

Canadian locomotives

French locomotives

German locomotives

Japanese locomotives

Other locomotives

Railway Timeline
Archetypical locomotives by lustrum

Railway Timeline
Archetypical locomotives by year

Railway Timeline
Steam locomotives by lustrum

Railway Timeline
Steam locomotives by year

Railway Timeline
Non-steam locomotives by lustrum

Railway Timeline
Non-steam locomotives by year

Railway Timeline
American locomotives

Railway Timeline
Asian locomotives

Railway Timeline
British Commonwealth locomotives

Railway Timeline
European locomotives