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As it had happened in England at the beginning of the operation of railways, in Spain diverse technical difficulties emerged and also the same confrontations with the interests of the landholders and the owners of stagecoaches took place. 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 to mention 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 repeated times.

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

In Masnou a second blessing took place and at 11:45 o'clock the inaugural convoy entered 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, given that 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, Extremadura and Andalusia. The solemn inauguration of the railroad Madrid-Aranjuez constituted one of the most important events of that time, which Queen Isabel II and her Government witnessed. As a tribute to the Queen, José Salamanca ordered that the last rails of the line were made of solid silver.


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

Railway world map

How does a steam locomotive work?

The most prominent part of a locomotive is the boiler, in which the steam is produced; there is also a combustion chamber (known as fire box), a smoke chamber (known as smoke box), a chimney (known as smoke stack or simply stack in America), a regulator valve, cylinders, pistons, rods, wheels and brakes, to name the most relevant parts. In the combustion chamber the coal is burnt, heating the walls and the gases produced by the combustion. These very hot gases are sent 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 their travel in the smoke chamber, directly beneath the chimney, which is placed always in the fore part of the locomotive.

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

On the other hand, the water steam 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 (at high pressure) while the other two receive the steam that has already "worked" (at low pressure).

Steam piston cutaway
The upper picture shows the basic operation 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 the piston rod (E) in a rotatory movement - G: Driving wheel - H: Lever that synchronizes the distribution.

In the cylinders the pistons move following a rythm that is 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 is 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 by a single tube, an exhaust cone installed in vertical position under the chimney. Here in the smoke chamber, due to the quick expulsion of the steam, every piston stroke creates suction that draws the combustion gases and activates the forced draft on the grill where the coal is burnt, keeping it ignited. As mentioned in a previous chapter, this forced draft was invented by George Stephenson. The chimney, which initially had the purpose of drawing the smoke for being expulsed to the exterior and, consequently, activating the combustion, barely serves this purpose in moderm machines, for the smoke is expulsed to the exterior by the pressure of the exhausted steam.

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