Revolution On Rails: The Dawn Of The First Battery Operated Locomotive

Revolution On Rails: The Dawn Of The First Battery Operated Locomotive
January 10, 2024 Jessica Salt
A black and white photograph of a battery-operated locomotive designed by Clayton Equipment working inside a mine, reflecting the significant advancements in design and functionality since the inception of the first battery operated locomotive technology.

Today, electric vehicles are fairly commonplace and battery operated locomotives are becoming increasingly more established. However, it has been a long road of invention and innovation to reach the advanced stage we found ourselves at today.

The very first battery-powered locomotive can be traced back to an ambitious development by chemist Robert Davinson in Aberdeen in 1842. Below, we’ll outline the key events in this milestone for locomotive technology and transport.


The First Battery Electric Locomotive

Robert Davinson, a trained chemist with a passion for electromagnetism, is the man credited with developing the first battery operated locomotive.

After experimenting with building his own battery-powered mechanisms and vehicles, Davinson set his eye on a project altogether more ambitious. He presented his zinc-battery-powered locomotive project to the directors of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway who agreed to support his invention. With an additional grant and endorsement from the Royal Scottish Society for Arts, he subsequently built the four-wheeled, 16 foot long Galvani – named after the Italian scientist Luigi Galvani who, along with Alessandro Volta, experimented and documented the process of Galvanic/Voltaic Cells. One of the key motivations for its build was to demonstrate the practical application of Faraday’s law as a source of electrical power for machinery.

The train was first tested on the Edinburgh-Glasgow line in 1942. Although, notably, it was not carrying passengers or cargo, it was capable of carrying itself at 4mph and covered a distance of one and a half miles. However, as it was only able to reach a modest speed and the batteries were un-chargeable, the invention was not considered impressive enough to continue in development. It was stored in the engine house at Perth for some time before ultimately being destroyed.

Building On Davinson’s Foundations

Despite this apparent lack of success, Davinson has since been established as an electrical visionary. And when, in the 1890s, electric locomotives were introduced, his work was recognised as having been pioneering.

Later, in both the 19th and 20th centuries, battery technology advanced slowly, with improvements in power, efficiency and lifespan. Davinson’s enterprising work therefore laid the foundation for the development of modern electric and battery operated locomotive transport.

Today, a working model of his electrical motor is exhibited at the Grampian Transport Museum in Aberdeenshire where he is much praised for his contributions to battery powered transport technology.

Clayton Equipment, a leader in efficient and sustainable locomotive technology, has been shaping the industry for over 80 years. Our journey echoes the pioneering spirit of Robert Davinson in the realm of battery technology.

Continuously innovating, we’re not just part of history – we’re actively crafting the future. Contact us today to find out more!