< PreviousChapter ToCNext >

Branches and Extensions of the Great Western Railway—The Bristol and Exeter Railway—Railways in Devonshire and Cornwall—Railways to Basingstoke, to Weymouth, and to Salisbury—In South Wales—In Ireland—In Italy—In India

The branches and extensions of the Great Western Railway, as far as their history affected the general interests of the company, are referred to in the chapter on the broad gauge. Branches were opened to Oxford in 1844, to Windsor in 1849, to Wycombe in 1854, to Uxbridge in 1856, to Henley in 1857, and to Brentford in July 1859.

The Bristol and Exeter Railway is a continuation of the Great Western Railway, and was opened to Exeter in 1844. The two portions of it, from Bristol to Taunton, and from Taunton to Exeter, are in marked contrast to each other. The former part of the line is almost level, and has very easy curves. Between Taunton and Exeter it passes over the high ground on the borders of Devonshire, with the Whiteball Tunnel at the summit, ⅝ mile in length. On this part of the line there are long gradients of from 1 in 80 to 1 in 120. Mr. Brunel resigned the position of engineer in 1846, in consequence of differences having arisen between the Bristol and Exeter and the Great Western Companies, which, in Mr. Brunel’s opinion, made it impossible for him to continue engineer to both railways.

The South Devon Railway, and the adoption on it of the Atmospheric System, are described in Chapter VI. In connection with this line is the important Torquay branch, and the railway in continuation of it to Dartmouth. This was completed as far as Paignton during Mr. Brunel’s lifetime.

The South Devon and Tavistock Railway branches off from the South Devon Railway near Plymouth, and has several large viaducts.

On the Cornwall Railway from Plymouth to Truro, and the West Cornwall Railway from Truro to Penzance, the most remarkable works are the viaducts, and the Royal Albert Bridge.

In the case of the Cornwall Railway, it became necessary to reduce the capital expenditure, even at the cost of increasing the charges for maintenance. With this object the line was re-examined and modifications introduced, principally by an increase in the extent of viaduct. These lines pass through a very difficult country; involving the adoption of steep gradients and sharp curves. Mr. Brunel, in a memorandum written in 1845, after having explained his reasons for considering that the prejudicial effects of gradients and curves were commonly overrated, gives the following opinion in reference to the proposed Cornwall Railway:—

I must not be understood to argue against the advantage of straight lines or large and easy curves, but I wish to show that where small curves are unavoidable, they can in practice be so constructed as not to be very prejudicial; and I consider that the character of the country in Cornwall is such that no railway can be constructed at any moderate expense without either sacrificing all consideration for the interests of localities and the position of the population to the mere choice of levels, or without steep gradients and sharp curves.

The principal lines branching off from the Great Western, and since incorporated with it, are, on the south, the Berks and Hants, from Reading to Basingstoke and Hungerford; and the Wilts and Somerset, to Weymouth and Salisbury. On the north-west is the Cheltenham and Great Western Union Railway, from Swindon to Cheltenham and Gloucester. This line passes through the Cotswold Hills at Sapperton by a tunnel 1⅜ mile in length. The Gloucester and Dean Forest Railway runs from Gloucester to Grange Court, and thence to Ross and Hereford.

The South Wales Railway, which extends from Grange Court to Milford Haven, contains a tunnel at Swansea ⅓ mile long, and some of Mr. Brunel’s most important works, including the Chepstow bridge and several other bridges of considerable size, and the viaducts at Landore and Newport. There are also on this line four opening bridges across navigable channels. The works at the termination of the line at Neyland, in Milford Haven, are described in Chapter XIV. Mr. Brunel considered that Milford Haven, with its excellent harbour, which can be entered at all times of tide by the largest vessels, would probably become a great port for ocean steamers, and especially for the ‘Great Eastern’ and ships of her class.

There are also in South Wales the following railways: the Taff Vale, the Vale of Neath, the Llynvi Valley, and the South Wales Mineral. The Taff Vale, a line from Cardiff to Merthyr, was opened on the narrow gauge in 1841. [1] On this railway is the lofty masonry viaduct at Quaker’s Yard.

On the Vale of Neath Railway, from Neath to Aberdare and Merthyr, there is a tunnel, near Merthyr, 1¼ mile long, and 650 feet below the summit of the hill.

Full advantage is taken on this railway of the facilities which the broad gauge offers for heavy traffic. The line has long steep gradients, and the locomotives used on it, of the class known as tank engines, are of great power. One of these gradients is 4½ miles long, with an inclination of 1 in 50. Large quantities of coal are brought down by this railway to the Swansea and Briton Ferry Docks. The coal of South Wales is of a friable nature, and, in order to avoid the breakage consequent on the ordinary mode of shipping coal, by tipping it down a shoot, Mr. Brunel introduced on a large scale the use of trucks carrying four iron boxes, each box about 4 feet 8 inches cube, and containing two and a half tons of coal. At the docks machinery is provided by which each box is lowered down into the hold of the ship, and the under side being allowed to open, the coal is deposited at once on the bottom of the vessel.

The Llynvi Valley Railway is a short line, leading from the South Wales Railway at Bridgend into the coal and iron districts.

The South Wales Mineral Railway is another line of the same class. It passes through a very heavy country, and has on it a self-acting incline of 1 in 9, ¾ mile long, worked by a rope, and a tunnel ⅝ mile long, and 470 feet below the surface.

In connection with the South Wales district is the Bristol and South Wales Union Railway, a line running from Bristol to the banks of the Severn, across which the traffic is carried by a steamer to a short branch from the South Wales Railway on the other side. This railway had been for a long time contemplated, and Mr. Brunel devoted much time to a careful investigation of the Severn in order to determine the most suitable point for the crossing. He decided that the best place would be at what is known as the New Passage. The arrangements had to be made in accordance with the requirements of the Admiralty. Trains run to the end of timber piers extending into deep water, and there are staircases and lifts leading to pontoons, alongside which a steamer can come at all times of tide. The tide at this part of the Severn rises 46 feet.

The three railways last mentioned were not completed during Mr. Brunel’s lifetime.

The Bristol and Gloucester Railway, on which is the tunnel at Wickwar, ¾ mile long, was opened in 1844, and passed into the hands of the Midland Company in 1846.

The northern extensions of the Great Western Railway are the Oxford and Rugby, constructed as far as Fenny Compton; the Birmingham and Oxford Junction; and the Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton Railways.

Mr. Brunel ceased to be engineer of the last-mentioned company in 1851, and the works were completed by Mr. Fowler. The Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton line has since, under the title of the West Midland, become a part of the Great Western Railway.

In Ireland Mr. Brunel was engineer of the line from Dublin to Wicklow, round Bray Head, and of a line from Cork to Youghal.

He laid out two railways in Italy, the line from Florence to Pistoja, and that across the Apennines from Genoa to Novi and Alessandria, in the direction of Turin and Milan. He acted as engineer during the construction of the former line; but the works of the latter were carried out by the Sardinian Government.

One of the last of Mr. Brunel’s important railways was the Eastern Bengal Railway, a line of about 100 miles in length, in a north-easterly direction from Calcutta. He took a great interest in the work and devoted much time to the special arrangements and designs, and to the best way of crossing the Ganges and its branches in the future extension of the railway; but no part of it was opened during his lifetime.

[1] See p. 104.

< PreviousChapter ToCNext >