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Letter of Mr. Brunel on the Broad Gauge (August 6, 1845)

Mr. Brunel’s views on the whole question, about this time, are concisely expressed in the following letter, written to a friend in France, who asked for information on the subject of the broad gauge:—

August 4, 1845.

I am just off for Italy, but write a few hasty lines in reply to Mons. ——’s queries, and which you must scold him for not addressing direct to me. Nobody can answer such questions but myself, and I am compelled to be very brief.

In answer to the first, I send a drawing.

Secondly. I see no reason why the ordinary construction of rails, chairs, and sleepers should not be equally applicable to the wide gauge as to the narrow. I have used them occasionally. I should think 75 lbs. per yard heavy enough for any purposes.

Thirdly. Within all ordinary limits, certainly in curves of more than 250 metres [12½ chains] radius, the gauge does not affect the question of curves. The effect of a curve of larger radius than this appears, both from much observation as from theory, to arise merely from two causes, the one centrifugal force, which is easily neutralised, and is independent of gauge; the other from the axles not being able to travel in the direction of the radius, and consequently the wheels not running in a tangent to the curve. This also is unaffected by the width of gauge. Practically I believe the conditions are not altered.

Fourthly. The expenses of construction are not dependent on the breadth of gauge unless the total width allowed for the loads or carriages is thereby or for other reasons increased, which is not a necessary consequence of a seven-feet gauge.

The wide gauge could be laid upon the London and Birmingham Railway without altering any of the works, but in constructing the Great Western Railway I thought it desirable to provide for carrying larger bodies, and I placed the centres of the two railways 13 feet apart, instead of 11 feet, and therefore my railway became four feet wider in total width.

The increased cost of this, including the cost of land, will vary from 300£ to 500£ per mile.

Fifthly. The increase of width will not increase the weight of an engine (of the same power) 500 lbs., but I avail myself of the larger width to get more powerful engines, and they weigh, with water in the boiler, 18 to 21 tons. I send a drawing of one; the stroke is 18 inches.

Sixthly. The passenger carriages are all on six wheels, and excessively strong; at present the framework of carriages and the whole of the waggons are made of iron. The first-class carriages weigh, with wheels, &c., 7 tons 16 cwt. (17,472 lbs.), and carry 32 passengers. Second-class about the same weight, and hold 72.

Seventhly and Eighthly. The comparison being on different railways under different managements and totally different circumstances, no strictly correct comparative results can be given; and of course the most opposite opinions are entertained and expressed. I believe we travel much quicker at the same cost and with more ease, and certainly the wear and tear of engines and carriages is very much less with us than with the other lines; but for the reasons above stated it cannot be made matter of exact proof, but remains matter of opinion.

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