Express Trains Operated by the Great Western Railway
We make a rapid start over the first mile or so out of Paddington. “King” Class 4-
THROUGHOUT their history the Great Western Railway Company have taken a leading part in the development of rapid travel in Great Britain. For many years past the locomotive authorities at Swindon have laid themselves out to produce engines capable of maintaining high speeds over long distances continuously, and the traffic authorities, with these locomotives at their command, began, about a quarter of a century ago, to embark on a deliberate policy of bringing the West of England nearer to London. On other railways acceleration has often been the result of competition, but without any such spur (except as regards Exeter and Plymouth in the West, and Birmingham and other important towns in the North) the Great Western have speeded up their train services in every direction, until now they lay claim to most of the premier places in the table of fastest runs performed daily in the British isles.
The train service by which we are to travel this month occupies some specially high places in this list. To reach Bristol in two hours from Paddington, as is done by two trains daily, entails an average speed of 59.2 miles per hour, for the distance covered is 118.3 miles by the Bath route. The Badminton route, used by the two up two-
Right from the beginning the Great Western line was intended to be a speed line, and was laid oat accordingly. Favoured by the nature of the intervening country, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, its first and probably its most famous engineer, carried his track up the Thames Valley nearly to Didcot, and then struck across level country to Swindon, whence he was able to drop into the valley of the Bristol Avon, near Bath, ere he emerged on the shores of the Bristol Channel, and pursued its left bank for the best part of the way to Taunton. The fall into the Avon Valley made necessary the only appreciable gradients in the whole of this distance of over 150 miles -
There could hardly be a more extraordinary contrast between two railway routes than there is between the one over which we travelled last month and that of this month. The “Engadine Express” finished its journey over gradients stiffening finally to 1 in 40 and 1 in 29, in long stretches; the Bristol two-
The “Engadine Express” carried us up to an altitude of 6,000 ft above the sea; the highest part of the Bath route from London to Bristol is not more than a couple of hundred feet above Paddington, with some 70 miles in which to overcome this trilling difference m level; though the Badminton route, used by the up two-
The Great Western main line from Paddington to the West of England via Bristol is a striking example of considering the gradients too much at the expense of distance. Brunel by avoiding the hills, made his main routes so circuitous that in more recent years the London and South Western built a line shorter by 22½ miles to Exeter; while the London and Birmingham Railway, later absorbed in the London and North Western, was 16¼ miles shorter than the Great Western route, which diverged from the West of England main line at Didcot, and then turned northward through Oxford, Banbury and Leamington. Since the beginning of the present century, therefore, the Great Western management, to remove the stigma of having the letters “G.W.R.” interpreted as the “Great Way Round”, and to recover traffic that was being lost to their shorter and quicker rivals, have been compelled to spend large sums of money with a view to cutting the corners off their main routes.
From 1901 onward, indeed, a total of 160 miles of cut-
Another reminder of Brunel’s day may be seen in some of the sidings by the side of the line, which are still laid as he always laid his track, with what are called “bridge” rails fastened down to longitudinal sleepers, in their turn kept at the correct distance apart by wrought iron tie-
It is now time that we began to think of our journey. In accordance with the sensible principle of systematic train departures that is now standard on the Great Western and Southern systems, we find that trains for the Bristol direction leave Paddington at 15 minutes past the hour. The two down two-
The formation of the 11.15 down remains fairly constant. Throughout the winter the main, or Weston-
As far as Swindon we travelled over this route before on the “Fishguard Boat Express”, so that little need be said about the first part of the journey. After the manner almost invariably followed by the drivers of express engines working at high pressures, we make a rapid start over the first mile out of Paddington, leaving the platform at somewhere near the full cut-
The tender water supply has been replenished from Goring troughs, between Reading and Didcot. Craning our heads out of the window as we approach Didcot -
The gradients, if such they can rightfully be called, now steepen slightly against the engine, although at no point steeper than 1 in 660, which is 8 ft rising in the mile. This may pull the speed down very slightly, but with our train now reduced to 280 tons, the powerful “King” at the head of it will have no difficulty in keeping the speed just above the mile-
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the pioneer engineer of the Great Western Railway.
The gradient has now turned in favour of the engine, and the speed begins to rise. Sweeping through Wootton Bassett, where the Badminton line leaves us on the right, we reach the crest of the short 1 in 100 descent to Dauntsey at round about 70 miles an hour. A tremendous acceleration should carry us well into the “80’s” by the time we pass the latter station, especially if we are running at all late. On one recent trip by this train we were doing 85 miles an hour at Dauntsey, and averaged 75.6 miles an hour over the 16¾ miles from Swindon to Chippenham. From Dauntsey to Corsham the grades are slightly against the engine, and the speed falls gradually until we enter the deep cutting beyond Corsham Station at about 60 miles an hour. The blackness of the Box Tunnel lies immediately ahead.
In early railway days the Box Tunnel was looked upon as an engineering work of great note, and with its 11 miles of length was considerably the longest railway tunnel of its time. Nowadays there are many other tunnels, chiefly abroad, but some also in this country which outdo the Box Tunnel both in length and also in the overcoming of difficulties to which their present existence bears witness. But scientific knowledge was much more limited when the Box Tunnel was bored, and those who were responsible therefore deserve the more credit for their achievement. As compared with later British tunnels, it is of very large dimensions, which are apparent as you enter it; anti a more striking feature, which you will not be able to see, is that for half a mile of its length the line passes through an enormous natural cavern in the freestone, 40 ft in height and 30 ft in width, in the shape of a Gothic arch. The Box Tunnel is very noisy, the rails laid in it suffering from that curious phenomenon known as “roaring”, generally due to the effect of damp in pitting their running surfaces into minute crests and hollows.
Through the tunnel we are on the second 1 in 100 down-
The remaining half-
We have now four hours in which to amuse ourselves in Bristol. Of the two up two-
We ought to recognise the main portion of the train as it draws into Temple Meads from Weston-
“King George V” the magnificent 4-
Immediately we leave Temple Meads we diverge to the left from the route by which we entered that station, as though we were travelling to South Wales. This carries us through Stapleton Road -
From Stoke Gifford the engine still has rising grades ahead for some 11 miles, the inclination of the ascent being uniformly 1 in 300. We shall forge ahead up this bank, possibly attaining 50 miles an hour, or a trifle over, but more probably maintaining an even rate of about 47 or 48 m.p.h. At Chipping Sodbury we pass over water-
Through Hullavington and Somerford the line falls at 1 in 300, and provided that the driver has not to refill his boiler after the hard climbing, in which case easier running would be necessary, we shall touch or exceed 75 miles an hour, and may even get to 80 an hour. Then we have to reduce speed slightly over the junction at Wootton Bassett, so that the 40¼ miles to Swindon may be expected to have taken us at least 48 minutes. Here the Swindon “slip” is detached, on the centre road, an engine being ready to draw it to the platform directly we have passed. Seventy-
Along the faint descent from Shrivenham onward the speed creeps up -
Steventon, 76 or 77, and possibly but only occasionally 80. So we sweep through Didcot and past the Thames Valley stations -
By Twyford we are doing over 65 miles an hour, and from Maidenhead through Slough to West Drayton or Hayes are probably well up in the “70’s” again. At Southall we begin to ease, and somewhere about Old Oak Common steam is shut off; so we drift on past Westbourne Park, and, if we are lucky, get through Royal Oak without a signal check. The big arched spans of Paddington roof are in sight ahead, and we roll gently round the curve and stop dead at 7.14 by the clock, a minute early! We have covered the 77¼ miles from Swindon in 71 minutes, and the 100 miles from Badminton in 91½ minutes. This does not happen every day, but we have been fortunate in having one of the best of the Bristol drivers on the footplate. Go and congratulate him; he has given you some of the fastest long distance railway running in the world.
Just at the time of completing this article, I have received details of some most remarkable runs that have been made in recent months on this 5.15 p.m. up two-
On a second occasion “St. Andrew” had to make the same stop at Badminton, and in addition to this, owing to permanent way operations in progress at Reading, was made to stop there to detach the Reading “slip”. Yet, after two dead stops in what should have been a non-
I was fortunate, myself, too, in being on the train when one of the 4-
[From The Meccano Magazine, May 1929]