A Famous Train of the GWR
ONCE again the subject of our consideration is to be a “boat” express -
In one sense Fishguard is unlucky. For a time it figured as a transcontinental port, when the Cunard liners from America were calling there to set down passengers and mails for London and the Continent, on their way to Liverpool. While this arrangement was in force, the Great Western Company made some wonderful running between Fishguard and Paddington, doing the 145¼ miles from Cardiff to town at an average speed of over 60 miles an hour on several occasions. Some of the fastest overall times in history between New York and London were made during the period in question.
But the Cunard Company succumbed later on to the superior charms of Southampton, instead of Liverpool -
When the port of Fishguard, which is a Great Western Railway creation, was completed, day and night steamer services were instituted between there and Rosslare, a new port on the Wexford coast of Ireland, with special connecting trains from there to Waterford and Cork. From Paddington the boat expresses left at 8.45 in the morning and 8.45 in the evening. During the war, however, the day service vanished, although the connecting express, with its important South Wales stops and connections, still runs at the slightly altered departure time of 8.55 a.m.
The night service was first altered to 8 p.m. out of London, and then, in harmony with the systematic departure times of expresses that were standardised a couple of years ago -
Before we start, we must take a look at the train, which we shall find at No. 2 platform at Paddington. It varies a great deal in its composition, according to the season of the year, so that it is difficult to give precise details. At the rear end we find two or three coaches for Bristol, and we may well wonder how they are going to get there, seeing that we do not stop between Reading and Newport, until we notice on the back of the outermost coach the familiar red-
Next come a couple of the vast Great Western 75 ft “Ocean Mails” vans, destined to be next the engine when the express leaves Swansea. A sleeping car is the next vehicle, and if we fail to recognise its external lines as being truly “Great Western”, it is possible that this is one of the cars acquired some time ago by the GWR from the late London and South Western Railway, after the unsuccessful experience of the latter company in running sleeping cars between Waterloo and Plymouth. In front of this comes the ordinary passenger portion of the train, which may consist of five or six 70-
Usually, therefore, the complete train is very heavy, and on this account it is the more surprising that its haulage, until quite recently, has been customarily entrusted to one of the two-
It was with No. 100 (now No. 2900) “William Dean”, the first engine of this type, built in 1902, that Mr. Churchward set some striking new fashions in British locomotive design. Never before had so long a piston-
When at last we get away from Paddington, we find the first stretch of the journey constitutes what is perhaps the easiest of all its schedules, though certainly not the slowest. We have to cover the 36 miles out to Reading in what is now the standard start-
The Fishguard Express is generally hauled either by an engine of the “Court” class or one of the “Saint” class. Our illustration
shows Engine No. 2955 “Tortworth Court”.
The next section, from Reading to Newport in Monmouthshire, is probably the hardest stage, of the journey. The distance is 97½ miles -
From the standpoint of the driver and fireman, too, a run of this kind is the more difficult in that for some 65 miles from the Reading start the locomotive has not a moment’s “breathing space”. There is no downhill worth the mention, and the gradients, though ever so slightly yet none the less continuously “against” the engine, require almost unbroken effort in order to maintain time.
For 47 miles from Reading, Brunel’s old main line to the West of England is still followed. On the first level stretch of 17 miles to Didcot, the first set of water-
So we hurry on through Shrivenham, and then through Swindon, with its miles of sidings and its great locomotive, carriage and wagon shops. It is interesting to recollect, as we pass Swindon Station at full speed, that the Great Western Railway only succeeded in obtaining release from their obligation to stop all trains at Swindon for 10 minutes by paying over to the Swindon Hotel and Refreshment Room Company a sum of money in five figures, in 1895, as compensation to the latter for loss of business so caused.
At Wootton Bassett, 5¾ miles further on, we leave Brunel’s old main line, and diverge to the right on to what is known as the South Wales Direct line, reducing speed for the purpose to about 50 miles an hour. This “cut-
At first the line falls from Wootton Bassett, but then follows a trying ascent which, from Little Somerford nearly to Badminton, is unbrokenly for nine miles at 1 in 300. Here again it is, of course, the weight of the train that constitutes the real difficulty, although with a two-
At Badminton we are at the highest altitude of the journey between Paddington and Newport, and 20 miles of downhill now lie ahead. Immediately after Badminton we plunge into a long tunnel, and the uninitiated traveller, blissfully unconscious of the fact that we have been climbing for some time, immediately jumps to the conclusion that he is passing under the River Severn. But this is not just yet, though Sodbury Tunnel, under the Cotswold Hills, is quite a respectable bore, being just over 2½ miles in length. Directly we are through, the driver sees ahead of him the troughs at Chipping Sodbury, and once again the engine is glad of the opportunity of replenishing the greatly depleted tender tank.
A swift run down 11 miles of 1 in 300, from Badminton Station, brings us to the sidings at Stoke Gifford, where the Bristol slip portion drops quietly off the rear, as we pass the East Box. For the curve from the West Box round to the old South Wales main line from Bristol which we join at Patchway, speed is reduced to 45 miles an hour or so. Immediately after Patchway we see the up line beginning to fall below us, finally passing into a tunnel; shortly after this we also pass into a tunnel, and emerge to find the up line now well above our heads. The reason is that the old Severn Tunnel on which the down trains now travel, is inclined steeply downward, first for a mile mostly at 1 in 80, and then for another at 1 in 68, followed by a mile of level. To ease this intolerable gradient for up trains, half-
At Pilning Station there begins the real descent into the famous tunnel itself. This continues for 3½ miles to the very centre of the Severn, at an inclination of 1 in 100, after which comes the pull out of the north end, for three miles at 1 in 90. Drivers are not allowed to rush the descent at full speed in order to lift their trains quickly out of the other end, and although we may have noted a startlingly rapid acceleration down the first incline from Patchway, we shall not find any speed much in excess of 60 miles an hour being made through the Severn Tunnel.
Severn Tunnel, English side.
The story of the tunnel, and the dogged perseverance of those who carried through its construction may be found in the article “The Severn Tunnel”. Time and again water broke into the workings, both from the ends and in the middle. The curious natural phenomenon known as the “Bore”, which at certain times sweeps up the Severn like a kind of tidal wave, was responsible for the former irruption, and most of the latter trouble was caused, not by the Severn itself breaking through, but by a vast underground source of water which became known afterwards as the “Great Spring”. Even since the completion of the tunnel it has become necessary to lay down permanent pumping plant capable of evacuating from the tunnel some twenty million gallons of water every day, as well as an elaborate plant for supplying fresh air to the tunnel, in consequence of the impossibility of boring the usual ventilating shafts. Altogether the Severn Tunnel used up 77,000,000 bricks and 37,000 tons of cement, took 11 years from its first beginnings to its completion -
At the top of the ascent out of the tunnel our speed will probably be under rather than over 30 miles an hour, but after negotiating the crossings at Severn Tunnel Junction, where we join the oldest of the South Wales routes -
We are now well into the industrial areas of South Wales, and between Newport and Swansea, were it not the dead of night we should see many evidences of mining and manufacturing activity. Railway after railway, coming down from the mountain valleys on the southern slopes of the Brecon Beacons and their outlying hills, comes down either to join us or to cross our path. Before the war these were all separate concerns, but they have now been merged into the Great Western, and so the Taff Vale, the Rhymney, the Barry, the Cardiff, the Brecon and Merthyr, and many other railways have lost their separate existence. After a stop of six minutes at Newport, there follows the brief run of 11¾ miles to Cardiff, compassed in 16 minutes, and for a large part of the distance through the middle of mile after mile of sidings, filled with coal trucks or “empties”.
Cardiff, reached at 10.45 p.m, was at one time always an engine-
1 in 93-
We could miss Neath and Swansea altogether by following from Court Sart junction the “South Wales Avoiding Lines” -
The remaining run of the journey is 73 miles in length, bringing the total mileage of the train up to 264 miles. This last stretch has a number of obstacles, the first of which is the very severe Cockett bank of 1½ miles at 1 in 52; up this quite possibly we may receive the assistance of a “pilot” or a “banker”. But after the descent to Gowerton we have a long stretch of some 35 miles of almost dead level track, past Llanelly, Carmarthen and St. Clear’s, followed by short but increasingly sharp undulations to Clarbeston Road, where we leave the original Milford line. Some nine miles of these ups-
weight have to be banked.
Fishguard is another wonderful Great Western achievement of which much might he written. No expense was spared in equipping the port, again doubtless with a view to trans-
The Station and Quay, Fishguard.
[From The Meccano Magazine, August 1927]