Brunel Rail

It was back in 1836 that Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Great Western Railway first operated trains. Brunel was a bit of an adventurer, who didn’t follow what had gone before. He came up with original and different ideas. Some worked well whilst others turned out to be abject failures – one thinks of the atmospheric railway for what, sadly, turned into a fiasco.

Brunel pooh-poohed the Stevenson’s railway with the rather odd distance of four feet eight and a half inches between the rails. Brunel rather thought that a rail gauge of seven feet would allow for faster, bigger and more stable trains. The Great Western Railway was built to Brunel’s gauge and, it has to be said, the railway was first rate and proved that Brunel was right in selecting that broad gauge.

But commercially and from the national viewpoint he was wrong. Everywhere else used Stephenson’s gauge. At places like Gloucester all passengers had to change trains from one gauge to the other. That’s not so bad. Passengers have legs and can walk (mostly). Freight, on the other hand, needed to be removed from one train and put on another.

A decree handed down by Government made the Great Western Railway lay an extra track so that standard gauge trains could operate. In the end Brunel’s broad gauge had to go and the last train ran on it in 1892.

Now Brunel had adopted a different system for laying broad gauge track. Rails were laid on lengths of timber with the two length tied together with cross beams. The rail that Brunel used had a bridge section to suit this track laying style.

When the end came for the broad gauge, the old rail was no longer useful as rail. Other uses were found for it and there is still plenty of the old Brunel bridge rail about.

Here’s a piece in use as a very sturdy fence post on the railway near Urchfont.

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This line didn’t open until 1900 so it was never broad gauge, but clearly the old rail was still stored somewhere and could be used when needed.

I snapped this in June 2005.

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