If you read Rolt’s biography of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, you get the impression that the engineer was not a totally serious man without any sense of whimsy or humour.
A few weeks ago I read something about his last design, the unique Three Bridges, which arranges a road above a canal, above a railway. So I just had to visit.
Unfortunately, you can’t take photographs from the railway, but you almost get the impression, that Brunel intended to leave behind something by which he would be remembered. This Google Map shows the layout.
The railway is the freight only Brentford Branch Line.
Crossrail is a new railway from Reading in the West to Shenfield in the East.
But not everything is going to be brand new!
Modifications are probably quite small as the current four lines are already electrified. Two of these will be used by Crossrail.
The viaduct ticks all the boxes on everybody’s lists.
- It was designed by IK Brunel
- It is Grade 1 Listed and is part of the submission to get the Great Western Railway declared a World Heritage Site.
- Pevsner said “Few viaducts have such architectural panache” about this viaduct.
- It is inhabited by a colony of bats.
- The electrification of the bridge was carried out in a sympathetic manner.
But above all, it would appear it is up to the job for which it is to be used.
You have to admit, that the Victorians knew how to build with brick!
The Exeter to Plymouth line is one of the UK’s most spectacular railway lines. Or should it be was, as eighty metres of it have been washed away at Dawlish?
This report in the Exeter Express and Echo has some amazing pictures.
Brunel generally got his engineering right and seeing that the line opened in the 1840s and I can’t see any reference to a breakage of this nature before he didn’t do too bad.
But it does show how fierce the seas must have been!
Let’s hope that Network Rail had a plan ready for an emergency, such as happened last night.
But is it that far from the truth?
A high speed railway is defined as one where speeds of 200 kph or 125 mph are possible. The fastest lines run at 320 kph or 200 mph.
So what speed can we expect to see on the Great Western Main Line, after it is fully modernised in 2017?
Currently the fastest trains in the UK are the Class 373 ( 300 kph) used by Eurostar, the Class 390 ( 225 kph) used by Virgin and the InterCity 225 (225 kph) used by East Coast. The latter two trains are restricted to 200 kph, due to signalling restrictions on their lines and because they have to mix it with slower trains.
It is also interesting to note that the Class 395, which bring the high speed Kent commuter services into St. Pancras run at 225 kph.
The new trains for the electrified Great Western Main Line are based on the Class 395 and are called Class 800 and Class 801. These have a design speed of 225 kph, but will be limited to 200 kph on traditional lines.
But Brunel built the Great Western for speed and a lot of the route it is pretty straight and much has four tracks. It is also going to be resignalled to the highest European standards with in-cab signalling. The latter is necessary to go above 200 kph. So it shouldn’t be one of the most difficult tasks to make much of the line capable of 225 kph or even more.
The only real problem on the line is the Severn Tunnel. But as Crossrail has shown, we have some of the best tunnel engineers in the world. So just as the Swiss dealt with their railway bottleneck of the Simplon Tunnel, all we need to do to improve the Severn Tunnel is give the best engineers their head and let them solve the problems, whilst the politicians sit around and watch and wait. After all it’s only a baby compared to the massive twin bores of the Simplon.
As an aside here, I do wonder if one of the most affordable solutions might be to use a modern tunnel boring machine to create a new tunnel alongside the current one.
So I believe that even if it still goes slower on opening, trains to Bristol and Wales will be doing 225 kph before the end of this decade.
If that isn’t a high speed railway like HS1, I don’t know what is?
But whatever we call it, it’ll be here several years before HS2!
I think we need to call for three cheers for Brunel, who got the route right in the first place.
I heard good reports on the television of the rebuilt Reading station, so today, as I hadn’t anything specific to do, I decided to go to the town and have a look at the work that has been done.
I think Isambard would have been proud of what has been done, as he rarely did boring! And the new Reading station is certainly not that!
The concept of the station is very simple. The thirty metre wide overbridge is connected to all the platforms by escalators and lifts. Then at one end there is another set of four escalators and lifts to take people to the main south entrance.
But in all my life, I’ve never seen so many people walking wide-eyed in awe around a new building or even an art gallery. One guy told me he’d come into the station specifically to photograph the building and had taken fifty pictures. Even railwaymen who’d probably seen it all, were walking around giving the new station a critical look.
There was also the teacher, who’d travelled with me from London. She was amazed at it all, especially as she had left on Thursday from the old Reading station.
Very little has been reported on the media about the design and quality of this new station. The only news seems to be stories pointing out the fact that the handover is a few days late and there’s a bit of chaos. None of the stories mention, that the project will be completed a year ahead of the original plan.
I do wonder if Reading is the shape of stations to come.
The wide overbridge concept is used in a similar, but smaller and less dramatic form at Leeds and Derby, but how many other stations could benefit from this type of design?
In the pictures, you’ll see some of Inter City 125 trains, that are used on all services from London to the West and Wales. They are genuine high speed trains capable of 200 kph, ride as smooth as silk and they are now forty years old. I doubt they’ll all ever be retired, as for running through the Highlands of Scotland and from Bristol to Cornwall, where electrification is virtually impossible, there is no other fast train, that can handle the route.
So at last, these trains have got a modern station, to complement their design.
It is being reported that the bridge at Dawlish station is being replaced by a new copy in plastic, because the steel work has corroded. You can get a measure of the conditions from this picture taken on the line through the station.
So what would he have thought about the use of plastic?
Brunel was an innovative user of the materials he had available and I believe he very much used the best material he had at his disposal for a particular job. His prefabricated timber bridges could best be described as masterpieces.
So I suspect that his ghost is right behind Network Rail’s decision.
Because it was Open House, the floodlights were left on in the Thames Tunnel today. I took these two pictures.
I did intend to take some more on my way back, but I was rather delayed.
Perhaps it would be a good idea, if Transport for London, lit up some of the disused stations on the Underground, so they could be seen from passing trains on the Open House weekend.
Brunel’s most famous ship, the Great Eastern, wasn’t built in Liverpool, Belfast, Glasgow or on the Tyne or Tees, but on the Thames at Millwall. If you take the DLR to Island Gardens station and then walk along the Thames Path towards the City, you’ll see a sign pointing you to the Great Eastern Launch Site. It’s shown in these pictures of the Launch Site itself.
The Great Eastern was so large it was actually launched sideways, as the river wasn’t wide enough for a traditional launch. It was also pushed in by scores of hydraulic rams, as it was reluctant to move. It is said that these rams, built by Tangye, launched that company as well.
I went back to the Thames Tunnel on the East London line and took a video of an approaching train.
The video was taken from the same place where I took the still images in Wapping station.
The Thames Tunnel is the oldest underwater tunnel in the world and was built between 1825 and 1843 by Marc Brunel and his more famous son Isambard. It is now used to carry the East London line under the Thames and you can actually look into the tunnel from the platforms at Wapping station.
I was looking from the Northbound platform, just by the exit and the stairs that lead up to the street. When the station was designed, they decided to put protective railing to stop you failing on the line, but these do not obscure the view down the tunnel as the train approaches.