The Anonymous Widower

Levitation Magic

How do you raise a 200 tonne masonry arch bridge by 900 mm, so that you can fit overhead electrification and freight trains with large containers under the bridge?

You used to call in Paul Daniels, but now he’s gone you have to use other forms of magic!

If finesse doesn’t work, you resort to the brute force technique that IK Brunel used to launch the Great Eastern – hydraulic power.

This article on the Freyssinet web site, describes how the bridge was lifted.

For an encore, the engineers then lowered the bridge by 465 mm.

Why raise a bridge like this?

Surely, to use a simple method, like explosives or a large hydraulic breaker and rebuild is a lot easier.

The trouble is it isn’t as this method disturbs the working railway much less and is quicker.

Network Rail also have five hundred bridges like this that need to be raised.

It would certainly make an interesting live stream from the Internet. Perhaps, a fee could be charged to watch for a charity like Cancer Research UK.

Brunel, who played the showman at times, would have approved of that!


December 8, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , , | 1 Comment

Electrifying The Great Western Through Sydney Gardens In Bath

The Great Western Railway runs i through Sydney Gardens in Bath. This picture shows an InterCity 125 running through the gardens.

An InterCity 125 Passes Through Sydney Gardens

An InterCity 125 Passes Through Sydney Gardens


  • There is plenty of width, as the line was built for broad gauge trains.
  • Height might a bit tight, when you add in the pantograph.
  • I would think that the structure under the track is pretty sound, as it’s had masses of pounding for years from Castles, Kings, Warships and InterCity 125s.
  • I suspect that the bridges over the line have been fully surveyed and like most of Brunel’s structures are well designed.

So I suspect that the track could be arranged, so that it positioned the train in the right place, to allow a Class 800 train to pass through with absolute safety.


The tracks could be moved closer or further apart to match the geometry of the bridges.

The tracks could be lowered if required.

If necessary, as is often done in tunnels, a solid concrete slab track could be laid. But this can create more noise.


I wouldn’t be surprised to see an innovative rail system used in Sydney Gardens to make sure the trains run accurately, reduce noise and improve the look of the railway.

But then after Dawlish and some of the challenging situations, Network Rail has faced with tracks in the last few years, I suspect they’ll come up with a very acceptable solution.

The problem is the electrification.

Engineers will renew switches and crossings at Bathampton Junction, and will lower the track at Sydney Gardens, as well as at Hampton Mill and Meadow Farm bridges.

They will install specially designed electrification equipment in Sydney Gardens, which is classed as a World Heritage Site. Work on Box Tunnel will continue over the entire six-week period.

So as I thought height is tight.

This was a comment from the article.

When these plans were presented in the Guildhall last year, the Network Rail representative emphasised that the brackets hadn’t been finalised. The poor guy had the patient of a saint as he dealt with audience members insisting that trains be fitted with batteries to enable them to do without overhead lines in Bath as well as suggesting that they could coast through the city un-powered.

I don’t think it was a good meeting for Network Rail.

As an engineer, I agree with the comment about battery trains, but the Class 800 trains are not to my knowledge able to accept batteries at the present time. Although, judging by the way the industry is going, I suspect that within a few years, all electric trains will have provision for batteries, if the operator wants them.

In some ways, I feel that Brunel might be providing the solution.

To erect overhead wires for railway electrification, you need to support the wires every fifty metres or so.

This Google Map shows the gardens.

Sydney Gardens, Bath

Sydney Gardens, Bath

Note there is a solid road bridge over the railway at both ends of the gardens, with Beckford Road in the North and Sydney Road in the South.

I estimate that the distance between the two road bridges is two to three hundred metres.

In the middle is the footbridge from where I took the picture of the InterCity 125 and another wider bridge.

As the trains will not be going flat out at 200 kmh through here, as they’ll probably be stopping at Bath Spa station, I suspect that the four bridges could be used as support for the overhead electrification.

This Network Rail visualisation shows the footbridge with a Class 800 train going underneath.

Sydney Gardens Bridge And A Class 800 Train

Sydney Gardens Bridge And A Class 800 Train

It looks to me, that the wires are attached under Brunel’s bridges and that by clever design tNetwork Rail can get an solution acceptable to all.

One of the problems, is of course making sure, that pedestrians on the bridge are safe, with 25KVAC overhead electrification underneath.

By lowering the track, they are increasing the safety distance and also making it less likely that naughty dogs can get on the track.

I have a feeling that this problem, will be one that will haunt Network Rail.

This picture was taken from the Sydney Road bridge and shows the area of the visualisation.

The Footbridge In Sydney Gardens, Bath

The Footbridge In Sydney Gardens, Bath

As the train appears to be on the left track, the visualisation actually shows the back of a train.

This is a gallery of pictures that I took in Sydney Gardens.

It would be a shame to ruin the gardens, by some less than adequate design.




March 29, 2016 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | 1 Comment

Three Bridges

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.

Three Bridges And Hanwell Locks

Three Bridges And Hanwell Locks

The railway is the freight only Brentford Branch Line.

September 10, 2015 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Before Crossrail – The Wharncliffe Viaduct

Crossrail is a new railway from Reading in the West to Shenfield in the East.

But not everything is going to be brand new!

For example, the Grade 1 listed, Wharncliffe Viaduct, will be used to take the line over the River Brent, just as it has taken the Great Western Main Line since 1837.

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!

October 20, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Even Brunel’s Railway Couldn’t Cope

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.

February 5, 2014 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment

Will We Get HSW Before HS2?

In this post about the BBC’s knocking of HS2, I jokingly referred to the Great Western Main Line as HSW, for High Speed West or High Speed Wales.

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.

October 19, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Is It Architecture,Engineering Or Art?

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.

April 3, 2013 Posted by | Travel | , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

What Would Brunel Have Thought?

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.

The South Devon Railway, on which Dawlish station is situated was built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

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.

September 30, 2012 Posted by | Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Open House – The Thames Tunnel Revealed

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.

September 23, 2012 Posted by | Travel | , , , , | Leave a comment

Where The Great Eastern Was Built and Launched

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.

May 5, 2012 Posted by | Travel | , , | Leave a comment