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A Different Type of Railway





In my previous entry, I mentioned some of the research that I have been doing into Brunel's 'Broad Gauge' railway. There are several old books that provide a detailed survey of the early days of the GWR. One that I found particularly useful is the 'History of the GWR' by G A Nokes (2nd edtion, 1895). The preface begins: "I would remind the reader that it is 'The Story of the Broad Gauge' that is here chronicled, so that while in the first thirty years or so of the Great Western Railway's existence the work is, de facto, a 'History of the Great Western Railway,' "


[George Augustus Nokes (1867–1948), often known by his pen-name G.A. Sekon, was the founding editor of The Railway Magazine.]


When Brunel decided to build on a grander scale than the early colliery lines built by Stephenson, he took the pragmatic engineer's view that, if you're going to change things, do it by at least 50%. People often ask why Brunel chose 7' 0-1/4" but they don't seem to ask why Stephenson chose 4' 8-1/2". In fact, Stephenson chose 4' 8" as the gauge but found he needed to leave 1/2" clearance to allow the wheel flanges to negotiate curves successfully. Brunel simply increased the Stephenson gauge by exactly 50% and then, because he intended his track to be as straight as possible, he only allowed 1/4" clearance for curves.


Mixed Gauge Track at Didcot Railway Centre


It wasn't just a change in the gauge of the rails that defined the 'Broad Gauge' but a completely new approach to railway design. Whereas earlier railways had developed out of 'waggonways, which had iron or wooden rails laid on stone blocks, Brunel's vision was of a system that could carry people smoothly at high speed. He thought the answer was to support his running rails on continuous wooden 'baulks' that could provide a rigid support. It turned out that he was wrong and that a good track needs some flexibility or 'spring' to provide a smooth ride but it did result in a railway which looked very different from any other, before or since.


Broad Gauge Track (Didcot)


I enjoy modelling as a way of visualising the differences between the railways of the 19th-century and those which are directly familiar. So, it is a natural progression from my pre-Grouping GWR models to try and re-create some features of Brunel's vision.


For a modeller used to commercial 00-gauge track, modelling the broad gauge is an even larger leap than that faced by Brunel because '00' is actually a 'narrow gauge'! Putting a 4mm-scale broad gauge wheel-set alongside '00' wheels shows the huge difference between the two types of model.


00 and Broad Gauge Model Wheelsets


In addition, the bridge rail produced by the Broad Gauge Society is of true scale dimensions and thus very much 'finer' than commercial '00' track. The modelling standards that have to be adopted are equivalent to P4 and therefore demand much more 'precision' that I have been used to in my work so far. Notice, for example, the flanges on the broad gauge wheels when compared with commercial '00' wheels. I think it is going to be quite a challenge!


Because this will be a completely new project, I intend to record my activities in a separate blog. It will probably take me some time to get going but I shall build on the techniques that I developed during the writing of this current blog.


I have shown the following illustration before (from G A Nokes' book) but think it captures the essence of the Broad Gauge very well:







EDITED to add link to new Broad Gauge Blog

Edited by MikeOxon
Restore images

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  • RMweb Gold

Really looking forward to seeing your progress on this new project Mike! Broad gauge locos really are wonderfully imposing looking beasts :-)



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I remember reading a novel a few years ago that supposed that Hitler won WWII and Germany ruled Europe and beyond.  One of the fictional asides in the story was that high speed trains across Europe ran on broad gauge track (not 7' 0-14" but perhaps wider).  I wish I could remember the title and the author but both have been erased from memory.



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Thank you wenlock - I shall be very pleased if I can emulate some of your scenic modelling!


I think the novel your refer to, Paul, was Robert Harris' 'Fatherland', which mentions a system that was actually proposed in the Hitler era - see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Breitspurbahn   A system with 3 m (almost 10') gauge was planned to be carried on a ballast-less concrete base.  It would make an unusual modelling project :)



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  • RMweb Gold

Interesting project Mike.  I will follow it with interest.  Will you do one final post in this blog with a link or will you put a link in your signature?

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I shall put a link from here and expect to continue with this blog on a more occasional basis - there's still a lot to do in finishing models for my existing 00-gauge railway and Blanche still needs new dresses :)



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  • RMweb Gold

Hi Mike, good to see the BG adventure moving ahead.


With hindsigt, it seems odd that such a great engineer as Brunel did not foresee the need for a certain flexibility in the track. But then it was a very different time and so much of what what seems natural to us now was new and undiscovered. In any case I should keep quiet as I don't really have a clue about engineering!

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Thank you Mikkel.  I've just posted the first entry in my new blog.


I think Brunel was a visionary and sometimes neglected to consider the practical aspects of some of his ideas.  Remember that he was working only a few years after most engineers severely doubted the possibility of pulling a train by means of the adhesion of iron wheels on iron track!

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