Category:Great Western Railway

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The Great Western Railway (GWR) (known to enthusiasts as "God's Wonderful Railway") was founded in 1833, set up by Bristol as a reaction to Liverpool's emergence as a more popular port. In order to stay relevant, Bristol decided to create their own railway network for the West of England, and hired a young Isambard Kingdom Brunel to survey routes and design the infrastructure.

The GWR prided themselves on their engineering prowess, and Brunel designed the GWR track to use broad gauge to provide a superior ride. Even though the railway later moved to standard gauge, the fact that much of the railway had originally been designed to take wider trains meant that the 1935 Cornish Riviera Express could use wider and more luxurious coaches.

The GWR preserved its name during the 1922/23 railway grouping and became one of the Big Four railway companies, acquiring more routes in Wales and Western England, and was finally absorbed into the new British Railways network in 1948, becoming BR's "Western Region".


Although the GWR spread over Wales and Southwest England, its key nodes were the London terminus at Paddington and the port at Bristol. The company also embraced air travel and bus routes, and part of Brunel's vision was for the network to extend to New York via the SS Great Western (1838) transatlantic steamship built by Brunel, for the Bristol-New York route.

Notable engineering

The GWR achieved a number of engineering records and "firsts". Broad-gauge track was technically superior to standard gauge, and some of the GWR tunnels (the Box Tunnel, and then the Severn Tunnel) were the longest railway tunnels in the world when they were built. The SS Great Western was initially the world's largest passenger ship, and revolutionised transatlantic travel by proving the concept that larger ships were more fuel-efficient, and the Maidenhead Railway Bridge was the longest span-for-height brick bridge in the world. Disbelief at the proportions of the Maidenhead bridge was so strong that the GWR management were reluctant to have the bridge's temporary wooden former "scaffolding" removed, and a crowd assembled at the first crossing by a steam locomotive in 1839, to see if it fell down.

Livery and styling

The GWR's steam locomotives were green, although the exact shade (and the lining) changed a couple of times.

One of the more distinctive features of the GWR locos was their use of shiny brass valvework instead of a steam dome - this feature was so distinctive that Meccano Ltd. implemented it as a physical feature on the GWR versions of their early Hornby gauge 0 locos - initially, Hornby's loco versions for the other railway companies were physically identical and only differentiated by their paintwork and markings, so their decision to make an exception for GWR was notable.

1923 merger

The GWR retained its identity through the 1923 railway grouping, becoming one of the "Big Four".

The post-1923 GWR represented a merging of:

  • Great Western Railway
  • Barry Railway
  • Cambrian Railways
  • Cardiff Railway
  • Rhymney Railway
  • Taff Vale Railway
  • Alexandra Docks and Railway
  • Brecon and Merthyr Railway
  • Vale of Rheidol Railway
  • Burry Port and Gwendraeth Valley Railway
  • Cleobury Mortimer and Ditton Priors Light Railway
  • Llanelly and Mynydd Mawr Railway
  • Weston, Clevedon and Portishead Railway
  • Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway
  • Swansea Harbour Trust Railway
  • Neath and Brecon Railway
  • Gwendraeth Valleys Railway
  • Midland and South Western Junction Railway

1923 overview:

The Great Western Railway (see map) is the only trunk line that has retained its identity unaltered in the process of amalgamation. Although six other constituent companies are named in the Act, they in no way compare in extent and importance with the original Great Western; the process was more in the nature of absorption by the latter, differing only in scale from the absorptions of subsidiary companies in the area. While the original Great Western system was over 3,000 route miles in length, the other constituents, Barry, Cambrian, Cardiff, Rhymney, TafE Vale, and Alexandra (Newport and South Wales), totalled only 560 route miles between them. The total route mileage of the new system is 3,800 miles. There are also over 200 miles of canals.

The Great Western had long described itself as "the holiday line," but by its acquisition of the South Wales railways and ports, it has now acquired an industrial character also. Its dock facilities in South Wales are very extensive: it owns the famous Barry docks, the Bute docks at Cardiff, Alexandra and Town docks at Newport, Penarth docks and Port Talbot docks, and it has now acquired the undertaking of the Swansea Harbour Trust, which completes its chain of docks and harbours in South Wales, The company also owns docks at Aberdovey, Plymouth and other places served by the new Great Western system, and especially Fishguard harbour, whence it runs the Irish steamer service connecting with Rosslare harbour and railway. A steamer service is also run from Weymouth to the Channel Islands.

The principal locomotive and wagon works are at Swindon, but smaller works have been taken over at Barry, Cardiff, Oswestry and other places.

The following statistics are given for comparison with the other companies.
The total capital of the company is over £140,000,000. For 1921 the gross receipts from railway operation only were £45,500,000 ; the total expenditure on railway working, £38,500,000; and the net receipts, including all items, £8,100,000. The total passenger traffic for the year, excluding that represented by 85,000 annual season tickets, was 112,321,000. The freight traffic included general merchandise, 8,000,000 tons ; coal, coke and other fuel, 27,000,000 tons; other minerals, 5,600,000 tons ; and live stock, 2,300,000 head.

The rolling-stock owned by the company includes 4,050 steam locomotives, 10,100 coaching vehicles, 90,000 freight vehicles, and 9,700 service vehicles. There were 60 electric motor and trailer coaches and 70 rail motor cars. In 1921 the total engine-miles run, including shunting, were 74,500,000 miles. The steamships owned comprise three turbine vessels and 13 other steamers. The company also controls about a dozen hotels.

The principal headquarters of the Company remain as originally at Paddington, and for the reasons indicated, no great changes have been necessitated in the organisation.

Further reading

  • E.T. MacDermot, C.R. Clinker, History of the Great Western Railway, Volume 1 1833-1863 (Ian Allan, 1964) ISBN 0711004110
  • E.T. MacDermot, C.R. Clinker, History of the Great Western Railway, Volume 2 1863-1921 (Ian Allan, 1964) ISBN 0711004129
  • O.S. Nock, History of the Great Western Railway, Volume 3 1921-1947 (Ian Allan, 1967) ISBN 0711003041

External links

museums and preservation societies
information and archives
Brunel and the GWR
models and modelling


This category has the following 3 subcategories, out of 3 total.




Pages in category ‘Great Western Railway’

The following 40 pages are in this category, out of 40 total.

Media in category ‘Great Western Railway’

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