HILL CLIMBING BY TRAIN IN SOUTH DEVON
The iconic engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, so often associated with the design and construction of the Great Western Railway between London and Bristol, had so many other projects in his portfolio, not just on railways but also ocean-going ships, and great bridges, that it is difficult to know how he mastered the fine detail. Although promoted as independent companies the Bristol & Exeter Railway (B&ER) and South Devon Railway (SDR) from Exeter to Plymouth, and then the Cornwall Railway were effectively allied to the GWR and in 1876 actually became part of it. And for design and construction in the first place who else was in charge but I K Brunel. He did the surveys and recommended the routes to the directors. As far as he could he chose alignments which gave the straightest and flattest routes and for the GWR he was fortunate that the river valleys, however broad, more or less ran in the same direction as the proposed railway. The highest ground between London and Bristol on his route through Reading, Didcot, and Swindon was around 300ft above sea level to a summit about a mile west of Swindon. This gave Brunel the opportunity for including miles of straight line, although following the broad curves of the Thames Valley, and gradients for the first 78 miles from London so easy and imperceptible that you would not realise you were climbing. They rose on long stretches at no more than 1ft in a quarter mile, in railway terms 1 in 1320. (A rise of 1ft every 1320ft travelled.)
Part 2 to come next week!