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its original site. The “Battle of the Gauges,” which is popularly supposed to have begun in 1842, really commenced in 1839, at the general meeting of the shareholders of the London and Bristol Railway in January of that year, when the Brunelites were successful by a narrow majority ; and this victory was only obtained by Brunel stating that to take up and alter the gauge of the 23 miles (London to Maidenhead) would need an outlay of £135,000. Happy had it been for the shareholders had they sanctioned this expenditure.
Mr. Nicholas Wood and Mr. (afterwards Sir) John Hawkshaw reported unfavourably on the broad gauge, but Brunel's eloquence had more weight with the shareholders, and he was commissioned to proceed with the work.
The Box tunnel between Chippenham and Bath was another great undertaking successfully carried out. It is 3,203 yards long and required 30,000,000 bricks to roof it. The line was finished to Reading in 1840, and in 1841 it was completed to Bristol, from which place the work had been proceeding at the same time to meet the London end. At Bristol, Brunel proposed to connect the Great Western with South Wales by means of a huge steam ferry, large enough to carry loaded trucks bodily across the Severn, but he died before the idea could be carried out, and after his death it was abandoned.
It was on the Great Western, in 1840, that Cook and Wheatstone's electric-magnetic telegraph was first successfully employed, between London and Slough at first, and so on down the line as it was completed. The Prince Consort frequently used the railway between London and Slough (for Windsor), but the Queen did not venture to use the line till 1842 ; and when the Windsor branch was "narrowed,” there was no further use for the broad gauge saloon used by Her Majesty, which has since remained in the Swindon shops.
The telegraph gave the Great Western Company a great advantage over the other railways in signalling their trains, and consequently they stood ahead of their competitors in the speed of their trains and the safety of their passengers. So remarkable was this latter, that for the three years preceding Christmas Eve 1841 the company carried over 3,000,000 passengers, and the only accidents reported were a broken leg and arm and several bruises. In those days the thirdclass passengers had a very bad time of it; the Parliamentary train took sixteen hours to cover the 163 miles to Taunton, leaving London at 9 P.m. or 4 A.M. When it was proposed to accelerate these trains, the directors replied that the passengers could not stand
a greater speed, because the weather would be too much for them. This will be understood when we recollect that the third-class coaches were quite open at the sides and top.
On the question of locomotives and speed, the Great Western Railway was for many years ahead, and still holds its own. It led the way with the “North Star,” a six-wheel engine, built at Newcastle by R. Stephenson & Co., from drawings by Sir Daniel Gooch, in 1839. It is said that this engine was built for a Russian railway of 6-foot gauge, and had 6-foot drivers ; but it was altered to the 7-foot gauge, with 7-foot driving wheels.
At this time the narrow gauge locomotives only had four wheels. The “ North Star” is the prototype of the six-wheel engines of to. day, and could it be seen, an ordinary observer most likely would notice nothing uncommon about it. A peculiarity was, that the wooden lagging was exposed to view and not covered with sheetmetal as usual.
Then came Mr. Brunel's “Hurricane” (nicknamed “Grasshopper”), with 10-foot driving-wheels (the largest ever made); this was followed by the “Great Britain” in 1846, on eight wheels, with 8-foot single driving.wheels. The engines of this type, as already mentioned, are still running. Mr. Foxwell says, “The express was timed to leave Didcot (it stopped there) 57 minutes after departing from Paddington ; and the distance, 53 miles, was repeatedly run in from 47% to 50 minutes.”
In comparing these extraordinary runs with present day ones — which, by the way, they beat-we must not forget that these trains consisted of four-wheel coaches, with a rigid wheel base, and fitted with no continuous brake !
One driver undertook to cover the 118} miles (London to Bristol) within the hour. He was not allowed to try the experiment. Smiles, writing of the speed competition, says :
The narrow gauge engineers exerted themselves to quicken the speed of their locomotives to the utmost; they improved and re-improved them. The machinery was simplified and perfected. Outside cylinders gave place to inside ; the steadier and more rapid and effective action of the engine was secured ; and in a few years the highest speed on railways went up from 30 to about 50 miles an hour. For this rapidity of progress we are in no small degree indebted to the stimulus imparted to the narrow gauge engineers by Mr. Brunel.
It was one of the characteristics of Brunel to believe in the success of the schemes for which he was professionally engaged as engineer; and he proved this by investing his savings largely in the Great Western Railway.
Upon several occasions, between 1847 and 1854, Brunel and Gooch ran engines at speeds of and just over 78 miles per hour,
while in 1853 one of the Bristol and Exeter 9-foot engines was officially timed at a speed of just over 80 miles per hour. This has never been beaten, unless we can swallow the tales lately received from America about some wonderful runs, which no doubt make an attractive newspaper paragraph, but require to be taken with a little salt. In February of this year, the writer tried to induce the Great Western to make a new record of broad gauge speed before abolishing the same. The idea was, that during April a train should run from London to Exeter, stopping only at Swindon, doing the journey, 192 miles, in 3} hours; but Mr. Burlinson did not think it worth while, we are sorry to say. Perhaps the reader will wonder why the stop should be at Swindon instead of half-way, say at Bath. The following will explain: When the Great Western was short of money, a person agreed to build refreshment-rooms at Swindon at his own cost, provided a long lease was granted to him at a rental of one penny per annum, and that all the trains stopped there ten minutes to allow the passengers time for refreshments. This the company agreed to, and now they would gladly get out of it, but they cannot. We need scarcely add that many refreshment contractors have made big fortunes at Swindon. Returning to Brunel's works, the next portion we come to is that part of the Great Western from Exeter to Plymouth, known as the South Devon line, and which, from Star Cross to Teignmouth, passes along the very edge of the sea, and at several places, where the cliffs jut out too boldly to allow of curves round them, have been tunnelled, and the line reappears by the side of the waves at the other side of the headland. Brunel intended this line to be worked on the atmospheric system, i.e., a pipe of large diameter was to be laid between the rails, and a piston fitting in it was to be connected with the carriage, while a stationary steamengine pumped the air from the front of the piston, so causing a vacuum; the pressure of the air from behind would force the piston, and, consequently, the carriages attached to it, forward. Up to Newton Abbot the gradients are the easiest of any main line—mostly I in 660 ; from this point, however, to the end of the line at Penzance, it is for the most part up and down steep banks, and, for a main line, a curious change takes place here in the class of engine drawing the trains westward. Instead of the 8-foot “single,” a 6-coupled saddle tank is employed ; indeed, when about two years ago a new express was put on (the Io. 15 A.M. ex. Paddington, known as the “Cornishman"), which does not stop at Newton, but runs through from Exeter to Plymouth, the company had to convert some tankvol. ccLXXIII. No. 1939 F
engines which were suitable to the line, and add tenders to them, to enable them to carry a sufficient supply of water to traverse the 53 miles without a stop. Most likely this is the only case on record of a “tank” having a tender added to it, except the B and E, 9-feet. After Plymouth, we come to another of Brunel's giants—the Suspension Bridge over the Tamar, at Saltash—which is still one of the most remarkable bridges in the world, despite the wonderful “Forth Bridge.” It is 26o feet above the water, and is 2,240 feet long, consisting of 19 spans (of which 17 are wider than the widest of Westminster Bridge), and two spans, which rest on a single cast iron column of four pillars in the centre of the river—which is wider than he Thames at Westminster. Passing into Cornwall we find the ungainly and old wooden viaducts, reminding us of the American tressel bridges, of these there are 41. The “battle" raged furiously in the spring of 1845. The “Sesquipedalians,” as the Great Western's advocates were called, promoted a Bill for a line from Oxford to Wolverhampton wid Worcester, and another from Oxford to Rugby. The London and Birmingham immediately brought forward an opposition scheme to the same places vid Tring, and, as they thought to make sure of their Bill, inserted a clause that the line should accommodate both broad and narrow gauge traffic from Worcester to Wolverhampton. The Board of Trade, which had recently been formed, reported in favour of the narrow gauge line, but Parliament, thinking the Board had taken too much upon itself, and as if in pique, passed the Broad Gauge Bill instead. The autumn of 1845 saw a decisive blow struck at the fortunes of the broad gauge ; the Grand Junction, and the London and Birmingham, combined with the Liverpool and Manchester, and a year later with the Manchester and Birmingham, thus forming a most powerful opposition, known as the London and North-Western Railway. On June 25, 1845, on the motion of Mr. Cobden, a Royal Commission was appointed to report upon the uniformity of railway gauges. It consisted of Sir G. B. Airy, the Astronomer Royal ; Lieutenant-Colonel Sir F. Smith, Royal Engineers; and Professor Barlow, C.E., all very good as theorists, but not practical railway men. In the trials that took place, the Great Western chose as their course the 53 miles from Paddington to Didcot, while the narrow gauge champions picked out the very straight and level length of line between York and Darlington, 45 miles long. The rival trains were unfairly allowed to be loaded as their advocates pleased. It was a remarkable triumph for the broad gauge. Gooch's train, drawing 80 tons, averaged a speed of 48 miles per hour, while Bidder's narrow gauge engine, drawing only 50 tons, could not attain a greater speed than 35 miles per hour. This bad result was attributed to a strong wind then prevailing; and Brunel, upon hearing the excuse, facetiously said it was caused by the presence of Hudson, the “Railway King,” who was at his usual practice of “raising the wind.” Next day the narrow gauge did better, drawing 50 tons at the rate of 48 miles per hour, and later, 80 tons at the rate of 44 miles per hour. The broad gauge ascendency was more strongly marked in the tractive trials ; they succeeded in drawing 4oo tons at the rate of 24 miles per hour, while the narrow gauge, with the same load, only averaged 19 miles per hour. The Brunelites now thought victory was theirs; judge of their surprise, when the Commissioners' report was issued, to find it in favour of the narrow gauge. The following is the summary of their report: 1st. That as regards safety, accommodation, and convenience of passengers, no decided preference is due to either gauge, but that on the broad gauge the motion is generally more easy at high velocities. 2nd. That in respect of speed, we consider the advantages are with the broad gauge, but we think the public safety would be endangered in employing the greater capabilities of the broad gauge much beyond their present use, except on roads more consolidated, and more substantially and perfectly formed than those of the existing lines. 3rd. That in the commercial use for the transport of goods, we believe the narrow gauge to possess the greater convenience, and to be more suited to the general traffic of the country. 4th. That the broad gauge involves the greater outlay, and that we have not been able to discover, either in the maintenance of way, in the cost of locomotive power, or in the other annual expenses, any adequate reduction to compensate for the additional first cost. Upon the text of the report being known the “eleven Broad Gauge Lords,” and others in authority, appear to have put pressure on the Board of Trade, as nine days after a very modified report was issued, in which, however, it was proposed that all lines then under construction, or hereafter to be constructed, should be of a uniform gauge of 4 feet 8, inches ; but as this would have interfered with several Great Western lines then being built, the Act 9 and 10 Vict, cap. 57, intituled “An Act for Regulating the Gauge of Rail