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GWR Gauge Conversion
Great Western Railway (GWR) Gauge conversion. This interesting article includes a brief history of the rationale behind the broad gauge and its planned, impending demise on Saturday 21st May, 1892. Includes a map of the GWR lines.
"THE CONVERSION OF GAUGE ON THE GREAT WESTERN RAILWAY".
"At midnight on Saturday, the 21st inst., the entire sectton of the Great Western Railway from Exeter to Falmouth, a. distance of 113 ·miles, will be closed for traffic, and handed over to an army of 3500 platelayers, who will alter the permanent way to the narrow gauge system. The whole of the work will be so far completed in forty.eight hours that the line will be opened for traffic again on Monday.
In order that the importance of the work may be appreciated, we are enabled, through the courtesy of Mr. Dean, the locomotive superintendent of the line, to give a map, which with the key appended to it, is self.explanatory. With the conversion of the Exeter and Falmouth line the broad gauge system ceases to exist in England. The broad gauge rail on the mixed lines from Paddington to Exeter, from Truro to Penzance, and from Tavistock Junction to Lidford, will, it is true, be suffered to remain for the present. It will be removed subsequently as occasion offers.In another impression we shall give particulars concerning the actual work of conversion.
The present is a fitting opportunity for sketching the history of the Great Western Railway and the broad gauge.
The first subject for consideration is, of course, the conditions which led to the adoption of such a.n awkward figure as 4ft. 8 1/2 in. for railway tracks. The truth is that Stephenson found the gauge ready to his hand on the colliery tramways on which the Puffing Billy first disported itself. That gauge was good enough for him and he adopted it. There was no one in the early days of railway enterprise who was prepared to say that any other gauge was better, and it would have mattered nothing to Stephenson if there bad been.
Before the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester line -which took place in 1829 the bodies of the trucks or wagons were placed between the wheels, which were kept fairly large to decrease the effects of axle friction ; and of course, with the established gauge 4ft. 8 1/2 in., the greatest available width between the wheels was not more than 4ft. 6in. Now, as early as 1833 Brunel had evidently foreseen that if this limit was kept and traffic increased, trains would have to be inordinately long; and in this year, when he was appointed engineer to the Great Western Railway Company, he purposely kept the clause in the Act settling the gauge open, and in 1835 - though there are no documents which can make this a. certainty - he probably suggested to the directors the advisability of adopting a. much greater width between the wheels. The original idea. was doubtless to use somethmg closely akin to an ordinary coach body for the passenger carriages; and if we .remember aright, that would be about 6ft. 5in. to 6ft. 6in. wide."